The two Swedish journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, who were arrested in the Ogaden in July, were reportedly investigating the actions of Swedish oil company Lundin Petroleum.
Lundin Petroleum sold its Ethiopian oil concessions to Africa Oil Corp. in 2009. But the Lundin family is still the company's largest shareholder. "Between Lucas Lundin and family trusts, I think they own around ten percent," says Keith Hill, the CEO of Africa Oil Corp.
The region and the conflict
The Ogaden is a desert region, sparsely populated by Somali nomads, who are some of the poorest people on earth. The ONLF rebel group of ethnic Somalis has been fighting against the Ethiopian government and military for self-determination since 1994.
Violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws have been committed by all sides. In recent years, reports have emerged that Ethiopian security forces - in steps to fight back the opposition - have murdered civilians, torched villages, tortured, raped, and abducted people, and displaced entire communities.
Hill says the Ogaden has seen atrocities from both sides of the conflict. "As far as a concerted campaign of human rights abuse, we see no evidence of that," he says. “Every country, particularly in difficult African surroundings, has difficult problems and issues to deal with, but all of the people we’ve met in the government and military seem to be very reasonable people who are dealing with their problems.”
Hill says Africa Oil Corp. is trying to help the people in the Ogaden with local development projects.
But Kerstin Lundell, a journalist who wrote an award winning book on Lundin Petroleum, disputes that claim. “I wonder who they think they’re helping, maybe they think they’re helping the Ethiopian government, which they surely do," she says. "But they don’t help the people in the area who are chased from their homes and have their homes burned down, they certainly don’t help the people in the Ogaden area.”
Hill says Africa Oil Corp. has not seen any violence in the areas where they operate. "We see no evidence of that, it's been very calm in our area," he says.
But Lundell says Africa Oil Corp., and other oil companies, may see no violence because it precedes them. “But I know in some instances some of the employees must have seen something,” she says.
Hill says Africa Oil Corp. is getting ready to drill its first well in the southern part of the Ogaden in late 2012 or 2013. Today, he is meeting in Stockholm with private and institutional investors interested in Africa Oil Corp. "We're spreading the message that if you want to get into Africa Oil this is kind of your last chance to do so before we start drilling in earnest," he says.