Ugandan geologists explore Somaliland

Left to Right: Mutibwa, Schumann and Ssevvume
By Gumisiriza Mwesigye
To many Ugandans, Somalia is where our soldiers are on a peace-keeping mission or it has been at war forever. It gets murkier when Somaliland comes into the picture. Only few can tell the difference.
To many Ugandans, Somalia is where our soldiers are on a peace-keeping mission or it has been at war forever. It gets murkier when Somaliland comes into the picture. Only few can tell the difference.Hadrian Mutibwa and Walter Ssevvume, young geologists from Makerere University, had this same impression of the Horn of Africa. Though Mutibwa says, “I had heard about Somaliland”, his colleague Ssevvume “never heard of Somaliland.” That was before being part of a team that did a mineral exploration in the mostly arid but peaceful country earlier this year.
Though Somalia and Somaliland share history, culture, language and other ties, they are distinct when it comes to governance. While the former is engulfed in conflict and violence, the latter enjoys some stability and steady progress.
“The story of Somaliland is a bit parallel to Uganda’s. After a civil war, they set about rebuilding the country,” notes Dr Andreas Schumann, a lecturer/researcher at Makerere University, who led the exploration team. However, the difference is that Somaliland declared itself independent but has not been recognised.
Unlike Mutibwa and Ssevvume, Schumann had been there in 2005. He wanted an overview of the area to judge whether it is viable to go back with a bigger team.
It is not uncommon for geologists to chart into the little known or unfamiliar. They study the Earth, how it evolved and what it is made of. Exploration involves searching both the earth’s surface and underground.
Respective roles
Schumann was a lecturer/researcher at University of Hamburg in Germany and had done explorations and geological mapping in DR Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda. He has been associated with Makerere University from 1997 where does teaching/research duties at what is now known as Department of Geology and Petroleum Studies.
It was a colleague who linked him for technical expertise to a consortium formed by Somalis in Finland. The major interest was iron, copper, gold plus gemstones and industrial minerals.
“I had been working with Dr. Schumann on some projects in Western Uganda,” says his colleague Mutibwa to explain how they become part of the Somaliland expedition. “I had finished university and in between, I was teaching secondary school and taking care of family business in Bugiri.”
Schumann called him to inquire if he would be interested, and if so, to recommend another person they could work with. Mutibwa roped in his former classmate Ssevvume.
But he was apprehensive about the place they were going to. “With more explanation, I got to differentiate between stereotype and reality,” he remarks. “My perception changed after a meeting with Dr Schumann.”
When they were through with preparations and paper work, they set off. The flight connection from Entebbe was through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In Hargeisa, they spent four days in the Somaliland capital waiting for the final clearance to proceed to the site.
Off to explore
In the meantime, colleagues in Somaliland mobilised a support crew: Three translators, some cooks and several casual labourers—for digging pits and lifting bags of samples.
The area of operation was about 130 square kilometres between Berbera at the Gulf of Eden and Hargeisa. They mostly moved around either on foot or camel and less by vehicle.
“The camels probably wondered what these geo-aliens were doing. A geologist should be able to withstand tough conditions,” Schumann points out while his charges, Mutibwa and Ssevvume summed it as “very hot during the day, too windy and rather cold at night.”
“We have fond memories of our campsite in the ‘middle of nowhere’, living among the people of Somaliland, plus a trip to the Red Sea,” they reminisce. For three weeks, they were collecting samples, taking photos and writing notes.
It was an extended reconnaissance exercise, the initial phase of mineral exploration, which was done with basic geological equipment like a compass, hand lens, hammer and GPS.
The geologists say Somaliland comprises mainly of very old basement rocks (older than 544 million years), in their jargon referred to as Precambrian rocks consisting of rocks which have been deformed and suffered from heat and pressure in the earth’s crust, so called metamorphic rocks, as well as rocks derived from magma, such as granite, hence called magmatic rocks. Such rocks are overlain by much younger sand- and lime stones most of them younger than 80million years formed during the Mesozoic and Tertiary times.
However, it did not stop at million-year formations as geology students from Hargeisa visited the team to learn about applied exploration methods.
“The economic future of Uganda, Somaliland and other African states depends on geologists who do the ‘ground work’ in search for petroleum and minerals. Therefore, this requires capacity building through training and co-operation between states, universities and other institutions,” Schumann, Mutibwa and Ssevvume sum up their proposal on the way forward.
It seems the sojourn into the uncharted rocks and sands of Somaliland was worth the hot days and windy nights.
Quick notes
Most of the geological information of Somaliland dates to the colonial time and therefore has to be updated. “A lot of work is pending,” they noted as they draw comparison with Uganda’s geology sector, which has been boosted by the discovery of hydrocarbons (for example, oil) in the Albertine Graben. Consequently, it has also been constantly developing over the years. “Since independence, there is now quite enough capacity that can be mobilised to help some of our African counterparts in need of it,” the team asserts rather conclusively.

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