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Gulf Geopolitics Threatens Somalia’s Stability

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Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi 'Farmajo'
   

When Saudi Arabia and three other Gulf countries and Egypt blockaded and cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in May 2017 for what they said was Doha’s “support for Iran and terrorism”, Somalia remained neutral and offered to mediate.

Unlike many Muslim nations which sided with Saudi Arabia and cut or downgraded their diplomatic ties with Qatar, Somalia called for a diplomatic solution to end the crisis. Saudi Arabia and its allies took Somalia’s stand as “support for Qatar.”

The Gulf crisis that was meant to isolate Qatar is ripping Somalia apart and created divisions between the federal and state governments.  Somalia’s regional administrations took advantage of Mogadishu’s weakness and sided with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in their efforts to sideline Qatar. The function of foreign affairs falls under the federal government and the states have no any role in it. It was a breach of the country’s constitution, according to the government in Mogadishu.

Saudi Arabia and its allies tried to persuade Mogadishu to end ties with Doha but the latter rejected the idea. The local media reported at the time that the UAE “tried to bribe President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo with hundreds of millions of dollars to side with them but Farmajo declined the offer.”

In 2014, when Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran after protesters stormed its embassy in Tehran over the execution of a Shia cleric, Namr al Namr, in Saudi Arabia, Somalia followed suit and cut ties with Iran, but denied it was siding with Saudi Arabia. It said Iran was a threat to its national security and closed down Imam khamanei Cultural Centre in Mogadishu. That same day, Saudi Arabia offered Somalia 50m dollars in aid.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is involved in a port modernisation programme in Berbera in Somaliland – a break-away region in northwest Somalia which declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 when President Siyad Barre was toppled by an alliance of clan militia. Abu Dhabi is also building a military base in Berbera.

Somalia considers Somaliland part of its territory and views the port deal between the UAE and Somaliland “null and void and against its constitution.” The parliament in Mogadishu nullified the military base agreement between the UAE and Somaliland. Another UAE-owned company, P&O, made a deal with Puntland – a federal member state in northeast Somalia and is managing the Port of Bosaso.

The Somali central government feels undermined when foreign nations make deals with state governments and says it has the constitutional right to sign every deal involving a foreign player on behalf of all Somalia – including Somaliland.

Relations between Somalia and the UAE deteriorated further when Somali security agencies seized a UAE plane carrying close to 10m dollars in Mogadishu airport. UAE said the money was meant to pay salaries of Somali army and an anti-piracy force in Puntland. Mogadishu said the money was meant to use to destabilise the country.

The immediate former leader of Puntland, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, visited Dubai and expressed his support for the Emiratis after a diplomatic dispute between Mogadishu and Abu Dhabi.

“Mogadishu is not Somalia, and Somalia is not Mogadishu,” he said.

For five years, the UAE had been training Somali forces and built an anti-piracy force in Puntland and paid their salaries. That came to an end in April when the two countries ended their military cooperation.

In retaliation, the UAE closed a hospital in the capital, Mogadishu, Sheikh Zayed Hospital, which treated more than 300 Somalis daily.

Qatar, which invested close to a half a billion dollars in health, roads, education and humanitarian assistance in Somalia, donated 30 buses to Mogadishu city administration, after the UAE stooped its assistance to Somalia. Qatar’s projects are mainly concentrated in Mogadishu.

The Gulf crisis and the differences it created between the Somali central government and regional administrations are undermining the government’s and international community’s effort to restore peace and stability and build an effective central authority. It could also destabilise the country and hamper the war on Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda-linked group which is fighting to overthrow the Mogadishu government.

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