30 Jun A Gulf Crisis in East Africa (Part I)
I spent and extended my whole vacation in Africa, and also spent the entire Holy Month of Ramadan between its villages and among its people. I witnessed the Happy Eid al-Fitr among African crowds whom I accompanied to the Eid Prayer in a magnificent solemn scene during which I wished time could stop to convince land before people that the value of Islam is deeply rooted in Africa and impossible to eradicate.
Since April 2017, I visited more than three African countries with the purpose of closely discovering Africa, and mix with African people socially and culturally in order for me to initiate a project which I spent more than eight years to develop, namely “Starting to Enhance Afro-Gulf Relations”. The African mind never cares about these relations for being shiftless despite its love for whatever that is Arabian. Similarly, the Gulf mind rejects these relations for reasons of ignorance and negative attitude towards whatever that is African, though it recently began to accept these relations after realizing that its national security, political future, economic aspirations, and peaceful coexistence is connected with eliminating this negative image of Africa and its people and alternatively viewing Africa as a complementary for its largely staked existence.
I still believe that my way is full of difficulties and obstacles, which are not easily avoidable, but I prefer it this way because I believe that any endeavor should be based on a sincere, firm principle in order to succeed, and therefore, these difficulties should be seriously tackled as I learned during my academic research. In the course of my research in the continent of future (Africa), I encountered a special case which prompted me to reassess my entire attitude after Africa, along with the future of its people were involved in the nowadays flaring Gulf crisis, which I fear could develop from a Gulf crisis into an Afro-Gulf one which I repeatedly bet that it’s unlikely to occur.
Let’s start with Somalia, that long-suffering country which constituted a puzzle for everything else other than itself. As president Mohamed Farmajo came to power in Mogadishu, we and all the Somali people were looking with hope to the future strategic vision of the country which was evident in the current Gulf crisis. President Mohamed Farmajo is quite aware that the Gulf crisis followed by serious escalations is an internal Gulf affair and involving his country in such implications is not at all in favor of his political future, let alone the future of his country. Subsequently, he opted for neutrality despite the Somali public opinion and civil society organizations being divided into two parties, one opposing this situation and the other supporting it.
As for Addis Ababa, it adopted the same attitude as Mogadishu. Ethiopia resorted to careful neutrality and called for negotiations, but I deem that Ethiopia’s position as to the Gulf crisis is likely to change subject to change of strategies. Here I mean Israel, which found a rare opportunity to declare normalization with Gulf countries, a condition that remained secret till its precursors appeared on an Israeli TV channel in 13/1/2016.
The position of Djibouti on the Gulf crisis was expected following the recent developments of the UAE-KSA-Djibouti relations, which included economic, security and military cooperation. Therefore, Djibouti’s step of reducing diplomatic representation with Doha seems normal and which if didn’t happen would be absolutely unintelligible to African affairs analysts worldwide.
Eritrea chose a neutral situation on the Gulf crisis but partially nearer to supporting Doha, and no wonder because the Eritrean relations with Qatar seem different than its relations with any of the Gulf countries. Doha is one unique regional party that the Asmara regime trust in all fields, especially Doha’s success in reconciliation between Eritrean disputing parties, not to mention Qatar support of the comprehensive development plan undertaken by Eritrean government since 2000 up to the present.
Despite differing attitude of Djibouti and Eritrea as to the Gulf crisis but I believe that these countries are merely a real representation of the tense Somali-Ethiopian relations. The former was part of Somalia (Djibouti/French Somaliland), and the latter (Eritrea) was part of Ethiopia until 1993, however, the two parent states (Somalia and Ethiopia) found their long-desired wish in these separating independent states, for Ethiopia and Djibouti have a common “security” interest in Somalia, because both are unwilling to witness a united, independent, stable, and promising Somalia that may resurge and demand once again to revive its ages-old project of (Greater Somalia). Today, Djibouti is no longer that old French Somaliland, and Ethiopia for decades has never allowed the Ogaden region to return to Somalia. Subsequently, it will not allow it today especially it has turned into one of the most important promising regions in east Africa after oil and gas were recently discovered, which in turn will enhance Addis Ababa’s position as one of the most influential powers in east Africa. Thus, it is likely that diplomatic pressure from Gulf countries besieging Qatar will play a role in changing Somali and Ethiopian position towards the Gulf crisis if not resolved.
Since Cairo is one party in this crisis, then Addis Ababa will declare its independent attitude as to the Gulf crisis while continue to counter Egyptian water interests, and will proceed to inaugurate the Renaissance Dam Project in next June 2017. On the other hand, the Gulf countries besieging Qatar will make use of Ethiopia’s political status and motivate it to win over some of the influential African nations like Nigeria and South Africa which remained neutral, in addition to some of the emerging powers such as Rwanda. Furthermore, the Gulf countries besieging Qatar may collaborate to hinder economic agreements signed by Doha in last April with a number of East African countries via compensating these countries according to the penalty clauses included in the agreements. This orientation may be thwarted by the strong Turkish presence in the Horn of Africa countries supporting Doha; moreover, these countries view the current Gulf crisis as a vague issue surrounded by doubts and above all an internal Gulf affair that can be resolved through dialogue.
I think that conflicting attitudes of the Horn of Africa countries toward the Gulf crisis will lead to a new condition which will result in turning the Gulf conflict to an Afro-Gulf one; (I highlighted this in a previous academic study published by Mogadishu Strategic Research and Studies Center in last March). I fear that the Horn of Africa countries will turn to a reckoning scene for Gulf countries on the light of varying political vision of each of them, and the future independent role each country aspiring to play, besides each Gulf country view political organizations such as the “Organization of the Muslim Brotherhood” on a different basis. All this will create a sort of “unhealthy competition” among Gulf countries, and what’s feared most it will amount to mutual “subversive plotting” which could imply targeting each other’s interests not only in the Horn of Africa, but in other countries as well. This will definitely undermine the concept of the Gulf Confederation especially that nothing indicates visions of Gulf countries will be bridged in the short or at least medium term.