From Riyadh to Djibouti and from Abu Dhabi to Somalia

From Riyadh to Djibouti and from Abu Dhabi to Somalia

Whosoever studies the Somali-Djibouti history will realize that it is the same history but unfortunately shaped by a conflicting environment despite that it originated amid a peaceful coexistent environment that once led one of the longest wars in history against colonization commanded by leader Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (founder of the Dervish State). Starting from the “Ajuran Empire” which ruled the region from the 14th century up to the 17th century, through the “Ifat Sultanate”, and the “Adal Sultanate” 1529, to the reign of “Joboron Family” 1848, and the Berlin Conference 1884 and the beginning of European colonization of Africa, to “Mahmoud Farah Harbi” (Prime Minister and Vice-president of Djibouti Governing Council), to the departed president “Hassan Gouled Aptidon” , (first president of the Republic of Djibouti- 1977), we find that the majority of Gulf people are unfortunately not acquainted with such ancient history which if they studied in detail will discover that it’s related to them in a way or another. Nowadays, Somalia and Djibouti are witnessing a sort of Gulf mobility they haven’t seen since they gained independence from the British and French colonization in the past century’s 1960’s and 1970’s. In some previous specialized studies in Afro- Gulf relations we indicated that it’s an (unprecedented) mobility. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi seem to have clearer presence in the Horn of Africa than their Gulf counterparts.

Shortly after the Saudi- Djibouti economic forum concluded its final recommendations in the capital city Djibouti in 13/4/2017, a ministerial meeting that involved the Djibouti defense minister and his Saudi counterpart was held in the Saudi capital Riyadh in 23/4/2017. The meeting supported and promoted the Saudi- Djibouti closeness which is seemingly the most prominent in the Horn of Africa. Any observer of the Afro- Gulf relations will note that the Saudi- Djibouti ties seem the most active among its Gulf counterparts, which could be attributed in my own view to Riyadh becoming aware of the rules of the political game in the Horn of Africa. Accordingly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should either rely on itself in order to consolidate its security strategy culminated in the Decisive Storm Operation which is supposed to gain victory, or otherwise accept the strategy of mutual deterrence with Iran. It appears that the latter option is not in favor of the Coalition Forces which commenced operations in south Arabian Peninsula since 2015, even though some international parties (such as Washington) wish that such a process would continue.

The absence of any decisive military victory in south Arabian Peninsula came in line with the US vision which considers putting an end to battles in Yemen isn’t in its favor, but rather a war of attrition between both the Arab Coalition Forces led by Riyadh from one side and the Iran-backed Houthi militias from the other. There is no better chance for Washington to re-emerge on East Africa’s main gateway (Somalia), and afterwards move along to the Horn of Africa countries to enhance its presence there, a matter confirmed by the visit of the US defense secretary to Djibouti in 23/4/2017. Washington intends to curtail Chinese influence in Djibouti where China has the largest military base. Curtailing Chinese influence of course will not only involve Djibouti, but can be measured across the entire African continent where China’s influence has become stronger than ever before. Added to this is the cooperation between Washington and the European Union countries led by Paris that seeks to limit Turkish activities in the Horn of Africa and West Africa lest it would pave the way for a reconciliation between Gulf and Turkish interests in Africa that will facilitate Gulf, Arab and Turkish opportunities in the continent, a thing that remained unreachable for African brothers for decades.

As to the Republic of Somalia, I regret that on 19/4/2017 a terrorist attack targeted a UAE Red Crescent convoy in the Somali capital Mogadishu; it was preceded by a similar attack on the motorcade of the UAE ambassador in Somalia.

In my own view, these frequent attacks may indicate the rejection of part of the Somali elite of any existence of a UAE base in the semi-autonomous region (Somaliland), specially that public councils in Hargeisa were divided into two divisions; one supporting the UAE base and the other opposing it. In addition, the inauguration of UAE investment projects in the semi-autonomous regions such as the water dam in Somaliland, and the infrastructure enhancement in Puntland may be viewed by the Somali public opinion to entail hidden support that will push these regions toward separation, which will in turn boost their demand for international recognition more obviously than ever before.

What I intend to convey to Somali citizens and their government is that the UAE has never pursued and will never participate in supporting the separation of the Somali regions, but rather it takes part in supporting semi-autonomous regions and the central government in Mogadishu at the same time. This is due to the experience of UAE in the federal system on which it was established in 1971. Also, the UAE’s sponsorship of the Dubai Charter for Somali Reconciliation in 2012 in which Somali parties met for the first time following 21 years of disagreement.

I think that Somalia may be challenging a second “dividing” by the international powers which will constitute the biggest challenge confronting the state since 1991. It seems that loyal national figures like the Somali president (Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo) are always destined to encounter such challenges which he proved ready to face after he dismissed the chief of Somali Intelligence Major-General Abdullah Gafo, and police forces Commander-in- Chief Mohamed Sheikh Hamid. Consequently, President Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo has to implement his own honest national strategy for the sake of which he had always to pay and finally won. This is evident in that all the sectors of Somali people didn’t agree on a former Somali president as they did with (Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo), who won the last Somali presidential elections in February 2017; an event that the peoples of the Horn of Africa looked for with much optimism.

Considering this, I see that we have only two scenarios:

First Scenario: The Gulf-US security and intelligence coordination in the Horn of Africa may be consolidated subject to continuing Saudi support to Cairo which seems to have been achieved after the Egyptian President’s visit to Riyadh in last April. But the question here still is: to which level will the US-Gulf security and intelligence coordination in the Horn of Africa reach? Will it meet the level Riyadh and Abu Dhabi aspire to? Specially that Washington however collaborating with the allied forces in the south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, but will limit such collaboration according to its own interests, which will result of course in more complications in that already volatile region.

Second Scenario:  It is likely that Washington will cooperate with Paris in the Horn of Africa to restrict the Chinese and Turkish influence and to prevent the closeness of the Gulf-Turkish interests, especially that international powers (Washington) and regional powers (Iran, Turkey) are aware that contradictory political visions of Gulf countries is the principal reason for continuing military operations in south Arabian Peninsula, and also the main reason behind this unprecedented Gulf mobility in the Horn of Africa which will determine dealing and strategic planning.


  • Constituting specialized academic committees for the purpose of boosting Afro-Gulf ties. These committees are affiliated with ministry of culture and ministry of foreign affairs of both sides. Their function is to promote these ties by organizing joint workshops and academic conferences to discuss all common political, social and cultural issues.
  • Unification of political and security visions among Gulf countries, besides attempting to carry out the notion of the Gulf Confederation and seeking to activate the agenda of the meeting of Ministers of Interior, Defense and Foreign Affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries held in Riyadh a few days ago.
  • Support provided by Riyadh during the Djibouti-Saudi forum initiative and working to replicate such forums in other African countries.
  • Establishment of institutes and centers specializing in African studies in GCC countries in order to bring together viewpoints and seeking to understand future perspectives of Africa.
  • Support of Somali President Mohamed Abdullah Farmajo to implement his national strategy so that Somalia could find a footing among other countries.
  • Endeavoring to complete the Yemen-Djibouti Bridge Project that will enhance trade exchange between the Horn of Africa countries and Gulf countries.
  • Promoting Arabic language in the African continent through establishing free Arab universities and schools besides research centers that support Arabic language in African countries. In addition, developing African countries infrastructure and increasing the African citizen’s income via enhancing small projects in Africa especially that it is rich with academic competencies.


Dr.Ameena Alarimi/ April 2017


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