United Arab Emirates between Djibouti and Somalia

United Arab Emirates between Djibouti and 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 1884-1885 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 ignorant of such ancient history which if they studied in detail will discover that it’s related to them in a way or another. As from the beginning of 2015, Somalia and Djibouti are witnessing unprecedented Gulf mobility that has never been experienced since gaining independence from the British and French colonization in the 1960’s and 1970’s of the past century. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi seem to have stronger presence in the Horn of Africa than their Gulf counterparts.

The UAE is the largest investor in Djibouti. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) offered Djibouti a five year $ 50 million grant to finance development projects in February 2015. Moreover, a joint security and military cooperation agreement was signed; however, relations between Abu Dhabi and Djibouti deteriorated to the extent that UAE consulate in Djibouti was closed down and Fly Dubai flights to Djibouti were suspended due to a dispute on the way Dubai Ports World company proceeds in the Djibouti Port of Doraleh. This port is considered the most technically advanced in the whole east coast of Africa; taking into account that DP World had been operating in Djibouti for 14 years.

Despite this, relations between the two sides were soon restored and the UAE consulate in Djibouti reopened in January 2016. Though, relations once again underwent tensions in February 2018 on the background of disagreement between DP World and the government of Djibouti. Concerning Somalia, the Abu Dhabi-Somali relations started in 1978 when the former supported (Berbera-Baru) and (Juba Sugar) projects in 1977. In 2012, UAE implemented the Dam Construction Project and Abu Dhabi led the Reconciliation Initiative between the Somali parties which culminated in (The Dubai Reconciliation Pact) in 2012, considered the first of its kind between the Somali government and the Somaliland government in more than 21 years.

In September 2016, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that UAE had signed a thirty year contract to operate the most strategic port in the Horn of Africa (Berbera) in the Somaliland region. However, the UAE- Somalia relations have seen serious deterioration in the past few days, mounting to an unacceptable level of trade of accusations.

In view of the importance of the East African Market, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry was keen to open its first representative office in Africa in 2013. The Chamber also signed an agreement in October, 2016 with Oromia International Bank on behalf of S.S Lootah Trading Co, with a value of AED 184 million for supporting the agriculture and livestock sector along with their exportable products. The Ethiopian government worked to establish four specialized industrial zones, namely Dire Dawa, Awasa, Kombolcha, and Addis Ababa. Ethiopia benefitted from the experience of UAE to develop these industrial zones.

Furthermore, Saasur Solar, a company working in the field of solar energy in the UAE, announced that it had found investment opportunities in Ethiopia after the establishment by Addis Ababa of major projects for hydropower production via the construction of dams. The company offered Ethiopia the production of cheap electricity through the use of solar energy, provided that the engineering design is completed at the company’s premises in the UAE and afterwards installed at the areas agreed upon by the two parties.

Regarding Eritrea, UAE-Eritrean relations started after Asmara declared independence in 1993. In 1995, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) supported the electric power generation and transmission project in Eritrea and infrastructure projects in 2009, in addition to Abu Dhabi’s support of the balance of payments in 2012. Recently, the UAE could obtain a lease contract in the Port of Assab as part of the partnership agreement concluded for the purpose of establishing a UAE military base.

In light of the deteriorating UAE-Djibouti-Somali relations, I believe that the UAE has three main scenarios to deal with in the Horn of Africa:

The first scenario: Convergence of the Ethiopian-Somali-Djibouti interests.

Addis Ababa is in line with Mogadishu in remaining neutral concerning the Gulf Crisis. On the other hand, the recent UAE-Somali-Djibouti- dispute has caused the Djibouti-Somali standpoints to converge, for both parties agree on the need to disrupt operations at the Port of Berbera, seen as rival by Djibouti and deemed by Mogadishu a violation of its sovereignty if not invested through its central government. The bet here is on the Saudi presence in Djibouti which could contribute to bringing closer the viewpoints of Djibouti, Abu Dhabi and Somalia.

The second scenario: The US-French cooperation in the Horn of Africa. Washington is likely to cooperate with Paris in the Horn of Africa to curtail Chinese and Turkish influence and to prevent the convergence of Gulf interests. The international powers (Washington) and the regional powers (Iran and Turkey) are aware that diverging political visions among Gulf countries is the main reason behind the ongoing military operations south of the Arabian Peninsula “Yemen”, and also the cause of this unprecedented Gulf mobility in the Horn of Africa. This divergence of political visions controls various attitudes and adoption of strategies.

The third scenario: Security and intelligence coordination In the Horn of Africa. The US and Gulf (Abu Dhabi, Riyadh) security and intelligence coordination in the Horn of Africa may be strengthened, but the question is to which level? Will it fulfill the aspirations of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, especially that if decided to cooperate with the allied forces in south of the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, Washington’s cooperation will be limited and in favor of its own interests, and of course, this will lead to further confusion in that region.

According to the above, I see that the UAE should care about the following:-
  • Starting to constitute a UAE-Djibouti-Somali diplomatic dialogue committee under the auspices of the African Union in order to resolve the dispute, prevent further escalation of the crisis and to ensure the future role of the UAE in the African continent.
  • Seeking a prompt solution to the Gulf crisis and resorting to diplomatic channels.
  • Delivering extensive information message to the sisterly Republic of Somalia that the UAE has never and will not sought to be a partner in supporting the secession of the Somali regions, but rather taking part in supporting the semi-autonomous regions and the central government in Mogadishu at the same time. That is attributed to UAE experience in the federal system it’s based upon since its constitution in 1971. In addition, the UAE’s sponsorship of the Dubai Reconciliation Pact for Somalia in 2012, in which the Somali parties met for the first time following 21 years of dispute.
  • Supporting Riyadh with regard to the Djibouti-Saudi Forum initiative and working to duplicate such experience in other African countries.

Dr.Ameena Alarimi/ APRIL 2018

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