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Ed Webb

When is a nation not a nation? Somaliland's dream of independence | News | The Guardian - 0 views

  • in Somaliland, there is never any question that you are in a real country. After all, the place has all the trappings of countryhood. When I arrived at the airport, a customs officer in a Somaliland uniform checked my Somaliland visa, issued by the Somaliland consulate in Washington DC. At the airport, there was a Somaliland flag. During my visit, I paid Somaliland shillings to drivers of cabs with Somaliland plates who took me to the offices of ministers of the Somaliland government
  • according to the US Department of State, the United Nations, the African Union and every other government on Earth, I was not in Somaliland, a poor but stable and mostly functional country on the Horn of Africa. I was in Somalia
  • Unlike South Sudan before its independence, Somaliland’s claim for statehood is based not on a redrawing of colonial borders, but an attempt to re-establish them. Unlike Taiwan, it is shackled not to a richer, more powerful country, but a poorer, weaker one. Unlike Palestine, its quest for independence is not a popular cause for activists around the world
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  • What separates “real” from “self-proclaimed” countries is simply the recognition of other countries. There’s no ultimate legal authority in international relations that decides what is or isn’t a real country, and differences of opinion on that question are common. What separates the Somalilands of the world from, say, Sweden is that Sweden is recognised by its peers
  • what would happen if you created a new country and no one noticed?
  • Try to book a hotel in Somaliland online from the US and you are likely to be referred to a travel advisory stating: “The US Department of State warns US citizens to avoid travel to Somalia because of continuous threats by the al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group, al-Shabaab.” But once you’re there, you quickly realise that such warnings are unnecessary. Hargeisa is one of the safest large cities in Africa, and, aside from the pollution and the traffic, there’s not too much to be concerned about when you’re walking around, although foreigners travelling outside the capital have been required to hire an armed guard since the killing of four foreign aid workers by bandits in 2004
  • Adan was Somalia’s first qualified nurse-midwife, and the first Somali woman to drive. She spent years as a UN and WHO official before returning to Somaliland to build the hospital with her own savings; for all its limitations on personnel and equipment, it is one of the premier facilities in the Horn of Africa. She’s been called the Muslim Mother Teresa for her work in promoting women’s health and campaigning against female genital mutilation. She also served for several years as Somaliland’s foreign minister, continuing to deliver babies while on the job.
  • It shouldn’t be surprising that today the territory where the colonising power had more ambitious state-building goals is the more unstable. There is evidence from studies of regions of India and other parts of Africa to support the notion that postcolonial countries where colonisers had a lighter touch turned out better in the long term.
  • On 26 June 1960, the former Protectorate of Somaliland became fully independent from British rule, its independence recognised by 35 countries around the world, including the US. The next day, its new legislature passed a law approving a union with the south. On 1 July, Somalia became independent from Italy, and the two were joined together. It is a decision Somaliland has regretted almost ever since.
  • During the 1980s, with support for Barre and his harsh military regime eroding, a primarily Isaaq northern rebel group known (somewhat misleadingly), as the Somali National Movement (SNM) emerged to challenge rule from Mogadishu. The crackdowns that followed simply added to the perception that the north was a region under occupation. This culminated in an all-out civil war between the SNM and the central government in the late 80s, during which thousands were killed and millions fled.
  • “It’s the elders who really made this peace,”
  • Whereas Somaliland had been considered a backwater by the British, and therefore left mostly to govern itself through the existing clan structure, Italy considered Somalia an integral part of its short-lived ambitions to build a north African empire that also included modern-day Libya and parts of Egypt.
  • Non-recognition by western powers is having an impact on the status of women as well, Adan argued, saying that western countries’ lack of engagement was opening the door to the influence of fundamentalists from the Gulf. She pointed to an old photo of herself as first lady in a chic cocktail dress: “You see my pictures! We never used to cover ourselves from head to toe,” she said. “We had necks, we had hair, we were people. Others are getting into Somaliland faster than the west. And if that keeps on like this, heaven help us.”
  • Its main industry is livestock export, which accounts for about 70% of jobs. Its main customers are in the Middle East, and business picks up during the annual hajj in Mecca. With few opportunities at home, it’s not surprising that an estimated 44% of unemployed youth have stated their intention to migrate.
  • A large number of people are also dependent on $500m per year in remittances from the roughly million-strong Somaliland diaspora living for the most part in Britain, the US, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Africa. This isn’t unusual for developing countries, but officials are understandably worried that this flow of cash from abroad is a finite resource
  • The twin hopes for the Somali economy are oil exploration – currently being carried out by a handful of hardier energy firms off the coast – and a plan by Dubai Ports World to develop the Red Sea port of Berbera, which could conceivably be an alternative means of bringing goods by sea into landlocked Ethiopia. But it’s hard to imagine that plan taking off without a serious improvement in roads and infrastructure, and that probably requires international investment
  • Although it’s true that Somaliland voluntarily erased the border with Somalia in 1960, Somalilanders don’t consider that decision irreversible. As Somalilanders often point out, theirs wouldn’t be the first country to back out of a postcolonial merger. Senegal and the Gambia, a narrow strip of a country located completely within Senegal’s territory, were joined together as the confederation of Senegambia from 1982 to 1989. Egypt and Syria were briefly joined together as the United Arab Republic from 1958 until 1961, when Syria seceded. If these countries couldn’t make their marriages work, why, Somalilanders ask, should Somaliland be stuck in a loveless alliance?
  • For Somaliland, the frustrating reality is that the world map is preserved in place less by international law or even custom than by what’s sometimes called “path dependence” – the thousands of small decisions that, over time, lead to the creation of institutions, and that are very hard to unmake without massive disruption. Countries tend to stay the way they are, and people, with some justification, believe it would be awfully difficult and dangerous to change them.
  • We are treated as de facto independent – it is only the de jure recognition of sovereignty [we lack]
  • International organisations such as the African Union and the Arab League are hostile to the idea of recognising further territorial divisions. Countries wary of their own separatist movements don’t want to establish any sort of precedent. The UN, which has invested enormous resources in promoting stability and unity in Somalia as a whole, views Somaliland as a hindrance to those goals rather than any sort of beacon of stability. Somaliland’s neighbour Ethiopia mostly supports it, but given Addis Ababa’s wariness about its own Somali separatists, it likely prefers the status quo – a weak and divided Somalia – rather than a strong independent Somali state on its borders. The two most recent instances of country creation in Africa – autocratic, impoverished Eritrea and anarchic, violent South Sudan – have not bolstered Somaliland’s argument that its recognition would be a boon to regional and global stability.
  • the US NGO Freedom House classified it as an “emerging democracy”, and it is the only country in its region considered at least “partly free” or higher on the group’s annual rankings
  • “Being a peaceful, democratic and developing state isn’t helping Somaliland gain international recognition,” said Hagi. “Somaliland is very quiet. It’s a peaceful place. The international community doesn’t really care about a peaceful place. When there is a problem in a country, the international community is always there – Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya. When there’s no problem there, there’s no point in coming to build a state.”
  • The world will continue to defend an abstract principle of territorial integrity in the face of the clear will of the people of Somaliland.
  • Looking at the decades of support given by the US to dictators such as Mobutu Sese Seko, or considering the destabilising role of western oil companies in countries such as Nigeria, there’s a case to be made that if that’s what engagement with the outside world means for fragile African states, maybe Somaliland has been better off without it.
Ed Webb

What UAE's growing presence in Somaliland means for its Horn of Africa strategy - Al Mo... - 1 views

  • the UAE is locked in a struggle with Turkey and Qatar for geopolitical influence. The expansion of Emirati investments in Berbera strengthens the UAE’s ability to compete with Qatar’s Hobyo seaport project and the Turkish Albayrak Group’s 14-year contract to manage the Port of Mogadishu.
  • A Somali political analyst told Al-Monitor that Qatar would be happy if the federal government “scolds the UAE” and stated that “Turkey won’t lose a lot of sleep on the UAE move, as there is widespread support for Turkey in Somalia.”
  • even if the UAE uses its expanded presence in Somaliland as a launchpad for deeper relations with the Somali opposition, Turkey will be able to maintain positive relations with any authority that takes power in Mogadishu
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  • could reflect a sea change in the UAE’s power projection tactics on the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. On the surface, it appears as if the UAE is retrenching from the region. In October 2019, the UAE officially withdrew its military presence from Aden, and on Feb. 18, the UAE dismantled its base in Assab, Eritrea, which assisted its military intervention in southern Yemen.
  • UAE is reorienting its Red Sea strategy away from direct military intervention and toward a synthesis of economic investment and remote power projection. The UAE’s transition from a security-premised to economy-focused strategy in Somaliland, which was illustrated by Abu Dhabi’s September 2019 conversion of its proposed military base in Berbera into a civilian airport, was a critical dimension of its strategic reorientation. The UAE’s expanded economic footprint in Somaliland, which will result from Naqbi’s appointment, is complemented by its prospective construction of an Ethiopia-Eritrea oil pipeline and provisions over $200 million to Sudan’s agriculture sector.
  • UAE is also quietly consolidating a sphere of influence around the Bab el-Mandeb Strait
  • If the UAE’s closer economic cooperation with Somaliland extends to the security sphere, as Gabobe postulates, Abu Dhabi will be able to expand its maritime security role in this region, even though it is not part of the formal Red Sea coalition established in January 2020.
  • The UAE’s expanded influence in Somaliland will sharpen its rivalries with Turkey and Qatar in the Horn of Africa and complement its residual network of Southern Transitional Council-aligned militias in southern Yemen.
Ed Webb

Ambiguous Ethiopia port deal fuels uncertainty over Somaliland statehood | Features | A... - 0 views

  • “The agreement is mutually beneficial, and Ethiopia will share military and intelligence experience with Somaliland, so the two states can collaborate on protecting joint interests,” Redwan Hussein, Abiy’s national security adviser, said at the event announcing the agreement. “To facilitate this, Ethiopia will establish a military base in Somaliland as well as a commercial maritime zone.”
  • the billions Djibouti is believed to charge Ethiopia annually in port fees has had it exploring alternatives in Sudan, Somaliland and Kenya since the mid-2000s.
  • In 2017, Ethiopia acquired shares in Berbera port as part of a deal involving Emirati logistics management company DP World to expand the port and turn it into a lucrative trade gateway catering to the needs of 119 million Ethiopians. At the time, Somalia denounced the deal as illegal. Ethiopia did not follow through on commitments and eventually lost its stake by 2022.
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  • Under the governments of Ethiopia’s Mengistu Hailemariam and Somali President Siad Barre, both countries supported rebel factions in each other’s countries, which would go on to weaken and eventually lead to the overthrow of both leaders by 1991.
Ed Webb

UAE to open second military base in east Africa | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • The United Arab Emirates is going to set up a second military base in the Horn of Africa, sparking concern among some governments in the region.The Somaliland parliament approved the deal for the northern port of Berbera on Sunday
  • Under the 30-year deal, the Emirati government will have exclusive rights to Somaliland’s largest port and manage and oversee operational activities.
  • DP World, the UAE’s ports operator company, will supervise the port, which will gain a naval base as well as an air base. The lease of the port is contingent on the $442 million deal with DP World.
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  • Somaliland will get investment as well as international recognition: no other country has yet recognised the breakaway territory – which separated itself from the rest of Somalia in 1993 - as an "independent state"
  • The Eritrean base has been used by the UAE in the Yemen war against the Houthis. It is not known whether the facility at Berbera will have a similar purpose
  • Abu Dhabi is reaching out to countries in and around the Horn of Africa, as it looks to increase its non-oil revenue through other avenues including real estate, trade and financial services.
  • the UAE will be engaging in trade across the port, and for this, it would require a sustainable road network across Berbera. Hence, as the minister said, it will create opportunities for the local people on infrastructure development.
  • the Somaliland deal has angered Ethiopia, one of the regional powers in the Horn of Africa, which itself has economic ties with the UAE.As recently as last year, the UAE and Ethiopia signed several investment deals, under the terms of which the UAE is legally bound to protect the economic interests of Ethiopia
Ed Webb

Ethiopia: Exploiting the Gulf's scramble for the Horn of Africa - African Arguments - 0 views

  • the United Arab Emirates played a key behind-the-scenes role in facilitating the deal between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki. Both men met with Emirati leaders on several occasions before and during the reconciliation, and they have stayed in regular contact ever since.
  • After decades of disengagement, countries east of the Red Sea are scrambling to gain a greater footprint along the opposite coast. In response, states on the Horn such as Ethiopia are trying to leverage these rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics to enhance their own influence.
  • Relations between the Horn of Africa and Arab nations east of the Red Sea date back over millennia. They took a turn for the worse following the 1973 “Oil Crisis”, triggered when oil-producing Arab counties cut down production to punish Western countries that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Horn countries became collateral damage as inflation skyrocketed. To overcome economic devastation and soaring debt, they began to court oil-rich Gulf States, offering political loyalty and natural resources in return for aid. Countries such as Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, and Sudan invoked their cultural and religious connections with the Gulf in a bid to gain help in dealing with their balance of payment crisis and political instability. Arab nations seized the opportunity, using their wealth and newfound geostrategic importance to expand their influence in the Horn and secure key loyalties.
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  • profound geopolitical shifts have now renewed the Middle East’s interest in the Horn and reinvigorated the strategic significance of countries west of the Red Sea. The two main reasons for this are the war in Yemen and deepening intra-Gulf rivalries. These factors have led three main groups to vie for influence in the Horn: the Arab axis (led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, but including Egypt and Bahrain); the Iran axis; and the Qatar-Turkey axis.
  • Saudi Arabia is reportedly developing a military base in Djibouti and is considering Ethiopian requests to supply it fuel for a year with delayed payments. Meanwhile, the UAE has agreed to provide Ethiopia with huge loans, investment and infrastructure support; it has upgraded Eritrea’s Assab port and constructed a military headquarters nearby from which it has launched offensives into Yemen; and its company DP World has secured contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the ports in Berbera and Bosaso, located in the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland respectively.
  • main aim is to isolate Iran, with which it has a long-standing feud, and contain the influence of the Qatar-Turkey Axis, which it accuses of promoting “political Islam”.
  • Qatar and Turkey also have deep footprints in the Horn through development aid, trade, and investments in infrastructure. Both are heavily involved in Somalia, where Turkey manages the capital’s ports and airports and has a military base. And both are investing heavily in Suakin in Sudan, with Qatar announcing a $4 billion plan to develop the port this March. There are reports that Qatar has also financed Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, drawing anger from Egypt and its Arab allies, though Ethiopia has denied these claims.
  • Somalia has been particularly affected by intra-Gulf rivalries as some regional governments have pulled in opposite directions in an aim to consolidate alliances across the sea.
  • Amidst the growing competition for influence among the Middle Eastern axes, Addis Ababa has managed to avoid taking sides – at least publicly – and leverage its geostrategic significance as the region’s hegemon to attract much-needed investment from several different partners.
  • Ethiopia has also positioned itself well to benefit from the complex scramble for Red Sea ports. The land-locked country relies on Djibouti for nearly 97% of its imports, but now has clear avenues for diversifying its routes to sea. The rapprochement with its neighbour should give it access to Eritrean ports, while the UAE’s development of Berbera in Somaliland will give it another crucial option. Ethiopia defied the Somali federal government’s objections when it supported the UAE’s deal with the semi-autonomous region, but in return it has acquired a 19% stake in the project.
  • The combination of Gulf’s transactional politics and Africa’s often kleptocratic leadership could prove treacherous as historic rivalries take on new twists and matters develop beyond the Horn’s control.
Ed Webb

Ethiopia: Exploiting the Gulf's scramble for the Horn of Africa | African Arguments - 0 views

  • the United Arab Emirates played a key behind-the-scenes role in facilitating the deal between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki. Both men met with Emirati leaders on several occasions before and during the reconciliation, and they have stayed in regular contact ever since.
  • After decades of disengagement, countries east of the Red Sea are scrambling to gain a greater footprint along the opposite coast. In response, states on the Horn such as Ethiopia are trying to leverage these rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics to enhance their own influence.
  • profound geopolitical shifts have now renewed the Middle East’s interest in the Horn and reinvigorated the strategic significance of countries west of the Red Sea. The two main reasons for this are the war in Yemen and deepening intra-Gulf rivalries. These factors have led three main groups to vie for influence in the Horn: the Arab axis (led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, but including Egypt and Bahrain); the Iran axis; and the Qatar-Turkey axis
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  • the UAE has agreed to provide Ethiopia with huge loans, investment and infrastructure support; it has upgraded Eritrea’s Assab port and constructed a military headquarters nearby from which it has launched offensives into Yemen; and its company DP World has secured contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the ports in Berbera and Bosaso, located in the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland respectively
  • Amidst the growing competition for influence among the Middle Eastern axes, Addis Ababa has managed to avoid taking sides – at least publicly – and leverage its geostrategic significance as the region’s hegemon to attract much-needed investment from several different partners.
  • Ethiopia has also positioned itself well to benefit from the complex scramble for Red Sea ports. The land-locked country relies on Djibouti for nearly 97% of its imports, but now has clear avenues for diversifying its routes to sea. The rapprochement with its neighbour should give it access to Eritrean ports, while the UAE’s development of Berbera in Somaliland will give it another crucial option. Ethiopia defied the Somali federal government’s objections when it supported the UAE’s deal with the semi-autonomous region, but in return it has acquired a 19% stake in the project.
Ed Webb

UAE and the Horn of Africa: A Tale of Two Ports - 0 views

  • On February 22, Djibouti seized control of the Doraleh Container Terminal from its joint owner and operator, the Dubai-based DP World. The seizure was not wholly unexpected and was the culmination of Djibouti's deteriorating bilateral ties with the United Arab Emirates and a lost legal battle with DP World to renegotiate the terms of the port concession that gave it a 33 percent equity stake in 2006. The London Court of International Arbitration Tribunal ruled against Djibouti's claims, lodged in 2014, that DP World paid bribes in order to secure the 30-year concession
  • Doraleh opened in 2009 and is the only container terminal in the Horn of Africa able to handle 15,000-ton container ships. It quickly became the most important entrepot for the region's largest country and economy, Ethiopia, which was rendered landlocked by Eritrea's independence in 1993. Ethiopia receives around 97 percent of its imports through Doraleh — around 70 percent of the port's activity — in what has become an unacceptable strategic reliance on a neighbor
  • the increasingly complex dynamics animating the geopolitics, and the more localized politics, being shaped by the competition among aspiring regional powers of the Middle East — particularly Gulf Arab states and Turkey — and China for influence in the Horn of Africa
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  • A year after DP World finalized an agreement with the semiautonomous region of Somaliland to develop a $442 million commercial port in Berbera, Ethiopia inked a deal with the port operator and Somaliland's government to acquire a 19 percent stake in the port. There are reportedly plans for DP World to upgrade the connectivity infrastructure linking Berbera to the Ethiopian border that would allow Addis Ababa and potentially greater East Africa to reduce their sole dependence on Djibout
  • The intra-Gulf Cooperation Council crisis has added another destabilizing variable, as countries, parties, and elites in East Africa have been forced to choose sides
  • Along with the competition by outside players has come greater leverage for Horn of Africa countries, whose elites have long been adept at playing external patrons off one another. Ethiopia has to some degree succeeded in diluting Abu Dhabi's reliance on its enemy, Eritrea, by supporting its plans for the Berbera port. In 2015, after losing access to Djibouti for military operations, the UAE constructed a base in the coastal Eritrean city of Assab, which has been vital to its operations in southern Yemen. By supporting the UAE's military and commercial infrastructure plans in Somaliland, Ethiopia — the Horn of Africa's largest and most powerful country — also contributed to the fracturing of Somalia by encouraging the de facto consolidation of Somaliland's independence
  • In Sudan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have led efforts to rehabilitate President Omar Bashir in the international community by lobbying for U.S. sanctions on Sudan to be lifted. Bashir agreed to cut ties with Iran and send troops to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen
  • Bashir also agreed to lease Turkey the Red Sea island of Suakin for development. Though Turkey has denied it, concerns quickly arose that Ankara planned to build a new military base on the island, which would be its second in the Horn of Africa with the first in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
  • The confidence with which Horn of Africa elites are pursuing their own interests at the risk of angering new patrons underscores the high stakes for the participants in this so-called "new scramble for Africa," and also their long-term intent. Djibouti in particular emerged over the past decade as a strategic focal point next to the Bab el-Mandeb shipping lane, existential for the flow of Gulf energy to Europe and goods between Asia and Europe. It has leveraged its location for lucrative basing deals for current and emerging world powers alike. The United States, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and former colonial ruler France all have bases in Djibouti.
  • the UAE's longer-term interests — as well as those of its competitors — are economic and strategic. The country is working to make itself an essential component of China's Belt and Road Initiative and secure Dubai's Jebel Ali as the key logistics and trade hub linking Asia to Africa via DP World infrastructure, in the face of competition by a glut of new ports built by rivals with similar ambitions in Iran, Pakistan, Oman, and elsewhere along the Horn of Africa
  • ports projects in Rwanda, Mozambique, Algeria, and Mali
  • State-backed and private investors from the UAE have invested in a wide range of non-energy sectors, from finance and banking to construction, tourism, food, entertainment, and agri-business
  • The UAE is also trying to make the nature of its engagement more attractive for African governments and private sector partners: Rather than following the path of China, which has been perceived negatively as following a pseudo-colonial model in Africa, it is looking more toward the Turkish model. Investments such as DP World's in Somalia or military bases come with packages of infrastructure investment, training, and education for workers and security forces, as well as inducements such as greater numbers of visas to the UAE
  • Food and water security continues to be an important interest for the UAE and other Gulf countries in East Africa. Emirati companies are seeking to avoid the political pitfalls that have caused past investments in land for food production to fail. Privately owned Al Dahra Holding, which owns farmland in Africa, claims to use a 50-50 sharing formula for produce with local companies and hires local workers
Ed Webb

AGSIW | UAE and the Horn of Africa: A Tale of Two Ports - 0 views

  • Along with the competition by outside players has come greater leverage for Horn of Africa countries, whose elites have long been adept at playing external patrons off one another. Ethiopia has to some degree succeeded in diluting Abu Dhabi’s reliance on its enemy, Eritrea, by supporting its plans for the Berbera port. In 2015, after losing access to Djibouti for military operations, the UAE constructed a base in the coastal Eritrean city of Assab, which has been vital to its operations in southern Yemen. By supporting the UAE’s military and commercial infrastructure plans in Somaliland, Ethiopia – the Horn of Africa’s largest and most powerful country – also contributed to the fracturing of Somalia by encouraging the de facto consolidation of Somaliland’s independence
  • Turkey’s soft power and popularity in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia is formidable, and was built on its early economic, diplomatic, infrastructure development, aid, and education involvement with the country
  • the UAE’s longer-term interests – as well as those of its competitors – are economic and strategic. The country is working to make itself an essential component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and secure Dubai’s Jebel Ali as the key logistics and trade hub linking Asia to Africa via DP World infrastructure, in the face of competition by a glut of new ports built by rivals with similar ambitions in Iran, Pakistan, Oman, and elsewhere along the Horn of Africa. DP World is involved in two other port projects in breakaway Somali states, as well as logistics infrastructure and ports projects in Rwanda, Mozambique, Algeria, and Mali.
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  • The UAE is also trying to make the nature of its engagement more attractive for African governments and private sector partners: Rather than following the path of China, which has been perceived negatively as following a pseudo-colonial model in Africa, it is looking more toward the Turkish model. Investments such as DP World’s in Somalia or military bases come with packages of infrastructure investment, training, and education for workers and security forces, as well as inducements such as greater numbers of visas to the UAE. Food and water security continues to be an important interest for the UAE and other Gulf countries in East Africa. Emirati companies are seeking to avoid the political pitfalls that have caused past investments in land for food production to fail. Privately owned Al Dahra Holding, which owns farmland in Africa, claims to use a 50-50 sharing formula for produce with local companies and hires local workers.
  • the sudden abrogation of DP World’s Doraleh concession also lays bare the growing risks for the aspiring regional powers. The deepening fissures of Somali politics, in no small measure due to Middle East powers’ attempts at influence, also illustrate the risks for Horn of Africa societies, whose strategic location and economic potential paradoxically may lead them on a more complex – and possibly treacherous – path.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and the UAE Could Spoil Oman's Smooth Transition by Fomenting Regional Ins... - 0 views

  • Oman remains vulnerable to both foreign and domestic sources of instability as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seek to expand their regional influence. Potential causes of domestic unrest—including high unemployment, budget deficits, and dwindling oil reserves—lack clear-cut solutions. Sultan Haitham faces multiple challenges even without the threat of foreign meddling, yet Oman’s neighbors may view the death of Qaboos as a unique opportunity to advance their own expansionist agendas.
  • Oman resisted Saudi Arabia’s attempts to use the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a tool to serve the Saudis’ foreign-policy agenda, most visibly when Oman’s minister of state for foreign affairs publicly rejected King Abdullah’s plan to deepen the GCC into a Gulf Union in 2013, and was the only GCC state to not participate in the Saudi-led military incursion against Yemen that began in 2015.
  • Sultan Haitham comes to power at a time when the Trump administration has repeatedly signaled its support for Saudi Arabia and antipathy toward Iran. The belated naming of low-ranking U.S. officials to attend the official ceremony honoring Sultan Qaboos was widely interpreted as a slight against the Omanis; the U.K., in contrast, sent both Prince Charles and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to pay their respects.
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  • Saudi leaders likely hope that Sultan Haitham will be more amenable to a Saudi-led Gulf, and without U.S. support, Oman may feel pressure to acquiesce or face potential repercussions. Omani officials have privately expressed concerns that Oman could be the next target of a Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade
  • Despite precipitating the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has used its military presence there to declare its intention to build a pipeline through the Mahra region and construct an oil port on the Yemeni coast. Saudi Arabia currently ships oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, whereas the proposed pipeline would allow direct access to the Indian Ocean.
  • Mahra has close links to the adjacent Dhofar region of Oman, which has long viewed the province as an informal buffer from the instability in other parts of Yemen. Sultan Qaboos offered aid as well as dual citizenship to residents of Mahra as a means of eliminating the potential for another conflict resembling the Dhofar War of 1963-1976, which drew cross-border support from the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen operating from Mahra into Dhofar
  • Inhabitants of Mahra have expressed frustration with the presence of both the Saudis and Emiratis, given that these kingdoms’ alleged foes—the Houthis as well as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—are not present in Mahra
  • The UAE has taken control of the Yemeni island of Socotra, building a military base in a unique ecosystem nominally protected by UNESCO. The UAE is also building bases in Eritrea and Somaliland as part of a plan to develop a “string of ports” that will allow it to project power and escape possible pressure from Iran in the Persian Gulf.
  • Other Emirati ambitions include the Musandam Peninsula, an Omani enclave that forms the narrowest point in the Strait of Hormuz. The inhabitants of the peninsula have close ties to the UAE, as Musandam connects geographically to the emirates of Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah, rather than Oman. Oman’s control of the strategic chokepoint reflects the sultanate’s history as an empire whose territory once stretched from southern Pakistan to Zanzibar. 
  • The border between Oman and the UAE was only formally demarcated in 2008, but Omanis see a circle of potential threats arising from Emirati activity in or possible designs on Musandam, Mahra, and Socotra.
  • the UAE may feel that Oman’s new sultan may be more receptive to alignment with Emirati objectives than his predecessor
  • Oman has failed to significantly diversify its economy
  • As in many oil-dependent economies, unemployment is high, especially among young people
  • During the popular uprising of 2011, which brought thousands of Omanis to the street for the first time, the government used its nest egg to pay for a massive expansion of the government payroll.
  • there are no available resources to try to finance a transition away from oil, and the low price of oil has further impeded the government’s efforts to meet its obligations
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

Egyptian officials: Sisi's visit to Djibouti part of East Africa 'charm offensive' | Ma... - 1 views

  • The visit, which is the first by an Egyptian head of state to Djibouti, is part of what two officials in Cairo familiar with the arrangements say is a “charm offensive” in the Horn of Africa, where Egypt has been at loggerheads with Ethiopia over the filling and operation of the mega dam project on the Blue Nile and has been concerned over its relative lack of influence in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, an area it considers its backyard both for potential resource management along the Nile and commercial trade in the waterway leading into the Suez Canal.
  • Cairo’s image in the region took a hit when it sided with ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, according to two Egyptian officials, a move they say in retrospect was a mistake
  • The Djibouti visit comes after a flurry of defense cooperation agreements with Nile Basin countries since the start of the year, including Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Sudan. These build on the framework provided by the Red Sea Council, of which Egypt formally became a member in November. The charter was signed by the foreign ministers of Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen in January 2020. Egypt and Sudan held joint military drills in Khartoum this week.
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  • since 2019, Egypt has become aware that Addis Ababa has been presenting Cairo as a “North African, Arab country” that doesn’t care about the rest of the continent
  • Egypt’s foreign policy in the Horn is also about re-establishing a security presence over the Bab al-Mandeb, the strait leading into the Red Sea and Suez Canal, where Egypt had grown concerned about the increased presence of foreign powers
  • By establishing a presence in East Africa, Egypt will have the opportunity to cooperate with international powers that are trying to expand their presence in the region, including the US, Russia, and China, says one of the Egyptian officials, adding that this cooperation could take the form of trade agreements, combatting “terrorism” or controlling irregular migration
  • Egypt has grown increasingly worried about the role of the Emirates, which has become a major power broker and the principal architect of the security framework in the fiercely competitive Red Sea, with bases in Berbera, Somaliland; Bosaso, Somalia; and several coastal ports in Yemen, where it had fought alongside the Saudi-led coalition since 2015.
  • while Turkey and Egypt have publicized their quiet rapprochement, Turkey has made its own prominent foray into East Africa: signing a military cooperation with Niger last year; being invited by Somalia, to whom Turkey has long provided aid, to explore for oil in its seas; and holding high-level talks with Ethiopian officials.
  • A consultant for the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Africa policy previously told Mada Masr that Turkey’s “developing relations with Ethiopia is a direct answer to Egypt. There are two dimensions. We want to develop our relations with Ethiopia, and we want to develop our relations with an Ethiopia that is stronger against Egypt. A strong Ethiopia against Egypt is something that Turkey wants.”
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