UAE, S. Arabia turn fierce proxy politics on Somali govt over Gulf crisis stand  

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The president of the Jubbaland regional state in Somalia (right) and The United Arab Emirates ambassador to Somalia Mohammed Al Hammadi (Left)walk through Kismayo port./File photo

With Somalia’s geographic location and its links to the feuding nations, the two Arab countries continue to flex their muscles on the government in a bid to force it to support them against Qatar, a scenario which could put the impoverished horn of Africa nation at the center of efforts to isolate one of the world’s richest countries.

By Judy Maina, judy.maina@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – Pressure is building up on the Somali government which maintains its neutral stand over the ongoing Gulf crisis, as the Saudi-led coalition that cut ties with Qatar continue to use the country’s regional states as proxy networks to exert further pressure on the central government in a bid to compel it to change its stand towards the crisis, officials say.

With Somalia’s geographic location and its links to the feuding nations, the two Arab countries continue to flex their muscles on the government in a bid to force it to support them against Qatar, a scenario which could put the impoverished horn of Africa nation at the center of efforts to isolate one of the world’s richest countries.

In view of the Somali government’s reluctance to take their side against Qatar, the two Arab nations, employing diplomatic and financial leverage have turned to the country’s regional states who have cut ties with Qatar, having received financial incentives to build up pressure on the government with the hope of forcing it to abandon its neutral stand despite its assertions of remaining neutral.

According to experts, Somali government’s reluctance to sign port deals between UAE and regional is another key factor driving Saudi and UAE governments’ pressing push which is to go about wielding influence across the Somalia.

“The main focus of these two countries are now on cultivating Somali regional states to help lead and direct proxy politics against the government to force it bow their demands.” said Jacob Moses, a Nairobi-based horn of Africa analyst.

With the influx of cash that was the byproduct of secret agreements that states struck with Somali government, regional leaders have came up with a new strategic plan to isolate the government and push UAE agendas further, with a meeting by the leaders is set to take held in the port city of Kismayo on Sunday seeks to call for the government to side with the Saudi-led coalition against Qatar.

According to officials in Somalia, leaders who’d have to attend the upcoming conference are also expected to send warnings to the government to stop ‘interferences’ in their affairs and reiterate their ‘unwavering’ support to the Saudi-led coalition against Qatar.

However, the proposed conference is seen by many in the country as ‘insignificant’ in furthering pressure on the government and compel it to change its current stand towards the Gulf crisis.

“Let me put it in a way that you can understand – that conference which is to be held in Kismayo  is the opposite of the London conference”. said a Somali female senator who spoke to Alleastafrica  by phone from Mogadishu. He insisted to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The presidents of the Jubbaland , Puntland and Southwestern State regional administrations pose for a photo group in Kismayo, a town in southern Somalia./File Photo

The last year’s London conference on Somalia sought to address “deliver increased commitment from the international community on political reform and governance, to help build a more inclusive, federal and democratic state – setting a clear path towards one-person, one-vote elections in 2020.

“These leaders know about the constitution. There is nothing they can do outside the federal government’s jurisdiction.” She argued, accusing the regional leaders of creating  fake arguments to challenge the government.

UNMISSABLE OPPORTUNITIES

Despite the central government’s aloofness towards UAE’s ambitious and strategic interests in Somalia, leaders of the country’s regional states didn’t hesitate to get the message in their own way, embracing UAE, one of the richest nations in the Arab world.

According to diplomats, the presence of Arab officials, carrying large suit cases packed with US currency  in Somalia along with promises of larger financial support might have influenced decisions by the leaders of the regional states, formed under the new federalism system implemented by the central government.

“The Arab promises are too good to be true – And its an early indicator that Saudi Arabia and UAE may be are mobilising their proxy networks to show a political forces as did in other Arab countries, albeit on a much smaller scale.” said Abdillahi Godh, a Djibouti-based horn of Africa analyst.

HEAVYWEIGHTS RIVALRY

Despite early success in UAE’s strategic interests in Somalia which saw its global ports operator, DP World sealed two separate 30-year contracts to run two major ports in the breakaway northern Somalia enclave of Somalia and the neighboring regional state of Puntland, part of a regional power struggle with Turkey which had won long-term contracts to run both the Mogadishu port and airport in Somalia, its growing political influence continues to unnerve the fragile Somali government.

Using both political, diplomatic and financial leverage, UAE which officials say has never bothered to seek government’s authorization in its dealings with both Somaliland despite declaring an independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991 hasn’t so far been recognized as an independent state and Puntland has is currently eyeing other ports across Somalia.

However, the move is seen by Somalia as a ‘blatant disrespect’ towards its sovereignty and judicial system by UAE’s ‘interference’ which they say threatens to destabilize the long-chaotic horn of Africa nation.

Meanwhile, Somali government which continues to avoid shunning UAE in public has reportedly raised the matter with international partners, in a desperate attempt to evade potential political crisis in the  country which has a history of constant political bickering by its political stakeholders.

SAUDI-SOMALIA MEND

Somali president’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, followed by a $50 million aid package given to his government by the Saudi Arabia  reflected a fostering bilateral relations between the two governments, despite Somalia’s decision to remain neutral stand in Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Meanwhile, as leaders from three regional states arrived in Kismayo for Sunday’s convention, officials close to them told Alleastafrica that leaders would issue a communiqué, announcing a  $20 million pledge by the UAE.  Other regional leaders may also attend the conference, they say.

Somali government which is closely following the upcoming meeting by the regional leaders has earlier warned against political maneuvers that could destabilize the country which is recovering from decades of war.

(Additional reporting and editing by Jeff Mwaura in Nairobi, Kenya)

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