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Somaliland parliament approves controversial UAE military base

UAE continues to pursue a coordinated soft-power strategy throughout its sphere of influence, using political, economic, and military tools to promote its agenda in Somaliland at the expense of neighboring countries

By Jamal Ibrahim,

HARGEISA – The parliament of the breakaway northern Somalia republic of Somaliland has given the green light to a proposal by the United Arab Emirates to establish a military base in the region.

The controversial plan for a UAE-funded military base in the enclave has fueled debates over possible negative impact it could have on the relations between the enclave and its neighboring countries.

A total of 44 members of Somaliland’s two houses voted in favor of the bill, with five MPs against and five abstaining.

According to officials, the United Arab Emirates plans to use the military base which is to be opened in Somaliland for airstrikes by Arab coalition against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Speaking at the parliament, Somaliland’s president Ahmed Silanyo said that UAE’s military base would help the enclave in boosting security and creating jobs.

Meanwhile, the development had sparked a tough debate among intellectuals, religious leaders and politicians in the region who warned that the move would hurt relations with Djibouti and Ethiopia that have repeatedly warned Somaliland against allowing for the United Arab Emirates to establish a military base in Somaliland.

Ethiopia, a major ally for Somaliland is the only country to have an embassy in Somaliland. Other countries that have relations with Somaliland have merely maintained consulatar missions in the enclave.

Ethiopia also assists Somaliland in maintaining security in Somaliland, a region often considered an oasis of peace in the volatile region.

Foreign minister Sa’ad Ali Shire, a long-time critic of the proposal who initially warned that Somaliland would not afford to lose its relations with neighboring countries, namely Ethiopia and Djibouti.

“This endorsement by the parliament will only contribute to regional conflicts – it makes no sense.” said Ahmed Ali, a Somaliland parliamentarian.

During Suday’s parliament session, Video footages shared on the social media showed soldiers slapping and pushing down lawmakers including an elderly legislator who opposed the proposal.

The United Arab Emirates had earlier signed a 30-year contract with Somaliland to manage its largest port, Berbera.

Sa’ad Ali Shire, Somaliland minister for foreign affairs (left) and Sultan Ahmed Bin Suleiman (right), DP World’s chairperson sign an agreement on 9, May, 2016 in Dubai.
Sa’ad Ali Shire, Somaliland minister for foreign affairs (left) and Sultan Ahmed Bin Suleiman (right), DP World’s chairperson sign an agreement on 9, May, 2016 in Dubai.

According to economic analysts, Berbera’s management by UAE is parts of retaliatory measures against Djibouti which annulled the Dubai-based ports operator DP World’s terminal contract followed by arbitration proceedings by the Djiboutian government over alleged corruption by the company.

UAE has since cut diplomatic relations with Djibouti and picked Somaliland as its alternative base other than Somalia which signed multiple agreements with Turkey, a long time strategic rival of UAE to run its key economic hubs including Mogadishu port and the International airport.

Ethiopia and Djibouti had maintained warm relations with the breakaway republic before it moved to establish economic relations with the United Arab Emirates which analysts said had an impact of their relations.

According to officials, Djibouti’s government has repeatedly warned Somaliland leaders over their decisions to embrace UAE as a closer ally, and allow UAE to maximize its strategic interests in the untapped horn of Africa market.

Djiboutian and Ethiopian officials were not available for comments.

(Judy Maina contributed to this report from Nairobi, editing by John Thiongo)

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