Victim Fury? Somalia Takes Sharper Tone on UAE over Somaliland port deal

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A ship docks at the Berbera port in Somaliland. DP World currently manages two major ports in Somaliland and Puntland.

For the Somali government which for years has turned a blind eye on the aggressive political gamble, framed as Somalia’s rebuilding drive by the United Arab Emirates, time came for it not to take chances in, and finally came to the conclusion of playing a checkmate game in countermoves against UAE in the political chessboard.

By Judy Maina, judy.maina@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI –  For years, the United Arab Emirates saw Somaliland, a breakaway enclave in northern Somalia  and other regional states as the wild card in its strategy to increase its influence and  push the central government away from Turkey, UAE’s long time strategic rival and its neighboring new archrival, Qatar.

However, despite an immense pressure by the anti-Qatar coalition, Somalia’s position has been relatively clear: remain neutral and encourage the two sides to work out their differences to avert potential Gulf instability and has since moved closer to the anti Saudi-led including UAE alliance instead.

But, clearly the UAE had other ideas in response and came out swinging in a mix of friendly diplomatic moves and for the most part, behind the scenes political battles involving proxy networks. In addition, UAE had also signed  port deals with Somaliland and its neighboring rival state of Puntland by shutting out the government.

It was not only it’s unforgiving struggle for political influence that are rocking Somalia, but more. UAE officials and  their political brokers were banking on the idea that control over financial levers of power which for them appeared to be the key to out the current government before its mandate expires.

However, for the Somali government which for years has turned a blind eye on the aggressive political gamble, framed as Somalia’s rebuilding drive by the United Arab Emirates, time came for it not to take chances in, and finally came to the conclusion of playing a checkmate game in countermoves against UAE in the political chessboard.

CHECKMATE OPENER

Last week had started like no other for the Somali government which has now started proving a point against UAE in what officials say aimed at showing the price of overenthusiastic resistance by Somalia which had remained underdogs for years, in a sign of worsening mediations between the two sides.

Signaling the new escalation, Somalia has started to bite back last week, ending UAE’s military trainings and financial support to its army by disbanding troops trained by the Gulf state, long accused of operating outside the Somali army’s chain of command, thus directly taking orders from their UAE trainers.

“The big countermove by Somalia is apparently putting UAE in a more uncomfortable position and complicates things further for it.” said Jacon Moses, a Nairobi-based horn of Africa political analyst.

The development marks the first diplomatic escalation by Somalia against UAE’s aggressive strategic interests seen by Somalia as a ‘blatant disrespect’ towards its sovereignty and judicial system.

Arrayed against Turkey, Qatar and Somalia, the UAE which has seen its political and economic influence suffered a significant decline in the last two years has entered an alliance of convenience with Somaliland which have agreed to allow the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to set up a military base in the port of Berbera. However, the deal along with a separate port deal have proved controversial among Somaliland’s neighbours in the Horn of Africa.

Somali government which has long contested the deals as ‘illegitimate’ has questioned Somaliland’s right to reach an agreement with the UAE. Somaliland considers itself independent from Somalia, but is not recognized by any country.

The flare-up adds to the already tense relations between UAE and Somalia and further threatens to end relations between the two countries.

THE BITE BACK GAME

The diplomatic crisis comes at a difficult time for the UAE which has suffered another setback from Puntland, a semiautonomous state in northern which it considered to be an important pawn for its political battle with Somalia on Saturday.

According to local officials, security officers at Bossaso airport in Puntland have stopped UAE military advisers who were attempting to board a plane, demanding for an inspection of large unmarked bags they were carrying.

The unprecedented action by Somali security officers that created chaos at the airport and angered UAE officials has prompted the Emirati government to withdraw from the region, leaving behind all military equipment that were to be transported onto a military plane.

The Emirati officers have since flown to Dubai, according to officials.

Angered by the unusual inspection, UAE have since suspended the military training program in the region, sources privy with the Gulf state’s embassy in Somalia said on Sunday.

According to analysts, the incident, probably influenced by the Somali government had more to do with irritation over UAE’s ‘non-development’ policy towards the region and further to its commitment towards Somaliland. This will likely become another failure to add to the list of UAE’s policy escapades in Somalia.

“At this point, Somali government wants to set an example of its ability to shape the country’s internal affairs in its favor, and this already appears to be throwing UAE under the bus.” says Mohamed Ahmed, a university professor in Mogadishu in an email interview.

THE BIG CONTRAST

Tensions between Somalia and UAE have been brewing for some time, but Somalia’s new diplomatic and political escalation— has still shocked observers.

“This is quite phenomenon, but this indicates that UAE doesn’t understand how siding against Somali government in its own country runs against its interests.” Ahmed said.

For years, Somali government unnerved by UAE’s aggressive strategic interests and support for the opposition politicians had helplessly resorted to a subtle behind-scenes diplomatic war with UAE, in a desperate countermeasures that have since failed to address the problem.

But the signing of the port deal with Somaliland  by UAE’s global ports operator, DP World had marked a turning point in relations between Somalia and the Emirates and further restrained their relations.

Somalia, running out of further options to deal with the UAE had to settle on an escalation that started with an end to the UAE’s military trainings and funds to Somali military in what experts say precursors further diplomatic and political escalations that in the end could bring relations between the two countries to a breaking point.

Whether or not UAE decides to continue its relentless strategic policy may now hinge largely on Somalia’s next moves.

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