By Fuad Abdirahman
When Somalia elected to take a neutral stand in the 2017 Gulf blockade of Qatar, the UAE rulers, who were keen on maintaining an influence over Somalia, did not take it lightly. That singular decision undid years of close relations. Consequently, Abu Dhabi made it its mission to make Somalia pay for that slight and, for a long time, Somalia has been the target of ugly geopolitics that may well undo its meagre gains of the last decade.
The hostility is so bad that Somalia, currently struggling with a second wave of COVID-19, with overcrowded hospitals and ventilators in short supply, has not access to the Sheik Zayed Hospital, a world-class UAE-built hospital with much-needed facilities, which remains closed and unavailable to the Somali people.
Somalia initially enjoyed close ties with the UAE. The wealthy gulf state was a close ally that provided budget assistance, humanitarian relief, financed infrastructural development, and offered training and funding for Somali security forces.
As the Gulf crisis escalated in early 2017, the Saudis and Emiratis, as was custom, asked their allies, both within and outside the Islamic world, to break ties with Qatar. Most acquiesced but Somalia, a comparatively weak nation in the throes of a 30-year civil war, stood up to that request. Several attempts later, including hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, Somalia stood by its decision.
The first weak point was the Somali Parliament, with some members declaring themselves as Emirati allies. The International Crisis Group noted in a report that “Gulf rivalries — whether directly or indirectly — appear certain to have exacerbated divisions, hardening both the government’s and its rivals’ positions and complicating efforts to reach consensus.”
Apart from infiltrating the legislative branch, the UAE secured logistics projects in the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland regional states, as well as offered the Ethiopian government a 19 percent stake in the Somali port, all without consulting the Somalia Federal Government. The Somali government was angered and rejected the deal, citing violations to its sovereignty, stability, and constitution.
In an escalation of hostilities, the UAE embarked on training security forces in Somaliland and transferring military hardware to the breakaway region. A UN Sanctions Committee panel of experts subsequently accused Abu Dhabi of breaching the weapons embargo on Somalia in a report that also stated that UAE had established a military base in Somaliland and Puntland, including transferring arms, thereby endangering the stability of Somalia.
According to the Canadian organization, Global Research, the UAE “is trying to destabilize Somalia in retaliation for the refusal of Mogadishu to abort its relations with Qatar, as well as its agreement with Ankara allowing the installation of a Turkish military base in its territory.”
The issue of Turkey is of major interest to the UAE. Although it succeeded in having Turkey lose its role as a mediator in the Somalia and Somaliland peace talks, Turkey still enjoys broad public support for bringing much-needed attention and hundreds of millions of dollars in development and relief assistance to Somalia when the country was hit by famine in 2011.
The meddling by UAE has also been manifest in Galmudug, whose regional parliament was similarly divided in 2017, with different factions openly declaring allegiance to either the UAE or the Federal Government of Somalia. So bad is the situation that parliamentarians came to blows when debating to remove the president from office.
In april 2018, an Emirati plane was seized with $9.6 million in cash at Mogadishu International Airport, which intelligence said was meant to finance insurgency in Somalia. Abu Dhabi didn’t deny the money was theirs but said it was intended to support the Somali army to pay soldiers’ salaries. Somalia is currently facing an election impasse for which the government also blames the UAE. Somalia’s Information Minister Osman Dubbe said during a press conference that while there existed an agreement on a way forward, when two regional leaders flew to the UAE, they suddenly imposed preconditions upon their return that have made it almost impossible to hold