Although the international community hasn’t still recognized Somaliland and they are still seeking to recognize as a de jure state, more than quarter a century
after when the Somaliland people has declared their independence, however Somaliland lies in a strategic region that interfaces the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, the Red sea and Horn of Africa. This strategic region is more important for the trade and also the security of both the countries that lie in this region and also the world. On the other hand, the Red Sea is more important while the Red Sea is a strategic route that links the trade relations between Europe, the Persian Gulf, and East Asia. That is why Berbera (the coastal city of Somaliland) was a military base for both the Soviet Union and the United States respectively before and also during the Cold War. After the Cold War, the remaining superpower establishes a military base in Djibouti (Camp Lemonnier) for the strategic importance of Horn of Africa in the War on Terror. Beside of the importance of the region, for the last 25 years, Somaliland was not at the center of the regional war in the Middle East and there was a lack of relations between Somaliland and the Arabian countries, but the Somaliland political view about the Middle East war has changed in March 2015, when the Arab coalition has conducted some operations in Yemen against the Houthi’s rebel backed by Iran, President Silanyo declared in speech with the two chambers of the parliament, that ‘Somaliland is fully supporting the position of the Arab league about the legitimate government in Yemen led by Mansur Al-Hadi’.
On October 2016, the government of Somaliland declared that President Silanyo has accepted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allows for the UAE to establish a military base in Berbera. This MOU was on month after when the Somaliland government has signed another agreement about the investment of Berbera Port that DP world (an emirate company that invests ports and logistics) invests more than $400 million. This military base agreement is more different from that previous agreement between Somaliland and DP World about the port, this is a military base and it depends on political and security issues. The government of UAE hasn’t still recognized Somaliland as an independent state and also the relations between the two countries is not more advanced. On the other hand, the UAE is a member of the Arab League and the Arab position of Somaliland is clear. Every communiqué about Somalia from the Arab league declares that the Arab League is ‘affirmed the respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity of Somalia’. However, there is a political competition between some of the Middle East regional powers that are mainly interesting the Horn of Africa and this may increase the interest of UAE to form a military base in Berbera.
In this article, I will try to examine the relations between Somaliland and UAE, relations between Somaliland and Ethiopia, the political alliance between the Arabian countries, the Yemen war, the interest of UAE in Berbera, and also the political competition between the Middle Easterner regional powers that may affect directly the stability of Horn of Africa.
Relations between Somaliland, Arab league, and UAE.
The diplomatic ties amongst Somaliland and the Arab League countries are not in a good circumstance, the Arab League countries clearly declared that their interest is in a United Somali government between Somaliland and Somalia. On the late 90s, the ties between Somaliland and the Arab League countries drove by Saudi Arabia and Egypt came to on their most exceedingly terrible time after when the Arab countries declared that they banned the livestock trade between Somaliland and Saudi Arabia. Livestock is the backbone of the economy of Somaliland. Still, the relations between Somaliland and Saudi Arabia are not good although Somaliland exports their livestock to Saudi Arabia but nowadays there is a ban from Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, when the African Union published a proposal about a debate on the recognition of Somaliland, Egypt and Sudan who are Arabian countries in the African Union were the first countries that started a motion in order to fail this proposal. At that time, UAE was a business oriented country and was not mostly involved in dynamics of politics but in these recent days, UAE was more interesting to involve in politics especially in the Horn of Africa politics, the reason that UAE is more interested in politics these days will be in the next section of the article.
The relations between Somaliland and the UAE was started in 2009 when President Rayale visited UAE in order to request a humanitarian assistance in Somaliland, and from that time the UAE started water projects in order to help the Somaliland people. That relation was just a humanitarian aid that the UAE charity foundations like Al-Khalifa foundation and others were helping Somaliland. But on March 2011, when President Silanyo started his first visit to the Arabian countries, he visited the UAE in order to take a negotiation about another humanitarian aid while the people of Somaliland was suffering from continuous droughts at that time. The UAE government has invited President Silanyo and his delegation to attend an Anti-piracy conference that was led by the UAE government. From that time, the relations between Somaliland and UAE was continuously growing up. On June 2012, the UAE facilitated a negotiation table between President Silanyo from Somaliland and President Sharif from Somalia in order to be one of the tables that Somaliland and Somalia have met.
While most of the Somaliland imports come through Dubai, Somaliland has opened a diplomatic mission with a representative in Dubai and also signed a port investment agreement with DP World. This agreement was another achievement that UAE made in order to strength their influence in Horn of Africa.
The competition between UAE and the other Middle Eastern countries.
While UAE was not involved more in politics and the interest of UAE was focusing on trade and how Dubai can turn into a major trade center that links Africa, Arabian Peninsula, and the world. The presidential election in Egypt and Somalia in 2012 changes the foreign policy of the UAE and this was a time to re-examine about another strategy for their foreign policy in order to be more influential. Qatar was involved in both Egypt and Somalia elections and this sends a message to UAE. This message was that ‘cash is a powerful weapon in politics when you are in a small country without effective institutions’. All at a point, UAE began to change their foreign policy about including their business orientation an impact in the dynamics of politics. The first action that the UAE took was to ruin the Morsi’s presidency, and lastly, the military assumed control over the power. The impact of the UAE in Somalia’s presidential election in this year was another step for the new UAE foreign policy in Africa and this new policy is important for Somaliland to evaluate before taking a decision for this military base.
The Arab alliance.
The Arab League is the regional organization for the Arab countries that concentrates more on the relations between the Arabian countries in political, cultural, social, trade and economy. Furthermore, the signing of an agreement on ‘Joint Defence and Economic cooperation’ in April 1950 was a commitment to the signatories that they have to establish a military coordination and also in 2015 Arab summit in Egypt, member nations of the Arab league agreed in principle to form a joint military force. But the most important thing to note is that ‘The Arab League members don’t have a common foreign policy’. This absence of Arab common foreign policy is important to refuse every Arab country to use the UAE military base that they will establish in Berbera if the MOU is ratified if the military base is only for the UAE and there are not other signatories from the Arabian countries.
The reason for this military base and the capacity of UAE for this military base.
Although the government of Somaliland and also the UAE government haven’t still declared the main reason for this military base, many political analysts agree that this base is for the Berbera’s next door war. The Yemen war between the Houthi forces upheld by the Islamic Republic of Iran and also the Yemeni government, along with their alliances such as Saudi Arabia and UAE. UAE was an important ally for the Arab coalition in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia. Many analysts argue that ‘this military base in Berbera will be important for the invasions in Yemen’ and also to secure that the Houthi’s ‘have not found some help alongside the regional countries’. This military base may be the same purpose with the UAE military base in Assab, Eretria. UAE has conducted some military operations from Assab towards Yemen over the past 15 months. Additionally, another important thing to figure is that the UAE armed forces are a small force that doesn’t have a capacity to operate abroad. The main question to answer is ‘why UAE wants another military base in Horn of Africa?’ and furthermore ‘does UAE have the capability of running a military base?’
The UAE defence force, known as ‘Union Defence Force’ consists of fewer than 100000 personnel who receive more military assistance from the Western countries like the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and others. The government spends less than 1% of the GDP in the military expenditures as shown in the UAE economy report in 2010. This demonstrates that the UAE is not able to run a military base abroad the country unless there are other interests that may affect the regional politics.
The regional dynamics and the effect of this military base.
Ethiopia plays as a regional power in Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is the largest economy (by GDP) in East and Central Africa. According to Global Fire Power, Ethiopia has the 42nd most powerful military world and the third most powerful in Africa. In Somaliland, Ethiopia plays as a key partner for Somaliland as far as of politics, while Ethiopia is the main gateway for Somaliland within regards to of engagement with the other world. On the other hand, Somaliland is important for Ethiopia in terms of security and furthermore in trade. Ethiopia was the first country that opened a diplomatic mission in Hargeisa, likewise, the first international airline that visited Somaliland was the Ethiopian Airline and this shows how the relations amongst Somaliland and Ethiopia were historically long. Yet, Ethiopia hasn’t recognized Somaliland as a de jure state but they work with Somaliland directly as an independent state. Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam declared in his speech at the parliament in 2013 that ‘Somaliland is an important ally of Ethiopia and they are ready to defend Somaliland if they met an attack from the extremist group’. This is a powerful speech that shows that Ethiopia is ready to work with Somaliland.
On the other hand, the relations between Ethiopia and Egypt are in a difficult circumstance. Ethiopia is investing a major venture that is essential for Horn of Africa energy uses known as The Grand Renaissance Dam project. Egypt, another regional power in Africa and also in the Middle East has serious concerns about this venture while Egypt uses the Nile water for agriculture, and agriculture plays an important role in the Egyptian economy. Additionally, the Ethiopian government has some concerns that the Egyptian government has a political impact of what is going inside Ethiopia like supporting the anti-government rebels in Ethiopia. Egypt needs more to have a base in Horn of Africa and mostly they try to use the Somali people in Somaliland and Somalia with a specific end goal to shield their enthusiasm in the Nile river, so if the Berbera military base is a base for the Arab coalition in Yemen, Egypt is an important part of this coalition and this may directly affect the strategic relations amongst Somaliland and Ethiopia.
Conclusion and Recommendations.
While the government of Somaliland is now in the negotiation process of finding a new agreement between Somaliland and the UAE about this military base, I will recommend to President Silanyo and his government about these suggestions that will be important for the negotiation.
1. To understand more clearly about the interest of the UAE about Horn of Africa and also the UAE foreign policy, as the UAE is not a military power in the world and also in the Middle East.
2. To keep away from any interruptions that may affect the relations between Somaliland and Ethiopia.
3. To clarify what will be the exchange of Somaliland if the military base is established in Somaliland.
4. To prove more clearly that if the Saudi coalition in Yemen is backing this agreement or not. If the Saudi coalition is in the agreement, Somaliland has to be ready for a part of the Yemen war and there will be a risk in the National Security.
Yacqub S Ismail
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