By Hassan Mudane
Ethiopia was widely seen as Somalia’s scapegoat for a long time, and now even the United Arab Emirates appears to join the club.
The last two weeks were full of confusion for Somalia. It resulted after the tripartite agreement signed between UAE’s DP World, Ethiopia, and Somaliland without consulting with the Somali Government of Somalia (FGS). According to the agreement, Somaliland took 30%; Ethiopia acquired 19% while DP World became the major shareholder with 51%. However, FGS rejected the agreement over the Port of Berbera arguing that it violated “the Somali constitution and unity.”
Worse Than Before
Back in February 8, 2017, when the current government headed by President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo” and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre came to power, Somalia’s relations with UAE deteriorated. What happened? Let us look back briefly at the historical diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Both countries have long diplomatic relations, and also they are Member States of the Arab League. Their relationships are mainly based on economic collaboration. The UAE has provided opportunities for Somali businessmen to trade from Dubai to Mogadishu, but their diplomatic relationship has not lasted long. It has been fragile for the last years. What brought the two countries’ diplomatic ties from sweet to bitter? Here, are two reasons:
First, the UAE has worrisome concern over the Somali-Turkey relationship, thus, The UAE sees this diplomatic ties as a threat both to its geopolitical security and economy. Nevertheless, Turkey and the UAE are geopolitically keen to have influence in the Horn of Africa. Somalia has also been keen to exploit the advantages of its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, in an area that has been geopolitically important to the superpowers, and Arab powers including the UAE and Saudi Arabia to obtain economic aid. Second, during the Qatar-Gulf Crisis, the UAE and its alliance tried to convince Somalia to be on their side but Somalia decided to remain neutral and nonaligned. This decision by Mogadishu did not go well with the UAE.
However, it is safe to say that UAE has increased its influence in Somalia when the Turkish government came to Somalia in 2011 for humanitarian reasons, as they claimed. Moreover, this geopolitical competition looks like a cold war between Turkey and UAE in the region, which has its roots in the interest of Somalia’s strategic location. Since independence in 1960, Somalia’s relations with UAE were coloured by trade factor. The two countries have been trading even before the oil boom.
The UAE’s foreign policy towards Somalia started to change in late 2017, respectively, when Mogadishu moved politically closer to Qatar largely in an effort to maintain good relations with the Turkish government. The UAE and its alliance considered Qatar as a threat if not an enemy. Thus, Qatar’s friend became an enemy too. However, Somalia’s relations with UAE have fluctuated over the past years, and the economic support it has obtained from the UAE has been somewhat unpredictable. While Somalia is not at war with UAE, the internal political situation appears to make it difficult for Mogadishu to improve its relations with Dubai.
Here, I will present three major decisions which are considered as irrational. These decisions are made by the FGS to its end. First is the incident that took place last year when the federal government decided to hand over Abdikariim Sheikh Muuse (Qalbidhagax), to Ethiopia. Qalbidhagax was a former military veteran who fought in the 1977 war against Ethiopia. This decision became very controversial. It was an irrational decision which caused him much pain and suffering in the hand of his enemy without his consent and willingness, and since then, the federal government has failed to take responsibility.
Second, critics are of the opinion Somalia took an irrational decision for not considering the national interest over the private one when it stood on the nonaligned position in the Qatar-Gulf Crisis. Now it is paying the price by facing waves of domestic challenges, particularly security problems. Again, the federal government did not take its responsibility. Finally, on night of Sunday the 18th of December 2017, Somali security forces carried out an operation that resulted in the arrest of Abdurahman Abdishakur Warsame, a powerful opposition leader and killed five of his security guards. The government did not accept its responsibility, though it did apologize.
What all these irrational decisions had in common is the lack of taking responsibility and blaming scapegoats for its domestic illness. Simultaneously, the federal government uses Ethiopia, Al-Shabab and UAE as scapegoats to hide its irrational decisions and not taking its responsibility. Ethiopia is widely seen as Somalia’s scapegoat for a long time, and now even the UAE appears to join the club.
However, the federal government must take seriously its responsibility for domestic problems including the security without using the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Al-Shabab as scapegoats. Additionally, Somalia’s foreign politics should be based on rational calculation rather than emotional.
The writer is an Author and an Analyst with interests in Africa’s armed conflicts. He is currently working on his Master’s degree in African Studies and International Relations at the Istanbul Ticaret University. He is based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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