Fri, May 04, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Gulf state rivals and Turkey scramble for Somalia

By Maggie Fick  /  Reuters, NAIROBI

DETRIMENTAL EFFECT

Less than a decade ago there was virtually no commercial interest in Somalia.

That began to change in 2011 when al-Qaeda-backed al-Shabaab militants retreated from Mogadishu. Months later, Turkey launched famine relief operations, opening the door for projects that now make it Somalia’s biggest foreign investor.

The government hopes that new investment, especially in infrastructure, can help the nation rebuild.

Better tax collection is boosting government revenues, but this only covers public-sector salaries. Huge amounts of capital are needed for roads, schools and other basics. Middle Eastern companies and charities could provide some of it.

However, the money could also destabilize the nation further by deepening tensions between the central government, aligned with Turkey and Qatar, and Puntland and Somaliland, which receive money from the UAE.

“These investments are having a detrimental effect on our political stability and worsening the relationship between our federal government and the regions,” former Somalian national security adviser Hussein Sheikh-Ali said. “This could cause a constitutional crisis that only al-Shabaab will benefit from.”

The Gulf crisis has already deepened rifts in Somalia. The central government has stayed neutral, to the annoyance of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which Puntland and Somaliland have backed against Qatar.

“Getting out of this mess is very difficult,” Sheikh-Ali said. “Without unity we cannot.”

The Somalian presidency and the UAE government did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Western nations fear that the Gulf rivalries playing out in Somalia could sideline their multibillion-dollar, UN-led efforts to build a functional Somalian army to fight al-Shabaab before the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers in 2020.

TROUBLE

Political crises between Mogadishu and the regional authorities are undermining government efforts to strengthen financial systems and embark on other core tasks of a state, diplomats say.

The Gulf rivalry is also being felt on the ground in Somalia.

In the middle of April, Somalia and the UAE ended military cooperation. Since 2014, the UAE had trained and paid the salaries of Somalian troops in Mogadishu and built an anti-piracy force in Puntland. Hundreds of weapons were looted from the training center in Mogadishu as it shut down.

This came after Somalian security forces seized nearly US$10 million flown in from the UAE to pay soldiers and temporarily held the aircraft that brought the cash. The UAE also closed a hospital that offered free care.

Puntland officials last week traveled to Dubai to meet UAE counterparts and P&O, the state firm developing its port.

“Investing millions of dollars in Somalia at this critical juncture in history is very important for us,” Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said.

Similarly, Somaliland officials hosted UAE diplomats last week to discuss “enhancing bilateral ties.”

“For Somalis themselves, this kind of geopolitical game of chess, where Somalia is solely a proxy conflict to the trouble in the Gulf, this is obviously bad news,” said Harry Verhoeven, a professor at Georgetown University Qatar.

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