Horn of Africa: Port-Politics Taken to New Levels

Yesterday, the Djiboutian President Ismael Guelleh concluded a two-day visit to Mogadishu where he met the Somali president Abdullahi Formaggio and gave a speech at the parliament.

During his stay, Guelleh reopened the old Djiboutian embassy in Mogadishu and discussed several bilateral agreements with his counterpart.

As Guelleh concluded his visit to Somalia, Osman Saleh, the Eritrean minister of foreign affairs together with Yemane Gebreab, made an unannounced visit to Hargeisa, Somaliland. This is the first high level visit by Eritrean officials.

Since it announced its separation from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has been denied recognition by the UN and other countries except by a few that include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Ethiopia. The visit of the Eritrean officials to Hargeisa has raised eyebrows in Somalia.

For the last few years, the UAE has been at odds with both Somalia, Somaliland, and Djibouti over port concessions and other deals. in February 2018 Djibouti unilaterally terminated the concession contract it had awarded to Dubai Ports World (DPW) for the operation of the Doraleh Container Terminal. Djibouti’s action led to a legal dispute with the UAE, which resorted to a court and the case was arbitrated for the benefit of DPW. However, Djibouti has refused to recognize the arbitrators’ decision.

The UAE also made deals with Somaliland and Puntland to operate the ports of Berbera and Bossaso on the African coast. However, the Somali government refused to recognize the deals that were made with Somaliland and Puntland. Mogadishu holds the two regions are part of Somalia and any deal should be concluded with the Federal Government of the Republic of Somalia.

For almost a decade, the UAE has been rushing to control the ports in Djibouti, Yemen, Eritrea, Somaliland, and Somalia.

Following the Doraleh dispute with Djibouti, the UAE also lost control of the port of Berbera in Somaliland. The Berbera port deal was abrogated by Somaliland claiming it was facilitated through shady deals involving a local businessman and some parliamentarians.

The scramble for ports surrounding the Bab El-Mendeb gateway of the southern tip of the Red Sea by the UAE came to the limelight in 2015 when the UAE and Saudi Arabia started an extensive war against Yemen.

As a result of the war in Yemen, in the summer of 2018 the mounting differences led to a comprehensive boycott of Qatar by the  Saudi-UAE alliance.

The effects of the fallout out between the Saudi-UAE alliance and Qatar has serious effects on the politics of all the countries in the Horn of Africa whose relations with the three countries is based on their positions on the war in Yemen. None of the Horn of African countries has openly declared its position on the war in Yemeni but their relations to the Arabian Gulf countries is considered an indication of their position.

In 2015, Isaias the Eritrean president has provided a military base for the UAE that has built an air and a naval base a few kilometers north of the port of Assab, close to the Bab El-Mendeb gateway, across the Red Sea facing Yemen.

In February 2019, Mohammed Formaggio, the Somali president visited Qatar, where he secured financing for several development projects in Somalia.

Today, March 19, 2019. PM Abiy is expected to arrive in Doha, Qatar on a state visit.

Meanwhile, Gedab News learned from credible sources that the UAE is working towards recognizing the independence of Somaliland from Somalia. According to the sources, the visit by the Eritrean officials is to convince Somaliland to improve its relations with the UAE.

Until the Eritrean government switched sides in 2015, Qatar was its major ally and benefactor in the region.

Related Links:

  1. Warships in Asseb: The agony Of Irrelevance (Nov. 4, 2015)
  2. UAE Air Force Kills an Eritrean Fisherman and Wounds Six May 9, 2017)
  3. A Third of the Bombing Sorties on Yemen Deployed from Eritrea (Nov. 5, 2017
  4. Saudi, UAE, and Eritrean Internet Trolling Cooperation (March 27, 2018)

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