Berbera Port Deal could be the Beginning of an end to UAE- Somalia Relationship

Somalia has been recovering from a deadly civil war which destabilized the country for over two decades after the central government collapsed in 1991. The horn of African country endured a torrid few years where chronic famine, droughts and externally backed civil war contributed to the fatality of hundreds of thousands of people and a massive destruction of the country’s essential infrastructures. However, after successive reconciliation conferences and establishment of various transitional governments, Somalia elected its first federal government in 2012 and since then, the country has been recovering from the lost years. A lot of Somalis in Diaspora returned to invest in their country while there had been huge number of foreign countries and companies investing in the country.

Many external companies signed various deals with the Somali government. One of the most breathtaking deals included the one with ‘Favori’ – a Turkish company- on undertaking the biggest airport and seaport in Mogadishu-Somalia. Turkey initially came to help Somalia overcome the worst famine that hit the country for over 50 years in 2011 but in the post drought, Turkey remained in Somalia to help the country renovate its infrastructure and also work on other development projects. Likewise, many other countries including Qatar, UAE, IRAN and Saudi Arabia stormed Somalia to implement different projects after witnessing the huge influence Turkey is planting in Somalia.

It is important to note that some of these countries had either not helped Somalia or even contributed indirectly to the horrific political and security instability over the course prior to 2010.  However, due to the tensions in the gulf and their opposing interests, each country has been trying to attract Somalia and make them a lively allying member.

Somalia, a country rich in natural resources but hardly utilized it, took full advantage of the monumental foreign investments. Thus, this did not come without cost and not the least when the incredible gulf conflict storm erupted in 2017. Saudi Arabia, a nation which pledged massive funds to the government of Somalia for its way to recovery, and UAE attempted repeatedly to convince Somalia to side with them and boycott Qatar but the Somali government took a firm stance on the gulf rift by being neutral and even volunteered to mediate the two parties. That decision did not go down well with the Saudi/UAE side as they desperately wanted Somalia to cut all its ties against Qatar. However, after a lot of twists and turns, Saudi Arabia realized that Somalia is never going to change its stance on the gulf scandal and thus accepted the inevitable but UAE, a strong and close ally of Saudi Arabia did not take the Somali decision kindly.

It is worth recalling that Somalia-UAE relationship started many centuries before and as history suggests it was the Somali people who frequently transported charity (Zakawat) to a lot of Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and UAE during the difficult times of droughts and hunger. There was no oil at the time and people were struggling and thus that brotherly aid from Somalia built strong relationship and affection among the two nations. This relationship sustained and strengthened by late president of Somalia Siyad Bare and late Amir of UAE Sh. Zayed until 1991 when the then existing regime in Somalia was overthrown by militias with multiple agendas and the progress of Somalia was jeopardized.

However after a built again relationship with the Somali government from 2016; UAE tried to influence and change the Somali government’s strict decision about the gulf crisis by any means. UAE pressed the Somali government authorities in changing their mind, threatened the government and even begun creating divisions between the federal states and the central government of Somalia by offering money to the federal states in exchange of conflicting the central government’s decision.

UAE’s reckless actions agitated Somalis to believe that the gulf country has been ruthlessly exploiting on the Somali political instability for their own interests and they never want to see the resurrection of the great Somali nation again. Nevertheless, the relationship between Somalia and UAE hit the bottom line after UAE planned, funded, executed and energized a lot of failed campaigns against the much loved Somali government. Just to list a few extraordinary incidents that UAE tried to destabilize Somalia with include; Training and arming Somali militias that they used to attack and illegally search the house of an elite senator from the upper house, the main purpose for this attack was to provoke the giant senator, who is one of the most influential individuals in Somalia, and thus to cause huge mayhem among the government but fortunately, that move backfired after unbelievable awareness by all the public. Likewise, UAE invited and bribed all the presidents of the federal states in Dubai and made them accuse the central government on their stance of the gulf crisis. Similarly, this move did not materialize after all the Somali people opposed and marginalized the leaders who attended that meeting and it forced them to back off.

However, UAE made their final call to cause huge blow to the Somali people after one of their major companies-Dubai Port World (DP WORLD) used Ethiopia-a long existing enemy of Somalia- to sign a multiyear deal of undertaking Berbera port with Somali land-a self proclaimed country-without notifying or involving the Somali central government about the deal. The controversial deal caused havoc in every part of Somalia after it emerged that Ethiopia will receive huge percentage of share from the deal for unclear reasons. Therefore, these controversies followed by the disgraceful statement of the president of DP world company regarding their lack of respect of the central government of Somalia as well as their shameful social media war against the Somali president put an all time low to their relationship and as a result the Somali parliament unanimously passed a bill to dismiss and ban DP World from all over Somalia.

In conclusion, all Somalis would love to witness the progress and development of any part of their country but similarly they all believe that progress should not come with a devastating cost that would affect the future generations and endanger their land. Overall, UAE have so far failed to bully Somalia with dirty tricks and it will be interesting to see the next steps that they will take.


The content of this article is solely credited to the author.

Mohamed Yonis – Project manager, personal blogger, Humanitarian activist, BHR and MBA candidate from Laurentian University in Canada

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