There is no doubt that the United Arab Emirates has been a key ally of Somalia ever since the country descended into chaos. Since 2014, the UAE has trained and equipped thousands of forces in Somalia to help the country take control of its own security and decrease dependency on African Union peacekeepers. But the relationship between the two countries, both members of the Arab League, has deteriorated.
The bone of contention is the controversial Berbera Port deal. The bulk of the disagreement however is the Gulf diplomatic crisis in which Somalia is paying the price for declaring its neutral stance in the rift between the rich countries fighting over her. While the UAE has it is own agenda in intervening in Somalia, respect for the country’s territorial integrity is paramount. The UAE should not be seen to be propping a campaign to divide Somalia.
Even though Somalia is a federal state and the UAE, like any other country, has the option of engaging the federal member states, it should not do so at the expense of the Federal Government of Somalia. That would be a big diplomatic blunder. The two countries need to revisit their bilateral relations since the dispute is having a devastating effect that will be very hard to reverse. Since the fall of Somalia’s central government, the UAE has provided a sanctuary to Somalis fleeing the civil war.
As a result of the escalating dispute, the UAE this month halted it support for Somalia’s security forces and humanitarian support, closing down a hospital that used to treat 300 patients daily. According to security analysts, this will hamper the transfer of Somalia’s security to the country’s armed forces. The Institute of Security Studies think tank argues that the gap left by the training that was provided by the UAE will be very hard for Amisom to fill.
Its role was huge, despite accusations that some UAE-trained soldiers disobeyed Somalia’s army command structure. In a recent press briefing in Dubai, with the blessing of his UAE hosts, the President of Somalia’s Federal Member State of Puntland, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali (Gaas), made remarks that could be seen as very damaging to Somalia’s sovereignty. One could take the phrase, ‘Somalia is not Mogadishu, and Mogadishu is not Somalia’ as a clear warning shot to the federal government led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.