Connect with us

Somaliland

AP Interview: Somaliland president defends UAE military deal

Published

on

AP — Somalia’s breakaway northern region of Somaliland declared its independence nearly three decades ago, but despite having its own currency, parliament and military the predominantly Muslim country hasn’t been recognized by any foreign government.

Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi is hoping to change that by aligning his country’s interests with energy-rich Gulf Arab states eager to expand their military footprint in the Horn of Africa along the vital shipping corridor of Bab al-Mandeb, the entryway to the Red Sea for ships from Asia and oil tankers from the Gulf heading to Europe.

Speaking to The Associated Press in the capital, Hargeisa, on Tuesday, Abdi defended an agreement that allows the United Arab Emirates to establish a military base in Somaliland.

“Our government is not so strong and our zone needs to be protected,” he said. “I think we need a friendly country to have a cooperation with military security, we need it.”

Securing the Horn of Africa has become increasingly important for Gulf countries since March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition launched a war against Iran-allied rebels in Yemen. On Tuesday, the coalition, which includes the UAE, said the rebels attacked a Saudi oil tanker in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, causing minor damage.

Abdi declined to disclose how many Emirati troops would be based in Somaliland or when construction of the base will be complete. The lease for the base is for 25 years.

“Yes, we are allied to the United Arab Emirates and to Saudi (Arabia),” Abdi said.

“All our business, main assets, are in Dubai. All our imports depend on United Arab Emirates, their ports,” he said. “We have relations of business and economic ties with them, so we are allies with them.”

Abdi, who won elections in November, spoke Tuesday from his office in Somaliland’s capital of Hergeisa, home to around 1 million people. Somaliland is far more peaceful than Somalia, where the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab group carries out frequent attacks.

Except for a Coca-Cola factory outside the largely impoverished city, there are no visible signs of multinational companies. The city, which moves without traffic lights, is not home to any major international hotel chains, American fast food restaurants or bustling shopping malls.

Instead, the country is capitalizing on its strategic location near Bab al-Mandeb.

Somaliland signed an agreement last year with one of the world’s largest port operators, DP World, to operate its Port of Berbera. The agreement with DP World, which is majority-owned by the Dubai government in the UAE, was signed the same year that the UAE’s plans to build a naval base in Berbera were revealed.

It’s the latest example of how DP World’s business dealings in East Africa increasingly mirror the UAE’s military expansion in the region.

The UAE, which is also reportedly building up a long-term military presence in Eritrea, is not the only country with troops in East Africa. Turkey opened a military base in Somalia last year. Neighboring Djibouti is home to a U.S. base that launches drone missions over Somalia and Yemen, as well as a Chinese military base and Japan’s first overseas base since World War II.

Last week, Somalia asked for the United Nations Security Council to intervene to stop the UAE from building the military base in Somaliland. Somalia said the agreement between the Gulf state and Somaliland, which it refers to as the “Northwestern Region of Somalia,” was made without the consent of Somalia’s government and is in “clear violation of international law.”

Somaliland’s minister of foreign affairs, Saad Ali Shire, said his country’s alliance with the UAE is a sign of the growing “realization that Somaliland should be recognized.”

“We feel that we have the right to be recognized. We have the right for self-determination under the U.N. charter,” Shire told the AP. “That’s a fact which I think everybody should recognize, and perhaps the UAE is finally coming around to recognize that fact as well.”

DP World’s recent expansion into Somaliland creates an alternative corridor for imports for landlocked Ethiopia, a country of 110 million people and the largest economy in the Horn of Africa. Cargo going to Ethiopia currently constitutes 15 percent of Berbera port’s operations.

DP World holds a 51 percent stake in the port, Somaliland holds a 30 percent stake and Ethiopia holds the remaining 19 percent.

DP World operations in Berbera threaten Djibouti’s near monopoly on Ethiopia’s imports and exports. Djibouti’s port provides Ethiopia with more than 95 percent of Ethiopia’s imports.

The deal with Somaliland prompted Djibouti to abruptly end DP World’s contract for its Doraleh container terminal in February.

DP World’s Berbera operations manager, Ali Ismail Mahamoud, acknowledged that the port is a competitor in East Africa. He spoke to the AP on a recent visit to the port.

“Whenever you open a port near another port which is close to it, definitely you have to be competitive. (We are) not purely competitive with Djibouti, but I would define it as we have to be competitive,” he said.

Human Rights

Somaliland poet jailed for three years in crackdown on writers

Published

on

A poet has been sentenced to three years in prison in Somaliland as part of a wide-ranging crackdown against activists and writers.

Naima Abwaan Qorane, 27, was jailed on Sunday for “anti-national activity of a citizen and bringing the nation or state in contempt”.

Prosecutors said she had expressed opinions on social media that undermined the semi-autonomous state’s claim to full independence.

In a second case on Monday, the same court sentenced Mohamed Kayse Mohamoud, a 31-year-old author, to 18 months in prison on charges of “offending the honour of the president.”

The case against Mohamoud was based on a Facebook post saying the “president is a local”, according to the charge sheet seen by activists.

It was offensive to the president because the president was “a national president” and not a local official, the presiding judge said.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991 as the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed, but has not been recognised as a fully autonomous state by the international community.

It is effectively self-governing with its own elections, constitution, courts and currency. President Muse Bihi Abdi was elected last year.

Since December there has been a series of arrests and detentions of activists, bloggers and writers. Local human rights workers say at least 12 journalists have been detained, some for up to three weeks.

“The detention of my client was illegal, the charges made against her are politically motivated and the sentence is unfair,” Qorane’s lawyer, Mubarik Abdi Ismail, said. “The the judge was not independent and therefore he could not deliver a free trial.”

He said the poet had been threatened during her interrogation. “On one night while Naima Qorane was in [police] detention in Hargeisa, two hooded men entered her cell and threatened that they will rape her if she would not provide passwords of her mobile phone and her social media pages particularly her Facebook. They took all passwords,” he said.

“In March, two [police] and intelligence officers came to Qorane’s cell and demanded her to tell everything and confess her crimes … they threatened that they will bring very strong men who would rape her, and then that they would kill her and dump her body into unknown place. They returned the second night and put a loaded pistol of her forehead and threatened that was her last minute in life.”

Qorane was also denied visits from her family for a number of weeks after her father spoke to the media and, though held for political offences, she was not separated from other detainees. She is now being held in Gabiley women’s prison.

Ahmed Hussein Qorane, Naima’s father, said he was given only limited access to visit his daughter and was not surprised by the sentence. “My daughter is innocent … She has nothing to do with what they alleged. She must be released without condition. They did not allow her to see a doctor. She has bad toothache. They beat her in the detention and her left knee is swollen while she has an injury on her thumb,” he said.

Much of Qorane’s poetry evokes the lost unity of Somalia, but does not explicitly mention Somaliland or its future, supporters say. She read her works at a TEDx conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last year.

Guleid Ahmed Jama, the chair of the Human Rights Centre-Hargeisa Somaliland, said the imprisonment of Qorane and Mahamoud were contrary to the constitution.

“This shows that the judiciary is being used to suppress critical voices. We are very concerned about the judiciary’s acts that are putting people behind bars for expressing their opinion. Somaliland is a democracy. We have a very good constitution. The government needs to respect that constitution,” he said.

Qorane said in 2016 that she had received death threats and been warned to leave Somaliland. “If it happens – though I am not expecting it – jail was built for people not for animals … I will be released one day and the prison experience is not going to change my views,” she said in a local media interview.

There has been no official statement from the Somaliland authorities.

Said Abdi Hassan, an activist in Somaliland, said Qorane’s sentence was unfair. “She was detained because of her views which everybody has the right to express without fear,” he said. “How can a country claim to be seeking recognition while they disregard rights of the people.

“But we want to tell Naima that even if she is jailed forever, her views will be active. She is a role model for many of our youth by calling for unity and against tribalism.”

Officials contacted in Somaliland said they were unable to comment on the case.

Additional reporting by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin

Continue Reading

Human Rights

Somaliland: Female poet jailed over unity calls

Published

on

MIDDLE EAST MONITOR — A court in Somaliland has sentenced a female poet to three-years in jail after she called for unity with Somalia amid ongoing regional tensions, Garowe Online reported yesterday.

Naciima Abwaan Qorane was arrested in January at Igal International Airport upon her return from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu where prosecutors claimed she had recited poetry calling for unity.

Qorane was charged by police in Somaliland with “anti-national activity and violating the sovereignty and succession of Somaliland”. Somaliland’s prosecution claimed that Qorane called Somaliland a “region” and “insulted and defamed” the government.

Read: Somalia’s quandary with UAE: A port in Somaliland

“We are very concerned about the conviction and sentence of Naima. Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected by the Constitution of Somaliland,” Guled Ahmed Jama, the director of Human Rights Centre, said.

Regional tension
A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

In a recent struggle for power between the two states, Somalia rejected a $422 million tripartite port agreement between Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) logistics port company DP World as “null and void”.

Tensions escalated when the UAE went ahead with the port deal despite strong opposition. Somalia’s members of parliament voted for a law to officially ban DP World last month.

Continue Reading

Somaliland

Somaliland minister: ‘Somalia can’t interfere in port deal’

Published

on

GULF NEWS — “Had you come a day earlier, you’d have seen us loading camels onto ships heading to the Middle East. Somalia as a whole has the world’s largest number of camels, at six million,” said Ali Esmail Mahmoud, Head of Operations at DP World Berbera, as he took visiting journalists on a tour of the port.

“Since DP World took over the running of the port, there have been many changes,” Mahmoud said. “We’ve added a lot of equipment. We’ve ordered three mobile harbour cranes. Six reach stakers have been added, with three more on the way, along with empty container handlers, mobile cranes, internal terminal vehicles and forklifts.”

He also said the port was using a new software, Sodiaz, which is also used in many other DP World ports.

“People were trained on the software outside the country, including in Thailand.”

In 2016, the Somaliland parliament voted in favour of granting DP World, the world’s fourth biggest port operator, a 30-year concession with an automatic 10-year extension for the management and development of the port at Berbera, in a move not recognised by the Federal Republic of Somalia.
As per the deal, DP World will invest $442 million (Dh1.62 billion) in the port, controlling a 51 per cent stake in the project while the Somaliland government will control 30 per cent.

As part of another deal announced last month, Ethiopia will become a 19 per cent stake holder in the port.

That deal was also bitterly opposed by the Somali government in Mogadishu.

Speaking to journalists, Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Dr Sa’ad Ali Shire said no one had the authority to interfere in a deal between Somaliland and DP World.

“This is an economic and commercial deal that will benefit everyone in the Horn of Africa region. Somalia’s claims are baseless, and don’t change anything on the ground.”

Somaliland is a self-declared independent republic that is not recognised by the international community but has all the trappings of a state, including its own parliament, judiciary, currency and armed forces. It also holds elections that are seen as being free and fair, and issues its own passports. The government of the region sees Somaliland as the successor state to the colonial-era British Protectorate of Somaliland. Somaliland is also far more politically and economically stable than Somalia.

The port provides jobs to 780 local people. And has clearly benefited the economy of the region; the construction sector has been given a fillip due to the planned expansions and improvements already made to the port. “Land in the area is also going up in value,” Mahmoud said. “The infrastructure in the region is improving and many companies are coming here to do business.”

The port’s annual capacity is 150,000 TEUs-twenty-foot equivalent units (container); 15 million MT (general cargo, bulk, ad break bulk); and 4 millon heads (livestock).

DP World Berbera also provides assistance to the tune of $4800 a month to the nearby Berbera Maritime and Fisheries Academy, which was established in 2012 and has graduated 85 students, including 12 women. The port has also donated $770,181 in the past 12 months to educational institutions, mosques and hospitals in the region and built five water wells for the community.

Mahmoud added: “We are currently working on a three-phase basis: Phase zero, phase one, and phase two. As part of phase zero, we are developing the existing terminal. We’ve made many changes, including to infrastructure, electricity, training facilities etc. Phase one begins in five months, and is expected to be completed in 2020.”

Continue Reading

TRENDING