The Interpreter — A race is underway between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Turkey to build naval and military bases right across the Horn of Africa. This threatens to change the naval balance in the north-west Indian Ocean. But it may also presage the beginnings of a new strategic order in this complex and multipolar region where a host of major and middle powers jostle for influence and position.
The strategic order in the Indian Ocean is changing fast. In the last few years we have seen major powers, such as China and India, building new bases in the western Indian Ocean. But we are now witnessing several Middle Eastern players building their own areas of influence. This is happening in the Horn of Africa, but is likely to spread further into the Indian Ocean.
Base race in the Horn of Africa
Saudi Arabia has recently finalised a deal to establish a naval base in Djibouti. Its UAE ally has just built major naval and air facilities at Assab in nearby Eritrea. The UAE also runs a military training centre in Mogadishu in Somalia, and is rumoured to be seeking access to port and air facilities at Berbera in the breakaway province of Somaliland.
In recent weeks, Turkey signed a deal with Sudan to rebuild the old Ottoman-era port of Suakin on the Red Sea, which will reportedly include naval facilities. The port last hit the international spotlight in 1883 when British (and Australian) forces under Kitchener used it as a base to pursue the “Mad” Mahdi. A Turkish naval base at Suakin would upset the military balance on the Red Sea, potentially setting off a naval arms race with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This is on top of Turkey’s existing military facilities at Qatar (where some 3000 troops are now stationed) and Mogadishu.
Indeed, hosting foreign military bases has become a bit of a regional specialty. Djibouti, which sits on the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb (the maritime choke point between the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal), has made virtue of its geography by creating a successful business model out of hosting foreign military bases. It now hosts naval and military forces from France, the US, Japan, Italy, China, and the Saudis, among other countries.
The immediate imperative behind these moves in the Horn of Africa is the growing rivalry between the two new Middle Eastern blocs: Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt on one side; and Turkey, Iran, and Qatar on the other. A proxy conflict between these rival blocs in Yemen has a strong naval element, with the Houthi rebels being supplied by sea. The naval blockade of Yemen and support of government forces give the Emirate and Saudi navies good reasons to establish bases nearby.
But the implications of these developments go far beyond the Horn of Africa. This base race is symptomatic of bigger strategic aspirations of several “non-traditional” middle powers in the Indian Ocean region.
Turkey’s long-forgotten glories
Turkey has not been seen in the Indian Ocean since the time of Lawrence of Arabia, more than a century ago. But the country is undergoing a “global reawakening” that includes a national remembrance of the glories of the Ottoman Empire. In their heyday, the Ottomans exerted influence right across the Islamic world, through Africa and in the northern Indian Ocean. The Ottomans even boasted a protectorate in Aceh, in present-day Indonesia.
This history is now being disinterred. No doubt we will soon be reminded of the exploits of several long-forgotten Ottomans’ naval expeditions in the Indian Ocean to the Strait of Malacca and beyond.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ambitions, which some call “neo-Ottoman”, across the region. Turkey is already a security player in the eastern Indian Ocean. In September 2017, Turkey was the first country to deliver aid to the Rohingyas in Myanmar and in Bangladesh during the latest bout of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar regime.
The Emirates spreads its wings
The Emirates, a regional rival of Turkey, is also spreading its wings. The Emirates has long had aspirations in the Indian Ocean, far beyond the Yemen conflict. The UAE has given considerable financial and political support to small island states, such as Comoros, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros (which are Muslim-majority or have significant Muslim populations), and it is a large investor in East Africa.
The UAE is also showcasing a broader political role in the Indian Ocean, which will include taking the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the Indian Ocean’s pan-regional political grouping, from 2019.
The UAE should be expected to be a significant Indian Ocean player in the years ahead, as strategic competition grows in East Africa and nearby islands.
Middle power punch in the Indian Ocean
The new base race in the Horn of Africa underlines doubts over Washington’s commitment to the region. The shale oil revolution has put the US on a path to becoming the world’s biggest oil net exporter within the next decade, meaning that the Persian Gulf may become less of a strategic imperative for it.
Although US defence forces remain in the region (including the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain), there are doubts over US staying power. This, of course, has only been amplified by the antics of the Trump administration. Regional players seem to be positioning themselves for what they see as an inevitable drawdown in US forces.
Just as importantly, the base race by “new” middle powers demonstrates just how multipolar and complex the Indian Ocean is likely to become. For countries such as Australia, the Indian Ocean will not only involve working with major powers such as the US, India, and China, or allies such as France and Japan. It seems that there will be a host of other players, each with their own agendas and alignments.
Australia has long experience working within international coalitions, which in recent years has included commanding broad naval coalitions in the western Indian Ocean. That may be the new order of the day in the Indian Ocean.
David Brewster’s latest book is India and China at Sea: Competition for Naval Dominance in the Indian Ocean. The essays in the volume, by noted strategic analysts from across the world, seek to better understand Indian and Chinese perspectives about their roles in the Indian Ocean and their evolving naval strategies towards each other.
Crate-digging millennials are seeking out classic East African music
Tucked between butchers and hair braiders in Nairobi’s Kenyatta Market is the Real Vinyl Guru, a shabby stall that has become a mecca for vinyl lovers.
James ‘Jimmy’ Rugami has sold second-hand records from stall 570 since 1989. In the cramped space, hundreds of seven and 12-inch vinyls are tightly packed. Among hit Motown albums is a veritable trove of East African music.
Among them is the Kenyan-based Tanzanian duo Simba Wanyika and the recently re-discovered “Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa.” They’re all mementos of a bygone era, when Nairobi’s record presses created a hub for the regions musicians in the 70s and 80s. Many flocked to Nairobi to lay down their tracks and stayed to become part of a vibrant local scene.
Rugami entered that scene in 1986 when he left his life selling clothes in the town of Meru at the foot of Mount Kenya, and became a DJ in Nairobi. When the fast life became too much, he opted to sell music instead of spinning it, obsessively collecting records and tapes, wherever he could find them.
“I used to drive all the way to Dar es Salaam, then take a boat to Zanzibar and buy tapes there,” he recalls. “That’s where people were supplying the best stuff, especially jazz, which in Nairobi was either unavailable or very expensive.”
When the stall became almost exclusively vinyl, people thought he was mad for holding on to an outdated technology, he told the Associated Press. Still, they nicknamed him Mr. Records.
“It is not once or twice I have been labelled insane, very many times,” he said. “Well, I couldn’t stop.”
Rugami’s devotion to vinyl outlasted the cassette, CDs and streaming to welcome crate-digging millennials craving the rich tone of a record. In the few years, his stall has attracted tourists from around the world, and young Nairobians rediscovering their country’s pop roots.
Now the Real Vinyl Guru makes enough money to employ five people and Rugami’s loyalty to the distinctive crackle of a record is paying off.
DP World says Djibouti incident could hurt Africa investment
DUBAI (Reuters) – Port operator DP World said on Thursday that Djibouti’s decision to seize control of a terminal project could hurt African efforts to attract investment.
The Dubai state-owned port operator is facing twin political challenges in Africa.
Djibouti abruptly ended its contract to run the Doraleh Container Terminal last month and Somalia’s parliament voted this week to ban the company.
DP World has called the Djibouti move illegal and said it had begun proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared the company of all charges of misconduct over the concession.
“Africa needs infrastructure investments and if countries can change their law [to take assets then this] is going to basically make it more difficult to attract investment,” Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told a news conference in Dubai.
DP World reported 14.9 percent rise in 2017 profit to $1.18 billion profit and said that it would invest $1.4 billion across its global portfolio including in Berbera in Somaliland. [L8N1QX0F2]
It is developing a port in Berbera in partnership with the governments of Somaliland and Ethiopia. It is also developing a greenfield free trade zone in the breakaway region.
Bin Sulayem said he was not concerned by the vote in Somalia’s parliament to ban DP World from the country, which the parliament said nullified their Somaliland contract.
It is unclear how Somalia’s federal government could enforce the ban given Somaliland’s semi-autonomous status.
Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for about 42 percent of the cargo DP World handled in 2017.
Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Jason Neely
African arms imports down
DEFENCE WEB — Over the last decade, African arms imports dropped by 22 per cent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), but Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria continued to order large quantities of weapons and equipment.
In its Trends in International Arms Transfers 2017 fact sheet released this week, SIPRI said that African arms sales dropped 22% between 2008-12 and 2013-17. Much of the hardware that was supplied went to Algeria (52% of African arms imports), Morocco (12%) and Nigeria (5.1%).
“Major arms play an important role in the military operations by sub-Saharan African states, although, due to lack of resources, procurement typically involves small numbers of mainly relatively low-end weapons,” SIPRI said.
States in sub-Saharan Africa received 32% of total African imports in 2013–17. The top five arms importers in sub-Saharan Africa were Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Cameroon and Ethiopia. Together, they accounted for 56% of arms imports to the subregion. Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 % between 2008–12 and 2013–17, SIPRI noted.
Russian arms exports to Africa fell by 32% compared with 2008–12, but despite the decrease, Russia accounted for 39% of total imports to the region. Algeria received 78% of Russia’s arms transfers to Africa in 2013–17.
China’s arms exports to Africa rose by 55% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and its share of total African arms imports increased from 8.4% to 17%. “A total of 22 sub-Saharan African countries procured major arms from China in 2013–17, and China accounted for 27% of sub-Saharan African arms imports in that period (compared with 16% in 2008–12). In North Africa, China became an important supplier to Algeria in 2013–17, with deliveries including three frigates and artillery,” SIPRI reported.
The United States accounted for 11% of arms exports to Africa in 2013–17 – the transfers were mainly small batches of weapons and included eight helicopters for Kenya and five for Uganda, which were supplied as US military aid. In 2013–17 Kenya—which is fighting al-Shabab on its own territory and in Somalia— acquired 13 transport helicopters, 2 second-hand combat helicopters, 65 light armoured vehicles and a small number of self-propelled howitzers.
SIPRI lists Egypt’s acquisitions as falling under the Middle East – if these are included in the continent’s statistics they push up Africa’s imports significantly as arms imports by Egypt grew by 215% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.
SIPRI noted that the US has been Egypt’s main arms supplier since the late 1970s, and accounted for 45% of Egypt’s arms imports in 2008–12. “However, between 2013 and 2015 the US halted deliveries of certain arms, in particular combat aircraft, to Egypt. In 2014 Egypt signed major arms deals with France, and deliveries started in 2015. As a result, France accounted for 37 % of Egypt’s arms imports in 2013–17 and overtook the USA to become the main arms supplier to Egypt for that period. This was despite the fact that the USA ended its restrictions in 2015 and increased its overall arms supplies to Egypt by 84% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.”
Globally, SIPRI in its latest report said that the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013–17 was 10% higher than in 2008–12, a continuation of the upward trend that began in the early 2000s.
The five largest exporters in 2013–17 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. The United States in 2013-17 had a 34% share of the global market, followed by Russia (22%), France (6.7%), Germany (5.8%) and China (5.7%).
The USA supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17. Exports to states in the Middle East accounted for 49 per cent of total US arms exports in that period. “Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”
The five largest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China. Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17 and consequently arms imports by states in the region increased by 103% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32% of global arms imports in 2013–17.
“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”
SIPRI said the flow of arms to the Middle East and Asia and Oceania increased between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to the Americas, Africa and Europe.