A crisis in the Gulf has had an unexpected consequence – a rush to build ports all down the Somali coast. But, as Mary Harper writes, some fear it could tear the Horn of Africa apart.
Somaliland’s port town of Berbera is sleepy and somewhat scruffy. Paintings of fish, crabs and sailboats adorn the faded buildings. Tangled nets lie in the sandy streets.
It is hard to imagine that this charming seaside town is at the centre of an almighty row between Somalia and this self-declared republic which broke away in 1991 but has not been recognised internationally.
This dispute is part of a far wider problem. A crisis in the Gulf is playing out in dramatic form in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa. Some argue it could tear the whole region apart.
After nearly 30 years of conflict and instability, Somalia is particularly vulnerable.
“Somalia has become a chessboard in the power game between Qatar and Turkey on the one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies on the other,” says Rashid Abdi, director of the Horn of Africa project at the International Crisis Group.
“There is no doubt that these rivalries are spilling over into Africa. Somalia is especially vulnerable because of its proximity to the Gulf and its long historical relationship with the region.”
The disagreement between Somalia and Somaliland centres around two deals, both connected with the UAE.
The UAE is building a massive military base in Berbera. It is a highly strategic location. The US and the former Soviet Union built bases there decades ago, plus one of the continent’s longest runways, which is more than 4km (2.5 miles) long.
For the Emirates, Berbera is conveniently close to Yemen where it is part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The UAE has another military facility up the coast in Eritrea’s port town of Assab.
Meanwhile the Dubai-based company DP World is taking over the port, which exports millions of live animals to the Gulf every year. Landlocked Ethiopia is also involved, with a 19% stake, as it sees Berbera as a useful alternative to the congested, expensive port in Djibouti upon which it is totally dependent.
Although Somaliland is not recognised as an independent country, it operates as if it is. It is more stable than the rest of Somalia, has a functioning economy, and its own government, legal system, currency and flag. Power has been transferred peacefully during a series of elections since it declared independence 26 years ago.
But Somalia regards Somaliland as part of its territory. Earlier this month parliament in Somalia voted to nullify the port deal.
“Somaliland and DP World have been very arrogant and disrespectful,” says Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Isse Awad. “The company cannot legally sign an agreement without our consent. We will not allow any party to violate our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
But DP World and Somaliland remain committed to the project. They probably know that, in practice, the authority of the Somali federal government does not extend far beyond the capital Mogadishu.
There has been no strong central authority since the fall of President Siad Barre in 1991. An Islamist insurgency began more than a decade ago, and much of Somalia is controlled by al-Shabab militants and other armed groups.
Somaliland’s ambassador to the UAE, Bashe Awil Omar, describes Somalia’s hostility to the deal as “ludicrous”.
“We have been managing our own affairs for nearly 30 years. Somalia has not contributed anything to our territory so why is it interfering now?”
Mr Omar says the military base will be a good thing for Somaliland. “It will protect our coastline. UAE troops will train our security forces. They will also use the base to launch attacks on Yemen.”
But it is easy to understand why Somalia is concerned. Not only has a breakaway republic signed significant economic and military agreements with a foreign power, but the UAE is also bypassing the federal government by striking deals with Somalia’s regional states.
These five states have a fractious relationship with central government and with each other. Some have received military training, equipment and funding from the Emirates. DP World and its subsidiaries are negotiating deals to manage a string of ports in at least three of them.
The situation is different in the capital Mogadishu.
As you fly in low over the turquoise sea to the airport, stretched along the beachfront is a vast Turkish base. It is said to be its largest military training facility outside Turkey. Mogadishu’s lucrative port, which used to be fought over by warlords, is now run by a Turkish company, Al Bayrak.
The Somali federal government has been put in a difficult position. It owes allegiance to Qatar and Turkey, but its key trading partners, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are on the other side of the Gulf divide.
Saudi Arabia imports 80% of Somalia’s livestock, compared with the meagre 3.5% imported by Qatar. In a port in Dubai, fridges, building materials and air conditioners are loaded onto dhows bound for Somalia, manned by Gujarati crews.
Somalia insists it holds a neutral position in the Gulf crisis. But its regional states have played havoc with its diplomacy by declaring allegiance to the Saudis and the UAE.
The Horn of Africa expert Alex de Waal argues that the crisis in the Gulf has an impact way beyond Somalia.
“This has the potential to deepen the fractures across the whole region. The Arab states, including Egypt, are trampling across the painstakingly built norms and institutions for Africa’s peacemaking with their cynical, unilateral divide-and-rule realpolitik.”
Kansas Trio Convicted in Plot to Bomb Somali Immigrants
WICHITA, Kan. — A federal jury on Wednesday convicted three men of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped in Garden City, Kan., giving prosecutors a victory at a time when threats against religious and racial minorities are rising nationally.
“These defendants conspired to build a bomb, blow up a building and murder every single man, woman and child inside,” Tony Mattivi, a federal prosecutor, told jurors during closing statements.
The men, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, all of whom are white, appeared stoic as the verdicts were read. They face up to life in prison when they are sentenced in June.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about seven hours over two days.
Defense lawyers tried to convince jurors that their clients were manipulated by the F.B.I., and had been unfairly targeted for exercising their rights to own guns and speak freely.
“He was a member of a militia. He loved his guns. This was a lifestyle,” Melody Brannon, a lawyer for Mr. Allen, told the mostly white jury. “The government tried to criminalize that lifestyle.”
The trial, which played out over about a month in Wichita, focused on a period before the 2016 presidential election when a paid F.B.I. informant infiltrated a militia group that prosecutors said included the three men. Prosecutors, who built much of their case around secret recordings that the informant made of the men talking, said that they planned to carry out the bombing on Nov. 9 of that year, a day after voters selected a president.
“They wanted to send a message to the people living there that they’re not welcome in Garden City, they’re not welcome in southwest Kansas, they’re not welcome in the United States,” Mr. Mattivi said.
The men, who called themselves “the Crusaders,” were arrested about four weeks before Election Day and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against rights, which the Justice Department considers a hate crime. Mr. Wright was also charged with lying to the F.B.I. The three men were found guilty on all counts against them.
The trial came amid a national escalation in threats against religious and racial minorities, especially Muslims, according to the F.B.I. and organizations that monitor hate crimes.
“It is now approaching the level of hate violence against the same communities that we saw in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT: South Asian Americans Leading Together, a national advocacy organization.
Prosecutors portrayed the Kansas defendants as aspiring domestic terrorists who joined a militia and decided to bomb the Somali apartments after considering other attacks — on elected officials, churches that helped refugees and landlords who rented to immigrants.
Defense lawyers, who criticized the F.B.I.’s investigation throughout the trial as government overreach, suggested that their clients had merely engaged in idle talk inspired partly by the 2016 election. Expletive-filled recordings of the men played before the jury contained repugnant, bigoted language, the defense lawyers said, but not evidence of a federal crime.
“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said James Pratt, a lawyer for Mr. Stein, who acknowledged that his client referred to Muslims as “cockroaches.” Mr. Stein referred to himself, the recordings showed, as an “Orkin man,” referencing the pest extermination company.
“We all have the right to hate,” Mr. Pratt added.
A bombing never took place, and no one was physically injured in Garden City, a point defense lawyers emphasized to jurors. They said the men lacked the ability or commitment to carry out such an attack, and that the F.B.I.’s paid informant helped steer the plot and suggested targeting the apartments.
Garden City is a racially diverse place about 200 miles west of Wichita with around 27,000 residents. Many Somalis and other immigrants have moved to the area in recent years to work at a nearby meatpacking plant.
The apartment complex that prosecutors say was targeted is a center of Somali life in Garden City. Many refugee families live in units of the complex; others come to pray in a makeshift mosque inside one unit.
Moussa Elbayoumy, who chairs the board of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the verdict affirmed his faith in the justice system.
Many Muslims he talked to in Garden City had not followed the trial closely, Mr. Elbayoumy said, but had hoped for convictions.
“The instance was troubling, was concerning. People were afraid,” Mr. Elbayoumy said in a phone interview. “But after that, they put this behind them and moved on with their lives.”
What’s triggering tension between Somalia and the UAE? | Inside Story
Somalia has been in conflict for much of the past 25 years. But the horn of Africa nation has been showing signs of recovery.
And that’s provoked interest from many regional countries including the United Arab Emirates.
The Gulf nation has been conducting a military training programme and running a hospital in the capital Mogadishu.
But, the UAE’s government has now abruptly ended its involvement on both those fronts after a series of recent diplomatic disagreements.
So, why are the UAE and other regional countries interested in Somalia?
AMISOM asks for more police officers in Somalia
DAILY MONITOR — KISMAYO- The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has asked partners states to contribute more police officers to expand its operations in the war-torn country.
The call was made on Tuesday by Ms Christine Alalo, the acting AMISOM police commissioner while receiving 145 police officers from Sierra Leone.
The deployment of the force from Sierra Leone brings to 160 the number of police officers from Sierra Leone.
“We expect other police contributing countries to do the same because we are expanding our operations. We are moving away from Mogadishu,” Ms Alalo said.
Apart from Sierra Leone, other police contributing countries in Somalia are; Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Ghana.
Early this month, over 500 Ugandan Police Officers sat for interviews that would see successful ones join police operations in Somalia.
Ms Alalo said since police operations will be extended to other federal states and districts, it is inevitable to increase the number of police units.
Between 2015 and 2016, AMISOM trained 600 Somali officers in Jubbaland, but Ms Alalo said that number has to be reinforced.
Meanwhile, the AMISOM Assistant Inspector General of Police, Mustafa Solomon Kambeh, said the police officers would be deployed in Jubbaland and Kismayo.
Mr Kambeh doubles as the Contingent Commander of the Sierra Leonean FPU in Mogadishu urged the forces to stick to the AMISOM mandate of pacifying Somalia and its regional states.
The Formed Police Unit is charged with public order management, protection of facilities and support to police operations that require a concerted response.
The United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted in 2017 approved an increase to a maximum of 1,040 police officers serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)
AMISOM is committed to redoubling its efforts to train and recruit more police officers during the transition period as it prepares to hand over security responsibilities to the Somali security forces as stipulated in the Security Council Resolution.