The Qatar-Gulf crisis is now affecting Africa after Saudi Arabia called on a number of countries, including Somalia, to join its boycott of Qatar. However, not every country is prepared to obey orders from Riyadh.
Somalia has maintained good relations with Qatar despite Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain continuing to demand that the Mogadishu government break off relations with the Gulf emirate. Still, Somalia won’t give in to pressure.
Instead, Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has called on all countries involved to engage in a dialogue. Much to the annoyance of Qatar’s neighbors, he is even allowing Qatari planes to pass through Somali airspace.
In doing so, Somalia is weakening the boycott imposed by the other four countries, which closed their borders to Qatar in June, followed by a breaking off of diplomatic relations and a blockade. They have accused the Qatari government of supporting terrorist organizations and demand that they sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and withdraw Turkish troops from the emirate. However the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has insisted on maintaining his country’s sovereignty.
Somalia aligns with Qatar
Somalia’s neutrality is being tested. The country has so far had a good relationship with Saudi Arabia, its biggest trade partner in the Gulf region. In return, Somalia’s president has been supporting Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have offered the government in Mogadishu an additional 68 million euros ($81 million) to participate in the boycott of Qatar.
Nonetheless, the Somali president sided with Qatar. One possible reason is that Qatar is rumored to have financed his election campaign. “Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed would not have become president otherwise,” Somali political expert Muhyadin Ahmed Roble told DW. “The elections were decided by the amount of money each candidate offered to parliament.” Somalia’s political elite is closer to Qatar, he says. It was the president’s chief of staff who initiated the contact with Qatar, and who has influenced the president to remain neutral in the conflict.
Border conflict reignited
Tensions also remain heightened because the United Arab Emirates is exerting more influence in the regions of Somaliland and Puntland. Both regions have declared their independence; however, the government in Mogadishu still considers them part of Somalia. The United Arab Emirates is building ports there and wants to establish a military base.
The governments of both regions maintain a strong interest in Saudi Arabia and view it as a future financial supporter. “The president doesn’t like the power games going on there, but he made the mistake of not consulting the regional governments,” says Muhyadin Ahmed Roble. “Their economies are stronger; Somalia is still recovering after 20 years of civil war.”
The situation in the Horn of Africa has been aggravated following the flare-up of an old border conflict in June. For seven years, the contested border between Eritrea and Djibouti was secured by peacekeepers from Qatar. When the Gulf crisis began, Qatar withdrew its troops – approximately 450 soldiers – from the Eritrean border, ending its role as mediator between the two countries. Eritrea immediately occupied the unmanned border zone northeast of Djibouti. “Eritrea doesn’t want to back down. That could lead to even greater tension between the three countries,” warns Muhyadin Ahmed Roble.
Tensions rise in West Africa
All countries involved in the Qatar conflict have taken different sides. “Eritrea and Djibouti have supported the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates; only Somalia and Ethiopia remain neutral,” says Muhyadin Ahmed Roble. He adds that, in the regional power game, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are in a much stronger position than Qatar, as Qatar only has good relations with Somalia.
But West Africa is also affected by the Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia has called on the countries in the Sahel zone to make their position clear. Chad has sided with Saudi Arabia, informing the Qatari ambassador that he and his employees had to leave the country immediately. The government also recalled its diplomats from Qatar. “Chad fears instability, which is a real threat,” says Abdoulaye Sounaye, a research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. “We know for certain that jihadist movements in Libya are being supported by Qatar. Chad fears the Chadian rebels who are active in Libya.”
Senegal, on the other hand, maintains contact with Qatar due to a longstanding relationship. “Senegal is a special case. The country has excellent economic relations with Qatar and profits considerably from Qatari investment,” says Sounaye, adding that Senegal was better positioned than other countries, and could act according to its own interests. However, other Sahel countries have more to lose if they choose to cut their ties with Saudi Arabia. They’ve been cooperating with the Gulf kingdom for decades – but not with Qatar.