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Turkey’s rivalry with the UAE in Somalia is raising tensions in the Red Sea

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MEE — Late last month, Somalia called on the United Nations Security Council to halt the construction of a UAE military base in Somaliland. Somalia’s ambassador to the UN slammed the deal to build the base in the port city of Berbera as a “clear violation of international law”.

The deal was struck between the local government of Somaliland and the UAE without the oversight and approval of the Somali federal government. Somaliland is a semi-autonomous region that unilaterally declared independence during the country’s civil war, although this has not been internationally recognised.

The UAE’s decision to build a military base in Berbera violates Somalia’s constitution and its UN-backed federal government. It empowers the local government of Somaliland and entertains its old separatist tendencies. It could stoke huge tensions in the region and Somalia could easily descend back into a state in turmoil.
Strategic importance

Somalia, like other countries in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region, has drawn increased attention from outsiders with interests in the area. Turkey has been extremely active in Somalia, in close cooperation with the federal government, and the UAE has been very active throughout the Horn of Africa.

With the recent Turkey-UAE diplomatic spat and rising rivalry, one wonders how this will play out in Somalia. Critical to this is the wider context of the Red Sea, a vital trading route for the world and especially Europe – its main route with Asia. As Alex Rondos, the EU special representative for the Horn of Africa, noted: “We have a vital stake here. The artery through which much of the trade, and therefore jobs, that are created runs through the Red Sea.”

It should come as no surprise that China’s first permanent overseas naval base was situated on the Red Sea. It opened in Djibouti last year and aims to help protect this vital trading route, while solidifying its wider strategic engagement with Africa. There are fears that China’s influential posture in Djibouti will pose a challenge to the US and France, which each have a military base there. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE had troops in Djibouti, but after a diplomatic spat, they were evicted in 2015 – although the Saudi troops returned a year later.

Meanwhile, in the last few years, Turkey has boosted its engagement with Africa, particularly Somalia. In 2011, when Somalia was struck by a famine, Turkey’s then-prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, became the only non-African leader to visit the strife-torn Somalian capital in nearly two decades. Erdogan led efforts that brought much-needed attention and hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the country.

It became common to hear from Somalis that the West and the African Union could learn from the “Turkish model”. Mehmet Ozkan of the SETA institute, which is close to Turkey’s ruling party, wrote in a 2014 report that this “super country” and “dominant” image should be normalised and avoided, as it was unsustainable in the long run.
Turkey’s reach

Turkey’s humanitarian engagement over the years gradually turned into an obvious strategic engagement. Roads, schools and hospitals were built, and today, the Turkish Airlines route to Somalia is one of its most profitable. More importantly, Turkey last year finished building its largest military base outside its territories in Somalia, and its largest embassy is in Mogadishu.

At the end of last year, Erdogan visited Sudan and signed economic deals worth billions of dollars with his counterpart President Omar al-Bashir. This included the restoration of Suakin Island, possibly including military installations. The announcement stoked tensions between Sudan and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with hundreds of Egyptian troops reportedly sent to a UAE base in Eritrea.

Sudan responded by closing its border with Eritrea and withdrawing its ambassador from Cairo, but tensions were lessened after Sudan announced it had no intention of allowing a Turkish military presence on Suakin or any of its territories.

The UAE, as mentioned above, has a base in Eritrea after a deal that was struck soon after it was evicted from Djibouti in 2015. In Assab, the Eritrean city on the African side of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait shared with Yemen, the UAE’s military base has been used primarily to combat the Houthis and al-Qaeda in Yemen.

The UAE has generally been very active in the Horn of Africa, and somewhat active in security cooperation with Somalia’s federal government. But the UAE military base that the Somali government protested at the UN Security Council was initially a 2016 deal to develop the port in Berbera for commercial purposes.
Fragile peace

Given that the UAE has previously supported and may still be supporting Yemeni separatists, Somalia has every right to be worried. Somaliland is already on the UAE’s side in regional affairs, as it sided with the Saudi-UAE-Bahraini camp in their siege against Qatar; and keeping in mind that Turkey has sent troops to Qatar, the rivalry between the UAE and Turkey becomes even clearer.

Somalia is in the midst of huge tensions, and the situation could easily deteriorate. Just last week, there was a standoff in parliament over attempts to change the parliament speaker. Somalia already lacks a strong central government and institutions and could easily end up back in a state of turmoil, but this time with a foreign military presence, which would only aggravate matters and contribute to the disintegration of the country.

How the federal government will respond to this is yet to be seen. For now, Somalia’s short-lived peace may well be at stake.

– Mustafa Salama is a political analyst, consultant and freelance writer, with extensive experience and an academic background in Middle East affairs.

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Somali News

Kansas Trio Convicted in Plot to Bomb Somali Immigrants

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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.”

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Somali News

What’s triggering tension between Somalia and the UAE? | Inside Story

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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?

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Somali News

AMISOM asks for more police officers in Somalia

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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.

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