BY FAUXILE KIBET
SOMALIA, WHICH DECLARED a neutral stand in June shortly after the onset of the Gulf Crisis is now the epicentre of the crisis in the Horn of African thanks to the push and pull between its regional administrations threatening the country’s nascent federal system.
The spill- over effects of the feud pitying the two factions in the Gulf region is reverberating in Somalia with four out of its six regions breaking ranks with the Federal Government to support the Saudi-UAE axis.
The Gulf countries have used their links to the Horn of African countries as a tool to seek public support for their foreign policy. Somalia in particular has found itself between a rock and a hard place as it tries to maintain a neutral position in the crisis.
The latest developments in Galmudug which saw a faction of MPs attempting to send home the state president Ahmed Duale Haaf over what they termed as a unilateral decision to back the Saudis brought to the fore what has become of a of distant feud among brothers in Gulf on Somalia.
State assembly speaker Ali Ga’al Asir had disagreed with the president over his move to severe ties with Qatar, terming the president’s move as “unacceptable”. Coincidentally, the vote of no confidence against Mr. Haaf came as Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo just jetted off to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Noteworthy however is that the crisis in Galmudug is not just a stand-alone matter but with blessings from Villa Somalia which is said to favour Qatar despite presenting a neutral public show. Qatar was instrumental in bankrolling Farmaajo’s campaign for office and no doubt could still be calling the tune.
The move by the four regions among them Somaliland puts the federal government in a difficult position even as it asserts its absolute power and authority over foreign affairs. Somalia has also cited its non- alignment dating back to the Camp David Accords in late 1970s which saw it maintain a neutral position as the Arab League spiraled into a ten year crisis.
According to Professor Isaiah Cherutich, a Journalism lecturer at the United States International University – Africa in Nairobi, Somalia has found itself in a “catch-22” position as years of instability have greatly eroded the country’s ability to take an independent stand on the crisis.
“Somalia seemingly has no choice but to play according to the rules of dominant forces in the region and some semblance of neutrality may help as they negotiate the murky waters of regional alignments and re-alignments,” he opines.
In negotiating these murky waters, President Farmaajo returned from Riyadh this past week with a $50 million grant from Saudi Arabia after reportedly turning down an $80 million cheque from the Kingdom at the onset of the Gulf feud supposedly to court him vacate his neutral stand.
A section of MPs have expressed opposition to a neutral stand but have done so subtly. However, state presidents most of whom have made sojourns to Abu Dhabi have openly made known their support for Saudi-UAE faction citing economic, religious and cultural ties.
ECONOMY AND RELIGION
Both factions in the Gulf feud have had direct support to the regional administrations but the major port concession pacts in Somaliland and Puntland by UAE’s DP World and P&O Ports respectively could have largely influenced decisions to stick with the UAE in the Gulf Crisis. The controversial naval base pact between Somaliland and UAE no doubt ties Somaliland to the former adding to the fact that Hargeisa and Mogadishu read matters from different scripts.
But the move by Federal Member States (FMS) (Galmudug, South West, and Puntland) and Somaliland to side with Saudi Arabia according to Professor Cherutich could also be linked to Shia-Sunni divide in the Islamic world.
The Shia and Sunni Muslim disagreements have plagued peace efforts in the Middle East region for a long time and this may actually inform the decision by Somaliland and FMS to side with Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh is considered a benefactor and lead supporter of Somali interests in the entire Middle East.
Abdullahi Rashid, a Senior Protection Consultant at the United Nations Office in Somalia argues that Somalia should choose its alliances wisely as it depends on the Gulf countries for its prosperity.
“All the Gulf nations are of great importance for Somalia to achieve its economic development and therefore, it should tread carefully and play a non-partisan role in the on-going Gulf stalemate.”
Currently, Saudi Arabia forms the largest market for Somalia’s livestock market which represents 40% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Statistics by the European Union show that 65% of Saudi Arabia’s livestock imports come from Somalia while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) imports 18.3% of its livestock from the Horn of Africa Country – highlighting how both the Gulf States are important to Somalia.
Qatar on the other hand imports a mere 3.5% of its livestock from Somalia, according to statistics from the USAID. The odds, based on these stats build a strong case for a Saudi alignment but political expediency go beyond economics.
However, Saudi Arabia in 2016 halted its livestock imports from Somalia over fears of livestock disease and by April this year, the European Union was still trying to convince Saudi Arabia to lift the ban. In June, Somalia’s planning minister and his Livestock counterpart were optimistic that Riyadh would lift the ban before the end of 2017.
But even before then, critics of Somali’s government argued that Mogadishu may be arm-twisted to strengthen ties with Qatar and its allies Turkey, should Saudi Arabia fail to lift the ban so as to find new markets for its livestock.
Whether Somalia’s neutral stand will hold remains an observer’s question but if the Gulf Crisis crosses into 2018 coupled with unresolved domestic challenges between the federal and state governments, a neutral position will be increasingly untenable.