The repercussions of the current Gulf crisis continue to resonate across the region and beyond. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) persuaded Bahrain, Egypt, Mauritania, the Maldives, the Comoros, Mauritius, the Yemeni government of Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, and the Libyan Tobruk regime to break off diplomatic relations with Qatar. Nevertheless, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi do not intend to stop there and are determined to punish any country that refuses to support their position on the conflict.

This is particularly the case for Somalia, a country bruised by violence and poverty, which, for the past several weeks, has experienced rising tensions with the UAE. The Arab nation is presently taking advantage of its important strategic partnership with Mogadishu in an attempt to punish Somalia for its refusal to join the anti-Qatar coalition.

Illicit Cash Seizure

On April 8, an Emirati civilian aircraft carrying 47 Emirati soldiers was held up for several hours at the Mogadishu airport. Somali authorities seized $9.6 million found on board in three unmarked bags. The money was allegedly associated with UAE-Somali training efforts.

Since 2014, the UAE has been involved in a Somali Army training program. Through this partnership, military barracks and training centers have been built in the cities of Mogadishu, Bosasso, and Kismayo. Ultimately, however, what appears to be a bribe attempt was unsuccessful, and the Emiratis left Somalia with their military instructors and millions of dollars, putting an end to the Somali Army training program and leaving the African country to face a plethora of security challenges on its own.

The Emirati Foreign Minister denounced Somalia’s seizure of money, claiming that the sum of money was intended to support the Somali army and pay soldiers’ salaries, in accordance with a 2014 agreement to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries.

On social networks, accusations flew: some claim that the money is being used to finance the insurgents raging in Somalia; others assured that these sums are intended to corrupt Somali deputies.

The Commander of the Somali National Army, General Abdiweli Jama Garod, emphasized that the UAE has been bringing cash to the country to pay the salaries of soldiers, and that the Emiratis normally declare that cash at the Mogadishu Airport. However, on April 8, they did not follow their usual protocol.

With the UAE abruptly ending its support programs in the country, Somalia is likely to undergo political and economic downswings.  On the other hand, this diplomatic crisis may pave the way for Qatar to become a strong competitor in giving aid to Somalia.

Mogadishu has no regrets

“As a government, we have the responsibility to look after our troops, pay their salaries and will not delegate this responsibility,” said the Somali Minister of Defense, Muhammad Mursal.

While Mogadishu called Abu Dhabi’s bluff this round, the Somali army remains very fragile and dependent on the training provided by several foreign countries, including the UAE and Turkey. Abu Dhabi understands what its military aid represents for a country like Somalia that is confronted with internal threats to its sovereignty from terrorist groups like al-Shabaab.

Furthermore, relations between Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu began to falter before April 8. Last March, the Somali delegate to the United Nations, Aboukar Dhair Osman, requested that the international community “take adequate measures to stop the actions of the United Arab Emirates” against his country. The Somali representative protested the signing of an agreement in 2017 between Dubai Port World (an Emirati company), Somaliland (a self-proclaimed autonomous province that is not recognized by the international community), and Ethiopia. The agreement, whose term is thirty years, contemplates major investments in the port of Berbera and the construction of a military base.

Given that Somaliland is a secessionist province within Somalia and that Ethiopia is Mogadishu’s main rival in the region, the signing of this agreement a few weeks after Somalia’s refusal to join the anti-Qatar coalition was a clear affront.

“Indecent interference against the sovereignty of Somalia.”

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

For the Somali President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the agreement constitutes an “indecent interference against the sovereignty of Somalia.” For several years, Mogadishu has led an intense struggle for the territorial integrity and unity of the country.

The UAE is also negotiating the use of the port of Bosasso with leaders of the Puntland region, which declared itself autonomous in 1998.

According to experts, Abu Dhabi’s position is leaving nothing to chance. As stated by the Canadian organization, Global Research, the UAE “is trying to destabilize Somalia in retaliation for the refusal of Mogadishu to abort its relations with Qatar, as well as its agreement with Ankara allowing the installation of a Turkish military base in its territory.”

While other countries continue to pursue special interests in Somalia, many Somalis are suspicious of the political and military demands that Arab nations may seek to impose.

The Emiratis are well aware of Somalia’s weaknesses and have fully exploited this knowledge in an effort to make the country pay for its neutrality in the Gulf crisis. However, after twenty years of civil war in Somalia, the rise of international terrorism stemming from the Horn of Africa and the collapse of its economy, Abu Dhabi’s actions merely add insult to injury.

“At the end of the day, Somalia may stand with Turkey, and that [would] complicate the diplomatic row further,” said Jacob Moses, a horn of Africa political analyst, based in Nairobi.

“But given the present circumstances, the UAE would be determined, more than ever, to bite back more venomously,” he noted.