At the start of the year, Saudi Arabia announced a deal to restore diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar. Such dealings had been severed since 2017, when Saudi Arabia along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a land, air, and sea blockade against Qatar, and presented it with a list of 13 demands to restore relations.

The four countries had accused Doha of supporting “terrorist” groups and maintaining close ties with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood among other things, accusations it has always denied.

“What happened today is the turning of the page on all points of difference and a full return of diplomatic relations,” Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a news conference on January 4.

“I am happy to report that we are at a place where everybody is satisfied and happy and yes all the outstanding, whether it’s the returning of diplomatic relations, flights, all of that will now go back to normal,” the Saudi minister said.

It must be noted here that no public mention was made of the 13 demands initially imposed on Qatar, which begs the question whether those allegations were baseless, or even made up, in the first place.

Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE signed the Saudi-led “solidarity and stability” agreement, but actions taken since, along with revelations by the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), suggest that Abu Dhabi has gone rogue on the deal.

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Members of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) attend the Eastern Africa Journalists Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 28. (Photo courtesy of the FAJ)

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In early June, the FAJ condemned what it describes as an orchestrated campaign by the UAE to “manipulate” African journalists into speaking out against Qatar in the run up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will be hosted by Qatar from November 21 to December 18 next year.

“We note with dismay recent attempts by external elements from the United Arab Emirates who deliberately tried to manipulate journalists’ organizations in Africa to issue public statements or campaign against 2022 FIFA World Cup, that will be hosted by the State of Qatar,” reads an extract from the resolution released by the FAJ on June 2.

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The FAJ statement on the UAE’s attempts to sabotage the FIFA 2022 World Cup.

“[And we note] with serious concern, efforts to use Africa and its institutions as political football in order to settle scores in political disputes and drag African journalists into activities beyond their primary interests, scope, and mandate.  . . . We reject with contempt these despicable attempts to use and manipulate African journalists and their organizations as tools to challenge the organization of 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.”

The resolution also called upon FIFA and the Confederation of African Football to investigate and sanction those responsible. FAJ President Sadiq Ibrahim Ahmed told Al Jazeera that no fewer than eight African news outlets had been approached by high-ranking UAE officials, who pressured them to encourage African teams to boycott the World Cup under the pretext of “labor rights violations” in Qatar.

“FAJ and its affiliated unions cannot allow African journalists to be used as if Africans are cheap people that can be manipulated and used to settle political scores,” Ahmed said. “We are not interested in political disputes in the Gulf. Our main mandate is to defend journalists and their interests as well as media freedom.”

The UAE’s effort to pressure African news organizations into kowtowing to its foreign policy objectives is unquestionably appalling.

This is an outrageous assault on the free press in Africa, a continent in which journalists have long struggled under the repressive rule of one authoritarian regime after another. Thus, the UAE’s effort to pressure African news organizations into kowtowing to its foreign policy objectives is unquestionably appalling.

It’s one thing for foreign diplomats to encourage local journalists and editors to publish “puff” or “vanity” pieces that paint their home countries or their governments in a positive light, but it’s another to pressure them into launching a diplomatic attack on another sovereign nation. To do the latter, while sabotaging the world’s most popular sporting event, outside of the Olympic Games, is remarkably conniving.

Yet, this assault on African journalists represents only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to understanding just how expansive and pervasive the UAE colonial project on the African continent has become during the past five years. Abu Dhabi has inserted itself into armed conflicts in Yemen, Libya, and Somalia to advance its overarching geopolitical strategy, which is a diplomat-speak for extracting resources and trade from foreign lands even as it promotes autocratic regimes and represses popular dissent.

The UAE’s deepening influence in Africa is having a destabilizing effect on countries that have been lured into its geopolitical orbit.

The UAE’s deepening influence in Africa is having a destabilizing effect on countries that have been lured into its geopolitical orbit, including Somalia, where the UAE perceives the current government to be closely aligned with Qatar.

To counter Qatari influence in Somalia, the UAE has gone behind Mogadishu’s back to develop relationships with local and regional governments, which is akin to pouring gasoline on pre-existing political fault lines, some of which are responsible for decades of civil war.

“Importing the Gulf crisis into Somalia has contributed to tensions between Mogadishu and the federal states that over recent months have threatened to boil over,” observes the International Crisis Group.

In February, Somalia’s Information Minister, Osman Dubbe, accused the UAE of seeking to sow violence in the country, saying, “The United Arab Emirates wants Somalia to be like Yemen and Libya and wants to create in Somalia displacement, violence, and backwardness, and that is something the Somali people are wary of.”

“The UAE statement [belittling Somalia’s government as ‘interim’] is inconsistent with international diplomacy, brotherly relations between the two countries, and Arab culture,” said Dubbe.

Ultimately, the UAE’s pressure campaign against African news organizations is not only an attack on the free press, but also African sovereignty—an effort that may bring more violence to an already blood-soaked land.