Though not internationally recognized, Somaliland has a fully functioning political system, government institutions, a police force and its own currency, Somaliland is a nation that governs itself despite lacking recognition. Geographically Somaliland locates in the horn of Africa’s most strategic landscape; it has 740 kilometers (460 mi) coastline mainly lying along the Gulf of Aden.
The United Arab Emirates is in the process of acquiring permission to establish a military base in Berbera, which is the economic capital of Somaliland Republic. The minister of foreign affairs of Somaliland Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire told the press that UAE Government submitted a ‘bilateral request’ to establish a military base at Berbera, including the Airport.
The Berbera is strategic geopolitical asset. For years, the UAE agency Dubai world has been negotiating with Somaliland to invest in Berbera, which is the nation’s biggest port; this is obviously part of greater effort with which the United Arab Emirates is trying to influence East Africa’s economic and political landscape.
This article will give you an insight into issues beyond the military-related bilateral agreement that can impact Somaliland’s economics, regional alliance and stability, geostrategic importance and ultimately recognition. Here is why Somaliland shouldn’t accept UAE’s bid for Berbera Base:
United Arab Emirates is not a super power that Somaliland can lean on:
The Union Defense Force is the armed forces of the United Arab Emirates, consisting of not more than 65, 000 personnel (GFP), including air forces and the navy, most of the officers are trained in UK’s Royal Army Academy and France and are equipped with armaments purchased from foreign countries including the US and other western countries. On the other side, the UAE Navy is a small force of 2,500 personnel, although their primary purpose to use it as a coastal guard, but now they serve as the national navy of UAE. The Swedish government supports it to provide vessels. That the navy now under-constructing shows us the Emirate’s military capacity and their level of both defensive and offensive preparedness for naval and infantry warfare.
Besides, the United Arab Emirates is party of a greater coalition against the Houthi Rebels fighting in next door, Yemen. The UAE base in Berbera should looked at in connection with the ongoing conflict that began in 2015 which is part of the Middle East sphere and a multi-actor war between two or more factions, some of them claiming to constitute the legitimate Yemeni Government, along with their supporters and allies. Houthi forces controlling the capital Sana'a and allied with Iran and forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh are fighting with forces loyal to the government of Abdrabbi Mansur Hadi, based in Aden. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the ISIS have also carried out attacks.
It is worth mentioning that Sunni alliances will be willing to use Berbera as a strategic place to maneuver, attack and refuel aircrafts for the bombardments of Houthi frontiers. in respond to that, Houthi rebels backed by the capable but accountable-to-no-one nation of Iran will not hesitate to respond with full force, since the international security experts sees UAE as a tiny nation that doesn’t even have enough second strike capacity. The interesting issue that Somaliland should consider is that Houthi Rebels have been seen taking responsibility of recent targeting Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca by launching a long-range ballistic missile from 500km over the border. Berbera is strategically the most viable economic city in Somaliland, home to the biggest and busiest port in the whole nation; the national fuel reserve tanks are also in there. The Houthis fired ballistic Scud missiles intercepted by the Saudi Air defense would destroy and dismantle Berbera, and cause a log-term economic catastrophe. So it is not Somaliland’s best interest to import the Middle Eastern sectarian, religious and political war into our country. Somaliland should avoid to get involved in neither the Yemeni sectarian war nor in the general Middle-east Conflict.
Besides, Somaliland needs to build its military might, stronger than its present state, so it needs a powerful nation to sign bilateral military agreement to train our military, help purchase international standard military hardware and also to train our national security services personnel to a first class standards. We need to prepare ourselves to fight piracy, terrorism and defend our national integrity. Therefore, the United Arab Emirates apart from the hard currency in its treasury is not capable of that standard
The Regional Power Balance
It is again worth mentioning that UAE-Egypt relations is historical, cultural and a lasting brotherhood. Recently "Khalifa II" the military and naval exercise which was jointly conducted by UAE and Egypt in the coast of the Emirates shows the alliance, such drill is aimed to strengthen military cooperation and exchanging expertise between their forces. Besides, the UAE has emerged as one of Egypt's main backers following the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, providing Cairo with millions of dollars in aid. The UAE favored the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état and has since become Egypt's closest ally.
In June 2013 Egypt’s then president Mohamed Morsi declared that ‘all options’ are on table if Ethiopia proceeds construction to develop dams on the Nile River, those options includes military intervention. Although this was seen as bluffing, most of the experts see that Egypt fears the new dam, which is expected to begin operation in 2017 will heavily reduce the downstream flow of the Nile, which 85 million Egyptians depend on for almost all of their water needs. Egypt’s share of Nile water has until now been regulated by a 1959 agreement with Sudan. In addition, Ethiopia is now capable of playing a key geopolitical role in its zones, trying to convince African countries to negotiate with them
Ethio-Somaliland relations are based on the principle to promote peace and stability in the fragile region of horn of Africa. The ties between the two countries are a ‘double-bonded relationship’ since more than half a million people fled from Somaliland during the liberation struggle against Siyad Barre and Ethiopia became a safe haven for them Somaliland refugees.
Moreover, Ethiopia has maintained close relations with Somaliland since the latter reclaimed its independence in 1991. Ethiopia and Somaliland exchanged delegations of both bureaucratic and political levels that resulted in many ‘bilateral agreements’ aiming to enhance trade and communications cooperation. Ethiopia was the first country that established diplomatic relations with Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa by opening a consulate which issues visas to Somaliland passport holders, while Somaliland also maintains a diplomatic office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Duale, 2014). Ethiopian Consulate in Hargeisa promotes cultural and political ties between the nations.
It is not a time that Somaliland should lose such strategic friends as Ethiopia and it is against the interest of the nation and the will of the people. Somaliland which is supposed to be a shining democracy in the region doesn’t need to put itself in such a difficult position, and is expected to carefully and widely see from all the angels so as to seek its interest and balance the regional power without adding salts to old wounds.
The Arab opposition to the recognition of Somaliland is crystal clear and it is unlikely that the Arabs will ever change their argument on the recognition of Somaliland. The United Arab Emirates is a full member of the Arab league and is committed to voluntarily safeguard Somalia’s union policy. UAE provides military assistance to Somalia. The Gulf countries already have a leverage on Somaliland which is the single market for our livestock and is prone for repeated suspensions. So granting a military base in Berbera to UAE will give them more strategic advantage and will not only be a naïve move but also a bad one’.
Before the UAE signs any agreement with Somaliland, it will first seek a clandestine acceptance from Mogadishu. Providing a military base to a country which is a friend to the enemy is to surrender to the enemy (Guleid, 2016). Somaliland is a sovereign country which is seeking international de jure recognition, so policy makers should pursue a realistic interest-seeking political strategy.
Somaliland in-figures edition 7
Somaliland Sun: Somaliland: UAE Military Base in Berbera Impacts Quest for Recognition Negatively By: Guleid Ahmed Jama
Israel rising: The Coming War: Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Nile By Malcolm Dash - the Director of Operations at Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
Wikipedia – Somaliland, Ethiopia, Egypt and UAE
CIA world Fact book – Somaliland, Ethiopia, Egypt and UAE
The guardian: Why Saudi Arabia is taking a risk by backing the Egyptian coup By David Hearst
Middle East Eye: The Emirati plan for ruling Egypt
Khaleejtimes Editorial Joint UAE-Egypt military exercise concludes
About the author
Abdirashid Jeeni, MA in International Relations and Diplomacy, is a opposition party politician based in Hargeisa Somaliland
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect Somaliland Daily’s editorial policy.