By Mohammed Yusuf
NAIROBI – Somalia’s president says his government is under constant pressure to choose from among three rival Persian Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. The Somali government has tried to remain neutral, despite having a good working relationship with Qatar. Analysts warns that the rivalry and competing security interests are having a negative impact on Somalia’s politics and stability.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – also known as Farmaajo – wrapped up a four-day visit to Kenya Friday. While there, he addressed members of Nairobi’s large Somali community, and spoke about the challenges his administration is facing, especially from some Arab countries.
“These days the Gulf states have joined the happenings in Somalia with its challenges. We are trying to keep them at bay so that at least the government can work and do something that people can touch in the short period it has got,” Farmaajo said.
The Gulf crisis began in 2017 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. Their political and security rivalries have spilled over into the Horn of Africa.
Zakaria Yusuf, a Somali analyst with the International Crisis Group, says the Gulf split is hurting Somalia.
“The problem caused by the Gulf states has brought disunity and affected the sovereignty of the Somali state. The disunity has made some Somalis take sides on the Gulf crisis and that has widened the rift between Somali people. Without seeking permission, the United Arab Emirates is constructing the port of Berbera and Bosaso. It’s also ignoring the central government in Mogadishu,” Yusuf said.
The UAE’s construction of a military and commercial base in Berbera has become a source of tension between Farmaajo’s government and authorities in the self-declared independent state of Somaliland.
In 2017, the United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea said construction of the base may constitute a violation of the long-standing international arms embargo on Somalia.
Farmaajo also addressed the poor relationships between his government in Mogadishu and Somalia’s federal regions. He said some regional presidents and foreign countries are competing with his government for power.
“The federal states have got presidents, they are looking powers like the one of the central government, they want to form their military and constitution. If you don’t get along with them, they can be used by other states to fight the government,” Farmaajo said.
Mumo Nzau, a governance and security expert, says Somalia and its neighbors need stability to prosper.
“That country has been in war for a long time. It’s slowly stabilizing, and everyone in future would want to be involved in working together with such countries. It’s not just the Gulf countries alone; the rest of the world is very much interested in a more stable Somalia,” Nzau said.
Somalia is just 15 months away from its next national poll, when the government is planning to conduct a one person-one vote election for the first time.