Among the foreign actors and within the too many moving political parts in Somalia, four deserve more scrutiny in the next three years, when the presidential election is scheduled to take place. They are US, UAE, UK, and Qatar.
It was only six years ago, that the US, UK, and UAE were partners in the de-Turkification of Somalia strategy that ultimately failed. One of the contributing factors was Qatar’s loyalty to Turkiye and the former being the financial backer of the winning team of Somalia’s 2017 election, thus forging an unprecedented close relationship. So, Turkiye is safe for now; especially since re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be needed to play a role to end the Ukraine war.
Currently, the US strategic priority is de-Emiratification of Somalia. The US became convinced of what many other countries previously learned the hard way: UAE is a country of many masters, some more nefarious than others. Therefore, at times it may torpedo one master’s interest to please another’s interest and strategic plan.
The Piling Evidence
Under President Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) rule, UAE has been juggling close relationships with various countries of dichotomously opposing interests such as Israel and Iran. It also has close relationship with Russian oligarchies, leaders of international mercenary groups such as the infamous Blackwater (with facelift) and Wagner Group, the Russian mafia which operates the Dubai money-laundering industry, the marketing of illegally acquired minerals, and the lucrative sex tourism joint-ventures. There are credible reports alleging a thriving blackmail side industry and intelligence entrapments of influential individuals, but this requires another investigative article.
Meanwhile, the recently leaked Pentagon intel documents revealed that the US caught Russian intelligence officers boasting to have convinced UAE “to work together against US and UK intelligence agencies.” As this dominated headlines and talk shows, China resumed building its military base in UAE waters near the critical artery Strait of Hormuz. The construction was stopped when US expressed its concern to UAE and China upon discovery a couple of years ago.
On Oct 5, 2022, UAE joined Russia and Saudi Arabia on their mutually coordinated decision to reduce oil production by two million barrels per day. This has not only spiked oil prices and delivered a severe blow to the struggling US economy and secured Russia an opportunity to refill its war chest with increased oil revenues, it was strategically timed a few weeks before the mid-term elections. It is no secret that UAE, Russia, and Saudi Arabia preferred former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden.
The leaked documents also revealed that UAE exported millions of dollars’ worth of “semiconductor devices” to Russia that could be used in the battlefield against Ukraine. In the early stage of the Ukraine war, many may recall seeing on television Russian tanks abandoned in the battle fields. That was due to a severe shortage of essential microchips and said semiconductor devices.
UAE continued on that adversarial pattern against US interests in the Middle East which compelled the Treasury Department to label it as a ‘country of focus.’ This status is equivalent to the law-enforcement agencies’ label ‘a person of interest’ to describe an individual who is under criminal investigation.
Aside from glittery façade and being one of the world’s most attractive financial hubs, UAE is considered a geopolitical wrecking ball used over and again to destroy and exploit Muslim countries for one of its colorful masters.
The Third Principle in UAE’s Principles of the 50 laying out the guiding principles of the next half a century clearly states “foreign policy is a tool that aims to serve the higher national goals, the most import approach is to serve the economy. And the goal of the economy is to provide the best quality of life for the people in the UAE.” But this begs the question: If that is the main objective of its foreign policy and UAE is already one of the richest countries with one of the highest per capita in the world, why resort to destroying countries such as Yemen and become the evil façade? Geopolitical thuggery is the name of the game. And with bloody experience in countries such as Yemen, Libya, Sudan and a host of others, UAE has become the standard barrier. MBZ and the ruling family may be convinced that this is their comprehensive insurance maintain power.
The Scramble for Africa
On June 14-17, more than 80 heads of states will be attending St. Petersburg International Economic Forum despite the Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia. Many of these countries are eager to join the BRICS promoted gold backed international trade that is likely to make the US dollar and the Western financial system obsolete. This and other phenomena sparked by the Ukraine war are compelling the US to accelerate its strategic steps in finding a firm foothold in Africa; and Somalia is at the core of that strategy.
Against that backdrop, my self-destructively dysfunctional country offers prime maritime real estate for military bases in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, abundant illegal mining opportunities, massive oil reserve, and a massive number of shamelessly corrupt politicians. The US company Coastline Exploration, the new façade of the defunct Soma Oil and Gas “took seven blocks in 2022 with potential for…tens of billions of barrels” for merely $7 million.
The US is not the only Western country positioning itself to get more aggressive in the Horn. UK has army troops and personnel deployed in Somalia under the codename Operation TANGHAM. According to UK ministry of defense this contingent has “trained nearly 1,000 Somali soldiers and instructors.” Though this official disclosure acknowledges UK’s training activities in SouthWest federal state. Apparently, UK ministry of defense left out Somaliland to avoid carrying any culpability as the main trainer of the Somaliland special force that have been committing crimes against humanity in Las Anod and against various other communities in SSC-Khatumo. Moreover, the defense ministry refrained from revealing the number of its affiliated British mercenaries that are partially or wholly bankrolled by UAE. Their main task is twofold: train Somaliland special forces and provide security muscle for the Berbera port.
Meanwhile, UK remains Somalia’s penholder in the Security Council, and the US the piracy penholder, both affirming that a ‘sovereign Somalia’ is a figment of imagination. How about that for a conflict of interest?
What A Difference A Year Makes
In May 2022, after successfully helping Hassan Shaikh Mohamud defeat Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to become President for the second time, UAE became the most influential foreign country in Somalia. It was holding the strings that moved the center and the periphery- the federal government, Somaliland, Puntland, and Jubbaland.
In recent months it has become apparent that the federal government is slipping out of UAE’s controlling hands. The tension started when the newly elected president succumbed to the US pressure and bypassed Said Abdullahi Deni—Puntland’s president—for the Prime Minister post. This was followed by President Mohamud’s insistence that UAE’s private militia made of Somali soldiers be paid monthly salaries not exceeding that of the national army to avoid Sudan’s Rapid Security Forces scenario. Of course, UAE was not willing to accommodate that request, which meant to get ready for the worst-case scenario.
With US facilitation, President Mohamud extended official invitations to three frontline states—Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti—to deploy undisclosed number of their troops that would operate independent of ATMIS or any other institutional structure that could lead to certain level of scrutiny and accountability.
The Biden administration is eager to chastise UAE. Now the stage is set for some sort of accountability-free violent strife since the federal government has neither the authority nor the political will to kick UAE whose DP-World out of the Berbera and Bosaso ports.
In order to apply strategic blackmail, UAE left the federal government cash-starved, but it did not take US long to persuade another wealthy Gulf nation—Qatar—to fill the financial vacuum.
Puntland Election Express
In 2021 a fierce fighting ensued in the port city of Bosaso immediately after Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni sacked Mohamud Osman Diyano, the Commander of Puntland Security Force (PSF), that did not stop until the Commander was reinstated. PSF is a CIA trained and funded militia. It operates independent of Puntland or the central government’s ‘command and control.’ of the central government. This militia was created to ‘fight al-Shabaab’ but its de facto role to provide a cover-up and protection to the illegal mining projects in the Puntland’s mountainous region and provide highly trained mercenaries for various local projects.
Within that context it is not too difficult to understand why UAE-backed Puntland government would resort to a strategy of democratically sidelining those connected to the US. So on Thursday May 25, Puntland held local elections despite objections from the federal government and other federal-states and “an opposition boycott that led to security incidents in the days before the polls.”
Federal Government of Somalia and the opposition groups in Puntland initially rejected the notion of Puntland conducting one-person-one-vote election in such a short period. But, in a short while their collective tone has changed, and they agreed to put out their own counter-strategy express to undermine Puntland’s by offering a presidential system of governance where “the Premier post will be abolished and replaced with a presidential system where the president and vice president are elected directly by the people on a single ticket,” according to the state radio. Mindful of how the presidential system of governance would fly in the face of those that I call Halane ghost-lords, let us see how seriously President Mohamud wants to push this proposition forward.
The new electoral process unilaterally initiated and implemented by Puntland is inadvertently setting the stage to non-violently oust President Deni and UAE. The former PSF Commander and the current one’s bother—Asad Osman Abdullahi (Diyano)—who lost to Deni by a very small margin is running against him. Disclosure: Asad and Mohamed’s late father—the founding Commander of PSF—was a childhood friend, school, and teammate of a neighborhood soccer team (Ciyaal Kooka Koolo) in pre-civil war Mogadishu.
US considers UAE’s presence in Somalia and the underway plan to share the Berbera seaport too close for comfort. And the pages of history are dotted with twisted plots and geopolitical unintended consequences.
Abukar Arman is a Somali political analyst, writer and former Special Envoy to the United States. Arman is also a widely published foreign policy specialist, writing extensively on Somalia and international political affairs.