How is Qatar fueling the Somalia–UAE dispute?

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As Somalia seeks to ease tensions with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar which is seen to be at the center of the fallout of the two nations, has donated 30 buses and two cranes to Mogadishu regional officials.

Relations between UAE and Somalia have been steadily declining since the latter’s decision not to cut ties with Qatar, preferring to take a neutral position in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In March, Somalia banned UAE’s DP World from doing business in the country after it nullified an agreement the company had entered into with Ethiopia and Somaliland for the management of Berbera port.

For years, the effort was successful. Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president, agreed to supply military and police counter-terrorism trainers to Somalia, along with arms, equipment and funding. It was a massive effort. And, it worked. Alongside U.S. and British special forces teams, the UAE-trained Somali forces turned back the al Qaeda remnants in 2014 and have largely held them at bay ever since.

To dry up the support for Islamic militants, the UAE also built schools, hospitals and orphanages and poured in developmental assistance valued at more than $277 million from 1993 to 2016, mainly through the Emirati Red Crescent Society. Another $165 million was supplied through a charitable campaign called “For you, Somalia,” in 2017. All told, charity and aid grants by UAE to Somalia came to almost half a billion dollars.

Now, under pressure from Qatar, Somalia has renounced UAE assistance.

Meanwhile, Qatar was also funneling men and money into Somalia, but with a different agenda. Some of its funds are believed by Western intelligence agencies to have gone to al Shabaab itself or its related faux charities. Other funds went to high-ranking government officials, including Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed.

Qatar soon used its muscle to interrupt a UAE-led development project, the creation of a modern, mechanized port at Berbera – operated by Dubai Ports World – in a new free-economic zone. The open port was designed to be a regional hub that moved raw materials from the inland of Africa to the wider world while lowering costs of importing computers, farm equipment and other machinery needed to modernize East African economies.

Since the free-port agreement is with a Somali regional government, the national government – egged on by Qatar – attempted to block the agreement and then refused to acknowledge its legitimacy. So much for rescuing Africans from both poverty and the claws of al Qaeda.

Recently Somalia’s leader, “Farmajo”, apparently violated international law by stopping a UAE aircraft on April 8, 2018 at Mogadishu International Airport. On board were UAE military trainers, who had come to Somalia to help fight terrorism. Somalia officials also seized funds destined to pay the salaries of Somali soldiers and trainees, as well as number of poor families and doctors of Zayed Hospital in Mogadishu.

Under a long-standing agreement, the UAE pays the salaries of 2,407 Somali soldiers, and operates three counter-terrorism training centers in that country. (This arrangement is not as exotic as it seems; the U.S. and EU have similar arrangements in other parts of the world.) The UAE trains and funds the Puntland Police Force’s anti-terrorism and anti-piracy programs. Puntland is a regional government in Somalia.

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