How UAE military deal with Somalia was eclipsed by Turkey


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) military deal with Somalia may have suffered a huge setback following Turkey's entry, in what could change socio-economic and security dynamics within the Horn of Africa nation, which has struggled with instability for decades.

Last year, the UAE signed a military deal with Somalia but despite getting approval from the cabinet, it is yet to be ratified by Parliament. At that time, MPs accused the UAE of infringement on Somalia’s sovereignty.

Over the years, Somalia has made tremendous progress in the state-building process, despite setbacks fueled by Al-Shabaab and internal political wrangles. Already, the UN Security Council has lifted the arms embargo imposed on the country, a testimony of the progress made in stabilisation.

Details of the agreement with UAE, which have since been made public by the Middle East Eye, indicate that the Gulf nation was to “carry out military and security operations, including land, sea and air operations, which it deems appropriate, to eliminate terrorist elements”. It also authorises Abu Dhabi to “use the territory of” Somalia.

The UAE “shall have the right to use the land ports, sea ports and airports of the territory of the Federal Republic of Somalia” and establish military and training bases to further its operations.

While access to Somalia’s land and sea was not a major issue, Somalis were angered by the fact that the agreement gave the UAE total immunity, shielding it from accountability. This, officials say, may have informed Parliament's decision to delay ratification.

“All persons working under this agreement shall be granted safeguards and immunity against any international, legal, or administrative liability” in Somalia, the deal states.

“Persons working under this agreement can’t be subject to any national or international procedure or claim or the application of a judgement rendered against them” in Somalia during the implementation of the agreement.

Interestingly, while the UAE agreement remains alien in parliament, the assembly approved defence cooperation with Turkey, which has been a serious development and security partner with Somalia for over a decade.

Two sources familiar with Mogadishu's thinking told the Middle East Eye that when President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's government signed the deal with the UAE, it had in mind the May 2023 Turkish presidential elections, which every poll suggested Recep Tayyip Erdogan was likely to lose.

Erdogan’s possible departure could have denied Somalia a crucial backer. The Turkish opposition was quite clear that it didn’t feel the need to maintain such an assertive foreign policy in places like the Horn of Africa, nor did it have any willingness to spend any money or time on the East African nation.

So, according to the sources, Somalia approached Abu Dhabi to secure its long-term fight against militant groups and fill the possible vacuum that Erdogan’s departure would bring. Erdogan, however, defied expectations and won the election, coming out on top in the second round.

However, the recent MoU between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, influenced Mogadishu's decision to quickly go for Ankara support. Ethiopia is set to get 20 kilometres of the Red Sea in exchange for recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state.

With Somalia declaring the agreement 'illegal', it, however, cannot handle Ethiopia's incursion. To this end, signing a defence deal with Turkey, a traditional reliable partner, was inevitable.

Analysts believe the deal between Somalia and Turkey would in the long run sever ties between Mogadishu and Doha, which also has interests in Somalia. Reportedly it mandates Ankara to protect Somali sea waters against infringements for the next 10 years. Some Ankara insiders say the deal is also backed by Qatar, the UAE’s Gulf rival, Middle East Eye adds.

“The United Arab Emirates is likely the country most disturbed by the Turkey-Somalia security and defence agreement,” wrote Mehmet Ozkan, a professor at the National Defence University in Turkey.

“The UAE has been conducting serious diplomacy for the last year to sign a very similar or even more advanced security agreement with Somalia. However, the response from Somalia has been reluctant - which is why there is both reaction and disappointment on the part of the UAE about this development.”

However, Turkish officials say the deal hasn’t caused any fallout with Abu Dhabi. Erdogan has frequently visited the Emirates since 2021 when both countries officially reconciled and signed an investment plan for Ankara.


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