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Somalia: Qatar crisis washes up on Somalia's shores

By Charlie Mitchell

MOGADISHU, Somalia - It was 1991 when Somali President Siad Barre was ousted, catapulting the country into disarray and prompting emboldened warlords to cleave the country apart.

Although an internationally-backed government was established in 2012 following interventions by Ethiopia and the African Union, the country remains fractured – bedeviled by humanitarian crises and a protracted struggle against Al Shabab militants.

In practice, the authority of the central government does not extend far beyond the capital, Mogadishu. It is within this context that Somalia’s recent row with the UAE should be dissected.

Ten months have passed since the Arab quartet of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Hugely reliant on foreign investment and aid, Somalia has imported the crisis.

On April 8, amid rising tension, Somali security forces stormed a UAE jet at Mogadishu airport, seizing $9.6 million (Dh35.3 million) in cash destined for the Puntland Maritime Police Force, an anti-piracy unit of the Somali army-backed since 2014 by the Emirates.

In response to the breach of diplomatic protocol, the UAE abruptly ended its military training programme in Somalia. Sheikh Zayed hospital in Mogadishu suspended operations.

Immediately thereafter, Qatar donated 30 buses and two cranes to Mogadishu regional officials. “That is not coincidental,” said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa project director at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The gesture is emblematic of international pressures weighing on Somalia, thanks to pre-existing relationships and its proximity to the Gulf.

Turkey operates a military base of epic proportions in Mogadishu, whose lucrative port is run by Al Bayrak, a Turkish corporation. Ankara was an early investor in Somalia, though analysts say popular support for Turkey’s presence is dwindling.

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