The Somaliland Minister of Civil Aviation confirmed that Somaliland accepted in principle the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to establish a military base in Berbera, but denied signing a memorandum of understanding.
Despite the denial of a signed document, the Minister, who does not have a mandate to conclude any agreement of such military nature, admitted acceptance from the side of Somaliland.
I argue that such move is dangerous in security wise, and will undermine Somaliland’s quest of recognition.
In May 1991, Somaliland issued a declaration claiming that Somaliland withdrew from 1st July 1960 union with Somalia. The declaration also proclaimed establishment of the Republic of Somaliland. Since then Somaliland has been seeking recognition from the rest of the world. However, so far no single country extended recognition to Somaliland.
The decision came at the end of the Cold War rivalry. During the Cold War, the Red Sea was strategically important for the two superpowers, the USA and USSR. The demise of the USSR meant that the remaining superpower, the USA, is no longer facing a competition. Therefore, the strategic location of the Horn of Africa became less important. The whole structure of the world has changed to unipolar system.
The separation of the mighty Somali Republic has implications in the region. The Somali Republic that came into existence in 1960 was based on the unification of all Somalis in the region of the Horn of Africa. Hence the country was in a war with its neighbours. The worst occurred in 1977/78 between Somalia and Ethiopia over the Somali inhabited region of Ethiopia which was claimed by Somalia.
The war between Ethiopia and Somalia had an effect far beyond the Horn. Egypt which takes almost all the waters of the Nile River at the expense of the upstream countries including Ethiopia was happy to see busy and pressured Ethiopia that cannot disrupt the water flow.
The Nile River is the life line to Egypt, which cannot survive without its waters. It has vested interest in the Somali affairs.
The collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991 gave Ethiopia, which also emerged from war, a space. Currently its economy is growing. It started to build a dam, the Renaissance Dam, which frustrated Egypt.
The war in Yemen and the growing competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia intensified regional rivalry which again put the Horn of Africa in the map.
Somaliland does not have a diamond or a gold, and it is not rich in oil. The strategic importance of Somaliland’s geographic position is the only thing it can use to gain international recognition.
The renewed competition is good for Somaliland, if it can play the game actively, effectively and wisely. Giving the UAE a military base is naïve move that can make Somaliland’s dream of recognition a nightmare.
First, the UAE will never recognize Somaliland. Therefore, providing a military base without trading a recognition is so wrong and against the self-interest of Somaliland.
Second, the policy of the UAE is to respect “the territorial integrity of Somalia” which is a member of the Arab League. Before signing any agreement with Somaliland, it will first seek in clandestine an acceptance from Mogadishu. Providing a military base to a country which is a friend to the enemy is a surrender to the enemy, Somalia. It is a matter of fact that in any future military confrontation between Somaliland and Somalia, the UAE will side with Somalia. Imagine when UAE has a military base within Somaliland territory. The mere existence of Somaliland will be in danger.
Third, the establishment of a military base in Somaliland by Arab country will at least create suspicion in Addis Ababa, the closest friend of Somaliland. Can Somaliland afford losing the only friend to an enemy? What is the logic behind that?
Fourth, UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen. According to the aid agencies and human rights organizations, civilians are dying amass in Yemen and the coalition is accused of using cluster bombs. Unicef says one child dies every ten minutes in Yemen. The Somalilanders, who were themselves victims of a war, have no sympathy for the killing of civilians. Their love of peace is clearly stated in the constitution. Grating a military base to UAE is clear violation of the will of the people.
I know the financial aspect of the deal. I also know the strong lobby of the UAE who now understand how to play in Hargeisa. But, I am talking to the conscious of Somaliland government and people. Do not rush to a deal that we will regret in the rest of our lives as we did in 1st July 1960.
Guleid Ahmed Jama
Guleid is a practicing lawyer and researcher at the Centre for Policy Analysis. He holds Bachelor’s Degree in Laws, MA in International Relations and is currently MA candidate in Peace and Conflict Studies.