The Qatar Crisis and the Horn of Africa

The Qatar Crisis and the Horn of Africa

By Angela Senaji

Qatar’s foreign policy is well known, not only because of its ambitious nature, but also because of the controversy therein. Two issues in Qatar’s foreign policy are of special concern to its neighbors: Qatar’s perceived support for Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.

In the past, Qatar has vehemently denied claims of funding militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or ISIS. However, a few weeks ago, Qatar and the world woke up to shocking “fake news” that was leaked, claiming links between Qatar, and terrorist groups and jihadists. The report accused the Qatari Emir of funding terrorist activities, leading to a breakdown of diplomatic ties between Qatar and a group of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Various countries have taken sides, showing their solidarity with either the Saudi­-friendly Gulf States or Qatar. This cluster of Saudi-friendly states, have joined forces to isolate Qatar both diplomatically and economically. In the Horn of Africa, nations including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan face pressures from the Saudi-led coalition to sever ties with Qatar. For now, Sudan and Somalia have officially remained neutral but they may yet face pressures or be offered inducements to take sides.

To begin with, Eritrea hosts a military base belonging to Qatar’s rival, the UAE but it is also imperative to note that it has significant ties with Doha. However, the decision to pick a side is potentially detrimental to Eritrea as the tiny has few international allies, and Qatar has, in the past proven to be reliable. Reports from Eritrea say, “The decision that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have taken is not confined to Qatar alone – as the potential of Qatar is very limited. It is one initiative among many in the right direction that envisages full realization of regional security and stability.” Simply put, Eritrea feels like it should keep its distance in regards to the issue as it is not one that demands its vote.

For Somalia, both sides of the Gulf crisis have deep rooted interests and relations. The Emiratis and Qataris were allegedly involved in backing candidates in the recent Somalia federal elections. Thus far, the Somalia government has made no move showing allegiance to the Saudi government, despite pressure to cut ties with Qatar. Saudi officials invited some ministers from Somalia to Riyadh for talks on development projects. Meanwhile, unconfirmed press reports say that Somalia’s president was offered $80 million if he would agree to sever ties with Qatar. As far as we know, Somalia has chosen to remain neutral.

Somaliland, which does not consider itself part of Somalia, announced that it fully supports Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ stance on Qatar. This decision was based on the fact that the Emiratis refurbished the port at Berbera through the Dubai Ports World, in effect creating some good relations. The UAE is also expected to establish a military base in Somaliland. Further, Somaliland went ahead to ban Qatari airlines from using their airspace. However, only time will tell whether these “sanctions” will be adhered to.

Sudan, on the other hand, has maintained active contacts with Qatar since the outbreak of the crisis and offered support for a Kuwaiti initiative. Qatar’s key role in the mediation process between Darfur and Khartoum rebel groups makes Sudan coalesce around Qatar. Qatar is also a significant lender of hard currency to the Central Bank of Sudan, making the ties between Sudan and Qatar even stronger. However, Sudan also has strong ties with Saudi Arabia, and it has joined a military coalition against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Additionally, Sudan cut diplomatic ties with Iran in solidarity with Riyadh after an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran in January of 2016. These strong ties with both parties of the Gulf Crisis makes it a tough choice for Sudan hence its decision to remain neutral in this seemingly unending crisis.

In Djibouti, the Foreign Minister announced its ‘solidarity’ with the Saudi-led coalition in boycotting Qatar, by officially downgrading its level of diplomatic representation in Qatar. Djibouti, a member of the Arab League, increases the pressure on Qatar, albeit without having an impact to the strength of the economic embargo. Djibouti’s ties with Saudi Arabia have been strong, with plans underway for a pact that would allow the latter to build its own military base in Djibouti.

So far, Ethiopia has chosen to steer clear of conflict by remaining neutral on the matter. However, Qatar’s Emir Tamim Al-Thani recently visited Addis Ababa as the landlocked nation seeks to benefit from Qatar’s investment in the country.

There is no doubt that a decision from any of countries in the Horn of Africa regarding the Qatar and Gulf conflict will significantly have far reaching implications on the social, political and economic landscape of the region.

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