In his “peace with the world” leg of his tour, Somalia’s president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has on Sunday travelled to Abu Dhabi to hold talks with the president of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This crucial trip came at a time the president’s every move regarding foreign relations is closely watched.
Villa Somalia’s official statement states that President Mohamud undertook this trip to seek support for the droughts that ravaged the country and to strengthen the ties between the two countries by forging closer cooperation in areas of economic recovery and security. However, it is the latter that attracted the most analysis and speculation.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a strategic and crucial trade partner for Somalia and it has been so for decades. Many Somalis have, over the years, especially during the collapse of the Somali state resided, worked, and thrived in this Gulf state. UAE has also stood by Somalia in its state-building efforts and proved to be a very valuably partner. However, lately, their modus operandi left much to be desired. They have become more and more politically involved setting up an overt military base with no clear or stated intentions. They have attempted to push Somalia to get involved in its political conflicts. These actions have rubbed Somalis the wrong way. Supported by Qatar, President Farmaajo ascended to power armed with this realisation and when it came time to choose, pushed the Emirates to a side and fully embraced the Qataris.
Although not as closely interlinked with Somalia as the Emirates, during President Farmaajo’s tenure, Qatar proved to be a more charming partner. While they were also politically involved, heavily supporting President Farmaajo and his political endeavours, some of which were highly undesirable, Qatar contributed to much needed major developmental projects. To many, Between Qatar and UAE, Qatar emerged as the most valuable partner for Somalia at this particular juncture.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is right to mend relations with the UAE, but this should not signal worsening ties with Qatar. None of these Gulf states has the prerogative to demand total loyalty at the expense of the other. It is Somalia that should tailor its foreign policy to its needs and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud should make this very clear during his tour.
Stating Somalia’s foreign policy towards the Gulf states should not be difficult to undertake, because President Farmaajo has done the heavy lifting in making it very clear that Somalia can no longer be pushed around.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud should head to Qatar as soon as possible to ease tensions and make absolutely clear that his neutral stance is not for the birds.
Mohamed Abshir copy edited this article.