Gulf – A delegation from the UAE arrived in Puntland yesterday, amidst increased fighting between Puntland forces and the Somaliland army.
The UAE is building a military base in Somaliland, the UAE is also in the process of expanding a port in Puntland.
Why? A military presence in the Gulf of Aden protects the UAE and its allies from the Iranian-Yemeni Shia threat, it makes the UAE money, and it produces ‘soft power’ in the region.
Puntland and Somaliland however, have just entered a bloody and escalating territorial conflict. What was a 100 mile buffer zone between Puntland and Somaliland, has now become a battleground. At the heart of the disputed territory is a village called Tukaraq. This is where most of the fighting it taking place and reports indicate that it is intensifying.
The UAE has overlapping interests in both regions and it is obliged to mediate.
Puntland and UAE relations
Puntland is a federal state. It is one of a handful of states that come together to form the Federal Republic of Somalia. It is a semi-independent state that has not sought to become it’s own country. Puntland did however, go against the Federal Government of Somalia by siding with the UAE and its allies regarding the boycott of Qatar.
UAE ambassadors are currently in Puntland and there is a strong possibility that they are trying to calm tensions between Puntland and Somaliland.
Puntland’s strategic location in northern Somalia is incredibly valuable to the UAE. Critically, it has the potential to eliminate illegal arms smuggling and destabilization of the Gulf by Iran through Yemen (via the Gulf of Aden).
Healthy ties with Puntland means that the UAE can readily form a military or proxy military in Somalia. There is also economic justification to have a presence in Puntland, as it’s ports serve the burgeoning, landlocked Ethiopia.
Somaliland and UAE relations
Somaliland equally enjoys healthy ties with the UAE, they too accepted the call to cut ties with Qatar. Consequently, the UAE announced that they would be investing heavily in Somaliland’s Berberra port. By extension, the UAE also announced that they would be building a naval base in Somaliland.
This will allow the UAE to vastly cover the Gulf of Aden, further reducing any risk posed by the war in Yemen to the UAE and its allies.
UAE investment comes as a lifeline for Somaliland, at a time when special charity distribution arrangements with the FGS (Special Arrangements Contract) have been rejected. If successful, a port in Somaliland will also offset the losses incurred by the UAE after Djibouti abruptly ended it’s longstanding, and highly lucrative, port agreement with the UAE.
It does not serve Emirati interests to have a presence in two neighboring regions that are in conflict with each other. It is therefore highly likely that the UAE will attempt to mediate the two fighting regions; Somaliland and Puntland.
Often the best and most effective form of influence over a nation is soft power. The UAE knows that if they are able to create a truce between the different northern Somali regions, then they will consolidate their influence across all Somali territories.
The Gulf states have long been masters of realpolitiks, however this external influence cannot overshadow the internal conflict that is unfolding between Puntland and Somaliland.
The Tukaraq battle is an internal Somali problem.
Any UAE delegation sent to Puntland/Somaliland, in light of the current territorial conflict, is a diplomatic opportunity and should be encouraged.
The federal government of Somalia have been painfully quite during the ongoing territorial conflict in the northern Somali regions.
However, an upcoming trip to the UAE by PM Khayre of Somalia, is a clear indication that the UAE prefers to exert soft power over Somalia in order to reach its goals. This is a positive move by the UAE and it further signals that the UAE prefers dialog over hostility.
It is this type of dialog that has the potential to prevent needless bloodshed between Somaliland and Puntland.