The rift in the Gulf has unleashed growing display of power that neither side seems to give up. A clear divide in the Gulf demonstrates those who are with the Saudi/UAE-led alliance and those who have decided to support Qatar.
Yet out of the countries that have claimed a neutral stance, the most unlikely and the one with a potential to affect the blockade is Somalia.
Not only does Somalia supply both air and naval access to the Saudis and Emiratis to conduct their siege in Yemen, it also now allows Qatar to use its airspace after the air restriction placed on Doha by other Arab states. With Somalia’s 2,000 miles of coastline on the line, Arab states participating in the siege are determined to access it for their own gain.
A potential alliance with Qatar was arguably the most realistic. With Qatar allegedly buying off presidential candidates before the election, and funding current President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s campaign through the former Aljazeera Arabia correspondent, and now newly appointed chief of staff, Faahad Yasin.
The Gulf states’ clear display of interest in the area is unsurprising. Since Saudis backed the previous government, it is interesting to see how this could force Somalia to play into Qatar’s hand and alter the relationship with its ally, Turkey, if it all goes wrong.
In the past year, Turkey has provided Somalia with an immense amount of humanitarian aid. Their influence ranges from building new hospitals and tarmacking roads to providing the scholarship for Somali youth. Through its programs and aid, Turkey is winning the support of the Somali people but more importantly gaining access to their land and sea services. Turkish influence in the area is something that other Gulf states aim to replicate.
With Turkey supporting Qatar in the blockade, a neutral Somalia would benefit them the most. Outside influencers such as Saudi Arabia and UAE can establish stronger bases in the country and shape the way its affairs are conducted; leaving not only Qatar to be affected by the blockade but now also Turkey.
In a further display of complicated geopolitics in the Somali region, at the beginning of April, the semi-autonomous region in the northeast of Somalia signed a 30-year deal with the Dubai-owned P&O firm to develop a multi-purpose port in Bosaso. This came after the self-declared republic of Somaliland had already signed a deal to allow the UAE to develop a military base in Berbera.
Emirati influence in the region is an important factor to consider when recognizing Somalia’s crucial role in the Gulf blockade. This agreement was highly controversial as it undermined the central Somali government. Its underlying motive was also to gain more control of Somalia.
With other global superpowers controlling different ports in the Horn of Africa (such U.S. and Japanese military bases in Djibouti), Gulf nations feel the need to solidify their bases. For Somalia, however, it is a quite challenge to choose between the two factions of the dispute. By agreeing with Qatar, Somalia effectively alters the relationship between the ports and workers in the northeast. Mogadishu also puts at stake its workers in Dubai since they could face expulsion.
Saudi pressure, unsurprisingly, has come in the form of money. The Saudi government threatened to withdraw its financial aid to Somalia until they decide to cut ties with Qatar. This comes at a time when Somalia is suffering from mass famine, with limited supplies to help its own humanitarian crisis.
The sheer severity of this act indicates the explicit need for Somalia to pick their side, suggesting that a government that does not prefer Saudi Arabia will gain nothing and, as a by-product, does not care for the well-being of its people. Saudis are betting on the current president’s reputation as the ”man of the people,” trying to undermine his authority.
When the Saudi government realized that this threat didn’t work, they decided to go another route. If taking away financial aid wasn’t going to make them join the Saudi/UAE front, then maybe throwing money at them will.
On June 12, the Saudi government reportedly had offered $80 million to Somalia on the condition that they cut ties with Qatar. These obvious attempts to exploit Somalia’s weaknesses are, in fact, ruining any chances Saudi Arabia might have in forcing Somalia to pick a side.
The archetypal assumption that money solves everything is failing for Saudis. Unless Riyadh decides to change the way it is conducting potential agreements in the region, their success is unlikely.
Some economists expressed concern that Somalia could face sanctions if they didn’t pick a side since Somalia largely depends on exports of livestock to Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations. But this potential roadblock has not deterred the Somali government from getting behind the neither side, regardless of how much money is being offered.
The stance of the Somali government is currently keeping both sides of the blockade in a kind of stasis. Only time will tell how this could all potentially affect the well-being of Somalia both throughout the blockade and after it’s resolved.
But for now, neutrality is the best option for a country that is stuck between a rock and a hard place.