Somalia regions maintain UAE as ally and challenge central government that amasses power


Somalia and the United Arab Emirates are still squabbling over the emirates’ engagements with the regional states of Jubbaland and Puntland, with Mogadishu saying it will oppose any lease deals on the ports of Bossasso and Kismayu.

The dust has not even settled on the Mogadishu administration’s dispute with the semi-autonomous state of Somaliland over the lease of the port of Berbera to the UAE at $440 million.

Somalia has objected to a UAE company taking over the Berbera port in the region of Somaliland in partnership with the Ethiopian government, which Mogadishu says is an invasion of its territory.

And now, Puntland president Abdiweli Mohamed Ali “Gaas” and his Jubbaland counterpart Sheikh Ahmed “Madobe” are on the spot for visiting Dubai last month, further rocking the relations between the two countries.

Somalia’s charge d’affaires in Nairobi Ali Mohamed Sheikh told The EastAfrican that UAE was out to drive a wedge between the federal government and regional states, with the objective of weakening the administration of President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo.”

“The leaders of Puntland and Jubbaland are free to make private visits to any country in the world, but the mandate of foreign and bilateral relations remains the obligation of the federal government of Somalia,” he said.

He argued that just like in Kenya, where the governors have been barred from entering into agreements on funding and joint projects with foreign countries without the permission and guarantee of the national government, Somalia’s regional states are bound by the same principle.

Amassing power?

While Sheikh Madobe has said that his Dubai visit was to see his doctor, Jubbaland remains closely linked to the UAE, which still supports his troops.

Mogadishu has also accused him of allowing exportation of charcoal to UAE, which is the biggest market for the Somalia charcoal.

But Mr Gass, who has been Somalia prime minister twice, is unapologetic for hobnobbing with the UAE. In his address to journalists in a townhall in Dubai last month, he said that the UAE is central to the survival of Puntland, citing provision of security and investment.

He said that Puntland supports a federal system that ensures that the central government does not have dictatorial powers over the federal states and which will ensure co-operation in the fight against the Al Shabaab.

“Under federalism, all government powers are either inclusive, concurrent or residual, where residual means that powers that are not explicitly declared by the Constitution belong to the regional states,” said Mr Gass in a video released by his office.

Somalia has so far created five regional states — Puntland, Galmudug, Jubbaland, Southwest State, and Hirshabelle. There is still debate on whether Mogadishu — under the Benadiir region — should become the sixth state or remain the country’s capital.

Puntland was established in 1998, while Jubbaland came into being in 2012.

The UAE has been providing financial and military assistance to state security forces in Jubbaland and Puntland, which has helped bolster their ability to combat Al-Shabaab and other armed groups.

Somalia experts say that unless and until the federal government is prepared to provide such support, the states will continue to seek assistance wherever they can find it.

Matt Bryden, director of Sahan Africa, a think-tank that focuses on the Horn of Africa and Middle East relations, told The EastAfrican that the government in Mogadishu is still a provisional authority and that the Constitution, the architecture of the federal system and the distribution of power and responsibilities between Mogadishu and the federal states all remain undefined.

State governments wary

“State governments like Jubbaland and Puntland are therefore wary of the federal government trying to pre-empt negotiations by concentrating power and resources in the capital, and they maintain strong relations with the UAE in an attempt to counterbalance what they perceive to be disproportionate external investment in the federal government,” said Mr Bryden.

Some opposition leaders have accused President Farmajo of seeking to amass power at the centre, contrary to the 2012 Constitution, which provides for a federal system of government.

Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, a former planning minister, who was a presidential candidate in the February 2017 election, said that President Farmajo believes in a strong, centralised government, where the executive overshadows parliament and the judiciary.

“Any rational Somali will agree that bad relations with Abu Dhabi is not good, because there are many Somali businesses in the country and Somalia exports $500,000 worth of livestock to UAE annually,” he said.

Mr Warsame is one of the politicians who the government has identified as working with the UAE to “destabilise” Somalia, but he denies the accusations, saying that he is being targeted for criticising the government on certain issues.

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