We are all aware that Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden has become an athletic field of foreign powers. We can describe that the region has become a military garrison. Republic of Djibouti hosted military bases and facilities for France, USA, Germany, Japan, and Saudi Arabia; also China recently established its first overseas military base in Djibouti. Likewise Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE have military bases in Eritrea. Turkey established military bases in Qatar and Somalia. Recently Somaliland previous government hosted UAE to establish a military base in our dear port –Berbera. Turkey also signed an agreement with Sudan that granted the right to construct a military base and Naval dock in Port Suakin- a ruined Ottoman old Port.
Besides the military raises competition of the world superpowers that existed in the Horn; the few years-Gulf crisis and competition for influence between Gulf States stretched beyond the Arab peninsula in to the Horn. The Horn region is now becoming a Gulf states battlefield; and a theatre for the fierce rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran; a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. These together played an increasingly influential role in the Horn’s geopolitics; and are potentially fuelling the region’s internal political unrest; by placing the fragile peace arrangements in the Horn at risk.
For example, when recently Sudan granted for Turkey to construct a military base in its port in the red sea; Egypt responded and sent troops to Eretria; and Sudan immediately closed its borders with Eritrea. The war in our next door country-Yemen, with the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s weak government and Houthi-rebels supported by Iran is intensifying.
However Somaliland lies in this strategic region that interfaces the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden across the strategic Bab-al-Mandab Strait, the Red sea and Horn of Africa. This strategic region is more important for the trade and security of both the countries that lie in this region including Somaliland and the world. That is why the UAE is projecting its interests as a regional military power in the war in Yemen, eager to establish foreign military bases in the region’s ports; and specially to use Berbera port as aircrafts takeoff offensive base for the bombardments on the Houthis. DP World has been acquiring the management of Berbera port; that UAE is achieving both an economic and military interrelated strategy gains.
The agreement of signing a military base for one of the factions warring in Yemen has inevitable security risks for Somaliland. Deliberately being part of the conflict in the region is a blind and suicidal decision for Somaliland. Already the first political quarrel deepened when Somaliland, DP world and Ethiopia signed a tripartite Berbera Port deal that worsened the spat between Somalia and Somaliland. This provides us an incentive example to understand and take a closer look to the unpredictable consequences of mingling with these political and military rivalries in the region.
Somaliland military and political analysts warned many times that more political and security risks will be ahead of us concerning the military base in Berbera. So, the Policy makers of Somaliland should pursue a realistic interest-seeking political strategy; and stop putting the country on fire in exchange for dollars. Bihi’s government must reverse the decision of the previous government of hosting a foreign military base in Berbera. He should prevent this little unrecognized state from the potential risks and complications that a foreign army base carries.
On the other hand, since there is a militarization competition of our geostrategic region with competing foreign powers; it is sure that it has political and economic opportunity implications for every country in the region besides the risks it is facing. But every country is measuring how much of its economic, security and social development interests, it is receiving. Likewise the 1st option in front of President Bihi’s government is to disqualify the whole agreement to avoid the mentioned risks. If not doing this, the second option in front of President Bihi’s government is to review the military base lease agreement by evaluating the cost we can receive from our most important assets—Berbera seaport and airport and making a condition of the base deployment with that benefits that Somaliland is gaining. I believe we can receive much economy, much social sectors development and even country political recognition for an exchange of this risky political move.
Somaliland as an unrecognized country, there is a need for well designed, rational and assertive foreign policy aimed at utilizing economic, social and political opportunities; while minimizing the many angled risks surrounding these opportunities. This double edged situation (opportunities and risks) will be determined by the accuracy of the diplomatic efforts and policy reorientation that president Bihi’s government takes. “Opportunities and risks make a combustible mix; if you don’t get the right formula, it can blow up in your face.”
Adam Ali Younis