The long-running diplomatic row between the governments of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is seemingly spilling into Somalia, as the East African nation prepares for parliamentary and presidential election later this year.
Last week, the UAE government invited five leaders representing the regional states of Somalia – from Puntland, Jubaland, Southwest, Galmudug and Hirshabelle – for talks in Abu Dhabi.
The talks concluded with a joint statement on November 1st, calling for a ceasefire between Puntland and Galmudug forces, attempting to end violence that erupted on October 7th. However, the ceasefire was broken as heavy fighting broke out in Galkayo the next day.
What prompted the meeting?
By any measure, the meeting was unprecedented: it was the first time – ever – that the five leaders of the country’s fractious regional states have met.
Informed sources tell Somali Review that foreign governments are positioning themselves to ensure the election of allied Somali politician as the country’s next president.
Ahmed “Madobe” Mohamed Islam, president of Jubaland state, travelled to Addis Ababa on October 22nd and engaged in talks with Ethiopian officials.
“He was asked if the Somali regional state leaders support the re-election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud,” the source tells Somali Review. Mohamud’s four-year presidential term expired on September 10th and is currently in power in a caretaker role.
The next day, the Jubaland leader was invited to Abu Dhabi, where the same question was posed.
“He called Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden [president of Southwest state] and the others [state leaders] to join in Abu Dhabi and to share their views about the 2016 election,” the source added.
Foreign rivalries and 2016 election
Somalia’s 2016 election is enormously critical, as the country faces many challenges in security, reconciliation, institutional stability, and economic recovery. Analysts and commentators worry that foreign governments’ rivalries spilling into the country’s delicate politics threatens to further complicate a volatile political environment.
For the past 25 years, foreign governments have openly interfered in Somalia’s politics by supporting one faction versus another. In the 2000s, it was Ethiopia and Eritrea that jockeyed for influence among Somalia’s warring political factions, leading to a “proxy war” inside Somalia between the two East African rivals.
Since 2011, after Turkish foreign aid poured into Somalia, the UAE and Turkey have been at loggerheads competing for support among Somali federal leaders, regional states and business groups.
Turkey has invested massively in Mogadishu, in reconstructing key governmental infrastructure, public facilities such as roads and hospitals, and built its largest embassy in Mogadishu. Turkey is also planning to train and rebuild Somali Army, which currently only exists in theory.
The UAE also increased its assistance package to Somalia in recent years, contributing to anti-piracy effort in Puntland, building facilities in breakaway Somaliland, donating food aid, and opening a hospital and an embassy in Mogadishu.
However, the two governments’ open rivalry has entered the country’s politics, with Turkey expressing concern about “foreign manipulation” at the same time that the UAE began hosting leaders of the five regional states.