Abu Dhabi must clarify security role in Somalia
EDITORIAL | This week, we reported a curious observation in which Emirati troops have been clandestinely landing at the Puntland port city of Bossaso in Somalia. And by Friday, neither the Federal Government in Mogadishu nor the administration of President Said Abdullahi Deni in Puntland had explained anything.
This risks creating unnecessary tensions in a country where foreign entities routinely jostle for influence. For the Emiratis, their landing could never have been surprising had it been transparent. After all, Abu Dhabi has lately enjoyed rebuilding its ties with Mogadishu under Somalia’s new President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Emiratis had a tumultuous time under Mohamed Farmaajo.
So what could be the problem with this secrecy?
The first thing is it comes at a bad time. The troops have been landing as President Deni fights legitimacy fires after the opposition politicians accused him of growing dictatorship horns. Of course, Deni has rejected the accusations in the past, only to do something opposite. For example, his regional pilot elections last year were lampooned as his political plaything to control the narrative about democracy. With little civic education and plurality at campaigns, Deni went ahead to conduct the polls, which ended up leaving a majority of participants excluded. The danger was that most external observers praised the polls as a first good step, allowing Deni to take credit for something he knew was entirely calamitous.
Back to security, however, the arrival of the troops at this time only risks politicization. Deni’s term is expiring soon, and there has been less clarity on whether he will step down or force his way back into a second term. If he does the latter, he may surely need a brutal security force to silence the dissent, which is why the arrival of the troops is causing jitters.
This is not to say Abu Dhabi is evil. In fact, its contribution to Somalia’s rebuilding may just be abused at this time. Indeed, the United Emirates is the brain behind the elite Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF), crafted nearly 11 years ago to target pirates and other marine criminals. As the world rallied against sea pirates in the Somali sea, the PMPF morphed into a squad for land crimes in Puntland. But politicians saw it as a tool to protect themselves, which is why numerous UN panels of experts have cited the PMPF as a ‘private military.’
At one time, the UN Security Council had to terminate external training for the PMPF after details emerged of the way the force was operating as a private military. The PMPF itself, however, endures to date.
The deployment of Emirati troops could be related to Puntland’s desire to protect mining sites in Golis* mountains, according to sources. But while that may seem noble, that could potentially raise grievances among local communities who may feel they were not consulted about mining sites. In Somalia’s security chaos, grievances often attract al-Shabaab to try and win over sympathizers by pretending to offer better protection. And a Puntland political environment now is more vulnerable to insecurity, especially as it heads into transition.
As Deni’s tenure heads of near-end, it would behove the Emiratis to come clean on how their troops will shield themselves from being used for political gains in Puntland.
Ultimately, the UAE must know that a misstep in Puntland could mean a fall in Somalia. There are geopolitical repercussions, especially since the UAE has traditionally been seen to ally with Egypt in Somalia, rivaling a loose alliance between Qatar and Turkey. These latter ones enjoyed a big stake under Farmaajo while the UAE suffered a humiliation. At one time, Somalia even confiscated emirate money worth $9.6 million meant to pay for the troops under training, which Mogadishu saw as a seed for discord.
The money has since been freed and redirected to humanitarian needs. But the lesson for the UAE is to stay apolitical: Now is not the time to make Somalia to become a proxy state where rivalries are played.
The US, for instance, trained the Danab forces, but they refused to be roped into political scuffles involving then-Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo.