The United Arab Emirates is going to set up a second military base in the Horn of Africa, sparking concern among some governments in the region.
The Somaliland parliament approved the deal for the northern port of Berbera on Sunday, with 144 lawmakers voting for, two against and two abstentions.
Under the 30-year deal, the Emirati government will have exclusive rights to Somaliland’s largest port and manage and oversee operational activities.
DP World, the UAE’s ports operator company, will supervise the port, which will gain a naval base as well as an air base. The lease of the port is contingent on the $442 million deal with DP World.
In return, Somaliland will get investment as well as international recognition: no other country has yet recognised the breakaway territory – which separated itself from the rest of Somalia in 1993 – as an “independent state”.
The Emirati port operator will manage the operational activities, but there’s no official word on the time it will take for the military base to become fully operational.
UAE’s military is considered a formidable force in Africa, particularly after the establishment of its military base at Assab in Eritrea in 2015.
The Eritrean base has been used by the UAE in the Yemen war against the Houthis. It is not known whether the facility at Berbera will have a similar purpose.
Osman Abdillahi, minister of information and national guidance, told Somaliland Press, the country’s official news agency, that the “UAE military base will bring investment which will open the flood gates for countries to recognise Somaliland.”
Abu Dhabi is reaching out to countries in and around the Horn of Africa, as it looks to increase its non-oil revenue through other avenues including real estate, trade and financial services.
Abdillahi said: “The Berbera to Wajale highway will cost about $230-300 million, not forgetting the creations of thousands of jobs for our people, which will alleviate the endemic joblessness that has incapacitated our people.”
It is significant because the UAE will be engaging in trade across the port, and for this, it would require a sustainable road network across Berbera. Hence, as the minister said, it will create opportunities for the local people on infrastructure development.
Tension with Ethiopia
But the Somaliland deal has angered Ethiopia, one of the regional powers in the Horn of Africa, which itself has economic ties with the UAE.
As recently as last year, the UAE and Ethiopia signed several investment deals, under the terms of which the UAE is legally bound to protect the economic interests of Ethiopia.
Last January, Ethiopia’s prime minister rebuked the UAE government for having established the base in Eritrea.
Hailemariam Desalegn said: “We have also stressed that they will bear the consequences of our response if their operation in the area supports the Eritrean regime’s destabilisation agenda against Ethiopia.”
There is still tension between the two east African nations after they fought a war from May 1998 to June 2000.