Map - Somaliland and the horn of Africa

Guest Author

(Kudos Nahur – Berbera, Somaliland)

The potential UAE military base in Berbera has seen controversy even within Somaliland presidency and its cohorts. Apart from these, there are various stakeholders connected to the port militarization because this new development has huge geopolitics on the balance of power in the Horn of Africa and long-term security dimension in the region.

Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Sa’ad Shire objected the military base not necessarily for good reason. The contract is said to last 25 years to infinity. Even no minister – be the Defense or the Foreign Affairs – is certain about the terms of the agreement. The mystery sent a chilling tale to all concerned parties in the Horn of Africa. Why does UAE need military base? For what purposes? Where did the DP World investment agreement go? Are they separate or just two sides of the same coin?

On my last analysis “Arab Dirty Game in Somaliland Once Again”, I noted that the Aljazeera reporter went all the way to Addis Ababa to sit down with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam for in-depth interview and asked if it has negative impact on Ethiopia and Somaliland security.

Map - Somaliland and the horn of Africa
Map – Somaliland and the horn of Africa

Irreconcilable Interests

So far, Bashe, the son-in-law of the bedridden president, appeared in Dubai for multi-million military deals without any military expertise or even not having experience of international business negotiations. The Defense Minister Adami, who is of minority background, is out of the negotiation. Kulmiye party’s successor Muse Bihi considers Mohamed Hashi, the Presidential Affairs Minister, has marginalized his role not to mention Cornel Dhagawayne.

Ethiopia wants access to Red Sea for both military and civilian shipments. Will a UAE controlled Berbera port accept Ethiopian arms if Egypt go to war with Ethiopia? Somaliland was a buffer state for quite some time under the wise leadership of the former president Riyale Kahen and the current president Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud before his health worsened.

Somaliland’s Foreign Minister Sa’ad Shire upon his return from Dubai said Addis Ababa has every right to react with alarm to the news of the militarization of the Red Sea and seaport Berbera. “We’ve to balance between the two whereby getting the best of both worlds, we don’t want to lose either of the two” said the minister.

Dr. Fadal, Wadani Party’s Foreign Affairs Chief, also spoke about the deal and the need to be brought to parliament to be disclosed. So far, the First Family and the sick president pursue the fluid military deals without any consultation from any party. Foreign Minister Sa’ad maybe fired soon for his objection of the deal. Abdirahman ‘Iro’ of Wadani presidential candidate wants to keep the deal on hold until post-elections. He wants to appoint three party committee of military background to check the feasibility of the deal. Muse Bihi, who considers Berbera as a tribal property of his own, needs money for his election campaign. Mogadishu is said to grant the license to the UAE and the money in advance is to be split between Somalia and Somaliland. None of these are reconcilable.

Ethiopia’s lasting legacy

Ethiopia, wary of the new developments, looks the other way but only see Somaliland falling back to the laps of Arabians. Ensnared by the false petrodollar allure, Somaliland ministers dance to the tune of Gulf statelets. Addis Ababa wants to see Somaliland people independent and free but Arabs not .But will the military base serve that purpose or subjugation of the Somaliland public for possible reunion with Somalia? Only time will tell.

In 1988, civil war left a million of Somalilanders homeless forcing them to seek asylum in Ethiopia. The refugees including former Ethio-Somalia War combatants were sheltered in Ethiopia in without any sour eye. On the other hand, in 1990s when Somaliland asked the Arabs to come to their rescue to iron out growing tensions of clannish foolery, none of them cared to help.

In all the embryonic stages of Somaliland, the Addis Ababa government has been trying to share with its meager resources including the Ethiopian Airlines – the only national carrier ever landed in Hargeysa to this day. Schools and university in serious need of international recognition were franchised freely to act as independent campus under Ethiopian curriculum to enable students get scholarships anywhere in the world.

During the last elections, the Ethiopian state minister flew to Hargeysa to defuse political tension that may escalate into a deadly civil war similar to 1994. But the Hargeysa government is not showing gratitude. Will the Ethiopian people and government continue to support Somaliland on the expenses of other similar tribal administration that bubbled recently? After all, many other Somalis and the rest of the world still consider Somaliland as “a good clannish entity that works.”

Ethiopia may not judge Somaliland on what other rivals say about her but would surely only her acts. Addis Ababa could review the pros and cons of its ties because of this reckless government. That would put the future of Somaliland in jeopardy.  



  1. Greetings Everyone: Good angle of view. However you have to look it from the bigger picture of the region–all the way from Turkey and Iran on. If not mistaken, this is the third military base of UAE after the ones in Eritrean Assab, and more recently in the eastern part of Libya–where Egypt is also decisively working in the military aspect to help Marshal Hafter & CO faction of Libya.
    After the substantial shakeup of the United States blanket security shield for the Gulf countries—because of 1) self-sufficiency in hydrocarbon production (fracking), 2) the whole new situation after the US led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and to some extent Yemen—security balance is changing in the area very, very rapidly. This forced the GCC countries to run left and right to secure their area of influence, I would argue without any proper due diligence.
    I red in the news articles, that due to this agreement, UAE will give Somaliland a blanket security guaranty. This is of course beyond the money which is going to change hands; this is quite substantial achievement for Somaliland in any account. If true, it is a very important step for Somaliland effort to become an independent country, and in regards to its territorial conflict with Puntland and Somalia itself at the end. To be fair, I would say this security guaranty is a remarkable gain for Somaliland, but very bad for Somalia.
    The Ethiopian Renaissance dam is reshaping the geopolitical balance between Ethiopia and Egypt since its construction was started back in 2010. The old status quo—which had put Egypt in a much better position—exited over 200 years now. Of course the looser party may not forget the old days of life which lasted over two centuries, and adapt to the new situation so easily and smoothly. I am a researcher and I haven’t seen any scientific publication, over the past 100 years, showing any quantitative catastrophic Nile water loss for Egypt, which could be caused by a dam construction with in the Ethiopian territory. It is all about geopolitics and keeping the peoples of Ethiopia in a perpetual poverty—LIKE THE FATE OF THE NUBIANS in Egypt itself.
    For any eventuality the following may be vital for Ethiopian interest as a counter measure: 1) build a strong cyber industry complex (both vertically and horizontally) for military and civil purpose (it may merit its own article but I would argue between 75 to 100,000 man strong hi-tech industry—so that macro-economically it will be self-sustained). It is a common practice that, any information could be gleaned this way ahead of time. And this is vital for a near-real-time decision making. 2) Assab in Eritrea and Berbera could be shadowed with relatively cheap and reliable military surveillance technologies available on the free market. 3) In the case of the worst scenario, both could be targeted with one facility (be it missile or otherwise) from within Ethiopia. The number of fighter jets in the above two locations, as is circulating in the news, will not immediately endanger the Ethiopian Renaissance dam. It is too far from there and too big to destroy within a couple of jet raids; except the psychological damage what it may bring. It will be more interesting to watch if the military hardware assortment and quantity—especially size of the ground force deployed in a given ratio of time (and the justification of that)—for the Ethiopian government. Real-time analysis and modeling of potential regional geopolitical scenario is the best and cheapest tool for us.
    For Ethiopia the most challenging time is between now and the complete dam-fill of the Renaissance dam (Research shows the next 5 years). Because a) we spent substantial amount of money on the dam, and 2) if Egypt somehow can act and destroy it now—We Ethiopian will be poorer by $5 billion USD. That will be a big hammer. But this may not lead to a reversal of the geopolitics dynamics shift from Egypt to Ethiopia; if Egypt really wants to achieve this there must be a several years long sustained civil war inside Ethiopia which have to be well managed by Egypt ( this also merits an article by itself).

  2. This is really interesting point of view and I could not agree more with the fact you stated. But I have few points I want to address.
    1. Ethiopia helped Somaliland during the war because it was part of the strategy to slipt Somalia. On top of that, Ethiopia does not have a port which very essential for trade and they saw the opportunity they can get a coast they can use as theirs, Berbera. Lastly, maybe there was some humanterian help that Ethiopia wanted to offer Somalis who are fleeing from civil war after Ethiopia signed the UN agreement of accepting asylum seekers.
    2. Ethiopian Airlines and franchised Universities give more interest to Ethiopia than Somaliland. These companies and institutions are expanding and will ally with any possible nation that can give them a great return to their interest.
    In short, Ethiopia might recognized Somaliland as a nation but they do because of one purpose which is they dont want Somalia to reunite in the case they magically decide. Ethiopia does basically nothing for Somaliland unless they are getting much greater return. Simple example for this could be the millions of ‘Somalilander’/Somalis they arrest at their borders for no reason and they torture daily.
    Somaliland should not be stuck with someone who helped one in a life time, but it should expand and take the opportunities that will benefit them for the future.

  3. I some of the comments left here seems to be protecting self interest from the devil petro-money.
    I see this analysis as fair and indepth sigh tbat applies true of our current geopolitical scenario.
    I don’t like Somaliland fallling back into the Arab or Othmanate’s laps that we got free in late 1880s.

Comments are closed.