Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The Sudan and the countries of the African Horn are not as well known as the Syria, Irak, Yemen or Libya as a springboard for confrontations, but no less important, and for the problems of water distribution of the Nile it is key.
The alliance of the UAE and Egypt, Qatar and Turkey, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Israel, the USA and other external players confront each other in Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti and such states of the African interior as Uganda and Ethiopia, where Islamist terrorist groups and Iran are active. The events taking place in the region are described based on materials from the Middle East Institute (MEI) expert A. Bystrov.
Confusion in Somalia
On January 3, the Somali Prime Minister Hasan Ali Khayre, upon the recommendation of President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed, dismissed the ministers of Foreign Affairs Yusuf Garaad Omar, of Internal Affairs A.F. Sayyid and Trade K.A. Duale. They were replaced by the Somali Ambassador to the U.S. Ahmed Ise Awad; telecommunications tycoon Abdi Mohamed Sabriye (he was accused by Farmajo, of secretly financing the Islamists al-Shabaab in letters to the US State Department); and former Information Minister M.H. Marey. This is the result of the inter-clan struggle, stirred up by Abu Dhabi. Thus Sayyid was a puppet of the opposition clan leader Abdirahman Abdishakur, recently arrested and charged with receiving UAE money for bribing members of the Somali Parliament and the overthrow of President Farmajo.
The Minister of Commerce and Industry Duale (Issaq/Habar Jeclo clan) was removed from power after the representative of the Hawiye/Habar Gidir clan issued an ultimatum to President Farmajo (Darod/Marehan clan), to Prime Minister Khayre (Hawiye/Murusade clan) and their entourage. The reason was the desire of the former Minister of Trade to rebuild the Council of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry with the removal of the members of the Hawiye/Habar Gidir clan. In the event of failure of the ultimatum, it was hinted that this would affect the state of security in Mogadishu. This confirms that the terrorist attacks were not linked with al Shaabab, but with inter-clan showdowns. The activities of al Shabaab is also stirred up by clan discontent over the policies of either the President or Prime Minister.
The culmination of the internal political confrontation began the negotiations in Istanbul of the former member of Somali Wahhabi movement al-Ittihad al-Islami (linked with Qatar), now head of the F.Y. Tahir presidential administration with one of the opposition leaders, A.S. Guled, from the parliament faction, which is headed by the Former Somali President Hassan S. Mohamud. The opposition was preparing the introduction of a bill of no confidence in current Prime Minister Khayre, but changed its plans with the appointment as Minister of Trade one of its protégé. Behind the actions of the former President’s faction stands the United Arab Emirates, who want to remove Farmajo. The reason for this is Abu Dhabi’s conviction that he is falling under Doha’s influence, although at the beginning of the confrontation between Qatar and the Arab Quartet he promised to stay neutral.
The dissatisfaction was caused by the fact that the new President never abandoned the subject of the UAE military base in Berbera (Somaliland), which he believes Abu Dhabi acquired without proper negotiations and agreement with the central Somali government. He intends to submit claims to the International Court of Arbitration, which will clearly lead to the recognition of the transaction as null and void. Towards such a decision, Farmajo is pushing not only Qatar but also Saudi Arabia (the question of the Saudi-Emirati alliance strength in Yemen). The UAE perceived Farmajo’s consent to the construction of a Turkish base near Mogadishu as a challenge and evidence of the strengthening of the Qatari-Turkish military influence in the country.
The Turkish military base for the deployment of three thousand persons cost Ankara around 50 million dollars. It will form the basis for the military training for Somalia following the withdrawal of AMISON (African Union Mission in Somalia) in October 2018. Presently, the base prepares exclusively soldiers from the presidential clan. It is needed to strengthen the Qatari-Turkish military presence in the country to counterbalance the Saudi-Emirati. The UAE, in addition to Berbera, founded in Mogadishu in 2015 a base for training the local military, but the Somali authorities hinder its activities. At the same time, Farmajo blocked the military technical provision from the UAE’s partner, Egypt. This was another cause for concern in Abu Dhabi and the beginning of the covert war between the Emirates and Farmajo.
Israel in Africa
According to experts, Israel is ready to establish an intelligence base in Northwest Uganda for operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan. There is reason to believe that one of the main objectives after its creation will be the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), which has acquired a supranational character and has rear bases and militants recruiting points in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia. The site will have helicopters and UAVs. The decision as made after talks in December 2017 between Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu and Ugandan President Y. Museveni. Subsequently, consultations were held between the head of Mossad, the chief of staff of the Ugandan army and the state Minister of Defence of Uganda. It was agreed that the project would be implemented in 2018.
The agreement alarmed Cairo. The Egyptians are disappointment with the distancing of the Ugandan President, breaking with Egypt the cooperation in the field of security. Museveni allowed Doha to build a military base in Uganda. Cairo is wary of the newly-entered into the region Tel Aviv, as Israel in 2012 signed with South Sudan an agreement on the implementation of the programme for the creation of irrigation facilities on the White Nile. Cairo fears that Uganda will use the alliance with Israel to obtain preferential access to the American financial programme “Energy for Africa” and will build ten hydroelectric power stations in the Nile valley. In December 2017, the CEO of the office of the Prime Minister of Israel E. Greiner signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which will allow Israeli companies to access the funds of Power Africa. So cooperation between Israel and Uganda in this area is obvious.
Promenade on the Nile
Following the summit in Addis Ababa, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed within a month without intermediaries to resolve the technical issues in the construction of the great dam “Revival”. The meeting of the Presidents of Egypt A.F. al Sisi, of Sudan O. al-Bashir and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took place behind closed doors. Earlier, in January in talks in Cairo, the head of the Ethiopian government assured the Egyptians that the construction of the dam would not create problems for Egypt or Sudan. However, Cairo is concerned about the lack of progress by the tripartite expert group to identify potential impacts on the Nile basin countries and the possibility of preventing them. Egypt proposed to involve the World Bank in the negotiations on the “Revival” dam as a “neural technical party”. Ethiopia rejected the mediation of the World Bank, stating that the parties would be able to solve the problems on their own.
The construction of the “Great Ethiopian Dam” began in 2011. According to the project, the capacity of hydroelectric station with a cascade of four dams will be 5250 megawatts. Addis Ababa views its construction as a purely economic project that will generate electricity for the domestic market and export to Djibouti, Kenya and the Sudan. China is ready to invest two billion dollars in electric energy, including projects for the electrification of railways and the construction of new roads. The electrification of the Ethiopian railways, especially towards the ports of Djibouti, changes the logistics of the whole African Horn, giving Addis Ababa access to seaports, which it lost after the separation of Eritrea. The road is built by China, but will work efficiently after the electrification, which in reality will be at the beginning of operations of the Great Dam. So, Beijing’s concern to the crisis was expressed indirectly. Not only a willingness to invest in the energy sector of Ethiopia, but also the supply of air defence systems for the protection of the construction.
The high-level negotiations in Addis Ababa imply a major concession by Cairo. The Egyptian President made the decision a few days before the meeting in the Ethiopian capital. The same is true of Khartoum. On January 3, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sudan Ibrahim Ghandour cancelled a visit to Cairo for the negotiations with Egypt, including on the issue of the Great Dam. This was due to Cairo’s declarations on the “final decision” regarding the disputed areas of Hala’ib and Shalateen with the Sudan. Egypt is dissatisfied with the pro-Qatari position of President Al-Bashir, the transfer of Qatari weapons to Libya, flirting of Khartoum with Turkey and the solidarity of the position of Addis Ababa on the construction of the Great Dam.
The Prime Minister of Ethiopia Desalegn insisted on the execution of the agreement signed in March 2015 by Cairo, Khartoum and Addis Ababa, limiting the possibilities of international construction arbitration. As a result of the consultation in Addis Ababa, the parties agreed not to escalate the issue of amendments to the technical report on the operation of the dam prepared by the French firm BRL & Artelia. Sudan and Ethiopia opposed the amendments proposed by the Egyptians. The Minister of Irrigation of Egypt M.A. Athy accused his colleagues of delays, starting filling the reservoir. It was decided to comply with the terms of filling the reservoir in accordance with the regulations and agreements between the countries. A number of technical issues have not been resolved. The parties agreed to stop the build-up of troops in the main disputed points: Cairo, in the areas of disputed territories on the border with Sudan; Sudanese and Ethiopians, on the border with Eritrea. Khartoum made clear that the question of the construction of a Turkish military base in Suakin would depend on Egyptian intentions in Eritrea. However, Cairo is still not satisfied with the construction of the dam, and for Ethiopia it is vital.
Experts regard the results of President Erdogan’s visit to Sudan on December 24-25, 2017 as attempts of a struggle between the Turkish-Qatari alliance and Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in order to strengthen his influence on the African Horn. Officially, the main goal was Ankara’s desire to obtain official lease rights over once Turkish island of Suakin in the Red Sea. In reality, it was about more global things, in particular the implementation of another point of strategy, the creation of the Turkish-Qatari “crescent of influence” in the zone between the KSA and Egypt. Doha and Ankara regard the strengthening of authority in the Sudan as an important step in launching a massive military and economic expansion into Africa.
As for Suakin, Turkey has received permission from al-Bashar to build a military base, although the Turks are actively working on the creation of port infrastructure for the past year. During Erdogan’s visit, the parties officially signed an agreement on this and agreed on the composition of the joint commission for the payment of compensation to Ankara (from Doha) to the residents of Suakin for the construction on their lands. Turkey will officially control three such facilities in the region: in Qatar, in Mogadishu (Somalia) and in Sudan. We will add also the Qatari military base under construction in Uganda.
Erdogan’s visit to Sudan was not only his initiative, but also Qatar’s. It is Doha, the main driver for the support of Turkish influence in Africa. Qatar always played an important role in the Sudan; it has tried to deal with the crisis in Darfur and has connections with al-Bashir. Sudan, for Qatar and Turkey, in addition of being in competition with the Egypt-UAE alliance in establishing military and political influence in the African Horn, is important for the transfer of weapons into Libya, as well as reducing the level of influence of the KSA. Relations between the countries stagnated due to the reduction of Riyadh’s financial support of the Sudanese pound, which led to the devaluation and mass unrest. We must bear in mind the ideological proximity of Khartoum to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Doha and Ankara consider an important mechanism for spreading their influence in the Islamic world.
Khartoum’s strategic partnership with Ankara and Doha in the field of security is being built. It was secured at the Kharthoum meeting on December 25 with the participation of the chiefs of staff of the Armed Forces, Hulusi Akar (Turkey), Emad Eddin Mostafa Adawi (Sudan) and Ghanim bin Shaheen Al-Ghanim (Qatar). Agreements were reached on the construction of a port based in Suakin (including the maintenance of combat readiness of the Sudanese Navy), joint Sudanese and Qatari military exercises, and the provision of Turkish technical assistance to the Sudanese army. They agreed as well to boost contacts between the Special Services. In preparation for Erdogan’s visit to Kharthoum, the head of the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), General M. Abbas on December 22 visited Ankara and met with the head of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Hakan Fidan, handing over to Turkey Fethullah Gülen supporters arrested in the Sudan.
The United States decided to ban the export of American weapons and military equipment to South Sudan. This was reported by the official representative of the State Department Heather Naeurt. From now on, Washington intends to pursue “with limited exceptions, the policy of refusing to export weapons, military equipment and services to South Sudan, involving all parties to the conflict”. According to Naeurt, the United States are calling on all nations to follow Washington’s example and suspend the sale of weapons to Juba, as well as to stop supporting those who destabilise the situation in that state. This call is addressed to all neighbours, but mostly to Uganda, through where Ukrainian weapons pass.
The US is seeking to impose an international arms embargo on the Kiir regime in the UN Security Council. However the Security Council is split on this issue. Western countries support the embargo; Russian, China and a number of other states are against. In December 2016, the UNSC rejected the US proposed draft resolution prescribing the application of an arms embargo. Donald Trump sent a letter to the Chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, in which he stated his full agreement with the views expressed by the American diplomats.
The conflict in the republic began in December 2013 between the supporters of President Salva Kiir, most of whom from the ethnic Dinka, and rebels led by his former deputy Riek Machar, relying on the tribal alliance with the Nuer.
On December 21, 2017 the government and representatives of the rebel groups signed another agreement on cessation of hostilities. However clashes resumed in the capital, Juba, on January 5. Kiir’s violation of the promise not to open fire on the first day before the next round of peace talks under the auspices of the African Union in Addis Ababa on February 5 cause a strong reaction from Washington. In the State Department officials openly dais that the South Sudanese regime has turned from an ally into a burden.
American support for Kiir’s separatism was based on additional pressure on the “Arab” regime of the Sudan and President al-Bashir and the “black lobby” of the State Department. Rice and her supporters did not hide the black racism in their confrontation with Arab Sudan, but they did not take into account the factor of tribalism. In case of South Sudan, the disorder began with two major tribal groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, who formed the basis of the ruling South Sudan party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), but now we can talk about the split between the Dinka and Nuer faction, that is, the fragmentation within tribal formations.
At the initial stage of the quarrel with the Nuer, the Dinka remained united around the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). It had an influence on the decisions of President Kiir and the Dinka cemented into a single structure. Already then, contradictions matured and began to grow between the Bor factions (birthplace of the founder of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) who died in 2005) and the Dinka faction of Bahr el Ghazal (the fiefdom of current President Kiir). Presently the Dinka split moved across the borders. More and more tribal factions are openly distancing themselves from Kiir. The culmination was the emigration of General P.M. Awan, Chief of Staff of the South Sudan Army, who broke off relations with Kiir and found refuge in Kenya.
The African Union made it clear that they do not object to sanctions against Kiir, but it is unlikely to cause him much damage, as the supply of the regime is done through smuggling. Uganda plays the main role. The Americans are frantically looking for new points of support in South Sudan. They dramatically changed their attitude of the Nuer leader, the main antithesis of Kiir, former Vice President Machar. At first, they demanded his arrest without a court verdict, now the diplomats made it clear to the head of the AU that they would not object to Machar’s presence and his supporters in this round of negotiations. The Nuer are also divided, though less than the Dinka. But the US is unlike to help.
Evgeny Satanovsky, President of the Middle East Institute