Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The explosion of contradictions between Qatar and Turkey on the one hand, and Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and their satellites on the other, is reflected in the military-political situation not only on the Arabian Peninsula, in Syria and Libya, but throughout Eastern Africa, associated with the crisis participants’ complicated system of relations.
Despite their significance, they are, as what is occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa, almost unknown outside the narrow circle of specialists. The present article is based on materials of A. Bystrov and Y. Scheglovin from the Middle East Institute.
The armed conflicts in the region of Afar (Uganda) between the Atcholi and Madi tribes are bringing Egypt to the brink of a food catastrophe. In the clashes the Ugandan army occupied the logistical corridors in the region, used by the nomads for the thousands of heads of cattle drive from South Sudan (and from there to the Sudanese state of Southern Kordofan) to Uganda. The cattle are sent to the slaughterhouses, belonging to the Egypt-Uganda Food Security (UEFS) holding; the meat mostly is sent to Egypt (trade volume up to $11 million dollars per month). The enterprise was founded with the support of Egypt, led by Egyptians, its establishment in the area of Afar, as part of the strategy of food security for the country given the UN projections about the food crisis expected in the next two years.
The livestock export from Sudan to Egypt through the common border is currently difficult and connected with the sharpening of relations after Cairo’s allegations of Khartoum’s support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, providing them with territory their training camps near the borders. Because of this, a territorial dispute escalated in the area of Halaib. According to Egypt, Uganda is allowed to participate in discussions on the construction of the Ethiopian dam “Renaissance” on the Blue Nile and, arising from this, the risks for the Egyptian irrigation system, which is of great importance to maintain food security.
Presently the drive of 85 thousand heads is blocked from the Nimol region to Afar, which negatively affected the work of the slaughterhouses. According to the report of the chief Egyptian representative, Sh. Khalin, sent to Cairo at the end of May, there are 150 heads sent to slaughter each day instead of the scheduled 1000. The holding carries losses. Cairo should move the production to Tanzania; otherwise interruptions with the supplies of meat to Egypt will become critical. It is so important for Cairo that A.F. al-Sisi had planned to meet on June 10 in Berlin with the Ugandan President I. Museveni, to discuss this subject, but he declined.
He understands the importance of the situation, including for his clan, the interests which in the EUFS holding are represent by two trusted persons: the head of the largest agricultural cooperative Ankole Long-Horned Cattle Breeders Cooperative, E. Kamihigo and his cousin S. Saleh. He sent to the region the Minister for Agriculture V. Sempilije, to find backup fields for the slaughterhouses to ensure safe logistics. The minister instructed his trusted person, General M. Ali, to create a legend about the tribal groups of the MADI group, who chase from the land the representative of the Atcholi tribes, which complicates the situation even more.
The Egyptian-Ugandan relations experience hard times. One year ago, Cairo and Kampala were almost strategic allies. The Egyptians participated in the planning of joint operations with the Ugandan security and intelligence agencies against the opposition, the Egyptian military together with hired mercenaries from Eritrea, paid for by the UAE, were at war with the LRA rebels in the jungles in the North of the country. The Ugandan military and police were sent to Egypt for training and internships in Egyptian education institutions. Museveli’s May visit to Qatar changed all this. Meeting with Emir Tamim and the signing of the agreement on the deployment of Doha’s military base in Uganda under the promise of investment. This position of Kampala on the background of the crisis within the GCC showed Cairo that unions in Africa have a momentary nature.
In June Museveni publicly confirmed that his country would not take part in any hostile acts against the current regime in Khartoum. The announcement came after the meeting of the Ugandan leader with the Vice President of Sudan Kh. Muhammed Abdel Rahman, who took part in the conference in solidarity with the refugees in Kampala under the auspices of the UN. The parties agreed to abide by the terms of the agreement reached in 2016 during the summit in Khartoum. In essence: Uganda ends the South Sudan saga, recalling its military contingent except of a few battalions who must restrain the activities of the LRA. Khartoum as well ends its support to this group and liquidates its logistical camps in Darfur. The issue of the LRA is important to Kampala. To curb the increasing potential of D. Kony’s group, the Ugandans had to come to Egypt’s aid and mercenaries from Eritrea.
Kampala pledged to stop supporting opposition groups in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile (rebels of the Nuba and SPLA-North) and in Darfur (the Movement for Justice and Equality (MJE). The MJE squads, playing an important role as a member of the military stabilising forces of South Sudan’s President S. Kiir, continue to be deployed on the territory of South Sudan. At the meeting, it was agreed that Kampala will make efforts for dialogue between Kiir and former Vice President R. Machar. Khartoum in turn pledged to adhere to the previous line of conduct on the South Sudan question, implying the refusal to support Machar and his organisation, including providing areas for logistical bases and training camps.
As for the internal Sudanese national dialogue, this subject was touched only in passing. The leader of the influential opposition secular party Al-Ummah S. Al-Mahdi described it as completely dead. Thus for Musaveni, the ideas of the Sudanese opposition are not as important, which are encouraged and financed by Egypt’s Special Services, as his own political survival under pressure by the opposition and maintaining his influence in South Sudan through the strengthening of Kiir’s position and decreasing Machar’s influence. The shortest and least costly path to this is the conclusion of a non-aggression pact with Khartoum and the leadership in the South Sudanese mediation for its peaceful settlement. This allows him to secure himself from provocations from Khartoum and to end the crisis in South Sudan.
At the negotiations, an agreement was reached on the creation of local committees on the development of cooperation in areas of security, economics and culture. The Ugandans are officially making efforts to end the civil was in South Sudan through the creation of conditions for direct talks between Kiir and Machar. The latter declared that he is ready for consultations, which must become the prelude to the reanimation of the peace process. However, there is reason to believe that there are no words of reconciliation from the South Sudanese politicians. By order of the Ugandan president to the Kiir’s party, a few columns with weapons and ammunition were dispatched for replenishment before the decisive offensive against the Nuer Machar rebels.
Erdogan’s Somali Tour
On the background crisis in Qatar, Doha and Ankara are increasing efforts in the most sensitive parts for competitors in Africa. R.T. Erdogan ordered in August to send 300 Turkish troops to the base in Somalia. The construction started in March 2015 and cost Ankara 50 million dollars. It was assumed that about three thousand Turkish soldiers will be deployed, who will begin staff training the national Somali Armed Forces. So far there are accommodations for 1500 soldiers. There will be three military schools, dormitories and warehouses on four hundred hectares. The experts are convinced that the main goal for the creation of the base is the Turkish military presence in the region as a counterweight to the increasing Emirati and Egyptian capabilities in the Horn of Africa region and Eastern Africa in general. Qatar’s agreement on the organisation of the military base in Uganda is a part of this strategy. In March Erdogan and the head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Turkey H. Akar inspected the construction of this military project in Somalia.
The UAE embarked on the strengthening of its presence (the main role will be played by the Egyptian military and associates from the private military outfit “Blackwaters”) in the African Horn region. The talk is not only about the base “Berber” in Somaliland, but also of the military infrastructure in Baidoa and Kismayo. That is, Abu Dhabi makes the coast its own, forming a chain of strong points with most major ports of the region. Not only the main logistical routes are taken under its control (excluding piracy or the war in Yemen), but the main regional ports as well. At the same time, the UAE authorities are trying to participate in the internal affairs of the former Somalia. So, they gave financial guarantees to Mogadishu for the relocation and resettlement of Somali refugees, whom the Kenyan authorities are transferring from the Dabab camp. At the same time, the Crown Prince of the UAE M. bin Zayed is trying to garner support from Washington for his actions in Somalia and suggested to the head of the Pentagon J. Mattis to post on one of the UAE military facilities up to 400 US commandos.
All this is a reaction from Qatar and Turkey. The Somali and Ugandan military bases are only a part of their response. Economic levers are also used to impact the situation, with which they managed to reverse the negative attitude of President M. Farmajo about their activities in Somalia. It is assumed that in August the Turkish and Somali presidents will open together the facility. For Farmajo, this becomes one of the main topics considering the fact that London repudiated the financial guarantees for the Somali army through the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain B. Johnson. Cadets of the first graduation cohort are the only people from the President’s native clan. It seems that they do not plan on creating a national army but a personal guard. Against this background, we find the solution to the problem of issuing licenses to the Turkish company Turkiye Petroleri AO (TPAO) for offshore drilling, which was initially blocked by the Somali president.
The Qatari authorities try to drawn him in into their orbit of influence, including pedaling the illegality of the transaction between the UAE and Somaliland of the purchase of the military base in Berber without the official approval of Mogadishu. On May 25, President Farmajo visited Doha and the Emir T. bin Hamad al-Thani granted him six million dollars for “immediate economic needs”. At the same time, it was agreed that in the near future Mogadishu will prepare a list of business projects for Qatari funding. The Qatari and Somali ministers of Foreign Affairs M. bin Abdurahman al-Thani and Y. Garad Omar in a joint statement noted “the growing fundamental role of Qatar in the stabilisation of the situation in the Horn of Africa”.
Alarms and Mirages
The crisis linked with the conflict between the KSA, the UAE, Egypt and Qatar and Turkey affects all of the Middle East, Northern and Eastern Africa. The majority of countries in the region try to stay above the fray, restricting themselves to general statements, which to the parties to the conflict are non-linear. Thus, Doha wherever terminates its military presence, provoking armed conflicts, as in relations with Djibouti. In particular, in response to anti-Qatari statements from President I. Guelleh, it withdraws its peacekeeping contingent, separating Djibouti and Eritrean troops in the disputed zone, creating panic in Djibouti and its ally Ethiopia, which declared that Eritrea is going to occupy the provinces vacated by the Qataris.
On June 18, Ethiopia initiated in the Security Council of the UN a request on the introduction of a mixed monitoring mission of the African Union and the UN to prevent the escalation of the conflict. This happened after Djibouti on June 14 announced the deployment of Qatari troops into the demilitarised zone, which led to the build-up of Ethiopian forces on the border with Eritrea and Djibouti. Addis Ababa’s concerns are understandable: in addition to the hostilities with Asmara, it is important for it the functioning of the railways, which recently, with great effort from China, linked Ethiopia and the Djibouti seaports. In the meantime, discussions between the various factions in the government in Addis Ababa are held on the subject of actions in this situation. The Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Army M. Nur Yunus (Zamora), belonging to the conservative wing Mekele of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led by A. Woldu, demands military operations against the Eritreans. The supporters of the Minister of Telecommunications D. Gebremichael, who was joined by the former chief of the General Staff of the Army of the country S. Mekonen and the head of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) G. Assefa, oppose him. They are against a military solution to the problem, which guarantees that an armed conflict in the near future will not happen. Among other things, because all of the Ethiopian armed forces involved in the country in connection with the uprising of the Muslim Oromo, actively heated up by the UAE and Egypt through Eritreans. The situation is so alarming that Addis Ababa is forced to pull troops from Somalia for the internal front.
The Djibouti people put to sleep the UN Security Council with alarming messages. For example, about the “Eritrean flag already flies over the disputed area of Mount Gabija”. The goal is simple. According to the Franco-Djibouti treaty of 1977, France must intervene in case of violations by Eritrea of the agreement on the demilitarised zones, or acts of aggression. That is, the Djiboutis want to draw in Paris into the conflict. The Mirages of the French air force monitored the locations and did not notice any movements of the Eritrean forces. The issue of disputed territories recognised by Asmara was solved through the verdict of the international court, which was not in favour of Eritrea. It withdrew its troops from the disputed areas recognised by the territory of Djibouti.
Ismaïl Guelleh foments hysteria on purpose, in order to distract from his position in relation with the growing pressure on him and his clan from the opposition, whose leaders sojourn in the UAE and enjoy Abu Dhabi’s support. The anti-Qatar attack from the Djibouti authorities was caused mostly as an attempt to reaffirm the policy of developing partnerships with the KSA on the strength of Riyadh’s promise of billions of dollars in investment and the organisation of the Saudi military base in Djibouti. The Djibouti leadership’s relations with the UAE are bad, and Riyadh encourages its anti-Emirati pitch. The Djibouti, from their point of view, insure themselves with anti-Qatar behaviour and hysteria on the international arena from a situation in which the UAE through the controlled Eritreans organise against Djibouti’s military provocations. In fact, neither the KSA nor the UAE so far are ready for such a development. Qatar will not be able to organise a local conflict in Eastern Africa with the participation of the KSA and the UAE, but the situation there is getting more complicated for them.
The Security Council of the UN should document Qatar’s activities, which supports of terrorist groups, operating in Libya. This is stated in the Foreign Ministry of Egypt’s declaration to the Committee meeting of the Security Council of the UN to counter terror. Cairo called for the removal of the embargo on arms supplied to the Libyan National Army (LNA), which no one will do. Qatar is supplying arms to the Islamists through the Tripoli and Misura clans, associating themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood. Sudan and Turkey do this as well. Moreover, according to data from Egypt’s Special Services, in the Sudan, logistic bases are deployed not only by Qatar but also by Iran. Tehran supplies the Gaza strip through the Sinai. Doha specialises in deliveries into Libya and the Sinai.
Khartoum, despite the public rift with Tehran and the alliance with Riyadh, continues to use ties with Qatar and Iran for the material-technical support of the Islamists and supporters of Hamas. Riyadh needs control Khartoum’s actions in that direction and in some cases, if necessary, to correct them, but this does not happen. The attack by the KSA, the UAE and Egypt against Qatar does not mean that their alliance is strong. The KSA’s interests, in tandem with the UAE, are different in all the key regional spots – from Yemen and the coast of the Horn of Africa to Libya. With it, Riyadh put as the head of the National Consensus government Fayez al-Sarraj, but Abu Dhabi and Cairo, as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Tobruk, General K. Haftar. Saudi Arabia benefits from the weakening of Haftar, hence Riyadh’s conciliatory attitude to the presence in Sudan of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood training bases in the Egyptian border areas and the transfer of armaments to Libyan Islamists through Sudanese logistics routes in Darfur. In the South against the forces of Haftar the “Chadian opposition” is at war from the sphere of influence of the Sudanese security services. Riyadh uses the Sudanese trump card to deter the UAE and Egypt.
Conclusions are simple. The alliance of Sunni countries in the format of “Middle Eastern NATO”, about which the USA spoke of, is not realistic. Soon the anti-Qatar tension will subside and the traditional contradictions of Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Cairo, which are deep-seated, will manifest themselves and no temporary alliances for solving tactical objectives to iron them out will be able to do so. Thus, Qatar will not take a defensive position for long; it has enough allies to go on the offensive. This makes the attack against Doha senseless. Judging by the recent statements of the US State Department, it is quite clearly understood in Washington to let events take their course and not interfere…
Evgeny Satanovsky, President of the Middle East Institute