Arab Invasion of the Horn of Africa region
By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, Dec. 16, 2016
After setting-up a military base in Assab, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia has swiftly moved to open another station in Djibouti. Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, Foreign Minister of the tiny Horn nation, informed the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that ‘security, military and strategic’ draft accord would be ratified soon and coastal areas needed for the naval/military bases have already been identified. Djibouti is expected to receive free oil and substantial monetary rewards for services rendered to the Saudi Kingdom. Dependency on land rental could make Djibouti susceptible to political interference, and under duress, it might be cajoled to disrupt Ethiopia’s ability to use its port for import and export purposes.
Saudi Arabia and Djibouti stated that the necessity for establishing the base, among other things, was to prevent Iran from using the Red Sea to ship arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen. According to recent UN report, since the conflict begun in Yemen, 10, 000 people have been killed and 60 % of these were caused by alliance of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. The civil war further caused the displacement of 3 million people within the country in addition to the 200,000 that were forced to seek refuge abroad. Some 14,000,000 out of a population of 26,000,000 are in desperate need of food, clean water and medicine. Majority Shia uprising in Bahrain that commenced in 2011 was also put- down by Saudi Arabia causing numerous deaths and destructions.
Saudi Arabia has even done ‘better’ in Syria where it triggered the termination of 400,000 lives as well as the flight of 4.8 million out of their country and displacement of 6.6 million citizens internally. Syria has literally been reduced to ashes and it requires a sort of ‘Marshall Plan’ that rehabilitated Germany after the Second World War to bring the Arab nation to what it was before the civil war started in 2011.
The New Arab, an online newspaper, reported that Saudi’s proposed move to Djibouti has peeved Egypt as it believes this to be an encroachment that would jeopardise her sphere of influence in the tiny East African nation. The Arab Republic not only wants to use the failed state Eritrea to create chaos and anarchy in Ethiopia, but it also desires to include Djibouti as its client state in order to ensure uninterrupted flow of Nile Waters.
In any case, Saudi Arabia is not pleased with Egypt’s position on Syria and this has strained ties between the two Muslim nations ensuing in the suspension of billions of dollars of aid and oil shipments to Egypt. Relations were further damaged when Egypt failed to cede control of the two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. These were leased to Egypt in the 1950s but the Saudi’s want them back now to enhance and enlarge its presence in the Red Sea area and its surroundings in order to scupper Iran’s religious and geo-political drives in region.
In this regard, Saudi Arabia can count on UAE’s backing which has lately constructed a military outpost in Eritrea and is presently negotiating with Somaliland to build a similar station in Berbera. Dubai, which is part of UAE, has also signed an agreement with the quasi nation to manage the port through it business arm DP World, which already controls Djibouti’s port, for 30 years. Having another point of access will give the global ports operator a leverage over Djibouti in the same way as Saudi’s oil and financial inducements would do to the small East African state. For Ethiopia, having an alternative outlet to the sea in its backyard is a positive development because this would lead to improved and speedy movement of goods resulting in lower inflation.
Saudi Arabia’s rationale for moving to the Horn region was to avert Yemen from falling into the hands of its antagonistic regional rival Shia Iran and to combat terrorism in the vicinity and beyond. This is far from the truth and for the oil-rich Kingdom to claim that it is spear-heading the tussle against terrorism when it is actually fostering it is a complete falsehood. Isn’t Saudi Arabia that has a multi-billion dollar budget dedicated to the expansion of the Wahhabi movement of Sunni Islam that gave birth to jihadist groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Syrian Nusra Front? Was it not the case that 15 out of the 19, September 2011 hijackers were Saudi nationals? As a US State Department official put it ‘’Saudis leading the fight against terrorism was akin to a drug cartel leading a counter-narcotics campaign.’’
American support for Saudi is longer as comprehensive as it used to be; hence the need for Saudi Arabia to beef-up its defence capabilities in order to protect its interests as well as counteract the hegemony of its religious rival Iran by establishing military outposts in Eritrea and Djibouti. Of course followers of the Grand Mufti will also be planted in this region to spread wahhabism in mosques and madrasas to ensure the ascendency of Sunni Islam.
Saudi Arabia has a bad track record and would do anything to get its way as the entire world has been witnessing its barbaric action in Yemen and Syria. It has even suspended oil deliveries to an Arab nation, Egypt, because of the frayed relation between the two former allies. A strong US ally which receives $1.3 billion annually seems to be under tremendous pressure to succumb to the Kingdom’s demands. Clearly, the arrival of Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council in Eritrea and Djibouti is a very serious threat to Ethiopia’s national security not to mention the grave peril to its import and export activities. Military presence in the region as well as control of the ports of Djibouti and Berbera by its ally UAE will place Saudi Arabia in a very strong position to meddle in the internal affairs of Ethiopia.
Egypt which appears to be militarily stronger and wealthier than Ethiopia is being economically threatened by Saudi in addition to the demand for the dismissal of Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, as reported by The New Arab, an online newspaper. Saudi’s jingoistic approach should be strongly challenged by Ethiopia and other East African nations and make its presence in the neighbourhood as uncomfortable as possible. Prime Minister Haile Mariam shouldn’t trust the Arabs when he said ‘’they [Saudi and UAE] have assured us that they would not be engaged in activities that would endanger the peace and security of Ethiopia. They have said this is only a choice of tactical convenience to their operation in Yemen and that they would evacuate the area as soon as the mission is completed.’’ Clearly, the Saudis and UAE have been very economical with the truth to assuage the Premier. Only recently, the UN’s sanction monitoring group reported that Saudi and UAE were violating arms embargo in Eritrea.
It was the Prime Minister himself who stated in public that Eritrea was involved in the recent serious turbulences in Amhara and Oromia regions. On numerous previous occasions similar accusations were also labelled against the pariah state with a population of only 4 million people who daily line-up in long queues to receive government bread rations. Obviously, the Arabs including Egypt that are now clamouring to dominate the East African region have been engaged in financing Eritrea to initiate civil war in Ethiopia by triggering ethnic and religious strife. The destructive desire against Ethiopia will no doubt be intensified because the current strained ties between the two Muslim Arab nations, Egypt and Saudi is very likely to be resolved in the not too distant future. This will afford Egypt another front in Djibouti not only to create chaos but to also choke Ethiopia’s economy by targeting it infrastructures such as the new Chinese built railway-line used to shift goods in both directions. It is good for Ethiopia to have access to two sea outlets controlled by Saudi ally but this does not mean that it would not be subjected to blackmail and political intrusions by Saudi Arabia and its entourage. Until very recently, even tiny Djibouti treated Ethiopia in the most appalling manner despite that fact that 76% of its GDP is generating from its port services and 80% of this business comes from Ethiopia.
The Saudi Kingdom and its allies seem to be determined to stay-put in the locality for a very long spell because they have come to realise that they can no longer fully rely on American military protection. Saudi and the other Gulf Co-operation Council (CGC) which includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE and Oman have the wealth to maintain their presence in the Horn region; and the recent agreement to open a military base in Djibouti by the leader of CGC is a clear indication of their resolve to remain in the vicinity for a considerable duration. Just to underscore the level of their affluence--- Saudi Arabia has a sovereign wealth fund of $ 2 trillion; Bahrain £11 billion; Kuwait $ 548 billion; UAE $ 500 billion and Qatar $100 billion.
PM Haile-Mariam’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia for more assurance should not be taken seriously as previous experiences have shown that they amount to nothing. In the long term, the ports of Berbera and Djibouti would not be safe for Ethiopia to use while they remain under the control of the Arabs. In light of this, it is in Ethiopia’s long term interest to urgently re-evaluate it’s ‘no war, no peace’ situation with Eritrea and find ways of bringing the ports of Masaawa and Assab to be utilized by Ethiopia.
Eritrea has been found guilty of crimes against humanity by the UN, and yet, this was overlooked by the EU when it granted aid to the failed state amounting to 200 million Euro. Together with the massive financial infusion from the Arabs, its tyrannical leader has been given a new lease of life to continue with his destabilisation agenda with a renewed vigour as witnessed in the recent dangerous upheaval in some parts of Ethiopia. Now is the moment for Ethiopia to act very quickly to instigate regime change before it is too late.
Equally important are resolution of any unresolved political, governance and religious issues that could be exploited by the Arabs surrounding the country so as to close any gaps that could be used by them to repeat the recent unrests in a much bigger scale.