Saturday, August 24, 2019
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Somalia and Qatar: Partners in Isolation

By Guled Hagi Hersi

In the annals of foreign policy, there are few orthodoxies that most countries adhere to: a) the status quo is better than rocking the boat; b) never punch above your weight; c) always err on the side of caution and trade is your religion and nationality.

President Farmaajo with the Amir of Qatar

In Somalia, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo has violated all tenets of foreign policy. Remotely controlled by Qatar, a tiny sheikhdom in the Gulf isolated by its Arab neighbors for its tantrums, Farmaajo has opted in favor of petrodollars over pragmatic foreign policy. As a result, Somalia and Qatar are now partners in isolation. They are both loathed by their immediate neighbors for consistently punching above their weight, attempting to reorient established orthodoxies and stirring up trouble. In the latest episode, it was Kenya that moved to tighten the noose around Farmaajo. Although Kenya’s move is counterproductive and comes across as a collective punishment, it was Farmaajo who goaded Kenya to act irrationally.

What led to this gigantic failure in foreign policy is a combination of pure personal interest and a devastating lack of capacity. First on the personal interest front: The Farmaajo Administration, which is comprised of a three-men cabal, has made a decision to align Somalia with Qatar in the Gulf crisis. This was largely done to appease Fahad Yasin, the notoriously reclusive “owner” of the Farmaajo Administration. At his behest, President Farmaajo pivoted Somalia away from its traditional allies, such as Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which happens to be the largest trading partner with Somalia.

The UN Monitoring Group and several other sources have now confirmed that Mr. Yasin, who’s nominally the head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), receives several million dollars a month delivered in cold cash, a largesse used to buy off the parliament, silence critics and, above all, deputize prominent people like Amin Amir, once a celebrated cartoonist who is now reduced to a mouth of Farmaajo.

Farmaajo (left), Fahad (center) and Kheyre

The second motivation is the ubiquitous lack of capacity within the administration. Neither the standoffish Farmaajo, nor his flamboyant PM, Hassan Ali Khaire, have had sufficient expertise in the delicate affairs of foreign policy. They rely on the guts of their common master, Mr. Fahad Yasin, who is widely recognized as a Qatari mole in Somalia.

Implications of isolation

The upshot of the isolation Somalia finds itself today is the humiliation of ministers, and lawmakers at Nairobi’s airport a few days ago, where they were denied entry, after Kenya abruptly rescinded a longstanding policy to grant an on-arrival visa to senior Somali government officials. (It’s notably comical that the Planning Minister Jamal Hassan and National Security Advisor, Abdi Said, have flashed their Canadian and Dutch passports past immigration, leaving their colleagues detained at Nairobi airport).

Minister Jamal Hassan (left) and National Security Advisor, Abdi Said

Somalia is also unloved by the Arab world’s three leading powers: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE, the trio that also isolated Qatar. Their primary concern is Farmaajo Administration’s desire to reorient the Somali people from their traditional and historic alliance with these three countries, and the attempt to align them with Qatar whose native population is smaller than that of a midsize Somali tribe.

Taken together, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE represent over a third of the Arab world, and well over half of its wealth and intellectual firepower. Instead, President Farmaajo is choosing a country you can hardly spot on the map, and which has had no historical ties with Somalia. In fact, Fahad Yasin might be the first Somali to have a meaningful relationship with Qatar—an assertion supported by the fact that he installed his brother in-law, Abdirizak Farah Taano, as Somalia’s Ambassador to Qatar, and his cousin Abdihakim as Deputy Head of Mission. In sum, the relationship between Qatar and Somalia is not codified by normative Vienna Conventions, but by the subventions that Qatar gives to Fahad who then uses those funds to reorient a nation’s national interest.

The Arabian Gulf

In addition to Qatar, President Farmaajo is trying hard to refashion Somalia’s historic ties with Djibouti in favor of Ethiopia, which he spent years railing against when he was a candidate. Barely six months into this term,  he renditioned Abdulkarinm Qalbi-Dhagax to Ethiopia on bogus terrorism charges. That was well before the current changes swept Ethiopia. The intent was to gesture to the TPLF. His administration is earnestly trying to label Djibouti a hostile nation, while embracing Eritrea, effectively the North Korea of Africa. Kenya is also molded into the enemies list of the Farmaajo Administration, ignoring the historic relationship between the two countries.

The so-called “economic integration of the Horn of Africa” remains largely unexplained and a ploy to reciprocate dictatorial capacity with Eritrea and Ethiopia. Furthermore, it was a ruse to isolate Djibouti and elbow Kenya out of the Horn of Africa orbit.

All of this resulted in the isolation of Somalia, a country reeling from decades of conflict. Today, Somalis lack friends in its immediate neighborhood (save for the hapless Abiy Ahmed who doesn’t even control the Tigray region) and across the Gulf of Aden among its traditional Arab allies.

President Farmaajo’s siege mentality and aloof posture also left him isolated in his own country, following the failure of the recent Garowe conference, after which he threw insults at leaders of regional states. The more one listens to Farmaajo, the more he sounds like the famous “Comical Ali”, the former Iraqi information minister who boasted about an impending victory while the Americans were a block away. He did not only isolate Somalia, but he also isolated himself along the way.


Guled Hagi Hersi
Email:[email protected]


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