Gulf nations, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are competing to establish their influence and presence in the Horn of Africa. Factors like political instability, economic crunch and a power vacuum have made the region vulnerable and open to the Middle-Eastern states eying to project their power in the resource-rich neighbouring countries.
In the quest for becoming more than just a regional power, Abu Dhabi has dramatically expanded its foothold in the Red Sea corridor by establishing new military bases across the shores. Abundance of resources like minerals and oil makes the region even more attractive.
Reports show how the UAE is illegally exploiting resources and promoting rivalries within the region that has completely destabilised the local politics.
Fueling conflict in Africa
After Gaddafi’s death, Libya has been an open battle-field for both regional and external powers. Under the guise of ensuring political stability in the country, the UAE is providing critical military support to rouge Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar.
The LNA is fighting against the embattled, UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) that controls the capital Tripoli. The conflict has killed and displaced several thousands. The UAE has also been accused of violating the UN arms embargo on Libya by supplying the latest weapons to LNA.
The UAE has brought sophisticated armed drones into the conflict, including the Chinese-made Wing Loong II drones to carry out airstrikes supporting the LNA. Fighting a proxy war, Turkey has supported the GNA by providing its domestically-built Bayraktar TB2 drones, used to attack LNA positions.
The UAE has other interests in Libya too, that is the vast oil reserves. The Gulf nation has reportedly cut secret deal with the LNA to export oil through back-channels. The UAE is also funding militias who have partial control over the Libyan oil reserves to secure illegal access over the resource.
Not only Libya, the UAE has made its presence felt in other parts of Africa to serve its deep-rooted interests.
On January 5, Somalia’s al-Shabaab terror group attacked US forces in Kenya, killing three people, including soldiers, and damaging US reconnaissance aircraft in a covert military base. Previously, the UAE was accused of delivering military training and funding to various militia groups, including al-Shabaab.
In April 2019, Abu Dhabi was accused of bribing the former Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with billions of dollars to ensure he stays in power, despite popular uprising against his dictatorship. The UAE aided the new military leaders who were trained to shoot demonstrators demanding free elections.
Somaliland and Eritrea
Ordered by UAE’s de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi has also started building huge military bases in both Somaliland and Eritrea. These bases will give UAE an edge over its rivals owing to their strategic placement near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.
The UAE’s hands-on involvement in African conflicts demonstrate how the Gulf nation is seeking to invest considerable resources to emerge as an ultimate power beyond its borders.