For two years, Qatar leaders have made progress in African geography . In the wake of the embargo against the emirate, in June 2017, by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt, several countries – all of them African – take measures in their turn. diplomatic retaliation.
Mauritania, Gabon, Djibouti, Comoros, Senegal, Chad and Niger recall their Doha ambassador, and even interrupt relations. “There was a moment of panic,” says a Qatari official. The episode marks the beginning of an awakening in Doha: the continent can no longer be neglected.
Qatar, Glencore and the free union
For a long time Africa has reduced to Doha the triptych Morocco-Algeria-Tunisia. Sub-Saharan Africa “Terra incognita”. Except perhaps for the NGO Qatar Charity, often the only trace of Qatari presence in many countries. “We had to invest more on the continent, if only to counter the hostile lobbying of the Emirates,” said an official today. In the face of Saudi and Emirati networks, Qatar is from far away.
The weakness of its influence on the continent played tricks in Doha. “I decided to follow Saudi Arabia, a partner country for more than forty years, while Qatar has only been here since 2008,” assumes Comoran President Azali Assoumani. The economic argument weighed. In return for Idriss Déby Itno’s initial choice to break with Qatar, Abu Dhabi has activated its relays in international financial institutions for Chad.
But Qatar also has an economic card: its shares in the Swiss company Glencore. The latter lent nearly 1.2 billion euros to Chad in 2014 so that it could buy Chevron’s shares in the consortium that exploits Chadian oil – the oil profits guaranteeing repayment.
Problem: with the fall of the barrel price, N’Djamena is unable to honor its debt. Doha offers its mediation in February 2018, which results in the renegotiation of the debt on very advantageous terms for Chad. In the following hours, Idriss Deby Itno sends his Foreign Minister to restore relations with Qatar.
The spectacular flip-flop does not imply a break with the Emirati partner. In contrast to its rivals, Doha is more in favor of free union than of forced marriage. “I believe that our flexibility has made us score points in the region,” says a high Qatari official soberly.
Tour in West Africa
The Qatari method – to be useful through mediation, not to require exclusive relations – eventually mitigated the effects of the embargo. And force the doors of African capitals. Qatar intends today to build an African diplomatic network worthy of the name. “We are opening new embassies, we want to establish a win-win partnership,” says Faisal Al Hanzab, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry.
“WE ARE READY TO RECONNECT WITH ALL OUR AFRICAN FRIENDS, BUT WE FIRST WANT AN EXPLANATION OF THE REASONS FOR THE MEASURES TAKEN AGAINST US,” SAYS MOHAMMED BEN ABDULRAHMAN AL THANI
“Qatar will open an embassy this year in Bamako” confirms a member of the Malian delegation in mid-December at the Doha Forum. With Burkina Faso, Mali is one of the few Sahelian countries not to have broken with Qatar in 2017. Has it been pressured to do so? Answer dry: “Mali is a sovereign country, as far as I know! A criticism hollowed of the Saudi-Emirati blackmail in the region.
Dakar, whose relations with Saudi Arabia are old – “This is not comparable with Qatar,” says a Senegalese diplomat -, he has chosen to recall his ambassador in June 2017. Which has returned two months and half later his post in the Qatari capital. It is hard to exclude that the very temporary recall of the ambassador was mainly intended to please Riyadh.
“We are ready to reconnect with all our African friends, but we first want an explanation of the reasons for the measures taken against us,” Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Ben Abdulrahman Al Thani told reporters in June 2018. Young Africa. “It was linked to a particular event, in solidarity with a brother country”, but it is difficult to justify today the Senegalese diplomat.
Sign of attention now to the continent, the Emir undertook, in December 2017, a tour in West Africa, its first in the region. The stages of the journey, including Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, leave little doubt about its purpose: to show its gratitude to states that have not broken or that have quickly re-established their relations with Qatar.
The trip also resulted in the signing of several cooperation agreements, including with Abidjan, where President Alassane Ouattara received the Emir. Here, too, Doha appointed an ambassador in June 2018. “I think things have become clearer for African countries, especially with the criticism of blockade states,” said Faisal Al Hanzab.
The Horn of Disagreement
Beyond its charity diplomacy, Qatar has undertaken to establish more direct links with Africa. And multiplies bilateral meetings with African leaders . At the Doha Forum, the continent was also very well represented: ministers, diplomats and journalists were able to exchange in the corridors of the Sheraton, where the great raid was organized.
The opportunity for the emirate to defend its position on the Gulf crisis and global problems, in addition to being identified by Africans as a place of exchange. “We want to build a stronger South-South relationship,” said the foreign minister at the opening ceremony.
Message received, particularly from the Kenyan delegation to renew its trade agreements. Kenya is a customer of Qatari gas, like fifteen African countries. “President Kenyatta has been to Doha four times since the beginning of his term. Qatar is now importing fruits and vegetables, cashew nuts, flowers and meat from Kenya, “says a Kenyan representative living in the emirate.
It is in East Africa, and more particularly in the Horn region, that the stakes are most crucial for Doha. The embargo forced the emirate to turn to new sources of supply. “Before the blockade, 90% of imported goods were imported by the only road that connects us to the peninsula. We had to reorganize ourselves. “Synthesizes Seif Al Thani, head of the country’s government communication.
Port Hamad, the new infrastructure inaugurated in September 2017, is an instrument of diversification undertaken by Qatar to eventually become a regional hub. But the UAE’s strategy of sustaining their presence on the Red Sea and Horn of Africa coasts threatens access to the Suez Canal. With the help of Emirati giant DP World , the Emirates are building ports and naval bases around the Horn, as in Assab, Eritrea.
In Djibouti, on the other hand, DP World had to pack up in 2017 after accusations of corruption. As for Qatar, a mediating time for the border conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea, he deems it appropriate to withdraw his troops from the buffer zone between the two countries in June 2017 and to let the Eritrean army seize the area. . Saudi diplomacy is entering the breach, actively participating, in 2018, in the normalization of relations between Djibouti and Eritrea, whose peace agreement with Ethiopia it also oversees .
“Even if it is mostly the Americans who were at the baton,” says a connoisseur of the file. Saudi Arabia demonstrates that it retains its weight in Africa. Qataris and Emirati have brought their differences to the Somali terrain.
In search of coastal support for their operations in Yemen, the UAE found in Somaliland what they could not obtain in Djibouti, thanks to an agreement reached in February 2017 with unrecognized authorities to establish a naval base at Berbera . Anger of Parliament, denouncing an attack on Somali sovereignty. Warm support from the Qatari Emir, who emphasizes, during the visit of President Abdullahi Muhammad to Doha in May 2018, his commitment to “unity and stability” of the country.
Mogadishu has not officially taken sides in the Gulf crisis, but has nevertheless halted its military cooperation with Abu Dhabi. Puntland has called on the UAE to maintain its presence in the semi-autonomous region. Faced with Emirates accused of pushing the partition of the country, Doha has a good game to defend the state institutions.
A position which is worth to him today disappointments in Sudan, with which Doha maintained strong relations. Usually accused of destabilizing states by promoting popular protests, Doha on the contrary assured Omar al-Bashir of his support for the “stability of Sudan”. But the fall of the former president puts a brake on Qatari projects. In particular, the rehabilitation of the port of Suakin, for which Doha had promised billions of dollars of investment and which should have allowed Turkey, with whom the emirate works hand in hand, to install a military base, at large. dam of Cairo.
DOHA HAS THE CAPACITY TO ADDRESS CIVIL SOCIETY THROUGH ITS MEDIA STRENGTH, AL-JAZEERA. IN SUDAN, QATAR CAN ONCE AGAIN WEAR ITS PRO-REVOLUTIONARY COSTUME
Seeing a resumption of power by the military on the Egyptian model, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi hastened on April 21 to announce a $ 3 billion support to Sudan, led today by the Transitional Military Council. Again, Doha has not said its last word. By its ability to address civil society through its media strength, Qatar can once again wear its pro-revolutionary suit. Al-Jazeera is already broadcasting topics on the “political calculations of the Sudanese military regime”.
On the mainland, Qatar adjusts its strategy of influence, slips its foot in the half-open doors, pushes its advantage where it can. And is weaving a web, which, hope its leaders, will prove strong enough to withstand the Saudi-Emirati pressures.
Since the beginning of 2019, ministerial meetings and meetings between Heads of State – with Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Guinea, Madagascar, South Africa, The Gambia, Angola and Nigeria – are following each other at a fast pace. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who visited Doha in November and then hosted the Emir of Qatar in April, has developed an ongoing relationship with the emirate.
This article appeared in Jeune Afrique (French language edition) and we translated into English by Google Translate .