By Aggrey Mutambo
In February this year, Somali judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf was elected the president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
A few weeks later, the US fired its Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he was on a tour of East Africa.
This also came as the Somali parliament banned Emirate logistics firm DP World from operating in the country after it reportedly signed a port agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland against the wishes of Mogadishu’s one-Somalia policy.
The three events appeared unrelated. But now they seem connected.
Somalis say they yearn for a world where their country is helped to stand on its own feet without interference, and the election of their man to the top UN court was a pointer to this.
“His appointment comes at a time when the world needs a fair and proactive advocate for justice,” said Abdirahman Abdishakur, a Somali politician – once a development minister – and who signed the controversial border MoU with Kenya (the genesis of the dispute case now before the ICJ).
For Somalia, however, the election of Justice Yusuf seemed to have done little to soothe its troubles.
In the past four months, the country trying to rise from years of violence, seemed to have been torn between its own political differences and perceived external interference.
In March, Somali legislators threatened to move a motion of no confidence in their Speaker Mohamed Jawari, accusing him of stalling the constitutional reforms meant to fully implement the country’s federal system and universal suffrage in the next few years.
The MPs may have had a reason to do this, but Mr. Abdishakur thinks it fuelled further chaos in the country.
“The political crisis is likely to deepen and no one can claim victory. There is no quick resolution on the horizon. The country is in a deep crisis, which probably makes the standoff intractable, setting the stage for more motions of impeachment,” he argued.
“Sophisticated Somali leadership is the sine qua non (the much-needed item) of complicated causes of local conflict and renewed geopolitical competition in the region which require complicated solutions. It seems that we lack the former while the latter is getting worse.”
The country, currently secured by the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), plans to police itself by 2020 but requires a new constitution, to defeat Al-Shabaab, create stable systems and start building roads.
But here is where the perceived external interference comes in.
On April 9, Mr Jawari quit his job, following a month-long standoff with MPs.
A day earlier, Somali airport authorities in Mogadishu had confiscated some $9.6 million (Sh960 million) cash in transit from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), believed to be headed for payouts to politicians to save the Speaker.
“It has been a longstanding Western policy to keep Somalia impoverished and destabilized and they have found in the UAE a reliable agent to achieve their aims,” said Dr Abdiwahab Abdi, an analyst on Horn of Africa affairs with SouthLink Consultants.
“The UAE is working on a two-pronged policy in Somalia and neighboring countries. It is helping its western allies to secure their neocolonial aims in the region while furiously advancing its own vital economic interests.”
The UAE maintained the money was to pay the soldiers stationed in Somalia and has gone on to suspend its military aid to Somalia in protest.
But officials believed otherwise.
“There was a suspicion that the money was meant to influence the motion and have the Speaker stay, despite the complaints he has had with MPs. This is a matter under investigation and we will probably have those questions answered,” a Somali Foreign ministry official told the Nation in anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to journalists.
“Somalia and the Emirates traditionally enjoy cordial relations and their investments here have been in what I call priority areas. The problem has been with UAE’s aggression in dealing with Somaliland, using DP World (a Dubai-based company),” the official explained.
DP World had signed an agreement to use the Somaliland Port of Berbera.
In March, Ethiopia acquired 19 percent stake in the port for $80 million.
DP World owned 51 percent of the stake. But Somali MPs nullified the agreement, saying it violated territorial integrity (UAE Foreign Minister Dr. Anwar Gargash later told the BBC his country only recognizes one Somalia).
Until recently, UAE had been one of Somalia’s main donors, setting up a hospital in Mogadishu, training Somali soldiers and sending in relief to stranded IDPs.
Between 1993 and 2016, it sent $277 million worth of aid to Somalia and another $165 million indirectly through charity promotions, according to their Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But in June 2017, the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain imposed a blockade on Qatar, closing land, sea, and border with the tiny oil-producing nation.
Somalia got itself into the mix as the Middle East countries pressured it to drop alliance with Qatar.
President Mohamed Farmajo declined and his country went ahead to sign a $200 million financing deal with Doha meant to refurbish government buildings, construct two city roads and build some schooling facilities.
US President Donald Trump initially supported the blockade, arguing terror supporters must be called out. His then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, however, embarked on a mediation effort, which the Emiratis did not like as they preferred stringent measures to force Qatar to cut off connections with Iran.
When Tillerson did not relent, Emiratis reportedly used lobbyists to campaign for his sacking, according to a recent report by the BBC which obtained emails detailing the lobbying. Somalia remained in the middle.
However, the US government rejected accusations it is part of an international campaign to interfere with Somalia, with Robyn Mack, a spokesman for the US Africa Command, insisting its only intention is to wipe out terrorists.