Somaliland: UAE Military Base Boosts Berbera International Trade Hub and Somaliland-Ethiopia’s Relations and Economic Growth


The Berbera airport to host UAE Air Force base in Somaliland

Somalilandsun-On 12 February 2017, the government of Somaliland accepted the formal application seeking permission from the Somaliland government to open a military base in Berbera. This application followed the 440 million dollar investment – 30-year contract for UAE’s international ports operator, DP World, take a 65% stake in the project and the Somaliland government will own the rest. 

The UAE military base in Berbera has attracted the attention of Somaliland’s friendly ally – Ethiopia. This article exposes the truth that the base will be used to secure multimillion dollar investment of DP World, which will run the Berbera port for 30 years, with an automatic 10-year extension if it wishes.  

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DP World chairman, told: “Investment in this natural deep-water port will attract more shipping lines to East Africa and its modernisation will act as a catalyst for the growth of the country and the region’s economy”. The UAE presence in Berbera will contribute to the economic growth of both Ethiopia and Somaliland as confirmed by Sultan of DP World, including long waited road connecting Berbera port free zone to Ethiopia.  

As Dr. Sa’ad Ali Shire, Somaliland’s Foreign Minister confirmed that the military base will just be utilized for interests and geopolitical importance of Somaliland allies. The unconditional brotherly support and diplomatic sustains of Ethiopia people since 1992 never erased from the memory of Somaliland citizens. The incumbent president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamud (Silanyo), and next president, Muse BihiAbdi; both have never and ever forgotten historic relationship with Ethiopia and they will never accept to use Somaliland shores for militarization purposes against Ethiopia. They have been maintained a strong connection with Ethiopian government; advanced diplomacy and security of both countries, recognized Ethiopia’s continuing and backstopping support to Somaliland.  Somaliland contributes to Ethiopia’s’ GDP by consuming Khaat from Ethiopia by spending large percentage of its foreign currency through this trade. Somaliland reportedly spends $500 million US dollar a year. 

The UAE and Somaliland governments agreed to establish a base with security personnel that will protect Berbera port and shipments in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden; in opposition to piracy and safeguard their investments in Berbera. Improved security of Berbera trade hub will attract international shipping lines to feed Africa through Somaliland-Ethiopian trade way toward African continent.  This will open a window for the Ethio-Somaliland economic and diplomatic relationships which were admired by two countries over decades.  

President of Somaliland spoke to the parliament, ”the military base would benefit Somaliland most and help create jobs”.  As AntónioGuterres, UN Secretary General, addressed on Jan 20, 2017, it is essential to address youth unemployment to prevent instability, social conflicts, and violent extremism. The world organizations have been spending millions of dollars a year to create jobs for youth because it has been globally taken employment of youth can significantly reduce the number of youth commit to crimes.  Improved youth employment in Somaliland and Ethiopia will considerably decrease level of crimes and fragility in the east African region. 

Blackmailing rumor has been circling around local media in both countries, portraying that the Cairo government stands behind the curtail of the Berbera UAE base. It’s a just rootless gossip generated by anti-development protesters and deceptive politicians.  As the matter of fact, the truth exposes that there is no Egyptian-UAE joint venture in Berbera at all. The people of Somaliland know how the government of Cairo is suffocating Somaliland independence while Somaliland-Ethiopian relations have been blossoming since 1991- Ethiopia is the only key ally of Somaliland globally. Similarly, UAE is a good ally of Somaliland economically as Somali merchants have been ever using Dubai port as their only international trade center.  The decision of engaging UAE to the Berbera port was wisely taken by the incumbent president, Silanyo, and next president, Muse Bihi with the support of MohamudHashiAbdi, Minister of Presidential Affairs, and parliament members. 

Minister of Presidential Affairs is one of the most senior politicians compared to the incumbent president Silanyo and next president Muse Bihi. He is equipped with strong experience in Somaliland politics and the region. He was one of the key officials of SNM – he lived in Ethiopia in the 1980s; first mayor of Burao, charismatic parliament member in 1990s, former Minister of Civil Aviation and Air Transport. His remarkable background in politics uplifted his recognition of the importance of Ethiopian-Somaliland relations. 

UAE base in Berbera will further enhance collaboration and integration of Somaliland- Ethiopian communities as movements of trade and bilateral opportunities would rise to the peak.  Somaliland will not allow others to harm its key ally – Ethiopia.  Muse Bihi, the next president, is a symbolic figure that cannot accept Egyptians and others to threaten security in the region.   

Together, Ethiopia and Somaliland maintained a good relationship to combat terrorism, piracy, and instability in the region.  Kulmiye party has shown to defend its border with Ethiopia to launch any terrorist confrontations towards its ally and the incumbent President Silanyo tried to establish better relations with Ethiopia.  

Deterioration of Berbera- Wajaale road has remained a challenge to Ethiopia’s uses of Berbera port for decades. Currently accepted UAE investment of Berbera will pave the way of building Berbera Corridor thereby Ethiopia would swiftly use the trade way for military and civilian shipments without prior control.  The two brotherly countries reached this moment to realize their dreams of benefiting Berbera Corridor, which will be principal trade route for Ethiopia’s imports and exports.  

The flourishing investments in Somaliland will require utilizing Ethiopia’s hydroelectric power – the important and available power lines at the Ethiopian-Somaliland border, and Kulmiye government puts its foremost political agenda to benefit Ethiopians’ electricity. 

However, it is obvious that there is animosity against the concrete Ethio-Somaliland relations that has been growing up strongly. It’s an envy escalating propaganda to breakaway Somaliland from Ethiopia. However, supported by MohamudHashi, Minister of Presidential Affairs, the incumbent president, Silanyo, and next president, Muse Bihi, are committed to advance closer ties with Ethiopia as means of political, trade and investment without a sense of compromise. 

In conclusion, Somaliland and Ethiopia should avoid establishing any crack in their historic relationship: practically, it means both governments to understand destructive propaganda pursuing to go back to the past. Ethiopia and Somaliland laid solid foundations of building peace and stability in the region, it’s required them to deepen their security relations by building new strategies to deal with security threats against their common interests and regional stability. To improve the capacity of Somaliland security institutions, Ethiopia should continue their support of building Somaliland’s military and police and to set up cross-border security measures among them. Regarding current UAE base in Berbera, the two countries should set up special task force among them; as its common entity to work together to provide think-tank on their common security threats.  Advancing Somaliland and Ethiopian trade and investment, next president of Somaliland, Muse Bihi, should come up an effective strategy to make sure free and fair uses of Berbera Trade Hub for the Interest of Ethiopia and Africa in general.  

Mohamed Farah Abdi BS MAMohamed Farah Abdi (BS, MA)

Hargeisa, Somaliland

M: +252 63 4422847 /634471307