Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Originally published in The New York Times
United Arab Emirates (UAE) took steps to improve relations with Iran, continued to withdraw military from Yemen and received visit by Russian President Putin. Iranian MP 20 Oct said UAE had unfrozen $700mn of Iranian funds. UAE forces continued to withdraw from south Yemen, 14 Oct handing over al-Anad international airport near Aden to Saudi forces and 30 Oct completing withdrawal from Aden. In Saudi-mediated negotiations in Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi-backed Yemeni govt and UAE-backed southern separatist group Southern Transitional Council (STC) came close to signing agreement that would see southerners gain equal representation with northerners in govt and place in future peace talks with Huthis. Russian President Putin 15 Oct visited Abu Dhabi for first time since 2007; Russian Direct Investment Fund said officials concluded deals worth over $1.3bn in energy, advanced technology and health sectors.
The UAE, together with its ally Saudi Arabia, played a highly visible role in helping make peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. As its footprint across the Horn of Africa grows, the UAE should avoid having intra-Gulf competition colour its engagement.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.