By Owei Lakemfa
THE United Arab Emirates’ on-going military invasion and occupation of the four islands and two islets that make up the Yemeni archipelago of Socotra is causing ripples in the world, but not so its intrusions into Africa.
Its direct attempt to colonise part of Yemen became quite clear from April 30 when against the protests of the Yemeni Government-in-exile which it purports to support, the United Arab Emirates, UAE, poured in combat troops, tanks and artillery, expelling forces of the factional Yemeni Government.
As part of its colonising plans and taking advantage of the poverty in Yemen, the UAE is offering the 60,000 Yemenis in Socotra free healthcare, free visits to Abu Dhabi, special work permits and building a new factory. It is also putting together a new local militia, building a prison and buying up lands. The UAE is also making claims that it has a 99-year lease of Socotra, a claim denied by the Yemeni Government. Also, the UAE has backed away from the Hadi government to support South-Yemeni groups who want to break away from the rest of the country.
UAE’s colonial forays in Yemen began in 2005 under the guise of stopping the take-over of the country by the Houthi forces that had overthrown the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was put under house arrest before his escape. That initial invasion under a Saudi Arabia coalition defended the southern part of the country where it installed the puppet Hadi government. That coalition with active UAE support, is responsible for the continuous massacre of thousands of Yemenis who are slaughtered not only in schools, markets and hospitals, but also at marriages and funerals. The United Nations has shouted itself hoarse over these crimes against humanity which have also engendered famine and internally displaced persons. But the cries of the international body are largely ignored because the perpetrators, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are supported by the United States with the backing of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, and are big customers in the arms market.
Then from 2016, the UAE began to increase its humanitarian deliveries to Socotra, presenting them as altruistic gestures. Finally, it dramatically increased its troops in the area which were originally part of the Saudi coalition and became a full blown occupation force, expelling Yemeni forces and even detaining government officials.
The factional Yemeni Prime Minister, Ahmed Bin Dagr in a statement protesting the Emirati occupation said the seizure: “reflects the disagreement between the legitimate government and our brothers in the UAE and at its core is a dispute over national sovereignty and who has the right to practice it.” But the UAE clothes its annexation in a different garb. Its Foreign Ministry said: “The UAE plays a parallel role in the Yemeni island of Socotra to maintain security and stability, support development projects, and help the people of the island.” It claimed that its invasion of Socotra “comes within the efforts of the Arab Coalition to support the legitimacy at this critical stage in the history of Yemen.”
Apart from its strategic military advantage and placement in world maritime trade, Socotra was in 2008, designated a world heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, because of its unique fauna. So it can give the UAE military and economic advantages, and provide a unique set of islands and islets where its tourism trade can boom. UAE’s colonial aspirations are also focused on Somalia, the failed African country that has not had an effective central government since the January, 1991 overthrow of dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre. For about three decades, Somalia has been wracked by violence including civil wars, one of which forced Barre into exile in Nigeria. Although there is a Mogadishu-based government backed by the African Union and the United Nations, the UAE ignores it and is working with two regions who claim autonomy and even independence. The so-called Puntland State of Somalia, with a population of 2.28 million, taking advantage of the chaos in the country, declared itself independent on August 1, 1998. Part of its strategic advantage is that it borders the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. The UAE signed a $336 million contract with the rogue state to expand and run the port of Bosaso.
The UAE is also in bed with the so-called Republic of Somaliland which had made a unilateral declaration of independence 25 years ago; it took over its Port of Berbera. It pledged $440 million to the breakaway state to develop the port. Given its antecedents in Yemen, growing military profile and voracious appetite for land, it may not take long before the UAE lands troops in these parts of Somalia.
It is instructive that UAE-rival, Qatar and its ally, Turkey are also in Somalia pumping huge sums of money. With rival American and Chinese military bases in Djibouti, the Horn of Africa is being turned into a military zone with various non-African countries in a rivalry to control that part of the continent.
The UAE with its less than 10 million people across seven emirates had been known for its oil and gas wealth which unlike African countries like Nigeria, it has utilised for its unprecedented development. It has built itself into a world class centre of commerce and tourism with two commercial airlines; the Dubai-based Emirates Airline, and the Etihad Airlines based in its capital, Abu Dhabi.
However, in the last decade, it has shown propensity for military interventions in various countries leading to its seizure of Socotra. In 2011, it contributed 12 aircraft in the bombing of Libya, including the convoy of President Muammar Gaddafi which led to his death and turning affluent Libya into a failed state. When a year later, rival terrorist and Islamic groups which it did not support, made a grab for Tripoli, the UAE sent fighter jets to bomb them. When in 2012 Bahrain erupted in peaceful popular protests, UAE in collaboration with Saudi Arabia, sent troops to crush the populace and their uprising. The country was involved in the establishment and funding of the Islamic State, ISIS, before those terrorists became a Frankenstein monster. The Emirates are also involved in military intervention in Syria.
The UAE is playing a major role in the blockade of former ally, Qatar, following a dispute within the Gulf States. In pursuit of its expansionist agenda, it is engaged in huge defence spending; between 2013 and 2017, it spent an average $23.4 billion annually and its projected defence spending now is $35 billion. Unless it is called to order, UAE’s expansionist proclivities will constitute a danger to world peace.