WHAT do Yemen and Somalia have in common? If you said they’re home to some of the most vulnerable people on earth, you’d be right. The UN has estimated their combined humanitarian need at $4.5 billion for 2018.
Their geo-strategic value might be an ingredient in their suffering, prompting international military involvement and political jockeying for influence. Which leads to another commonality: the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE’s Indian Ocean strategy appears to be in flux, with Yemen and Somalia playing (perhaps unwitting) roles.
In mid-April UAE pulled out of a military cooperation deal with Somalia, in a messy episode involving the looting of weapons and a planeload of $10 million in cash, according to Reuters. And last week, the UK’s Independentstated that the UAE is gradually taking over the Yemeni island of Socotra.
Journalists who visited undercover say the UAE has already “all but annexed” the island, a poor, remote, and ecologically unique part of Yemen, off the coast of the Horn of Africa. Mainland Yemen has abandoned Socotra, the report notes, and the UAE’s ability to expand its influence was helped by the impact of cyclones in 2015.
Last week the Gulf state further boosted its military presence there, according to Yemeni officials. Along with setting up a military base, the UAE has invested in social services and offers education and work opportunities in the Emirates. And the Independent adds that there may be plans for tourist resorts. It’s hard to gauge if there’s any resentment among residents of Socotra, but protests did break out when UAE officials tried to burn a shipment of qat, the stimulant leaf widely chewed all over the region. Oh, and in case you forgot: UAE is a key partner to Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict.