By Abdulaziz Osman*
The parliament of the break-away republic of Somaliland has overwhelming approved a deal to allow the United Arab Emirates to establish an air and naval base in the port town of Berbera.
Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo presented the motion on Sunday to a joint session by both houses of the parliament, saying “it will attract investments, and it will not bring any harm to Somaliland or the region.”
A number of lawmakers angrily opposed the motion and shouted against the president before they were removed form parliament. The motion then passed with the support of 144 out of 151 lawmakers.
If signed, the deal gives the UAE a strong military foothold in the Horn of Africa.
The UAE had already secured a military base in the port of Assab in Eritrea. Observers say UAE plans to have a long-term military bases to monitor naval traffics in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea.
Somaliland’s Aviation Minister Farhan Adan Haybe said the deal is valid for 25 years, and after it expires the Somaliland government will “own the military base and all the investments made by UAE.”
“The base is on a lease, it can’t be used any other nation except the UAE and can’t be sub-leased,” the minister said.
In return the UAE has agreed to implement in Somaliland various development projects, including modernizing highways.
The deal follows a $442-million agreement with a Dubai-based Company (DP World) to upgrade the port of Berbera. The deal signed in September will transform Berbera port into a major Red Sea shipping stop.
The UAE government is among various countries assisting Somalia’s regional administrations in their fight against al-Shabab militants.
Somaliland declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991, but no country has so far recognized its independence bid.