AFRICANGLOBE – At least three East African nations — Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan — are reported to be directly involved in the war raging in Yemen, a country a short distance from the Horn of Africa.
“Our troops in Yemen are ready to do their military task under the command of the alliance military leadership,” Sudanese army spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Khalifa Alshami said on October 18.
Saudi Arabia and one of its allies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have established a military presence in Eritrea as part of their war against the Houthis, a United Nations monitoring group has reported. The UN team also said it has received unconfirmed reports that 400 Eritrean soldiers are embedded with the UAE contingent battling the Houthis.
Similarly, Somalia’s government is allowing its air space, land and territorial waters to be used by the anti-Houthi coalition. Foreign Minister Abdisalam Omer Hadliye told the BBC’s Somali Service in April that “Somalia shares the same crisis as existing in Yemen and we cannot watch what is going on there.
Houthis are trying to topple a legal government so it is the responsibility of the Arabs to protect, and Somalia is playing its role to that end.”
Although far from the frontlines, Senegal has also intervened in Yemen on the side of the Saudi-led coalition. The West African country has sent 2,100 soldiers to assist in the fight against the Houthis. In addition, two North African countries — Egypt and Morocco — have intervened militarily in Yemen against the Houthis.
Djibouti may likewise be aiding the coalition that is officially under the command of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) and that is receiving support from the United States. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh said in a recent interview with Arab News that he has expressed “our firm support to the legitimate government against the coup carried out by the al-Houthi militia.”
The Sunni branch of Islam predominates in Djibouti, Senegal, Somalia and Sudan, which is also the case in the GCC countries and with the Yemen government leadership displaced by the Houthis. The Yemeni insurgents practice the Shia form of Islam and are said to be allied with Iran, a Shi’ite-led country competing with Saudi Arabia for influence in the Gulf.
The predominantly Sunni East African countries may thus be seen as acting out of sectarian solidarity with the Saudis and the other GCC member-states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the Emirates.
Somalia and Djibouti have also both been directly affected by the fighting in a country that is less than 50 kilometres across the Gulf of Aden. According to the UN human refugee agency, a total of 15,000 refugees have made perilous sea voyages to the two East African states in order to escape the violence in Yemen so far this year.
Somalia’s involvement may also be linked to military aid it has been given by the UAE.
The Emirates foreign minister visited Somalia in June for a meeting with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and a few days later a shipment of armoured vehicles and other military equipment arrived in Mogadishu from the UAE.
Sudan has also received assistance from GCC countries that may amount to a reward for its willingness to intervene in Yemen.
Sudan said in August that it had received a $1 billion deposit from Saudi Arabia. That followed an announcement in April that Qatar was making a $1 billion deposit in Sudan’s central bank.
The UN Monitoring Group suggested that the Saudis and UAE “may be offering Eritrea compensation for allowing its territory and possibly its troops to be used as part of the Arab coalition-led war effort.”
“Independent sources have informed the Monitoring Group that high-level delegations from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates visited the Hanish islands and met Eritrean officials,” the UN report stated, citing March or April as the likely time of that visit.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki visited Saudi Arabia on April 29, and concluded a bilateral security and military agreement with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the UN monitors noted.
Although the details of that deal have not been disclosed, the UN team says it “understands” that the UAE has leased the Eritrean port of Assab for a 30-year period.
The report adds that the UN monitors have received “credible corroborating information that, as part of the arrangement, Eritrea had received compensation, including monetary compensation and fuel supplies.”
The Saudi-led coalition also urged Eritrea to ban the Houthis from operating on its territory, the monitors said. “The Monitoring Group has received consistent information from a range of sources over the course of multiple mandates that the [Eritrean] government has had a history of allowing the Houthi rebel movement to use its territory to pursue military activities,” the report notes.
By: Kevin J. Kelley