The rise of Houthis in Yemen has brought a regional dynamic which shapes and reshapes regional alliances, gossip observed. Started out as “Believing Youth” in 1992, the group took its popular name from its first leader, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, killed in 2004.
But it has more enemies than friends in the region with the ratio of two – Iran and Syria – to 12, the prime driver of the enemy camp being the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the east.
The Saudis have formed a broader coalition of countries in the Gulf States, including Egypt, to unseat the Houthis who are pretty much in control of Sana’a and much of Yemen. Yet, their military standoff could have gone nowhere beyond aerial bombardment, driving them to desperately find countries which could enlist boots on the ground. No country opposing the Houthis – from Senegal to Sudan and Qatar to Bahrain – appears to be volunteering to stick its nose in by sending troops to Yemen.
One such country whose government refused to cooperate with the Saudis in this fight is Djibouti, a country which allows the United States to continue having Africa’s lone and large military base on its soil. The government of Ismael Omar Ghelleh’s firm position not to meddle in Yemen’s internal affairs, bidding for any country’s interest, has ironically pitted it against its largest investors, the Sultans from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), gossip disclosed. DP World of Dubai is a major partner of the government, spending close to half a billion dollars in putting up new container and oil terminals in Doralleh. Its sister company, Dubai World Africa, has invested close to 250 million dollars building and operating Djibouti Palace Kempinski, a luxurious hotel along the Red Sea.
Nevertheless, relations between leaders in Djibouti and the Sultans in Dubai have been fraught with tension for some years now, gossip recalled. None of the six new ports under development have seen a penny coming from Dubai, but almost all are financed by Chinese lenders. Djibouti’s government has actually taken DP World to court over claims that the concession it has signed with them to run the ports, comprises components which are unduly beneficial to DP World. Add to this a recent incident where a Djiboutian officer stood up to a high ranking military officer from UAE, which has led to a diplomatic topsy-turvy between the two countries, gossip disclosed.
The Sultans in UAE now appear to be determined to break ranks with Djibouti, claims gossip. They have no less determination to move next door over to Somaliland and do as much wonder to the Port of Berbera as they did with Djibouti almost 15 years ago, gossip says.
Formally recognised by no other country, Somaliland is situated in a region of turmoil and is unable to guarantee the kind of investment flow which may come in its direction from the Gulf States, according to gossip. Thus finding an indispensable partner with the power and ability to ensure regional security and in need of an alternative access to the sea is crucial to the Sultans, gossip claims. Not surprisingly, no country other than Ethiopia fits that profile.
The Sultans in Dubai are very keen to engage Ethiopian authorities on the prospect of jointly developing the Port of Berbera to Ethiopia’s south-east, gossip revealed. Gossip also claimed that a delegation from Dubai was in Addis recently meeting senior officials of the administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, exploring the interest among Ethiopians to acquire shares in the company which is to take concession of the development and management of the port there, gossip disclosed.
It is yet to be clear to those in the gossip corridors, if indeed Ethiopian authorities will respond with a positive nod to a proposal which will have a regional power balance, instead of a simple investment in a project.