Opinion: African standpoints toward Qatari Crisis: motives



Fri, 21 Jul 2017 - 02:27 GMT


Fri, 21 Jul 2017 - 02:27 GMT

Qatar Flag - File Photo

Qatar Flag - File Photo

CAIRO – 21 July 2017: Arab and Gulf countries’ (prominently Egypt, KSA, UAE and Bahrain) cutting ties with the Qatari regime, on the grounds that the latter is accused of supporting terrorism and deconsolidation of the stability of the region has had consequences on Africa, where African countries in turn adopted various perspectives to the crisis. They ranged from supporting the boycott to neutrality and bias to Qatar. This raises questions about the motives behind these standpoints, in light of Africa witnessing Gulf and Arab competitions for power on the economic and security levels.

As for standpoints in support of the boycott, Mauritania did cut its diplomatic relations to Qatar, followed by the Eastern Libya government, Mauritius and the Comoros, while Chad recalled its ambassador from Doha for consultations. In the same vein, Senegal recalled its representative in Doha, and announced its solidarity with Saudi Arabia, which Niger also did. Gabon merely condemned Qatar’s acts, while Djibouti declared that it is downgrading diplomatic relations with Qatar, in support of the Arab anti-terrorism alliance.

As for neutral standpoints that called for the resolution of the crisis, they were taken by Tunisia, Algeria, North Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Mali, which all adopted neutral perspectives. These countries called all parties of the crisis to resolve it through dialogue, and offered their mediation. On behalf of the African Union, Guinean President Alpha Condé (Chairperson of the Union) declared the Union’s readiness to act the mediator, and pursue a peaceful and fast solution for the crisis among Gulf countries.


Saudi Arabian, Emirati, and Qatari reactions once the crisis started took different paths. Riyadh pursued further African support and tried to attract neutral sides to support it. A Saudi delegation visited Somalia to put it under pressure to support Saudi Arabia, while King Salman’s envoy visited Addis Ababa for the same purpose, before an Emirati official responsible for African issues visited it. These countries asserted the necessity of using dialogue, and their support of the Kuwaiti initiative.

Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Egypt asked the Sudanese regime to clarify its standpoint toward the Qatari crisis, especially that it remained neutral. This puts the inqaz (salvation) regime in a critical situation, because Khartoum is keen on keeping Qatari investments in Sudan, which are expected to reach $3 billion in 2017. At the same time, Sudanese-Saudi Arabian relations are positive, with strategic partnerships in investments and the military (like in the Decisive Storm) and Saudi mediation to lift U.S. sanctions on Sudan.

In the same context, a new crisis broke out between Saudi Arabia and Emirates on the one hand and the Kingdom of Morocco on the other, when the latter sent planeloads of food to Qatar. This is what Saudi Arabia considered indirect support for Qatar. This manifested in some Saudi and Emirati news channels describing the Western Sahara as “occupied.”

On the other hand, Qatar had a fast response to these African positions. It declared its withdrawal from the mediation between Eretria and Djibouti, which has been going on since 2010, since both countries support cutting ties with Qatar. Also, after the crisis broke out, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs visited some countries in the Horn of Africa, like Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda to discuss its repercussions.

African Motives

A number of motives compelled those African countries to adopt the aforementioned different standpoints toward the Gulf crisis. They are as follows:

First, there are political motives. The Qatari role in supporting Libyan terrorist groups in Libya and Western and Eastern Africa led to threats to the security and stability of the continent, in addition to reports that revealed relations between Qatar and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leaders and some active terrorist groups in Northern Mali. All this led to some African countries giving support to Saudi Arabia, Emirates, and Egypt against Qatar, given how the latter is constantly accused of supporting terrorism. In addition, development of Qatari-Iranian relations led some countries to escalate their standpoints toward Qatar.

Though some African countries like Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia supported the Kuwaiti initiative to resolve the Gulf crisis, they did so because they maintain good relations with all sides of it, which compel them to keep these relations balanced, without doing damage to any.

Second, there are economic motives. Saudi Arabia has great economic weight, which could serve its policies in a number of African countries while Saudi power is growing in the continent. This power is primarily used to confront Iranian power in Africa, which constitutes a threat to Riyadh, besides how Saudi investments are growing in the continent, giving Saudi Arabia a regional and international political weight. There are various Saudi investments in Africa. In North Sudan, there are approximately 196 Saudi investors in the field of agriculture, plus 512 Saudi projects with a value exceeding $26 billion.

Note how African countries that took the Saudi and Emirati sides did so because benefits were a lot higher, compared to taking the Qatari side. This is in light of the prevalence of Saudi and Emirati investments in East and West Africa.

It is evident that Qatari power in Africa saw some developments during the past few years. Doha plays a number of political and diplomatic roles, and it has a great number of economic investments in a number of African countries. For example, Qatari investments in North Sudan are worth $1.7 billion during the past few years, and investment projects going on there are approximately 95.

Third, there are security and military motives. Most African countries suffer from the growing phenomenon of terrorist groups threatening their security and stability. In addition, many intelligence reports connect Qatar and some terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). This led many African countries to support Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Emirates against Qatar, given that the latter is accused of providing support to terrorism. Mauritania, Chad and Niger particularly suffer from rising activities of terrorist groups in the Sahel and the Sahara.

Paths of the Crisis

With the solidarity of African countries boycotting Qatar and Qatar’s close ties to Iran, whose influence is receding in Africa after the latest diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia, there are possible paths for it hence repercussions on the continent.

The most likely path is that the crisis between some Gulf countries and Qatar will continue, especially after Qatar rejected the Gulf’s demands and with how mediation efforts are not yielding results like those of Kuwait. This means the crisis will be aggravated. Though the Gulf crisis counts as a great political and economic loss for a number of African countries, continuing to take a neutral stance towards both parties of the crisis may not work for long especially with Saudi moves and pressures.

This is what was manifested in Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir’s visit to Ethiopia on July 3 in tandem with the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa to meet a number of African officials. In addition, some African countries are concerned about losing Saudi Arabia as an investment and political partner, especially Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

If diplomatic endeavors, regional mediation and international efforts succeed at ending the crisis between the two parties, this may open the door for the revival of African-Qatari relations again, especially if Qatar succumbs to the demands of the countries boycotting it. However, if the crisis was aggravated to the point of a military conflict between its sides, this will put African countries in a critical situation, especially that some of them participate in the alliance led by Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, like Sudan and Senegal.

Original story was published in Arabic in Al Siyassa Magazine



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