Increasing UAE engagement in Africa

The newfound Emirati assertiveness underscores the shifts under way in the continent, where China now challenges the historic power of Western nations and where Russia, Brazil, the UAE and other Gulf states are growing in prominence.
Tuesday 18/12/2018
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

LONDON – The high level of exchange and consultation between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and African countries serves as an indication of an increasing Emirati engagement in efforts to preserve stability and boost development beyond the Arab region.

Within the framework of this Emirati outreach and engagement, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan received Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki at the Beach Palace in Abu Dhabi on December 17.

During the meeting, Sheikh Mohammed and Afwerki explored ties between the two countries and looked at means to develop them for the mutual interest of the two countries and that of their peoples. The two sides also exchanged views on regional and international developments.

Afwerki’s latest visit to the UAE is one among many others that took the Eritrean president to the Gulf country this year to smooth up relations with neighbouring Ethiopia.  

The visits to the UAE as well as the flurry of diplomatic efforts culminated in a peace agreement that was signed by Afwerki and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Saudi Arabia on September 16, the second peace deal reached since July between the once warring African countries.

The deal brought an end to decades of hostilities following a deadly and costly border war after Eritrea refused to respect an international border ruling.

Abiy agreed to implement the ruling and flew to Asmara where the two leaders signed a deal. Since then, relations have normalied on all fronts with the most recent being the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from the former militarised areas.

By mediating such conflicts and using assets in Africa, the UAE is slowly cementing its political influence across the region and gaining an increasing role in Africa in recent years.

Driven in part by a desire to tap Africa’s growing economy and in part by a fear that rivals such as Iran and Qatar could gain a foothold, the UAE has pushed into the region for more than a decade.

The newfound Emirati assertiveness underscores the shifts under way in the continent, where China now challenges the historic power of Western nations and where Russia, Brazil and the UAE and other Gulf States are growing in prominence.

The UAE has generally downplayed its influence. Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem al-Hashimy, said  in Washington in July that her country had played a “humble role” in trying to bring Eritrea and Ethiopia together.”

It is known, however, that the UAE has enjoyed virtually unchallenged influence in Eritrea for at least a decade, with Abu Dhabi having a military base there which it uses to help prosecute the war in Yemen, located just across the Red Sea.