Several African countries have downgraded ties with Qatar, which has wielded influence in the continent since the 1990s
By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Gulf News, 09/25/2017
Cairo: Nearly four months on, the Gulf crisis is reshaping alliances in Africa and placing pressure on wavering countries in the continent, analysts have said.
In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties and transportation links with Qatar over the country’s support for terrorism and Iran.
Backing the Saudi-led bloc, several African countries have cut off or downgraded their diplomatic links with Qatar, which has wielded influence in the continent since the 1990s.
With Qatar branded as a patron of militant groups, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, which have long suffered from terrorism, have recalled their ambassadors from Doha.
Libya, Egypt’s troubled neighbour, has repeatedly accused Qatar of sponsoring radical groups on its territory.
With the Qatari economy increasingly hit by the dispute, Doha’s financial clout in Africa is diminished, according to Khalid Hanafi, a political analyst.
“Signs showing Doha’s shrinking influence in Africa comes in geopolitical terms to the benefit of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates and Bahrain, who, with the exception of Bahrain, are closely linked with the continent’s countries,” Hanafi wrote in the Arabic-language newspaper Al Arab.
“This should prompt the three countries to expand political, security and economic partnerships in order to curb attempts by Iran and Turkey to take advantage of the Qatari shrinkage to fill the vacuum in Africa.”
Some African countries have struggled to balance loyalties during the standoff. While Sudan has historically enjoyed strong ties with Saudi Arabia, especially after Khartoum broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in solidarity with Saudi Arabia in 2014, Qatar has thrown lots of money at Khartoum.
“Sudan has obtained Saudi financial aid in return for sending the troops to Yemen. But ties between the two countries have recently become cold over Khartoum’s neutral position in the Gulf crisis,” Raslan told Gulf News.
“Sudan wants to maintain normal links with both Saudis and Qataris at the same time. This is becoming difficult as the crisis is dragging on without a solution.”
Energy-rich Qatar has been a key financial backer of Sudan since its southern part became independent in 2014.
Qatari investments in North Sudan are expected to reach 3 billion dollars by the end of this year.
In 2011, Qatar brokered a peace deal between Khartoum and rebels in the western province of Darfur.
Fallout from the ongoing Gulf spat has already hit Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa region.
Days after the eruption of the dispute, Qatar withdrew its peacekeeping forces from a disputed border area between Eritrea and Djibouti.
The move came after Djibouti downgraded its links with Doha.
Eritrea has taken the Saudi side.
The Qatari troop pullout has reignited tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti, with the latter accusing the former of seizing the disputed area.
The flare-up has raised worries in Ethiopia, which has long-standing hostilities with neighbouring Eritrea.
Eritrea has strong links with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have used the Eritrean port of Assab as a base for their campaign against rebels in Yemen.
Somalia, a strife-torn Horn of Africa country, has been sucked into the Gulf standoff, according to Raslan.
Mogadishu has been reluctant to take sides while the breakaway Somaliland Republic has announced backing for the anti-Qatar alliance.
“The Somali government is ineffective, but it does not want to lose Saudi Arabia and the Emirates,” Raslan said. “Mogadishu is also receiving aid from Turkey.”
Ankara has supported Qatar in the current Gulf crisis and dispatched military forces to Doha.
Days after the start of the row, Qatar sent its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sultan Bin Sa’ad, on an Africa tour that took him to Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.
“Prolongation of the crisis means more pressure on the African countries that are still neutral to choose between their interests with Qatar and those with the Arab Quartet,” Raslan argued.