Qatar may have stolen the limelight this week after it helped maneuver important conciliatory moves between Kenya and Somalia whose relations have been at the lowest point for six months.
Qatar emerged as the unlikely mediator after Dr. Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, the Special Envoy of the Qatari Foreign Minister on Counterterrorism and Mediation of Conflict Resolution, acting on Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani directions helped the two horn of Africa neighboring countries to normalize their diplomatic ties.
But the Gulf nation has done little in the mediation of the political crisis in Somalia after dispatching a high-level delegation to Mogadishu on May 1.
Despite having an opportunity to meet a number of leaders in Somalia, Qatar’s envoy Al-Qahtani may have after all not fulfilled his reconciliation mission, given that he failed to meet with a number of top political leaders, including those of Jubaland and Puntland.
Thanks to international partners’ continued pressure which assisted to bring an end to the deepened deadlock in the country and forced Lower House and Farmajo to annual the two-year illegal term extension and reverse back to Sep 17 electoral agreement.
The pressure mostly from the biggest donors of Somalia, the U.S., the EU, and the UK paved the way for the demilitarization of Mogadishu that resulted from talks between a technical team appointed by Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and the opposition candidates.
The two sides urgently agreed to end the dangerous divisions in the armed forces that emerged in April following the controversial extension of the term of Farmajo, whose four-year mandate had officially ended on February 8.
This deal was crucial to reassure Mogadishu residents of renewed security as well as the belief that the armed forces will work under the same command rather than having factions going for each other’s throat.
Al-Qahtani has helped mediate the Taliban-Afghani government talks and there is little doubt about his ability to bring rival parties in Somalia to the table.
His maneuvers also helped restore diplomatic ties between Somalia and Kenya. To be fair, it was Somalia that cut the ties and so only Somalia could restore them? Qatar, hence, may have boosted its diplomatic credentials by helping two countries it relates with to iron their differences.
Yet for all its good intentions, Somalis must control the narrative and choose terms of political agreement or relations with other countries.
Perhaps we may ask what Qatar’s interest is. We know Doha had propped up Farmajo’s government and stayed out of public view when parties started bickering over term extension.
It occasionally joined international partners to call for dialogue and amicable solutions but was never forthright in condemning Farmajo’s extension or clobbering of rivals in Mogadishu by the police. For doing that, it earned itself a tag for supporting a dictatorship.
Of course, Qatar may argue it was relating with the competent government of the day when it dealt with Farmajo. But did not point out his excesses. In return, Farmajo’s alleged neutrality during the Gulf blockade was openly betrayed with his dalliance with Doha.
Somalia appreciated Doha’s help to fix strained relations with Kenya. But they must never bequeath their desire for a stable country to an outside entity. Qataris are in the Horn to protect their interests, investment, and image.
They probably pushed the normalization of Somalia-Kenya relations because it harms their indirect oil investments in the eastern Africa maritime front. They probably hope that Somalia and Kenya could talk out their maritime dispute so that the Doha project can survive political chaos.
With an election urgently needed, it is important that Somalia does not allow the handshake with Qatar to go beyond the elbow. And as Farmajo himself said, mediation should be welcome, just as long as it is Somali-owned and Somali-controlled.
Should we entrust this process to the Qataris? The jury will be out.!