ENTEBBE - Diplomatic tensions between countries in the Gulf are threatening peace efforts in East Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa, the EU's special envoy has warned.
The crisis, which erupted nearly a year ago, has pitted Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain against Qatar, with Riyadh and its allies accusing Doha of fostering close ties with Iran and backing Islamic extremists.
But the fallout has had direct repercussions in the Horn of Africa where it has exacerbated already-existing tensions, notably in Somalia, said Alexander Rondos, Europe's special envoy to the region.
In particular, tensions have escalated steadily between Somalia and the United Arab Emirates, which has sought to extend its influence there as the war in Yemen rages on.
Although the two countries have been traditionally close, Mogadishu's attempts to remain neutral over the Gulf divisions have not gone down well.
One of the EU's "most important objectives" is to make sure that East Africa "is as well protected as it can be from what is a rapidly shifting geo-political environment" in the Gulf, he said on Friday following a two-day seminar of EU envoys to the region.
Political strife between Gulf states and their alliances with east African players was "the biggest strategic issue because it could easily undermine all of the efforts to overcome East Africa's own particular crises, whether it's South Sudan or Somalia," Rondos said.
"We don't need something aggravating these efforts," he added, describing the geo-political challenge as the "biggest game in town".
In Somalia, the conflict has raised tensions between the federal states and the central government, with many unhappy about President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's neutral stance.
For some, there would be many economic benefits to throwing Mogadishu's support behind Saudi Arabia or the Emirates in a development which has put pressure on already fraught internal relationships in a country already fraught with violence.
Rondos also expressed concern that the Gulf crisis could exacerbate tensions between East African nations working together on efforts to solve regional crises, notably South Sudan and Burundi, as well as in Somalia.