Qatar’s port deal in Somalia's Hobyo to advance its shadowy interests

Qatar plans to build new seaport at Somalia's Hobyo few months after bomb attack killed head of Dubai government-owned P&O Ports in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

LONDON - Qatar plans to build a new seaport at Somalia's Hobyo, a potentially strategic investment in an area of East Africa fiercely contested by Gulf rivals, few months after a bomb attack killed the head of Dubai government-owned P&O Ports in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Formosa was killed last February at Bosaso Port in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militant group Al Shabaab and which allegedly involved Qatar to advance Doha’s interests by driving out its rival UAE, according to the New York Times’ investigative report released last month.

The timing of Qatar’s investment in Somalia sought to repair its increasingly tarnished image after the latest reports that implicated Doha in supporting Islamist and terror groups in the MENA region and the West.

The New York Times revealed that a businessman close to the Emir of Qatar said in a cellphone call with the Qatari ambassador to Somalia that the militants had carried out the bombing in Bosaso to advance Qatar’s interests by driving out its rival, the United Arab Emirates.  

Eight Syrians lodged a claim three weeks ago against Doha Bank in the High Court for substantial loss and damage, including severe physical and psychiatric injuries, destruction of property, loss of profits and forcible displacement from their homes in Syria at the hands of jihadist terrorist group al-Nusra Front, according to the claim, a copy of which was received by Middle East Online.

Hobyo, in the central region of Mudug, is an important Somali port owing to its proximity to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, which is one of the most important sea crossing points in the world, with the potential for access to international markets.

Qatar Ports Management Company (Mwani) will enter an investment partnership with Somalia to construct the port, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said in a statement without disclosing the value of the deal.

Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which are locked in a protracted dispute with fellow Gulf Arab state Qatar, have been competing along with Doha's ally Turkey for a foothold in the Horn of Africa, located on key shipping routes.

A Qatari delegation led by Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani visited Somalia on Monday.

The Hobyo port will "will contribute to opening new horizons of cooperation between the two countries" and bolster Somalia's commercial ties to new markets in Africa and further afield, the ministry's statement said.

The small but wealthy Gulf state has looked to strengthen ties with Somalia, donating a fleet of 68 armoured vehicles this year and airlifting Mogadishu's mayor to Doha for emergency medical treatment last month after an ultimately fatal attack by militants.

Somalia refused to take sides after Saudi Arabia and its allies imposed a political, trade and transport boycott on Qatar in mid-2017 over accusations that it supports militants, a charge Doha denies.

Qatar has looked to diversify its trade partners and re-tool its economy since the embargo cut access to neighbours it once relied on heavily.

It is the subject of a two-year Saudi-led economic embargo including bans on direct air, land and sea travel between the boycotting nations and Qatar, as well as sanctions after accusing Doha of sponsoring terrorism.

Although Qatar has repeatedly denied backing or funding terror groups, western diplomats have accused it of allowing the funding of some Sunni extremists, including al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

Somalia's relations with the UAE have frayed over Emirati investments in the breakaway region of Somaliland. It disbanded a UAE programme last year, set up to train some of its troops.