The UAE conducts a “nodal” foreign policy in parts of the Mena region and Africa, meaning it groups countries for political, economic and security purposes.
This modus operandi has been evident in the past week as Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Foreign Minister, visited Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda.
That these countries are looked upon as areas of interest is significant. Kenya and Somalia have been plagued by attacks from Al Shabab terrorists, but both hold economic potential. Uganda, a landlocked central African country, is an ideal starting point for Emirati investment to grow eastwards towards Kenya and Somalia, helping Kampala reach the Indian Ocean and new trade opportunities.
Significantly, the UAE is taking the lead on regional matters because Abu Dhabi sees an “arc of instability” across the north of Africa.
Crises in Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia and Libya are a major focus. Abu Dhabi’s efforts are backed by the Arab League, African Union and the European Union, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is also supportive of the UAE’s remedies for fighting poverty in these countries.
Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda all offer opportunities for UAE investors. The idea is to first stabilize the end of the arc closest to the Arabian Peninsula and hope that prosperity breeds.
However, diplomacy is also underway on the west coast of Africa, with Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Abu Dhabi for talks with Sheikh Abdullah earlier this week.
This was one of several interactions between the two in recent months and shows that the UAE is keen to attack the arc from both sides.
In addition to Sheikh Abdullah, three others play constructive roles in the nodal approach.
Firstly, Minister of State Reem Al Hashemy has a critical role when it comes to East Africa and also Uganda, which is a key focus in tourism, energy, infrastructure, and oil, among other industries.
Through the minister’s efforts, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his foreign minister, Henry Oryem Okello, signed a double tax avoidance agreement with Abu Dhabi that will improve trade.
The UAE also supports plans to build airports or airstrips in the Ugandan districts of Arua, Pakuba, Hoima (Kabaale) and Kasese, develop tourism around Lake Victoria, the construction of an oil pipeline from Uganda to Mombasa, agriculture processing, infrastructure, minerals and investments in renewables.
Last month, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways started flying to Entebbe International, Uganda’s principal airport.
The second major Emirati player in this nodal approach is DP World chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, who is seeking to build and refurbish ports in Africa but also implement the port operator’s unique social corporate responsibility approach and develop small and medium-sized businesses in Somalia and Kenya.
The UAE hopes that DP World’s investment will help to eradicate the drivers of extremism by focusing on health care, road networks, micro-financing, and job creation.
Thirdly, the UAE Ambassador to Somalia, Mohammed Al Hammadi, is key when it comes to tackling Somali policy as he cooperates with Somali officials to deliver UAE assistance to the Sunni Muslim majority country in areas such as finance, health, and national security.
That Sheikh Abdullah visited Somalia is a boost to Mr. Al Hammadi’s progress in that complex country.
Overall, the UAE point of view is that Africa is experiencing rapid population growth and is fertile ground for foreign investment.
Abu Dhabi sees its proximity to Africa as an opportunity to benefit from its growth while promoting security in areas near its own borders.
Source: Dr. Theodore Karasik; a UAE-based geopolitical analyst and commentator on UAE foreign affairs.