Policy WATCH:
Behind The Curtain At UAE's Anti Piracy Show
Conference "Shows More Leg" But What Are UAE's True Intentions?
04/19/2011
UAE Food Delivery In Somalia
©Somalia Report
UAE Food Delivery In Somalia
As the UAE's anti-piracy conference held at the beachside resort of Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai came to a close, delegates air conditioned into near hypothermia agreed on a bland master document and prepared to catch flights home. The government-controlled local media pumped up headlines to proudly proclaim that 0.5 million dollars had been donated by DP World to fight piracy.

The approximately 500 invitees were treated to a formal program entitled “Global Challenge, Regional Responses: Forging A Common Approach to Maritime Piracy“. There was no doubt from the diverse participants that piracy was a global problem but they had not forged a common approach.

Each invited delegate had their self-interest and focal point: stiffer legal penalties, better treatment of mariners, more coordination among nations and a few baubles and beads for regional programs.

The first ever government sponsored anti-piracy program was paid for and organized by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and co-hosted with Dubai government owned port operator DP World.

The UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pledged $1 million to the UN Contact Group fund, another $200,000 was pledged by private companies and a further $100,000 donated by DP World. If someone cared to the math on what it cost to transport, feed, entertain and organize an event this size in a venue this luxurious it might actually lend credence to some developing nations request that the tab for the event alone might have funded numerous local initiatives.

In March of this year, DP World posted a 22% increase in revenue on $450 million, and UAE is not only a maritime nation but has direct interest in the effects of piracy and terrorism in Somalia. It would be easy to mock the organizers for spending less than the cost of one average ship ransom to fight piracy.

What might be more educational would be to look at what wasn't at the conference. Media were not allowed in during dozens of rambling speeches, rank and file guests were not allowed in on the VIP reception on the first evening and a number of major players stayed in their suites at the hotel having high level meetings without ever entering the conference hall. There wasn't any anger from the various Somali delegations who ideally should feel betrayed and belittled by the thousands of dollars that would never come within thousands of miles of Somalia.

Although official members of Somalia's TFG expressed some frustration at the podium to stir things up at the beginning, the closing remarks by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omar were 180 degrees from the opening strum and drang. The message had sunk in; Nairobi was no longer the only center of foreign NGO involvement in Somalia and neither the UN nor the U.S. were the only places for Somali governments to go hat in hand for help.

Private conversations away from the crowd revealed some insight into the real goal of the conference.

It is a well-known secret that the government of the UAE is already actively involved in Somalia and against piracy. They are the oft-rumored sponsor of the well-equipped and well-trained Puntland Marine Force based in Bosaso. They have consistently taken a hard line against pirating of their ships and the UAE works in direct lock step with other nations patrolling their oceans.

Culturally the Emiratis are more inclined to do their foreign policy and charitable work in private than in public. While many countries in the Mahgreb and the middle east fall apart into chaos, the UAE appears to be doing business as usual. While other nations guard ships to protect food and aid, hundreds of tons of humanitarian goods flow directly into Somalia without incident and come clearly labeled from the UAE with little to no fanfare or violent attack. So clearly the low key approach may be the best one.

Although Somalis may publicly express some concern that the conference donation was inadequate and destined to burn and vanish in the UN money furnace, they are privately more confident that this is simply a signal that the real money will begin to flow once the international community affirms UAE's new public role in Somalia.

The true goal of the conference was to gather 50 nations under one roof and agree on a bland agenda of action. Then the real work begins. Even if the carefully crafted "land based" verbage of the organizers did not match the more verbose presentations of the guests, it is clear that the UAE has decided on building security, governance and generous humanitarian engagement.

As one European diplomat enjoying a cigarette outside the frigid hall commented to Somalia Report, "Its nice to see the UAE show more leg," describing their agenda of seeking more a public approval for their previous quiet activities. Somali NGOs were also confident that if the UAE chooses to assist in land based-initiatives, they are now more confident of directly funding significant and long lasting programs without being hindered by the UN's well intentioned but diffuse approach.

An interview with a senior U.S. guest about the enthusiasm of the proposals of many security-related anti piracy companies seemed more obstructionist than productive as she tried to dampen their ardor by reminding them about the UN arms embargo and the need for more legislation. It almost sounded like the Contact Group and the UN were providing reasons not to get involved in Somalia. The "We are professionals, don't try this at home" approach rang hollow as it became clear that not only is the Emirates a robust trading partner with Somalia, the proximity of the beach and hundreds of thousands of internal guest workers emphasized just how easily piracy and terrorism could affect Dubai's tourism and maritime industry.

The token amount given to the UN by the UAE seemed to be modest knowing full well that seeding the UN Nairobi rain clouds will not match what actually hits the ground in Somalia.

The head of a Somali NGO summed it up, "The UN will send people to do an assessment, find funding 6 to 8 months later then send the money to Nairobi. By the time it gets to a local Somali office the money will not only be reduced to a small percentage that will have little impact and the initial urgency or need will have long disappeared."

If the UAE now chooses to use this international forum as a green light for more overt participation, it may herald substantially more robust and visible involvement in defeating piracy and rebuilding Somalia.

The UAE's public campaign to end piracy was a success in that it achieved unanimous political support, supplicated the UN and paved the way to create a center of gravity to deal with what is exclusively a northeastern Somali and maritime problem.