On June 14th, 2017, the Qatari government withdrew its military forces that once held the volatile region of the Horn of Africa together. This came as no surprise given that Djibouti, which happens to be in a long term border dispute with its counterpart, Eritrea, sided with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries in cutting ties with Qatar.
Prior to this, the Qatari troops have been in place in the Doumeira Island and mountains since 2010 when the countries decided to let Qatar step in to help mitigate the situation of the crisis.
After Qatar withdrew its peacekeeping forces, there is currently no mediator in the impasse within the area in the wake of the Gulf crisis. It would also be noted that Doha has been blacklisted by Saudi and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
In a recent statement, China offered to mediate in the lingering border dispute in the Horn of Africa region where Eritrea and Djibouti are both claiming ownership of the Dumeira Mountains and Islands.
The Chinese Ambassador to the African Union, Kuang Weilin, suggested that China will consider sending troops to the border between the two East African countries. Kuang Weilin, however, told the Associated Press that Beijing was ready to help with mediation if requested.
China, an Asian giant, is increasingly extending its military prowess across the world. Having an invasive diplomatic and economic approach to international crises.
Despite the attempts by China, Eritrea has maintained that they will stick to Qatar as the only mediator in the matter for internal reasons. However, Djibouti has made a request to the African Union asking the union to deploy observers along its disputed border with Eritrea.
Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, Djiboutian Foreign Minister, told reporters during a summit of African Union leaders in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa that: “The Qatari forces left on short notice without really preparing the ground. Leaving the status quo was not in the best interest of both countries.”
“We propose to the African Union that it takes over the disputed side and fill the gap. We need the African Union to act very quickly,” Youssouf said.
In response to Djibouti’s request, the African Union called on both sides to exercise restraint and said it would deploy a fact-finding mission to the disputed area. Despite Djibouti’s claim that Eritrean forces have overtaken the disputed area, diplomats say that Eritrea has not yet responded to either the request to the African Union or the allegations levelled by Djibouti.
Not being left behind, Ethiopia – by far the Horn of Africa’s largest and most powerful country, which shares borders with both Eritrea and Djibouti – says it backs the African Unions’ move to send a fact-finding mission and has urged the United Nations (UN) to support the initiative.
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry further called on its two neighbours to refrain from “escalating tensions” and instead “resolve differences through peaceful means.”
It is worthy of note that the border disputes between Eritrea and Djibouti go way back to the early 90’s. During the time, Eritrea and Djibouti nearly went to war when a Djibouti official claimed that Eritrea had shelled Ras Dumeira, a border village which is home to the Afar, an ethnic group living in the disputed area.
Fast-forward 12 years, the thin ice on which both countries stood has apparently melted away as war broke out in June 2008. Djibouti accused Eritrea of digging trenches at Ras Doumeira and of stationing troops in its territory before Qatar’s intervention in 2010.
The Doumeira region is highly disputed because it is close to a vital shipping route for global trade, the Baba-el-Mandeb strait.
Ethiopia’s plea for the AU to act fast stems from the fact that any further military conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti could worsen the current situation seriously and prolong the border row between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The ongoing dispute has also led to adverse security threats and humanitarian effects on the two states.