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Cablegate: Somalia - Political Perspectives From Dubai

DE RUEHNR #2619/01 3250921
P 200921Z NOV 08




ALSO FOR AF/EPS - Ann Breiter and Ada Adler

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: SOMALIA - Political Perspectives from Dubai

REF: Nairobi 2618

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. This cable is the second of two on Somalia's
Dubai-based Diaspora (Reftel). The Somali community in the United
Arab Emirates (UAE) drives Somalia's economy, and is intimately
involved in its political landscape. Commercial ties within the
Dubai business community are cross-clan, yet they maintain clear
allegiances to clan and regional networks. They derided
decision-making based on clan representation and said that Somalia
needed new leaders with experience and demonstrated capacity. The
Dubai-based Diaspora follows Somali events extremely closely, and
some maintain regular contact with Somalia's political leaders
within and outside of the government. They are disappointed by the
failures of the TFG and many saw promise under the former Islamic
Courts Union. The businessmen agreed that a strong functioning
government is critical to protecting their interests and they would
commit to supporting a peace process leading in this direction.
These business leaders have significant influence on all sectors of
Somalia's economy and are well-connected to the political process.
Collaboration with this community is key to any long-term
reconstruction and development and could help mitigate Somalia's
immediate crisis. END SUMMARY.

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Somalia Will Always Be Home

2. (U) Between November 7 and 13, Somalia Unit PolOff met with some
of Somalia's most successful business leaders who operate from Dubai
but maintain major influence in the economic and political life of
Somalia. We met with Somalis who have lived in Dubai for two and
three decades, having gone to UAE for various reasons prior to the
civil war. Most had arrived in Dubai in the last 15 years, usually
after living in other countries before making their way to UAE to
"claim their share of the wealth." Yusuf Haibeh Abdi, a shipping,
media, and telecommunications executive and the leader of the
Somaliland community in Dubai, told us he had been living in the
region for 42 years, first in Qatar and now in UAE, initially
traveling with his father, also a successful businessman. While the
Somali community heralds its major businessmen, we also engaged with
dozens of small and medium-sized Somali businesses that have also
found success in Dubai. Many of the small-business owners are women
who run jewelry, clothing, freight forwarding, and transportation
companies catering to Somali and other African women who come to
Dubai to purchase products to sell in their home countries, Somalia
or otherwise.

3. (SBU) After visits to their homes, offices, and the communities
in which they live, it is strikingly clear that these business
leaders have done extremely well in Dubai. Most of their businesses
are based on direct trade and investment in Somalia and they have
highly diversified business interests with joint ventures across
sectors. They also have shared investments, with business
connections that cross clan boundaries. Some are investing in real
estate, banking, and other Dubai-based transactions unrelated to
Somalia. The Somali community is fully integrated into the Dubai
lifestyle and both men and women have adopted the traditional Arab
style of dress. They told us they are happy, their children are
safe, and despite working long hours, they enjoy a good life in
Dubai. However, almost all said they fully intend to return to
Somalia as soon as the conditions are ripe. Our contacts proudly
proclaimed that they participated in building Dubai from nothing,
"just sand" into what it is today - they can do the same in Somalia.

Fully Engaged in Current Events

4. (SBU) The Dubai-based Diaspora follows current events in Somalia
extremely closely. All reported that they read and listen daily to
the Somali-language media, and many watched Somali television from
Hargeisa-based Universal TV and Nairobi-based Eastern Television
Network. They were extremely well versed on political, economic,
and security issues and were very interested to hear U.S.
perspectives on the current political crisis. They also wanted to
learn more about U.S. policy toward Somalia. The business leaders
welcomed our description of a more robust engagement by the USG on
Somalia and our invitation to hear their ideas about how we can be

NAIROBI 00002619 002 OF 003

of greatest assistance.

5. (SBU) Further evincing their interest and influence in current
events, some of the business leaders reported direct contact with
key political actors. Somalilander Yusuf Haibeh Abdi said that he
had spoken with Somaliland President Riyale a few hours prior and
said he speaks to Riyale regularly. He said that Riyale personally
told him of our visit to Hargeisa in September and welcomed
continued engagement with the USG. Abdi told us that after the
bombing, the Somaliland community in Dubai raised the money to
purchase medical supplies and sent one ton of medicine to Hargeisa.
Abdi was fully briefed about ongoing investigations into the bombing
and shared with us the latest developments. Other business leaders
reported conversations with TFG President Yusuf, TFG Prime Minister
Nur Hassan Hussein, Puntland President Muse, and Chairman of the
Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

We Need a Strong Government

6. (SBU) A common theme among our interlocutors was that their
business interests would improve under a capable and strong
government. Their material support to the TFG and regional
administrations has been significant, both with loans and payment of
tariffs to officials in the regions where they have operations, they
said. Shire Hagi Farah, Executive Director of Al Jubail Trading,
operates fishing vessels and told us he pays substantial annual
licensing fees to the Puntland administration. All agreed that on
the national level, the TFG has been a failure and they have seen no
benefits of President Yusuf's administration. Most said that if
asked, they would be wiling to contribute both financially and
practically, lending their professional expertise to the eventual
formation of an elected government that could address business
interests while serving the needs of the Somali people. They were
clear in their belief that TFG was not, and could not become, this
kind of government.

7. (SBU) Sharif Ahmed Ba'alawi is believed by many to be one of
Somalia's most successful businessmen, with considerable and
diversified operations across many sectors, including ownership of
the state-of-the-art Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mogadishu.
Ba'alawi acknowledged the difficulties of doing business in Somalia
stating that insecurity and non-existent government institutions
threaten his USD 8 million Coca-Cola investment. He told us his
plant, with operations based on glass bottles, is unprofitable
because security concerns and movement restrictions make
distribution difficult and practically impossible to return bottles
for refill. However, his diversified approach enables him to gain a
fortune in other sectors, including real estate interests in Dubai,
UK, and other countries and expansion into the Democratic Republic
of Congo. "We know how to be successful in conflict, giving us a
clear advantage over others who flee when things get difficult." He
concluded by stating that if Somalia had a government that could
provide security, his Mogadishu-based operations would be
immediately profitable. This sentiment was echoed by
telecommunications operators and others who said they would be able
to immediately expand operations if the conditions were right.

Promise Under Union of Islamic Courts

8. (SBU) While all decried the growing presence of al-Shabaab,
several mentioned the immense promise they felt with the
establishment of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006. For
example, Ba'alawi told us that when the ICU came into power, he
began spending more time in Mogadishu. "For the first time in a
long time, I felt safe and was not obligated to travel with fifty
bodyguards. I could drive my car alone through the streets which
were open and without roadblocks, families were enjoying the beach
one the weekends, and Mogadishu was reminiscent of the ways things
were in Somalia 20 years ago," he said. Although he was considering
a significant investment in Rwanda in 2006, Ba'alawi chose instead
to purchase 400,000 square meters of property in Somalia for
development. He said that at the time of the ICU, he believed that
Somalia had finally taken a turn for the better.

NAIROBI 00002619 003 OF 003

9. (SBU) Ba'alawi said he has great respect for Sheikh Sharif
because he is honest, unlike so many of the "so-called Somali
leaders." Ba'alawi told us he had just invited Sharif to Dubai to
meet with the Somali community and it would be his first visit since
the ICU was ousted. (Note: In a November 9 meeting in Dubai, ARS
Central Committee Chairman Sharif Hassan Aden told us he would wait
until Sharif was prepared to travel to Dubai in order to hold an
"important" gathering of business leaders to solicit their support
for a Unity Government. We recommended that Hassan consider making
this a joint trip between ARS and TFG representatives to underscore
commitment to Unity Government.)

10. (SBU) When we asked Ba'alawi about his views on the Unity
Government, he replied that he does not see the benefit of Sheikh
Sharif joining the current TFG administration because it is
"completely bankrupt" and would bring down anybody associated with
it. Instead, he believes that ARS should remain on the outside, as
a formal opposition movement, and "return" to power at the end of
Transitional Federal Charter mandate. To achieve peace, Ba'alawi
said, Ethiopia must withdraw. "When this occurs, there will be no
ideological reason left for fighting -- al-Shabaab will die a
natural death," he said. Ba'alawi also suggested that the
ARS-Asmara faction should be brought into the peace process and said
that he met with one of its leaders in Dubai, pushing him to leave
Eritrea. He believes that more than even before, this faction is
close to leaving Asmara.

Abolish 4.5 Clan Formula

11. (SBU) All of the business leaders agreed, no matter the size of
their company, that for Somalia to escape its current situation,
everyone must stop looking at clan affiliation as the most important
dimension for leadership. Individuals from all clans expressed this
shared sentiment. For example, Ba'alawi remains influential in the
Banadir region although he is a member of the Ashraf coastal
minority group. He lamented that clan interests are one of the
major sources of the current crisis and will forever prevent
progress unless Somalia abolishes the 4.5 formula for clan
representation. He offered his own example of what is fundamentally
wrong with Somalia: although he is favorably regarded across
Somalia, he would "not receive even one vote" if he were to run for
elected office because of his clan affiliation. Ba'alawi said that
as a result of the resurgent supremacy of clan interests, "Somalis
would prefer an illiterate fool than someone with proven experience
and a track record of success."


12. (SBU) Ba'alawi told us he plans to keep his land in Somalia
because he firmly believes that the country can once again be a
haven for tourism and business, led by a private sector that could
enable it to become a regional powerhouse. All our interlocutors
agreed that to do this, Somalia needs a government. The Dubai-based
business community expressed a commitment to making Somalia's future
greater than its past, and is willing to help liberate it from a
present mired in conflict and clan interests. This sentiment was
echoed in all of our meetings. This Diaspora community expressed
willingness to provide vision and advice to Somalia's leaders and
several expressed interest in becoming part of Somalia's political
class. The creativity and acumen that has made them successful in a
Somalia's high-risk business environment may be the vital traits
necessary to lead Somalia out of its present conflict.

13. (U) The Somalia Unit thanks Consulate Dubai for facilitating
the visit on which this telegram is based.


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