By Odindo Ayieko
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to restore the Berbera Airport in the second largest city of Somaliland to have it accommodate large aircrafts.
This is part of the agreement reached after a six-day visit by Somaliland president Musa Bihi to the United Arab Emirates.
The president held talks with UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. Sheikh Mansour is also the Minister for the Presidency.
In the agreement, the UAE, Somaliland’s biggest development partner will also fund the construction of an electricity plant that will power Berbera City.
Further to that, a cement plant will also be set up in the country with the support of the oil rich Middle East state.
The Berbera airport is strategic for the UAE government given its proximity to their military installation in the city and their investment in the Berbera Port which is currently under expansion by the DP World.
Its restoration will see it able to accommodate big and heavy passenger and cargo aeroplanes.
In a previous interview, Somaliland finance minister Saad Ali Shire, then commenting as minister for foreign affairs said the UAE being the country’s leading development partner had signed agreements allowing them the use for the airport.
“The agreement is [for] UAE to use Berbera airport and port as a military facility, and in exchange, the UAE will be building roads, a new airport, and funding health, education and water energy,” Shire said.
Berbera airport has a 4,140 m (13,582 ft) runway, one of the longest in Africa. The runway was built by then Soviet Union (USSR) in the mid-1970s in order to counter the United States’ military presence in the region.
It was rented by NASA at a cost of US$40 million per year, and used as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle from 1980 until 1991, when the government of former President of Somalia Siad Barre collapsed.
The UAE military base in Berbera will begin operating by June.
The surveillance system will be used to protect the base in the Somaliland port town of Berbera and monitor the territory’s 800-kilometer (500-mile) coastline. It will also help the whole region — piracy, illegal fishing and toxic dumping.
Other major discussions during Bihi’s visit centred on security in the volatile region of Horn of Africa, strengthening the ties between Somaliland and the UAE, trade and investment, mineral exploitation, livestock, tourism and the development of fish resources in Somaliland shores, support for infrastructure projects, such as the Berbera Corridor highway, and the easing of the travel process between the two countries.
Somaliland is the leading African country where the UAE has the highest foreign direct investment (FDI).
According to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country’s FDI outflows for the financial year 2017/2018 amounted to US$11.52 billion dollars, US$2.58 billion going to the Persian Gulf country.
The sectors UAE has invested in include the construction industry, Ports, transportation, warehousing and storage, mining, metals and chemicals, renewable and environmental technology and financial services, among others.
Thirty nine percent of its investment is in construction, 19 percent in ports and transportation while mining metals and chemicals take 15 percent of the country’s foreign direct investment.
Already, UAE company Dubai Port has pumped in US$ 442 million to expand the port of Berbera which the UAE see as very strategic to them.
The Berbera port expansion is meant to equip the Somaliland port for major vessels and transform it into one of Africa’s pre-eminent facilities in the breakaway region.
Source: East African Business Week