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Is Africa with Saudi over Qatar crisis?

By Christina Okello

Saudi Arabia recently issued a tough ultimatum to African countries in relation to the ongoing, dispute with Qatar – “You're either with us or you're against us.”

The ultimatum has revealed the extent to which Middle Eastern rivalries are being played out on the continent.

"The fact that everybody in the Horn of Africa at the moment is feeling under pressure to take sides is a very dangerous situation," Edward Paice, Director of the African Research Institute in London, told RFI.

Several countries have already reduced or cut ties with Qatar as a result.

Mauritania was the first to distance itself from Doha. Senegal followed, and in fast succession came Chad, Gabon and Niger.

Djibouti, which relies on Qatar for mediation in its border dispute with Eritrea, said it would downgrade its diplomatic relations with the small peninsular state bordering Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.

Eritrea has also downgraded diplomatic relations.

The consequences were almost immediate.

Qatar withdrew its peacekeepers from the disputed border of Ras Doumeira on the coast of the Red Sea, at one of the world's busiest shipping routes, triggering renewed tensions between the rival countries.

Eritrea-Djibouti conflict

Djibouti accused Eritrean soldiers of moving into the contested border territory, days after Qatar pulled its peacekeepers out.

The situation was judged severe enough by the African Union that on June 19, it urged both sides to resolve their differences peacefully.

Their tensions have served as proof of why Qatar's presence is needed - in this region and others.

This was Qatar’s plan all along, suggests Samir Aita, President of the Circle of Arab Economists.

"The logic of projection of power is to make trouble and to come in and say that I am the neutral force to stop the trouble," he says.

So, Why would Djibouti and Eritrea side with Saudi Arabia over Qatar--a very much needed mediator?

"Djibouti is involved in a sort of permanent game of flogging space for military bases to whoever wants one," reckons Paice.

"If you look across the straits, you would be pretty unwise probably if you were Djibouti to side wholeheartedly with Qatar against the mighty Saudi Arabia."

This article was changed on 28 June to state that Eritrea has downgraded not cut diplomatic relations.

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