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Opinion

Socotra Island

READERS' VIEWS - The Freeman

Socotra is a remote Island off the Horn of Africa at the entrance of the Gulf of Aden. On the 3,796 square kilometer (In comparison: Cebu has 4,943 sq.km.) live about 60,000 Socotrans. Half are Shiites and half are Sunnis but they get along peacefully because they have their own culture and language. Governor Ramzi Mahrous lives in the capital Hadibu with its 8,500 inhabitants.

The island is part of Yemen, but the government doesn’t care much because it is busy fighting the Houthi rebels who are supported by Iran. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Israel support President Mansur Hadi in a seven-year civil war. Fortunately for the Socotrans, war is far away.

Socotra has a most astonishing flora and fauna. Many plants and animals are endemic, meaning they live nowhere else in the world. Therefor in 2008 Socotra was recognized as a World Heritage Site in order to protect and preserve the unique nature.

Dominating the rough landscape with gorges and caverns is the Dragon’s Blood Tree. It has a sturdy stem and dense branches on top of which grow the leaves forming an umbrella. The bright red resin is exported to pharmaceutical and cosmetics factories. The tree can live a thousand years. But there are three factors the trees are menaced by extinction today: In 2015 two cyclones and another in 2018 toppled over wide areas of forest on the highlands, rain has become rare in the last decades due to climate change, and herders have introduced an invasive farm animal; the goat. They eat up all sprouting saplings.

In 2015 the first Saudis came and built streets, schools, and an airport. In 2018 the first United Arab Emirates airplane landed on Socotra. They built a hospital, installed electricity, water, and natural gas systems, and entire villages for the indigenous. They pay the salaries of doctors, teachers, policemen, and bureaucrats. Fishers, farmers and herders who before produced only for themselves now sell their fish, dates, and meat on the market. Also medicines from the astounding biodiversity of plants, particularly aphrodisiacs are much in demand.

One herder says: “I love them both, specially the Emiratis. We thank them, they are good people.” But Yemeni journalist Mohammed al-Rumin disagrees: The UAE is not a friend of Socotra. They are only interested in colonizing and annexing it.

He blames them for having deployed 5,000 troops without coordination and permission from the central government in Sana’a. After the typhoons destroyed all houses, the Emiratis withdraw the soldiers but sent the Red Crescent medics starting a large-scale humanitarian action. Having won the hearts of the islanders they organized a referendum asking them to decide whether to become officially a part of the UAE or face the uncertainty of war under Yemeni rule. Neither was Governor Mahrous instructed nor was President Hadi asked permission. They see the plot as a devious objective to dominate Socotra and to transform it into a luxurious resort site without observing environmental laws.

Yemeni law does not allow foreigners to possess land. But the real estate investors use Yemenites with dual citizenship as middlemen. We can see large subdivisions that fly Saudi, UAE, and Kuwaiti flags. Israel maintains an intelligence base.

The Chinese have built their “String of Pearls” consisting of 13 commercial and military facilities in the Indian Ocean from mainland China to Port Soudan in the Red Sea. Despite its excellent geo-strategic location they never had an eye on Socotra. Their ships pass north of it towards their Djibouti naval base that was built in 2016. They do not want to jeopardize their friendship with the oil-exporting Arab nations.

Erich Wannemacher

ISLAND

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