The Horn Of Africa States: The Region’s Challenges – OpEd


Although each country of the region has its own challenges and responsibilities towards its citizenry, it also has common regional challenges and shared responsibilities. The two must always be balanced for the life and future of each country is dependent upon the activities and life processes of its neighbors as it is on the wider continental and global world. It is where the leaders of the region are supposed to work not only on the internal issues of their respective countries, but also on the regional and global issues involving economic, social and political matters. They must always be seeking answers facing them in all these aspects.

Currently, the SEED countries face serious internal issues and each tends to be acting alone in solving these internal problems without consulting any of the neighboring countries. On the contrary, each appears to be happy at the difficulties of the other(s), which, in fact, is not only wrong but unfortunately leads to further alienation of the countries from each other. The leaders fail to see the common concerns and the intertwining of their multiple challenges, not only on the internal fronts but also on their approach to regional and global matters, the external fronts.

The leaders of the region fail to see that cooperation, solidarity and consensus not only among themselves but also with their internal opposition groups are necessary and more important. They have so far failed to chart new platforms and new paths for the region other than deepening the same internal idiosyncrasies of tribal and clan competitions for power.

The fundamental issues of the region related to economic development, security and stability of the region seem to being supplanted by political self-preservation of the leader politicians of the region. No wonder all their actions only produce more negative consequences in the life of the countries of the region and literally no development. Every step forward seems to produce two to three step backwards.

The personal agendas of the leaders seem to leave the national and regional interests on the wayside and only produce more opposition in differing shapes and forms. In some of the countries like Somalia, there are serious religious terror groups operating therein, while in countries like Ethiopia tribal wars are now tearing it apart much like a pack of wolves working on a helpless and hapless prey.

The fact that the region is a major geostrategic location does not seem reflected in the actions of the leaders of the region who appear to be working on their individual agendas and at best on their country’s national agendas. They appear to have no clue on how their actions influence the flow of investments into the region negatively and how this impacts on the development of the region.

Undermining each other instead of supporting each other seems to be the main mantra of the leaders of the region as if the demise of their neighbors will help their respective countries thrive, which is far from the truth. They know not that they only serve those who want to exploit the region or want to keep it underdeveloped “as is.” They know not that no country can improve itself on the notion that the insecurity of others, would enable it to have a better future.  They know not that development of each country can only be assured through cooperation with one’s neighbors. They know not that common and collective security can only ensure the security of all countries in the region.

At present the leaders of the region all seem to be contractors who seem to have received their contracts through non-tender processes and hence operating on behalf of others, instead of leaders of their own countries and people. It does not really matter to them whether the country or the region succeeds  and survives or not or so it appears.

There is this folk tale in the region about three bulls, who graced together in a valley as we were told at a young age by our elders. One of the bulls was black and one was brown, and the third was white. No predator could come to them to eat them as long as they were together, for they presented a formidable team, with their horns and weights. One day a lion stealthily approached one of the lions, the white one and promised to show him a different area of the valley with better foliage and grass but that he should not tell the other bulls, if he really wanted to see the lush green part he spoke of.

The white bull kept thinking of this green and lush area of the valley, which they did not see and decided that he would follow the lion to find it the next day and so in the morning he went  away from his friends and as soon as he was alone, the lion attacked him and ate him. In another day, the lion approached the brown bull and convinced him the same way he cheated the white bull and ate him as well. Finally, he found the black bull, which was now alone with no friends and attacked him as well. The black bull did not defend himself and told the lion, “I know I died the day you ate the white lion.”

The moral of the story, we were told. is that unity is strength while division generally leads to loss and disaster. Should the SEED or SEEDS countries not cooperate, major and other united regional parties will continue taking advantage of them as they do today. The region is important to many extracontinental powers, the region should know.

It links Africa, Asia and Europe through its coastal belt which faces the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, which eventually links it to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. Should not the peoples of the region, who are similar and enjoy the same histories and suffer from the same ills and problems, have common platforms to advance their common interests in this increasingly violent world, which is re-aligning itself into groups?

It is the unfortunate story of the region in that global and regional predators who see its immense value exploit it. They see it also as a perfect example of a region that cannot exploit its own resources well or defend itself collectively. They help contractors, some the sons of the region, take its leadership and hence actually dictate what happens to the people of the region and determine its destiny. No wonder, one sees so many envoys from different parts of the world in the region in addition to the normal ambassadorial representations. There are also major NGOs and other cover organizations that operate in the region to keep it stunned.

No wonder the region suffers from a multitude of conflicts blamed on ethnicity and greed of politicians, when actually, the source of the problems remains to be the external predators, who actually instigate the tribal/clan competitions for power in the region and even the terror groups operating in the region.

It does appear that the tribal/clan competition for power in the region or the attempts to break up existing countries on the same basis is the main tool employed in the region by aggressive non-regional actors who do not wish the region well. This is followed by the introduction into the region of terror groups to undermine the social infrastructure of the societies of the region, including their faith. How do the leaders address these matters and what are their competencies in this regard? So far, they seem to have failed.

There was, indeed, an attempt by the three countries of Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea back in 2020 to come together and cooperate in building peace and stability in the region through a concerted security apparatus and cooperation. This would have led, the leaders of the time thought, to a social and economic development of the region (The Horn Diplomat, 2020). There was a proposal to create a Horn of Africa Cooperation (HAC) but this process was fiercely opposed by those foreign interests which made sure it did not progress further. Indeed, two of those leaders are still in power, namely Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia and President Afewerki of Eritrea. President Mohamed Abdullahi of Somalia has since been replaced by his rival President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, who opposes whatever his predecessor did, even if it was in the national interest, let alone a regional one. Ethiopia and Eritrea are on opposite sides of the Ethiopian conflicts in the Amhara and Tigray States of Ethiopia and are no longer on speaking terms. How did this happen and so quickly?

It is a pity that a region which could have offered so much to itself and to others across the globe remains disgraced, unstable, and divided. The continuing rivalries, mostly of the making of non-regional actors keeps diminishing the possibilities of regional cooperation, which allows the geopolitical and non-regional predators act with impunity in the region dictating on what the leaders should do and not do. It is perhaps time the region’s politicians, academicians, elders, and indeed, leaders came together to find solutions for the region’s common problems and the games non-regional predator parties are playing on the region. There is a great need for the region to come together, discuss and devise ways of re-igniting that natural cohesion and cooperation which the region requires.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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