The Horn Of Africa States: Advancing The Region’s Foreign Relations – OpEd

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The world has not changed. Only the number has changed. It says we are now in 2023 and not in 2022. Everything else continues on the same pace and evolution. We have the European war in Ukraine still raging and we still have the Americans keeping the stiff upper lip despite the seemingly withering away of its power in many parts. Wars and/or challenges that could lead to other conflicts and wars still abound beyond the Ukraine European war. Taiwan is just away an inch from being off a cliff, and as usual West Asia remains a tinderbox.

And so, the Horn of Africa States still carries its usual burdens – the hunger and starvation painting of the international media and NGOs, its continuing civil strives and senseless pseudo-religious terrorism. The clan/tribe divisions continue to mar the region and settlement is still beyond the grasp of the region’s leaders. Kenya, which has been benefitting from the woes of others over the past four decades has added another money earner to its peacekeeping or money-making missions. It sent its soldiers to join the DRC UN peacekeeping mission and very recently, Maj. Gen. Stephen Radina of the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) was appointed to lead the Africa Union Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mechanism (AU-MVCM) that was launched on Thursday 29 December in Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state. Conflicts remain a fertile ground for Kenya to exploit and benefit from or has it just become a pawn moved by others to where and when needed? We leave it for the reader to figure it out. No one knows how long the AU-MVCM would last or how it would be molded in the future. We know AMISOM, despite the name change to ATMIS, is still around in Somalia after more than a decade and the DR Congo Peace Mission is still around after decades.

The important thing that has also remained a constant is the strategic location of the region, its source of the Blue Nile and hence the continuing involvement in the affairs of the region by others from far and wide. We have the Europeans who want to protect their ages-old influences in the region such as the British, the French and the Italians and more lately the Scandinavian countries and the Almans or the Deutschlanders and, of course, the inheritors of the European power, the United States of America. The Chinese have also come to the region, this time with their navy and hence soldiers. The region appears to be crowded more by these complexities, in addition to its own.

It is why policymaking when it comes to the region’s foreign relations becomes hazardous and more like a like a minefield which can explode any time with the slightest touch. It is why the region needs to tread ever more carefully. Leaning towards one party often angers and pushes away another, just like jealous wives in a polygamous world. This requires strategic thinking on the part of the leaders of the region, using its civil society, businesses and diaspora to maintain a steady keel for the region’s strategic relations with the rest of the world. 

What is clear is that the status quo cannot continue. Single unitary states as they are today, exposes each of the SEED countries to those who may not have the best interest of the region or any single country in the region, at heart. The world is based on interests. There are no permanent friends in diplomacy, so they say. It is best for the region’s foreign ministers and those involved in setting up key foreign policy issues to be in regular contact, come up together in regular meets, digital or otherwise and consult each other on the world around them and the worlds further away.

Egypt’s interest in the continuous flow of the River Nile would not abate or go away and the Arab world’s attempts to keep down the Horn of Africa from exploiting its hydrocarbon reserves would not go away, either. The activities of the UAE to eliminate any competition for its major port, Dubai and the Jebel Ali free zone will not abate. Hence its involvement in the ports of the region to calibrate their growth to the needs of its two major ports and free zones would continue.

China’s access through the ports of the region into the interior countries of Africa will continue, first to draw raw materials from the continent and second to create markets for its finished products and secure markets for its construction and financing institutions in the continent. The Chinese would work on its Build One Road Initiative and would hence continue on building, airports and seaports and roads and rail in the region. The West would continue to lay obstacles in the way. They know the Chinese have some headway, but they are competitive.

Other than the major power competitions and the West Asian and Aran involvement in the region, we also have the Turks, who have found their way to the region. They have invested in the region and since they do not have heavy political bags to pull, they have already implanted themselves in the region. Their presence in Somalia and Ethiopia and even Djibouti has not caused any stir as yet, although their presence does not, please some other countries, and most prominently, the Arab countries. 

Other African regions have also their own unwarranted misgivings. The East Africa Community as represented by the military presence of Kenya, Uganda and Burundi, in Somalia and now the appointment of a Kenyan General to lead peace settlement, through the Africa Union Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mechanism (AU-MVCM), with its rebel Tigray state, in Mekelle, Ethiopia, would not be pleased, should the region settle its own affairs. It is why this would require careful maneuvering of the region when setting up its foreign relations priorities.

The region should know that foreign-backed missions inspire little confidence in the region’s population. They have been failing the region for the past several decades and this, therefore, necessitates the region’s own formulation of its priorities, policies and viable solutions to its tractable problems which have been made intractable by the big elephants in the room, not the egos of the leaders, but the foreigners.

In this respect, the region should revisit its Cushitic heritage and ignore the implanted views that the region is clan/tribal invested and cannot reach consensus. Indeed, the region can reach and set up a regional consensus without the need of non-regional parties.  They say, where there is a will, there is a way. Setting up its own foreign policy priorities is important and a must.

Perhaps it is time that each of the four SEED countries appointed envoys to work on the foreign relations priorities of the Horn of Africa States. They could be organizing meetings among themselves, preparing agendas and studies and advising their foreign ministry bosses on the matter. This would underscore the commitment of the leaders towards addressing the problems of the region on many fronts, be it domestic, foreign, economic or financial and environmental, on their own and without the need to lean on foreign parties.

The region’s leaders should not take their populations as stupid and careless as they make them appear to be. They know when a leader is a lost cause and when a leader is good for his country, people and region.

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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