And the Horn of Africa States remains unchanged. It is still strategically located and the competitors for the region’s location and its resources still remain the same. We have the West still more belligerent than ever, and we have the East trying to find its way into the upper echelons of the world. One wants to keep the stats quo, and this is the West while the other wants to change it and definitely that is the East and, in the process, when two elephants fight only the grass gets trampled. The grass at present includes poor Ukraine and to some extent the Horn of Africa States and others.
The Horn of Africa States presents itself as varied and as divided as it could ever be and this gives, as was always the case with weaker nations, the chance to foreign parties, such as the West and East represent, to play their proxy wars in the lands of the Horn of Africa States as well as in its seas. No wonder, the conflicts continue, and the famines and droughts play havoc on the people and animal life in the region. Hunger continues and the region continues to extend its arms, for help, to those same forces who keep it that way.
What do they want from the Horn of Africa States? For one it was always and still is at the crossroads of trade and commerce between Europe and Asia and between Arabia and Africa. For another, it is the gateway to ships passing through the Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean today, and vice versa, and still for another, it is the source of most of the fresh water used by the Northeast African countries of Sudan and Egypt – countries that are as important for the East and West powers that compete over the control of life and nations in the world. The Horn of Africa States had empires in the past which extended to South Asia, as far South as South India and it had empires that ruled over parts of Arabia for long times. Indeed, the region was not as begging a region as it is today. Both Islam a Christianity came to the region in their early days, and both have adherents that live together in harmony except for brief periods in the past.
It is only since the appearance of Europeans in the region over the past hundred something years that the region has splintered into almost irreconcilable parts both within the nation-states and among the nation states created by colonial Europe. Fake nationalisms and fake adherences to ethnic groups have been the main causes of the chaos and havoc that have befallen the region. Even today terror, imported from outside both religious and otherwise, is raising hell in the region. The Horn of Africa states like the grass between two fighting bulls keeps being trampled upon.
But shouldn’t these outsider forces pay heed to this region, which historically is not conquerable? The region falls and rises from the ashes like a phoenix. It lies in a strategic space, where those who ignore it, treat it with malice, or manipulate it, always pay a heavy price. The region today hosts the navies and forces of many a great nation including but not limited to the United States and China.
The Western powers cloak their interests through claimed support for democracy, good governance, and human rights, but the people of the region are not that dump to be taken by unsubstantiated claims. They know and the West should know that the people of the Horn of Africa States know. The people of the region also know that the West does not want the presence of the East in the region. They simply forget or ignore the fact that the region does not belong to them. The East are in the region for their commercial interests and see the region as a gateway into the heart of Africa. They entice the leadership with fancy projects that they still control, but how far would this go. None of their projects create jobs or employment for the local populations and/or sub-contractors. The people of the Horn of Africa are aware of the maneuvers of the East, as well.
It is one of the challenges of the region to balance the wants of these outsider forces that have been playing havoc over the region. We are in the twenty first century and cannot approach the issues at play with the old ways. It is a challenge for the region and the first thing it should realize is that the nation state is no longer a workable proposition to face the challenges coming from the West or East. It can only be confronted through a united and co-operative approach in the form of a block.
It is clear that the West will use all the organs they created in their favor over the past seventy odd years and that they would use humanitarian missions to infiltrate and manipulate the impoverished people of the region. It is on the onus of the leadership of the region to create the right environment of peace and stability so that the people can grow their food in their multitude of farms and look after their animals in peace and hence make no space for manipulating international organs to operate.
It is clear that the powers that be in the world today pay great attention to have resource secure strategies. The leaders of the Horn of Africa States are supposed to assure all the foreigners who use the region as a conduit for their business and commerce that this would not be interrupted in the region, and they should also assure that the waters of the Nile will not be stopped or curtailed. Win-win international contracts can be reached should the region be working as a block and not as individual countries, where chaos and disharmony can continue as has been the case in the past.
The region should be aware that competition over vital resources such as oil and gas, of which the region is potentially rich, is the main reason governments deploy forces outside their own territories. Note the foreign forces in the region at present! Should the region’s leaders be acting in block and unity, such threats would not be as threatening as they are today. The region certainly needs to produce a viable alternative to the past infrastructure, where they can work together and present a unified framework to address its needs vis a vis the others who have interest in the region.
It would perhaps be good to have the outside competitors for the region, prove their willingness to work with the region in ways that can create employment for the youth of the region (some 70% of the population) in the form of productive industries and/or developmental projects. The region not only owns vast agricultural lands but also vast mineral resources, animal life and marine resources, all of which could be utilizable and good for both the investors and the region, provided the investments are done in environmentally safe methodologies.
Perhaps many would read this as idealistic and unattainable. However, one must say that the region has no other alternative. It is stark choices that must be clearly and deliberately made. It has either to work together or continue in the nation-state format, which can be manipulated and used for non-regional interests and hence the trauma of hunger and starvation, famines and droughts, civil strives and ethnic conflicts, and eventual possibilities of total splintering of each country into smaller parts.
*Dr. Suleian Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected]