The Horn Of Africa States: The Past, The Present And The Future – OpEd


The Horn of Africa States region needs to put its house in order to create together a regional home where the people of the region all enjoy the bounties of the region and not its demons and evils. The Horn of Africa States is a region or a collective which produced in the past and can produce in the future a social cohesion that would have its say in the world. It is this togetherness that I believe would be the harbinger of the end of the turmoil, hunger, and starvation, civil strives and evil foreign hands that have defined the region in these past decades.

The Horn of Africa States is the easternmost region of Africa that jutes into the Indian Ocean. It is shaped like a horn and hence the name, and it consists of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, often referred to as the SEED countries. It is a region which has over the past hundred and something years and especially during the last half of the twentieth century witnessed some of the most intense confrontations between the protagonists of the cold war. It is a region which was and still is subjected to foreign interferences and masses of evil funds and weapons coming into the region from the competing warring groups beyond the region that play their dirty games in the lands of the pure and innocent and unsuspecting Horn of Africa States. The fact that its neighbor, the Arabian Peninsula, was and still is the source of vast volumes of oil and gas, important for the powers that be in the world, added onto the competition over the region, and its woes, without regard to the disastrous effects it was having on the populations of the region.

In these present times, the region is politically violent and hence a playground for many protagonists to continue their proxy wars. The region harbours the navies of the United States, France, Germany, Spain (generally NATO) and China and those of others aligned with one or the other of the main protagonists, the United States and China. Political developments in the region over the past three decades, mostly indicate the removal of the adversarial confrontations between Ethiopia and Somalia, where the peoples of the two countries were segregated from each other for decades and hence did not know each other earlier despite their proximity to each other or the sharing of long borders. The last three decades have exposed the two populations to each other either in the region or outside the region. The populations, which politicians used to instigate against each other, found out that they were not really that different from each other, and that they could live together in peace.

Another major political development in the region involved the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia, and subsequent wars and strives between the two sides and eventual reconciliation, which has calmed that front. Somalia’s internal governance also collapsed, and it took years to reconstitute a semblance of an emerging governance structure borrowed from Ethiopia in the form of a federation. The system is still far from complete but improving and going through the motions of growth.

The military-industrial security interest of the United States of America and its allies and China’s economic and trade relations in the region and its goal of making the region its gateway into the heart of Africa remain one of the undisputed troubles of the Horn of Africa States. Two other major issues spill over into the region, and both are regional. The first issue is the Yemeni war which is a proxy war between Iran and the Gulf Co-operation Council countries, which affects the Horn of Africa States region. One must note that the region lies just across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and hence the knock-on effect of such conflict remains always a threat on the region.  It is hoped that the recent and growing closer relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and hence the GCC countries and Iran through the mediation of China, may finally stop the Yemen war and reduce it to manageable proportions. 

The second issue is the conflict over the waters of the Nile and the region’s need to harness its waters for energy. The region is marked as the source of most of the fresh water that goes to Northeast Africa (Sudan and Egypt) in the form of the Blue Nile. The region also overlooks the west side of the south of the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandab Straits and the Gulf od Aden, which all are important for the functioning of the Suez Canal, a major seaway for international shipping both for trade and security. It is then a region that has significant importance for many a nation, not only those in the vicinity of the region but also far off countries. The region’s past, present and future is linked and marked by its relations with the Arab world, the African world, the European world, the Non-Arab Asiatic world, and the great powers. This was and still is the case throughout history.

The region is currently on an inflection point where old internal antagonisms are slowly but surely being removed. This is anthemic to the foreign forces and malicious outsiders who were using the internal regional conflicts to justify their presence and hence their interferences in the region’s affairs and many are burning midnight lambs on how to counter the positive moves of the region. It is also anthemic to the old regional players from the past, relics of the old confrontational attitudes that made the region a laughingstock of the world. It was those old senseless politicians who helped the foreigners into the region in the first place.

The Horn of Africa States remains one of the most volatile region of the continent, if not the most. Probably only the Sahel region in West Africa seconds it. Interstate and Intrastate conflicts have been the pain of the region, and they continue to do so to date. It is where arms merchants and human traffickers and terrorists and pirates are playing most havoc in the continent. This is, in the main, why the region has to co-operate and integrate economically and politically to face the challenges at its front door. It is where the racial homogeneity of the region, common cultural and historical affinities of the region, the security interests and the growth of the region’s economy all need to be converted into a joint effort and not kept in the traditional failed nation-state format of the past.  

The internal strives will continue to affect the region, no doubt, and can only be removed through managing the external interests, which use them to create distrust among the people of the region. Colonial Europe created the nation-state format to share the region among themselves and had nothing to do with the set up of the region in its historical context of the highlands and the lowlands, which always worked together most of the times, except on rare occasions.

The Horn of Africa States, as a regional block, will stabilize the region and this would lead it to a more peaceful approach to solving regional internal disputes. Interstate conflicts will lessen, as they would not find shelter in neighboring countries and an environment of working together to address the mainly ethno-tribal based conflicts will be worked out more easily. This would address the internal and/or domestic security matters. Conflicts among the interstate conflicts of the region will be addressed in a common forum or platform, and this would strengthen the economic ties of the region, which today deal as separate entities with outsiders. This would strengthen not only the negotiation ploys of the region but the pricing of commodities and services in the region, both for imports and exports. 

A significant intra-regional trade will thrive, and the economy of the region will consequently grow together and hence jobs and employment for the youthful population of the region, would also grow. The region will curtail the loss of its youth to the vagaries of migration and to other countries. The region will return to its original setup of the highlands and the lowlands, where the lowlands will provide generally the entry and exit points of the production of the highlands and their imports with ease. The tourism industry will rise and in particular the coastal belt which will provide spatial arena for visitors from cold climes and hence onward travel to the highlands.

Transportation in the region in the form of rail, road, and air, and eventually marine will improve as the growing hundred and fifty-seven million of the region discover the possibilities of travel within the region with ease. The contraband business which today marks the nature of internal trade in the region will disappear and would add onto the growth of the economy of the region.

The Horn of Africa States, as a regional block, will eliminate the need for institutions like the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), which also involves many other countries that belong to other regional blocks such as the East Africa Community and the Sudanese Egyptian Alliance. Naturally, some countries who currently sway a lot of influence in the region will lose some the pillars of their strategies, but they would learn to live with it.

The Horn of Africa States regional block should not be formed in the traditional format of most African regional blocks, which expect foreigners to finance them, including the main African body, the African Union in Addis Ababa. The Horn of Africa States should be a self-financing institution, where its funds should be part of the budgets of the individual countries, hence ensuring its independence of foreign interferences through aid and financial assistance.

The general format of the infrastructure of the Horn of Africa States would have to be along the lines of the European Union but adopted for local regional needs. Where there is a good structure, one should borrow it and the region should not shy away from tested workable structures. The region should be constructed in the following general format:

  • There should be a regional parliament. 
  • There should be a regional executive body. 
  • There should be a court of justice. 
  • There should be a Horn African States council.
  • There should be a Horn African States audit.

The general infrastructure should be aiming to setting up:

  • A common market involving free movement of goods and services, capital, and people.
  • A common security and foreign policy including strengthening the security of the member states and the region in general, protecting the common values of the region, adherence to the UN rules and regulations, promotion of democracy and the rule of law. 
  • A common justice and domestic policy involving a common treaty involving the basic infrastructure of the constitutions of the member states in such areas as civil and criminal law, police co-operation, and information exchange.

The future should be developed differently from the past or even present, which the region stunted and at the butt of nations. The old minds who helped maintain the status quo of the region have no place in the future of the region. They should rest and let the region move forward with a better infrastructure that serves the population of the region in a better format. Change is inevitable, even if a separate Horn of Africa States region is not created, the member countries may join other regions such as the EAC or the Sudano-Egyptian potential alliance. The Horn of Africa States as a regional block remains the most viable and/or feasible proposition.

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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