The Horn Of Africa States: The Proposition (Part V) – OpEd


Geopolitics generally requires that a country be either strong enough economically, militarily with cohesion of its population and/or seek alliances with countries seeking such strength. Indeed, regional organizations are created to strengthen cooperation and collaboration among member states in a regional setting or for such other higher-level goals.

Such cooperation and/or collaboration may involve political and economic dimensions among the member countries of a regional organization. It is another way of improving foreign relations with respect to non-regional parties collectively in all matters of world affairs. In a nutshell, most countries of the world find themselves in one or another kind of regional, economic and/or military organization and even social organizations, pointing to the need of humankind to associate with each other in the business of survival. Even strong nations create alliances with other countries that compliment them on some other fronts, where they are weak.

This explains why today we have organizations like the European Union, NATO, ASEAN, the African Union, the EAC, the Organization of Turkic States and the multitude of other organizations dealing not only in regional matters but also in world affairs such as the United Nations Organization, and its many subsidiary organizations such as UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, the UNHCR and others.

In a Press Release of January 24th, 2018, President Museveni of Uganda urged members of the East African Legislative Assembly the need for “an effective integration of the continent”, let alone the EAC member states. But he also remarked that the EAC members owned and enjoyed populations that were linked by “culture, language or history” and hence urged fast tracking full integration of the EAC in the form of a federation.

It is this latter comment that needs to be carefully scrutinized. The populations of the EAC share a common culture and this negates any Horn of Africa States region and mostly Somalia whose current administration is seeking to join the EAC. The people of the Somalia and for that matter those of any of the Horn of Africa States region share little with the people of EAST Africa, except perhaps being Africans.

The language spoken in East Africa is Kiswahili which is not spoken in the Horn of Africa States, where Afro-Asiatic languages are spoken, and hence again points that Somalia and for that matter other Horn of Africa States countries would not fare well in such a conglomeration. Somalia wrongly joined the Arab League some years ago and the unfortunate experiences of Somali leaders in summits and conferences of Arab countries, when it comes to communication is quite well known. Going for another organization with the same weakness shows Somalia has not learned much from its experiences in that other organization, the Arab League.

And history is where the two regions of the EAC and the Horn of Africa States also depart. The EAC consists of countries created by Europeans in the nineteenth century, and which obtained independence only during the second half of the twentieth century. On the contrary, the Horn of Africa States enjoys common history dating back to thousands of years including pre-pharaonic times. It enjoyed trade and historical ties with the known world of old including India, China, West Asia and Europe of those days. Somalia and for that matter any of the Horn of Africa States countries have very little in common with the EAC region.

An alliance always requires that parties in such a union would have similar goals, similar structures and should create preparatory frameworks for oncoming new ones. The EAC is itself working to find itself and convince itself on the real need for not only economic integration but also for political integration. The region has worked hard and developed over decades to reach where it is. Such a region has no place for countries like Somalia, which is marked by fragility, civil strives, religious terrorism, foreign interferences, and, indeed, fractured constituency. The government does not even have a modicum of control over the capital let alone the rest of the country.

In the world of today, no country can stay isolated on its own and hence the need for alliances and regional organizations. Countries would need to work with each other and create networks that are mutually beneficial. One of the basic requirements is neighborliness. The Horn of Africa States region includes Ethiopia which has borders with all other member states of the region and Djibouti, which has borders with three of the member states, and Somalia and Eritrea where each has borders with two other states of the region.  Somalia, the country seeking to join the EAC, and which appears to being persuaded by special interests has only one border with Kenya and none with the other members of the EAC region. Obviously, it indicates the need for Somalia to seek a Horn Africa States alliance rather than the EAC. 

Every country needs to seek alliances in order to enhance networking and marketplace and reduce tensions that may lead to wars. Indeed, it is how the European Union was created. The Horn of Africa States has similar histories when it comes to issues of wars, and it needs to lessen repetition of the past where Somalia and Ethiopia and even Eritrea and Ethiopia were at each others’ throats for some years. An alliance of the Horn of Africa States would reduce the cost of harmful activities within the region of the Horn of Africa States. The Horn of Africa States region should not allow Somalia to slip away into unnecessary alliances with others that may not have the interest of the region at heart.

Being geographically close and sharing a deep historical background, the Horn of Africa States region requires a framework where they can work together and collectively face together the region’s problems both domestically and externally. This would allow the region to seek shelter from each other and create larger employment platform for its growing youth population in a larger marketplace. 

Leaders of the region are urged to launch such a project if they need to create for themselves, a place in the pages of history, as leaders who acted boldly and created a new framework for development of the region. They would be recalled for their work to eradicate old prejudices and failures. Indeed, the leaders of the region would have to note that it is within their powers to decide and deal with the challenges and opportunities ahead. They, indeed, carry immense responsibilities towards their people, countries and region, which history and circumstances have thrust upon them. The people of the region expect nothing less than fulfillment of those immense responsibilities.

 The road towards the creation of the Horn of Africa States as a regional block would require hard work, a workplan, continued engagement among the leaders of the region and dedication and sheer willpower of the leaders. They should mobilize the region’s academia, universities and institutions of higher learning and thin tanks where thinkers of the region can put their heads together to mold the most effective infrastructures for the region. These infrastructures would include not only political clubbing of the leaders but conferences/summits and workshops of different sectors of the region’s organizations be they economic, social, educational, health, agricultural and others.

In my brief engagement with the process of Horn of Africa States integration, some twenty years now, I have come across many who abhor the idea and claim that a unity of the Horn of Africa States is impossible. There is some pessimism of sorts and, of course, we have encountered critics and criticisms. It is where there is a need to counter them and achieve a better tomorrow for the region. We see the region as a possibility and as beacon of hope that would raise the region from slumber.   

Survival depends on unity, which provides strength and disperses disunity and differences. The path for the Horn of Africa States can be different from the currently disparate unitary states to become a united front some time in the future. However, even cooperation in addressing collective issues and problems would be a good starter. We urge the leaders of the region not to delay matters any further. 

“Not to unite is bad. Not to Want to Unite is Worse”

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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