The Horn Of Africa States: Daring To Dream Of An Integrated Region – OpEd

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Let me say that when I first thought of an integrated Horn of Africa states region, my first write up on the matter did stir up controversy. It was, indeed, daring and far fetched and skepticism about the project was raised and still remains today in many circles of the Horn of Africa political elite or its pseudo-intellectual citizenry.

It, indeed, is not an easy matter, but I also remember, I had the same feeling and reactions when I first started presenting the setting up of a community university in Somalia long ago, in 1987. Many of my colleagues or those with whom I discussed the matter showered on me comments about the impossibility of such a venture. The regime of Mohamed Siyad Barre in Somalia was still in place, but troubles were brewing, and the regime appeared, at least, to me at the time, that it was not standing on solid ground. I thought that it was, perhaps, time to set up an institution of higher learning in my hometown of Borama, in the Awdal region, far Northwest of Somalia, and inheritor of the old Adal Sultanate, a name which was miss-represented by the Arabs of old as “The Just Sultanate or Adal.” But it had a different meaning in the Somali language. It means the lands of the “AW” or priests. Awdal. Indeed stood for “The land of the Priests” and the name, at some time in the old histories, was misspelled as the “Avalite.” Reading the Periplus of the Red Sea, one could draw some other information related to Awdal or “Adal” as some prefer to call it today.

The country of the Somali or the name of Somalia itself now is identified with despair, clan, tribe, corruption, political wilderness, failed state and other nomenclature, but at the time, when I was thinking and propounding on the project of Amoud University, I was perhaps, a bit naïve, but persistence and drive paid off and we eventually succeeded in setting it and it became a brand name in Somalia’s educational institutions. It looked impossible, at the time, but issues that are good for a community, or country or region and, indeed, for people in general, always succeed and thrive. 

The Horn of Africa States is no different for, although many see it as an impossible task or believe that the Habasha and the Somali can never reconcile, for me, this is a misreading of history and life in general. The countries that comprise the Horn of Africa States are not actually a creation of the those who claim they belong to. The Somalis did not create Somalia, although by joining the ex-British Somaliland Protectorate and the Ex-Italian-administered UN Trust Territory of Somalia, it looks, indeed, that it is a creation of Somalis, but those regions were originally created by Europeans and so were Eritrea and Djibouti and by default Ethiopia. 

Dreaming of reversing the process started by the Europeans a century and half ago, when they came to the region, does not mean that Ethiopia as sovereign country, would disappear or for that matter Somalia or Eritrea and Djibouti. Installing peace and protecting the security of the region together, opening up markets and integrating the economic paradigms of the region, easing of travel and the movement of goods and services within the region, and other collaborative works are not bad things for any of the countries. I am sure, many of my sceptical friends on the subject are not happy either at the shameful ways the region or the member countries of the region are described in African, Arab, European and world circles – the beggar nations of the Horn of Africa. I know some bristle with indignation when the region is considered as the failed region or the failed state or the hungry region or the starving people. The region feels pride in its old history and those thousands of years and being the cradle of humanity or many say that the region is not how it is described. The region can only change itself. Others will not change it or transform it. It is the responsibility of the political elite and the leadership, both ruling and the opposition, and the learned and the youth, both menfolk and womenfolk, to change it. 

It cannot stay attached to fake nationalisms and fake claims and fake tribes mostly exploited by the worst of the people, for their own personal gains. When did any tribe add value to all its community members? It only benefits the incompetent, who has no other way to compete to reach up to the higher pedestals of governance. No wonder the governance of the region appears to be a failed proposition and hence the names, the failed states or the hungry Horn of Africa States.

It is through integration, that the region would overcome many of its seemingly unsurmountable problems, such as the tribal divisions it has, the clan perspectives of the tribes, all the obstacles that impede the flow of goods and services and even the movement of people within the region. It is known that the Horn of Africa States is considered by many as one of the poorest regions of the world. But is this really the case?

The Horn of Africa States owns an important geostrategic location, which by itself, makes the region potentially rich and it has a significant maritime economic exploitation zone, vast agricultural lands, plenty of water and rivers, both for irrigation and energy, mineral resources including one of the potentially largest hydrocarbon reserves and, of course, a large youthful population which represent a large market.

The Horn of Africa states would need to develop its economic pie through the exploitation of all these resources through cooperation in trade and other domestic rules and regulations, developing an integrated ICT, transport and energy infrastructures using, for example, the potentialities of the GERD and others in the future, setting up macroeconomic and financial policies together, and indeed, developing other social services together in health and education, sports and others. Through collaboration and working together the member countries will achieve efficiencies and lower costs, better benefits for each country and profiting from non-economic benefits such as peace and security. 

It is clear that other countries and regions would prefer to keep it divided as it is through the promotion of fake nationalist stands, pulling countries of the region apart and enticing some through promises of cooperation and bilateral poisoned agreements, playing on many minor differences any region could have such as priorities, connectivity gaps, adequate complementarity issues and others. They would probably whisper on the ears of some of the unsuspecting regional leaders about the advantages of one country as opposed to his/her country over one or another of the member countries and, perhaps, perceived but not real inequalities.

It is through cooperation that the region would collect the necessary data to prepare for the future and in particular with respect to climate change challenges, economic challenges, infrastructure challenges and in essence food security challenges, if the region has to move forward in the path towards socio-economic development and moving away from the despair of poverty, failed status, civil conflicts, political blindness and corrupt tribal instincts. In the Horn of Africa, it is said that there are no better witnesses than one’s own eyes. Perhaps it is time the leaders of the region looked in the eye at their responsibilities and the expectations of their region and people.

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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