The Horn Of Africa States: Critical Analysis Of The Region’s Leadership


The Horn of Africa States comprises the easternmost region of Africa. It consists of the SEED countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, a region which could be the envy of many another region, if, indeed, it was a functional region.

The region is endowed with all the atouts of a fully viable regionally integrated economic system involving not only a large youthful human capital, a rich and long coastal belt, a vast agricultural landscape, mountains, rivers, lakes and plateaus, and even deserts. It enjoys a variety of different climates from hot and dry deserts to temperate climes, a rich and plentiful sub-soil and above soil wealth. Yet the region remains at the butt of nations and other regions, and is always a recipient of international aid, when it should be part of the doner community.

It is often noted that leaders play pivotal roles in the life of nations and those who break and fail to uphold the fundamental principles of the cohesion of society and its moral values and ideals contribute to the failure of those nations. In this respect, one must look at the Horn of Africa States and the four nations therein, which remain as poor as they are, as distraught as any nation could be, as volatile and violent as they are, and as disparate as any region could be, especially when there is not much really different in the composition of their peoples.

The region is mostly inhabited by a population of the same stock, the Cushitic peoples, speaking Cushitic languages. There are also Semitic-speaking populations and Nilotic groups. In general, these populations have lived together for millennia, adopting Islam and Christianity as their main religions. They have co-habited the region for thousands of years, which years were mostly peaceful, and hence successful except for short intermittent intervals.

The region enjoys a long coastal belt of some 4,700 km and is the source of many rivers such as the Blue Nile which provides fresh water to Northeast Africa, the Shabelle and the Jubba rivers which provide waters to the Indian Ocean plains of the region and the Omo river basin which provides to Southern parts of the region. The region is almost equally divided in half by the Great Africa Rift Valley, which also contains many small lakes. It could have a vast blue economy.

It is further endowed, so many reports indicate, with huge hydrocarbon reserves both onshore and offshore, which could provide substantial wealth to the region. The region is also endowed with vast amounts of other minerals such as iron ore, copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, chrome, uranium, molybdenum, lithium and others that would, if properly exploited, also create more wealth for the region.

Discussions with the general population of the region indicate that the people of the region do not look stupid, nor do they like wars or unnecessary civic strives. Most of the population of the region prefer peace and stability and decent lives. Yet the region appears to be always on the boiling point of some civil war or other difficulties. A closer look at the region reveals that the prevailing infrastructures for communication and collection of taxes, or provision of services, and distribution of public goods, are all based on force and not on general acceptance or will of the populations governed.  It is where the governance of the region breaks down for there is no peaceful communication between the governors and governed in the region. The Governing group most often believes they have God-given rights to be doing whatever they want or wish without consulting its subjects. It is where things go wrong in the Horn of Africa States region, where one finds leaders that have been there for decades often monopolizing the resources of the nations they govern.

At the regional level, the leaders of the region do not consult each other and are often antagonistic to each other, let alone sitting down together to address common approaches to common problems such as the recurring droughts and famines, flare ups of civil strives and civil wars, foreign interventions in one or the other of the region’s member countries and many more issues. 

Many of the citizens of the region are on the belief that their leaders would do good and that they would feel the natural obligation to serve the people and country but are most often disappointed. They often cross the lines and act and behave in ways that lead the region to ruin and trouble as it currently suffers from. Around the region, other regions are gathering themselves into cohesive units that work together, collaborate and coalesce, while the Horn of Africa States region seems to be breaking apart with some threatening others over their seas and ports, while others seem to be funding rebels in other’s countries. It is a most unfortunate region where the leaders fail to see the common good, the common approaches and the common benefits of the region, and only see the evil in the other (s), to the extent that some of the countries bring in those who would destabilize their neighbors, not knowing that fires set in a neighboring house could come to burn them as well.

In the Horn of Africa States region, there appears to be no accountability of the leadership, no guardrails and, indeed, no limits to the powers of leadership except perhaps for elections every so often, which are tainted anyway.  Somalia, a member of the Horn of Africa States regional countries broke the record in its last election process which lasted for almost two years. A further marker of the region’s leadership remains to be that they seem to believe that they can reach their agendas and/or interests through violence and wars. As noted earlier, the regional leaders do not consult each other, do not work together in putting out the fires in each other’s countries and so far, have not attempted to create a regional unit over the past several years. There were attempts to do so, some three years ago, but that has flickered out without any tangible results.

The Horn of Africa States region, in fact, needs a strong regional institution that manages conflicts in the region, including bringing closer together the countries of the region towards common regional goals and interests. International interventions have so far only created more chaos in each of the countries of the region and it is perhaps high time the countries of the region saw it differently that their best interest lies in working together on common regional problems, and on all economic, political, and social fronts. And who would lead such a venture? It should be the leaders of the SEED countries, who at present all seem to be their own men, alone and isolated from their neighbors. The younger generation of the region find themselves frustrated and unable to move their leaders forward from their current positions of single-state actions that do not take into consideration the regional effects their actions could imply.

It is not clear to the leaders of the region that the external actors in the region including the United Nations, the European Union, the Chinese, the United States and others are in the region only for their interests and not for the betterment of the region despite their claims otherwise. Only the leadership of the region working together can actually find solutions for the crises and conflicts of the region, and prod the region in the path of sustainable development, be it human capital, economic and indeed, resource development.

Playing to the tunes of nationalism and tribal/ethnic advancement would change the region’s fate and status much. Commitment is required on the part of the region’s leadership to improve the lot of the region and actual progress. Efficient and energetic leadership, employing efficient governance infrastructures, following the rule of law with the support of civic societies would make changes to the dilemmas of the region, which appear to have been the same, year in year out, over the past three or four decades. There is, indeed, a need for leadership that can drive changes in the region. Why shouldn’t the current leaders take the mantle and lead for the betterment of the region, instead of concentrating on the many civic flare up designed to keep them busy.

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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