The Horn Of Africa States: Complementarity And Cooperation – OpEd


The Horn of Africa States is a region that straddles the West side the great sea lane stretching from the South of the Red Sea through Bab El Mandab, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Sea and into the Indian Ocean. Its importance for the world was always a necessity since times immemorable for it provided the corridor for humankind to move away from Africa to the rest of the world. But lately, its importance draws from two major assets of the region. 

The first is related to the Suez Canal, which when it was opened back in 1869, changed global commerce in ways that was never done since the discovery of the Americas by Europeans in the fifteenth century. The passageway reduced travel from India to Europe by about 40% and fares and transportation costs by about the same percentage. But it caused headaches for the Horn of Africa, for the opening up of the Suez Canal brought in Europe’s competing powers to the region and each claimed a part of the region, bringing new flags to segregate the region from each other. It is how the countries of the region today in the form of the SEED countries, were created. SEED is an acronym for Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Each enjoys and is enormously proud of a flag over which they fought for the most part of their existence and which, therefore, stunted development of the region.

If the wars and struggles stayed only between the SEED countries, they could have been handled but forces beyond the region have instigated conflicts based on superiority of clans within each state and conflicts spread throughout the region based on clans and sub-clans, which has not only destroyed the fabric of the region, but stands in the way to further development, for non of the SEED countries is safe from itself. It is how they were designed in the first place because of the need for global commerce to pass through without the intervention of any of the SEED countries. Each government of the region is directly controlled by forces unknown and acts individually and the regional states never address their common problems collectively.

The second asset is the waters of the Blue Nile, which provides most water to Northeast Africa and the colonial power of the time made agreements with itself (Anglo-Egyptian-Sudan) treaties, whereby it allowed itself the total waters of the Nile without leaving any chance for the source regions of the waters to use the waters for their development as well. And when the United Kingdom left, the Egyptian and Sudanese governments inherited the assets of that great empire which died away almost to extinction in the past decades. Most of its powers were inherited by the United States of America, which now is now the great superpower, which competes with the powers that arose from the East in the names of China and Russia, now the rising India. 

As a result, the Nile waters from the Horn of Africa States, poses another critical asset over which other nations beyond the region compete. We all know the story of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the GERD) and the headaches it is causing for the region. The region cannot and should not exploit it to provide energy to the citizens of the region and financing the project was denied by the international finance, they claimed. It had, therefore, to be financed internally from local sources of the region, and it is going well despite all the obstacles placed in its path.

The region, therefore, faces multi-challenges in addition to natural calamities, although, most calamities are due to man-made problems, including the climate change and the best way to address these matters would be collaboration of the states of the region. They compliment each other and therefore should cooperate with each other.

In the early sixties and seventies, the region had lofty objectives of development and stability and in the case of the Somali, collection of all Somalis under one flag, the Blue white starred flag and in one country. This has caused miseries in the region and wars both within and without Somalia. Ethiopia was not saved from the troubles, either for it was one of the main targets of Somalia’s warring goals. Eritrea, which was absorbed by Ethiopia in the fifties had to go into a long war to extract itself from Ethiopia and so the wars, were mostly engineered from the powers that were, at the time.

However, things have moved, and the populations have come to know each other better and find that they share more than they differ and hence country wars have reached a dead end. The four countries of the region have learned, and this is good, that they can live with each other, work together and develop together. But other forces have come to play havoc in each of the countries and this emanates from the small minds of the region – the tribalistic/animalistic instinct in the social fabric of the society, where some find themselves superior over others and believe that they only could rule or  and some those even want to walk away from the whole and live as secluded clans in smaller enclaves. It is a bad picture and difficult but can be addressed through cooperation and collective management.

The region stands a better chance, indeed, through cooperation and collaboration with each other to face the enemies from within and from without. It is, in this respect, that we continue to propose the creation of a new roadmap for the region, which articulates a viable vision that would steer away the region from the muddy waters of clannism. The poor clansman who is hungry and sick and ignorant cannot be better than the other poor hungry and sick and equally ignorant clansman. If a clan was better than another one, it would have been obvious, and they would have been in the Guinness Book of records or in the superior annals of history or in the vanguard nations of the world today. None of them is and the whole region, counts as one of the poorest in the world which always stretches its hands begging the others.

We know that the international community has deployed misguided policies in the region, and these have been compounded by the region’s own ethno-centric conflagrations, corruption and other dysfunctional forces such as religious extremism and terrorism. This can only be addressed by a collective determination to face these evils off and the complementarity of the Horn of Africa States and their cooperation is the only way to pull out the region from its miseries.  

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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