The Horn Of Africa States: The Effects Of Proposed IMEC – OpEd


Among the outcomes of the recent G20 meeting in India was the thought-provoking proposal for an India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC). This is supposed to connect India to Europe via the Middle East by road and rail. Perhaps, the first mistake of the new proposal is the name used for West Asia.

The colonial name Middle East is still at play and should have been replaced by West Asia and the proposed corridor should have been the India-West Asia-Europe Corridor (IWAC). Nevertheless, it appears to be non-original but just to compete with the China Belt and Road Initiative project and it is reported that it would be backed by the USA, whose G7-backed Build Back Better (BBB) project appears not to have risen above the ground, in other words, to have failed.

The corridor is to use the Arabian Sea and then road and rail through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and through the Mediterranean Sea to Greece (Europe). The corridor appears to have been designed to avoid the Suez Canal, Red Sea, Bab El Mandab, Gulf of Aden, Somali Sea, and Indian Ocean.  A task force or a working group will have to work out the details but unlike the China Belt and Road Initiative, this ambitious project would no doubt face financial issues and other economic realities of the countries involved, which live in differing realities and ideologies. Perhaps, the project has not taken into consideration the new thought processes of some of the West Asian countries, most notably those of Saudi Arabia.

Historically neither the USA, Europe, nor India have any good records in road and rail building beyond their local needs, and the countries the project is supposed to involve have very little in common ideologically. It appears to be just a spite for China, but if this goes off the ground, it would no doubt have less repercussions on the Horn of Africa States region, which overlooks the current corridor where most East-West global trade passes through. The HAS region, despite its geostrategic location, has not utilized it fully. Few of its ports function and it does not have major refueling bunker ports or ship repair yards, and hence, most of its expectations of the corridor were just simple dreams so far. It is perhaps, why the region is constantly in turmoil and involved in acts of violence that appear to have been engineered from beyond the region.

The potential for development of the long maritime coast of the region is enormous. However, the new proposed corridor with the support of major economic partners, would not affect such development, and many in the shipping world discount dire consequences. The benefits of the new corridor other than competing with the Chinese involve a reduction of time and cost of transportation of goods between India and Europe. The point to keep in mind is how much of India’s exports to Europe and visa versa go through the Suez Canal-Indian Ocean corridor and how would this be affected. What are the expectations of growth in this trade? What would be the role of West Asians in the project? Are they just being hoodwinked and used to finance the project, which does not add one iota to their economies or trade?  West Asia is centrally placed and has already access to every major trading region and cheaply at that. West Asia has direct access to Europe, Africa, Asia, and even India. Why would they be financing projects that would only help develop the growth of India’s trade with Europe?

Currently, Egypt is the main loser, which relies heavily on its revenue from the ships transiting the Suez Canal. The West Asian countries should not be helping issues and matters that cause major economic damage to one of their own. The Horn of Africa States would probably lose some potential business but nothing tangible at present. Other than Djibouti, the region does not have major ports serving shipping using the Suez Canal-Indian Ocean corridor. However, in the future, should the region develop more cohesively and collaborate instead of self-destructive competitions within the region, it would be able to build an enormous blue economy involving not only shipping but also ship repairs and refueling, tourism, marine exploitation for both food and other economic projects such as drilling for oil and gas and other minerals.

Even India does not need such a corridor which serves other interests that should not naturally be its concern. However, the hype is now over the fence, and this will continue. It would have very little impact on the Horn of Africa States at present and there should be no panic in this regard. India’s ideological war against the faith of most of the countries the project would pass through should cause it to pause and ponder over the viability and benefits both present and future for such a project.

As a major champion of the global South, India should be looking at such projects with a different prism. The global South is just waking up and efforts to undermine its economic growth should be avoided by its champions. The Horn of Africa States, a not-so-poor but poor region on the west side of the Indian Ocean facing India across the Ocean, would not be affected by the proposed corridor either now or in the future.

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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