The Horn Of Africa States: Conflict, Crises, And Capitalism – OpEd


It is quite clear that there is an intense almost cut-throat competition for the Horn of Africa States region lately, involving major, middle and even regional powers. This is no longer ideological as was in the past between capitalism and communism but economic and access to resource competition. The world of communism and socialism is no longer a factor but, in its place, came rising new powers versus old powers, one in search of further growth and the other striving to maintain the status quo. But there is only one constancy in life and that is that the world works in cycles where one may be on a rising gradient and another on a declining slope, where one may be economically strong and another one economically weak. There is always this evolving changes in the political, economic and social fabric of nations and regions.

In Africa there was always competition over its resources although such competitions were more in some regions as opposed to others. The Horn of Africa States region generally stayed under the radar, although its geopolitical situation was always a major factor that was attractive to the powers that be in the world. The competitions among nations from the most powerful to the weakest always involved alliances and this continues to this day. In the past there was the NATO group of nations versus the Warsaw Pact and the Non-aligned Movement in between. Today it is the West versus the East with many countries staying in the undefined middle although a new force seems to be emerging as represented by the BRICS Plus grouping.

They compete over resources and economy in general, making competition as the only constant, although the challenges and possibilities remain mixed and intertwined as always. For the Horn of Africa States region, there is always the constancy of it being a dependent region, always on the lookout for humanitarian aid because of both man-made and natural droughts, continuing tribal/clan conflicts and the poverty of its intellectual people to come up with solutions for the continuing and endless problems of the region.

Indeed, the leaders, the educated and those moneyed people of the region have all become part and parcel of the conflicts where one appeals to one’s ethnicity instead of to the nation and the rule of law. In fact, the rule of law have been twisted by the tribalist/clannish leaders to serve part of the populations as opposed to the rest of the nation. This made the Horn of Africa States a weakling and a frail region over which both major and regional powers compete for its resources, including its geostrategic location.

The countries involved in the region from far and near include among others the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Iran, and Türkiye in the vicinity in addition to the major powers including the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, India, and others. They all pursue their interests and how much they help is evident from the never-changing circumstances of the region, involving not only continuing conflicts, food shortages, mass migrations, terrorism, with piracy flaring up from time to time.

The conflicts over the past three decades were generally confined to Somalia but has now expanded to Ethiopia, which is currently under a regime that is barely in control of the country but which still wages constant undermining of its neighbors including Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, and Eritrea, the very countries it should have cooperated with and created an alliance with in the face of the growing competition over the resources of the region. It is not clear how the competition over the region would result in any gains, but then, we must note the same troubles have been going in the DR Congo and other African regions for so long in similar circumstances. The wealth of the region remains being stolen!

The Horn of Africa States region is strategically located in one of the significant pathways for global trade, the Suez Canal/Indian ocean waterway and hence poses a serious competitive edge over the Gulf state of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has, indeed, developed a world-class port infrastructure which serves the world’s  shipping lines and hence does not like to see the ports of the Horn of Africa develop let alone on an equal footing, knowing that the ports of the Horn of Africa States region have an edge over the ports of the UAE, being on a straight line across the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. No wonder, the UAE and many other helping countries are working on creating a new corridor called the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC), which involves the United States, India, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. It is not clear how the current Palestinian/Israeli war would impact IMEC.

The African Union (AU) which is the main African body bringing together Africa’s 54 countries with its headquarters in the region currently enlist five sub-regions in the continent, The Northern Western, Central, Southern and East African countries. However, currently, they are formed into new groupings such as the East Africa Community which includes not only East African countries but also Central Africa countries or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which includes East African Community countries and other Horn of Africa countries.

The security of the region is not fully in the hands of the region and involves the militaries of other countries from beyond Africa such as Türkiye, the United States, France, the United Arab Emirates, and others, which makes a natural development of the region almost an impossible task. On the contrary, the continuing conflicts would appear to being a function of the presence of these foreign forces in the region. How can the region maintain its peace and stability in such a scenario? Perhaps, it is time the region revisited itself and each country, at least, rebuilt its professional army with local capabilities and together be able to defend the region’s turf from the many uninvited guests who exert themselves on the region because of the continuing crises. This would, of course, require dedicated nationalist leaders and not the tribal/clan leaders who seem to be the pain of the region at present. The populations of the region certainly deserve better than how their leaders have so far treated them.

Another major catastrophe of the region appears to be the uncontrolled capitalism that have thrived in the region after the collapse of the socialist economies of the military regimes, which collapsed in 1991. The weak governance and the limited rule of law in the region have given rise to private capital which appears to have no bounds, which bribes officialdom, and which maintain private armies. They pay extraordinarily little of taxes for the general good of the countries under which they operate and all their activities, would appear, under the eyes of any law anywhere as those of smugglers and tax evaders.

It is this new breed of capitalists which have risen over the horizon of the region who generate capricious and corrupt leaders and their soldiers. They, indeed, monopolize all commercial, agricultural, manufacturing, services, and , indeed, livestock business. They control the banking and financial systems, the telecommunications systems, the transportations systems and  almost every conceivable economic activity and do not pay their dues to the government but rather bribe officialdom. This unhindered capitalist class which have risen lately are more dangerous for the countries than any foreign enemy and they need to be brought back to abide by the rules of the countries of the region, pay their dues to continue their business. This would enable the governments not to be dependent on others or make their countries these freak and fragile nations that are at the butt of nations.

Every citizen in a country needs to contribute to the economy of the nation and taxes is how each citizen participates whether it is a physical person or a legal person. It is how governments generate its income instead of holding its hands out to beg others just like most of the leaders of the region seem to be doing now.

In many African economies, similar activities take place where violence have enabled others to take advantage of the mineral resources of the continent. The same thing will happen in the Horn of Africa States should the people and leaders of the region not address these matters sooner than later. It may already be happening, noting the reported presence of many foreign firms in the Halane Camp in Mogadishu.

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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