The Horn Of Africa States: The Dilemma Of The Region – OpEd


Abhijit Naskar, a celebrated Neuroscientist on diplomacy and war and peace once said, “How come we can invent better ways to kill each other, but not one to preserve peace!” The Horn of Africa States is in a dilemma. It has to make a choice between peaceful development and hence economic, social and political growth or get trapped in its traditional cycles of violence, conflicts and troubles.

The first choice, obviously, would make the region safe for investments from across the globe when one considers its geostrategic location, its beautiful blue seas, its high mountains, its rich agricultural lands which have fed mankind from its cradle, and its sub-soil wealth. The second choice only portends death and destruction, violence and making the youth of the region become fodder for the fires lit by its politicians.

The world has spoken loudly and clearly. It has condemned the actions of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed with respect to Somalia and its territorial integrity and unity. He was told to back off. Whether he would listen or not, remains to be seen but what is, no doubt, clear is that such actions, if he proceeds with, can only lead to the breakup of the Ethiopia itself, instead of Somalia. Jaime Watt, a columnist for Toronto Star, wrote on Sunday, March 4, 2018, that “Politics is a heady brew of ambitious and driven politicians, who are in turn supported by ambitious and driven staff.” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appears to be a driven man who is overwhelmed by the job he has been pushed to deliver and unable to handle it. Perhaps, it is time he handed over the job to a more responsible and more patient politician. He cannot continue on war footing all the time both inside and outside his country and he cannot aim at unachievable feats. He cannot change the borders of Ethiopia in this 21st century, unless he plans to break it up into pieces, and that is not good neither for Ethiopia nor for the region. What happened to the good intentions of the man who came in 2018 and the peace initiatives he embarked on? Where did he get the idea that Ethiopia should have an outlet to the sea by force or by any other means?

Hasn’t he been told that bigger countries by size such as Kazakhstan, Mongolia and other equally large countries like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Chad, Mali and other smaller but economically larger countries like Switzerland or Liechtenstein, do not have direct outlets to a sea? Even Uganda, where he was yesterday (January 19th, 2024) in the Non-Aligned Movement Conference does have access to a sea only through Kenya and Tanzania. Ethiopia, a country which only came to being in 1932 never had access to a sea except for a brief period when Eritrea was dubiously integrated with it and when Eritrea recovered its independence, Ethiopia had to shrink to its old self. There is nothing wrong with that. Ethiopia can, however, have access to a sea outlet through the neighboring littoral countries through peaceful processes and agreements. It has never been denied, except perhaps Somalia with which it had territorial disputes and violent past, which is no longer on the table.

The region already faces other perils, including ethno-based conflicts in Ethiopia such as the Amhara, the Oromo and the Tigray wars and the Al Shabaab war in Somalia, coupled by the political folies of Somalia which is currently structured into a federal infrastructure with incomplete demarcations with respect to borders, authorities, powers and responsibilities, and indeed, constitution. The region also hosts one of the hermetic states of the world, Eritrea, which has almost sealed itself of the rest of the world and which currently has political disputes with two of the region’s countries namely Djibouti and Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa States region is an attractive region for many reasons, should it present itself in a different picture than it currently shows, thanks to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The region can be attractive for investments, tourists and general trade, taking into consideration its considerable population and geostrategic location and natural resources including its geostrategic location. The AKF Travel wonders why many people do not visit the region for it offers “big adventures, incredible landscapes, and friendly people. Ancient rock art, world class diving, lunar like salt lakes, and vestiges of colonial empires await those who make the journey.” Why does it continue its endless civic struggles, ethnic-based and even inter-state conflicts?

The region should have had a regional platform to address the current issues of the region and those that may come forth in the future. There are many reasons for which the countries of the region should be working together instead of against each other as is currently the case and these include among others their geographical proximity, the closeness of their populations, their social and cultural affinities, and indeed, the region’s extremely important geostrategic location. Grieco JM (1997) – Systemic sources of variation in regional institutionalization in Western Europe, East Asia, and the Americas. In: Milner HV and Mansfield ED (eds) The Political Economy of Regionalism. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 164–187, and Söderbaum F (2004) – Modes of regional governance in Africa: neoliberalism, sovereignty boosting, and shadow networks. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations 10(4): 419–436, and others all view that countries fair better when they cooperate and live together in peace, good neighborliness, and assured security.

Unfortunately, some of the countries of the region, indeed, think that they have the support of some other countries. Such is Ethiopia, which wrongly believes, of course, that an emirate in the Gulf would come to its aid. They do not see it as being used as a pawn as part of the latter’s attempts to contain the development of the ports of those countries along the geostrategic Red Sea – India Ocean waterway, which connects to the Suez Canal. Both Eritrea and Djibouti expelled that emirate from their ports and, of course, the emirate is mad at those countries. Somalia appears chaotic on the surface, which has perhaps misled Abiy’s Administration and the emirate to launch on a not-well-thought-of path. However, Somali nationalism is as strong as always and remains undiminished. It will defend its turf.

Ethiopia should probably rethink and reassess the wrong positions it has recently taken both internally and externally and hence be more realistic with respect to both. Nothing is achievable through force. The first step should be to reverse its positions with respect to Somalia. In the second step, it must work to settle its internal strives through intentioned peaceful means, and in the third step, it should help raise a new platform for the region with the other three countries of the region – The Horn of Africa States region. The region (the lands and seas of the Seed countries) has sufficient resources, population and a geostrategic location that, if worked well, would contribute to the development and growth of the region.

The region’s countries should know that size is not a determinant of success. Ingenuity, hard work and collaboration lead to success. The big size and population of the region can only be useful if deployed with ingenuity and great care. The core interest of the region is to develop so that its populations no longer depend on others for their sustenance as is the case today.

We hope countries of the region and more particularly Ethiopia will realize that peace and stability in the region requires close cooperation among the countries of the region, which should have a code of conduct with respect to dealing with non-regional parties, who may have interest in the region. Stability, Peace, friendship and close collaboration and cooperation among the countries of the region are the best assurances for an economic, social and political growth of the region and hence a response for the dilemma of the region.

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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