The Horn Of Africa States: Fears About New Bloc – OpEd


First, defining the Horn of Africa is crucial in this analysis. It is the Horn of Africa, the region that shoots out of Africa in the East towards the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Somali Sea and the Northern Indian Ocean in the form of a horn.

It contains four countries namely Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, together the SEED countries. It does not include Kenya, or Uganda or South Sudan, which belong to the East Africa Community, but now could be called the Central Africa Community as it has adopted the DR Congo as a member. It also does not include Sudan, as it is part of Northeast Africa and is related more to Egypt than to the actual Horn of Africa States.

Second, the region or the SEED countries can be blocked together as they have so many things in common. They together have a long history dating back to the advent of humankind, the same weather, the same people, although languages may differ, but generally the region is rooted in its Cushitic essence. There are, of course other populations in the region, but the general population belong largely to one ethnic background.

The first fear, therefore is based on the fact that it occupies a vast territory of some two million square km and enjoys a large population of one hundred and sixty million people, most of them from the same ethnic stock. An organized region with all these advantages, would naturally appear a risk to those who currently take advantage of its disturbed governance.

The second fear is related to it being the source of the Blue Nile, which provides fresh water to countries like Sudan and Egypt, and particularly the latter which considers the Nile a national security issue and hence important for its survival. This causes the two countries to conspire against the region, all the time, sometimes using the Arab League and others only the Gulf Co-operation Council countries and sometimes the international community. It was why institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and even the African Development Bank refused to finance the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or the GERD. It had to be financed locally from the region, and now they are against the filling of the Dam.

The third fear is again related to the location of the region. It lies astride one of the most important seaways of the world, particularly since the opening of the Suez Canal, which shortened the distance between the United Kingdom and the then jewel of the British Empire, India, by some 40% both in travel time and costs. It is now even more important because it carries about eleven per cent of the oil and gas exported to Europe and the Americas and some ten percent of global trade. The waterway passes through the waters of the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandeb Straits, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Sea and the Northern Indian Ocean and here is why it is again important because a large part of the trade that goes to Southern Africa also passes through the waters of the Horn of Africa States in the Indian Ocean. An equally important element in the location of the region is related to the aviation world, for the region is almost located in the centre of air travel between Europe and Australasia.

The fourth fear is related to the neighboring countries of the region who include themselves in the Horn of Africa, when they are not. One often encounters the Greater Horn of Africa, which is not actually a region that exists but which is put forward to include countries like Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan and even Uganda into the formula, to extract some assistance from the donor world. Actually the Horn of Africa States does not need a lot of assistance for it can feed itself, if it was left alone. But wars and man-made famines usually assisted by these countries and their backers add onto the problems of the region, which does not give a chance to the region to breathe and handle its own affairs, more logically and professionally. The region is not without knowledge or good people or the relevant technologies. They were able to preserve meat or butter without refrigeration and store grains for years in underground silos long before many of the civilized people of today. They still do when they are left alone.

There is also the sixth fear of many of the countries of the East Africa Community and more particularly Kenya and Uganda, who fear being alienated and their securities undermined. Other regional blocks such as the East Africa Community or the Central Africa and the Great Lakes Community have their own security architecture. This should not be at the expense of other regions such the formation of a new Horn of Africa States regional block. Definitely, the formation of a new block would change the current architecture of the region, but there is no reason why they could not live together and make arrangements together for each to support the other. 

Perhaps the most significant of the fears against a regional block of the Horn of Africa States is the fear that it would undermine the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), an organization which puts together countries that share little with each other. IGAD consists of the countries of the Horn of Africa States and other countries that mostly belong to the East Africa Community. One cannot be loyal to two regional organizations that have differing goals, values and missions, which demonstrates why this organization, despite being around for decades, has failed. It is a dysfunctional organization that has only consultative but no effective powers. There is no need for its existence, but its staff would definitely oppose to its dismantling although it does not serve any purpose. It is an NGO financed by Europe, which does not need to be in the way of a Horn of Africa States regional block.

The last fear comes from those who believe in the fake nationalisms of the past. If they were truly patriotic and nationalistic, they could have settled the misgovernance of the region long ago. But is known that they are clans and tribalistic, loyal to their small clans and tribes rather than to anyone else. But they still pose a threat to the formation of a Horn of Africa States region. They may be complimented by military men whose colleagues passed away in the wrong wars among the countries of the region.

But the Horn of Africa States is in progress and will see the light of day in the not too distant 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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