The Horn Of Africa States: Despite The Chaos, It Is Still Best To Regionalize – OpEd


There was once a time when every country was almost on its own and every country was competing with the other or others but then countries began to group, mostly to face danger or threats from others. Perhaps, the most efficient groupings started with the First World War when many countries coalesced to face off Germany and its allies then.

That Great War as it often duped gave rise to the League of Nations,  the first intergovernmental organization. This organization was headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland and it was designed to make and maintain peace in the world. However, it could not work as was envisaged or expected, as some countries were not even allowed to join, such as the Soviet Union of the time and Germany and others stayed away on their own, such as the United States. It was eventually replaced by the United Nations Organization after the Second World War, which appears to be on its death throes too, as no country except the weak listen to it anymore. Perhaps soon, many countries will be leaving it as some countries did to the old League of Nations.

But groupings of countries gave rise to globalization as the world became more of a village due to developments in transportation, technologies, communications and science, which went up by leaps and bounds into the artificial intelligence platforms of today. The European Union, the Organization of American States, the USMC, the ASEAN, APEC, the African Union, the Organization of Turkish States and many others were created over the past decades indicating that countries need each other and no country can survive on its own, even the most powerful.

Countries need each other as they trade with each other, where each country supplies itself from another when it cannot produce or is unable to produce all that it needs, for many different reasons. But international crises affect international trade and disrupt supply lines and supply chains, which prompts countries to trade with countries closer to home than with distant countries. More specifically, many countries and especially those in the West seem not to be comfortable with over-dependency on China as the homebase of manufacturing.

According to the World Economic Forum, there seems to be a trend towards regionalization and virtuality in international exchanges or trade. In one of its reports on June 21, 2021, the WEF advises that through a study of international trade, collected by Michel Fouquin and Jules Hugot for the period from 1815 to 2014, that “about a fifth of global trade occurs between neighboring countries, roughly 60% among countries on the same continent. And trade-weighted average geographic distance in global trade is about 5,000km but fluctuates over time – with declines during major disruptions.” 

This is a clear indication that the trend is towards regionalization as opposed to each country fending for itself in international exchange markets. Many of fifty-four countries of the large African continent are currently grouped into regions, the most effective being the SADC of southern Africa, ECOWAS of western Africa and the EAC of eastern Africa. There are several other organizations but they are not effective and remain more in name only such as the Arab Maghreb Union, while others remain and function as NGOs, a conduit organization for aid from other parts of the world such as IGAD of the Horn and East Africa regions.

The Horn of Africa States region which covers some two million square kilometers and hosts a youthful population of about 160 million at present and growing, remains still unorganized despite the fact that it does enjoy many common features among the countries of the region. These include, among others, geographical proximity, similar populations, similar historical background that dates back to thousands of years, geographical features which require that they must collaborate such as the highlands and the lowlands, the agricultural plateaus and the marine and coastal regions, the sources of most fresh water and access to international trade through a vast maritime space of the region and many other features. It is a region which sits in between Africa and Asia and Europe, a major link in international trade and geostrategic, as it always was.

It is quite clear that many countries abhor the possibility of the region becoming closer together and forming a regional platform to enable it to have a strong hand in negotiating with others with respect to not only international exchanges and trade but also investments. Such countries and parties, which do not like a Horn of Africa States regional platform, present it in most forums and media as a conflicted region. While true, many of the problems seem to being financed from beyond the region, but the region’s politicians, although they know, for some reason or other, seem to be reluctant to face, manage and handle these matters. Are they being coerced? 

The Horn of Africa States region does, indeed, host a warrior group of people who do not get tired of warring against each other, which unfortunately gives entry portals to others to interfere in the region’s political, economic and developmental issues. It is perhaps time the region’s leaders stood back from falling over the cliff on which they stand. There is always a risk involved when handling country matters, but patriotic leaders do not shy away from their responsibilities and consult their peoples. There is a great need for the region to cooperate and collaborate, and nothing is in the way other than the leaders themselves. Would the current leaders take their responsibilities? This is to be seen!

The region, in addition to its geostrategic location and its large market and labor force, is also endowed with substantial sub-soil wealth, and a potentially enormous blue economy. There are major countries competing for keeping the region as their own without putting anything into the region. Why would the region’s leaders accept this approach from other countries? Presently, many of the leaders of the region seem to be taken by the wealthy Arab sheikhdoms such as the UAE and Qatar and Saudi Arabia. While there is nothing wrong with having good relations with them, the leaders of the Horn of Africa States should know that they are leaders of their countries and that their responsibilities include the development of their countries and region, which should be their priority with all that this entails.

This would include having economic relations with major countries such as the United States, Canada, Russia, China, European countries, India and other Asian countries. For these countries to invest in the region, the leaders of the region should put their houses in order. This is to stabilize the region through installation of fair and just systems in their respective countries, where competency is primordial and not nepotism, cronyism and clan/tribal matters. Playing the wiggly African dictator will not add value to the region’s development and for that matter any country. The leaders of the region should know that they are not the best in their countries and that only luck and fate has put them there and they should know they should leave sooner than later. Overstaying or attempting to overstay like little presidents-cum-kings would not help them nor their countries nor the region. They should let their peoples and countries breathe.

A good leader would always be sought after. He does not impose himself on others who do not want him. The Horn of Africa States leaders should know this. Most dictators overstay because of fear. They are mostly afraid of the revenge of those they wronged while in power. Why not just follow and apply the laws of the land? Applying the laws of the land is where justice lies and the Horn of Africa States leaders need to improve this in their respective countries. The regional cooperation and collaboration in trade and other matters would naturally follow.

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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