There are many studies and researches on why regional cooperation and integration have become important elements in world affairs over the past several decades and even more. We shall not, therefore, dwell on literatures in this regard. However, we must always continue presenting the need for the Horn of Africa States to cooperate and, indeed, create a new regional organization much closer to serving the needs of the region on and above the many organizations the members of the region are involved.
We know the region of the Horn of Africa States as consisting of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti – the SEED countries, are involved in IGAD. Some are in COMESA while some are in the Arab League, and all are in the continental organization – the African Union. While providing some services the region needs, they are not specifically designed to serve the Horn of Africa States region with respect to its development, peace and security, population growth, preparing for the future, climate change and effects thereof on the region, which suffers most and in similar conditions. Indeed, the region, which co-owns a historical context, does not appear to have a common regional setting to address its issues, on its own and/or within the regional blocks the members are involved.
One of the key dividends as discussed in other literature we presented on the region, included assurance of peace and security, which appear to have been missing from the region for some four decades, when there appeared conflicts of various proportions, some between the states of the region and some within each of the states. The latter involved ethnic and tribal competition for power and settlement of old wounds and blood redemptions which has pushed the region to the brink of almost total collapse. It does still affect the region in ways that are not in its best interest and in particular when it attracts unwelcome parties to the region involving terror groups and mercenaries and others. The region working together would minimize and, indeed, eliminate in the long run all the holes and gaps that allow mice to come into the region and continue to cause chaos and insecurities in the region. This would provide respite for the region and space for devoting its energies towards development.
This where the second advantage of a new regional block of HAS would come forth. Economic cooperation and integration would help enhance regional development. The regional trade which mostly is in the form of an informal and illicit trade would be formalized and grow more, thus returning the region to its pre-colonial days when trade was uninhibited by boundaries created in the nineteenth century by the European world that came to the region. The hinterlands of the region, which contain most of the population of the region would have easier access to the maritime regions as ports and roads and rail would be built and the costs shared by the members of the region. Note the region enjoys almost a 4,700 km coastal belt which if exploited properly would offer the region becoming a major gateway to the rest of the African continent, providing land corridors to Central and West Africa, who would in their turn transmit goods from the Americas through the same routes to the Horn and East and Northeast Africa.
A HAS collective would create a regional approach to matters of the region and help it negotiate better terms with other countries and region saving a sizeable population of some 157 million people offers both a large labor market and an equally large market. This should be attractive to any party that is looking for both and more specifically, when the region is known to have natural advantages such as its geostrategic location, and its location as the source of most waters of the Nile that goes to northeast Africa. The region also enjoys good climes that have enabled it to become the cradle of humankind, a geographical space that involves both highlands and lowlands and many other geographical features in between, such as plateaus, savannahs, deserts and depressions and, indeed, beautiful valleys and gorges. It maritime resource base is also enormous and can become home to a significantly large blue economy involving not only ports for trade but also shipbuilding, yachts and a huge tourism industry that can be attracted to both the blue seas and the highlands of the region.
Most pundits discussing the region limit their discourses on its ethnic/religious conflicts but ignore the region’s wealth above soil and sub-soil and, indeed, maritime wealth. It is where the leadership of the region needs to concentrate instead of where others wish them to be bogged down – mainly politics, which has no end. Politics, indeed, is a bottomless well, and one is always better-off avoiding it, and especially when it only involves tribe/clan competitions for power. It does not add one iota to improving the lives of the people of the region.
There will, indeed, be no need for IGAD as its members would either be in the EAC or the HAS. The HAS headquarters should be in Djibouti as a central point where all the parties can easily meet and it enjoys and has developed already a reasonable conferences/meetings infrastructure and experiences, which can handle the four countries of the region and even more. The Horn of Africa States as we see it would be different from IGAD which does not have a governance and/or executive powers and whose finances are indeed provided mostly by non-regional members. The HAS would be a truly regional organization with powers and governance powers and would be financed through budgetary allocations from the ministries of finance of the regional members. This would remove any overlap the IGAD membership would have caused, unless IGAD is reversed and returned to its original goal of working on droughts and desertification and away from politics and peace and security.
The region, which does not presently have a say in the affairs of the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandab, the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Sea (the northern Indian Ocean), would play a pivotal role in managing the affairs of this strategic shipping route, which handles a major part of, not only international trade, but also passage of security and naval ships of regional and major powers of the world. The region would be counted and those and ignoring it would be at one’s peril.
The HAS region would acquire a picturesque new character not marked by chaos and conflicts but by peace and tourism and profits. It would do away with the need for foreign forces, both soldiers and NGOs for it would embark on economic development and in particular food production to feed its growing population. The resources of the region of which exploiting the maritime resources would be foremost would be embarked upon. An enormous tourism industry presenting the region’s hidden gems in terms of natural landscapes, archaeological and historical features, its blue seas and others, would be deployed. The region would metamorphose radically and present a more humane picture than has hitherto been the case.