The Horn Of Africa States: Failures Of The Foreign Policies Of The Region (Part III) – OpEd


Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a social scientist once narrated a story about a company which launched new tyres it manufactured on the market. The company ran an advertisement wherein it promised that it would pay a prize to whoever demonstrated a real defect in the tyres. Many people bought the tyres with the hope they would find real defects in the tyres and hence win a prize. Should they not find any defects, they would be happy with their purchase of a good set of tyres, they reasoned.

There were, indeed, some complaints of which a small percentage appeared genuine, and the company sent invitations to them to a seminar to demonstrate the defects they discovered in the tyres. All the travel expenses were met by the company, which gave to those who chose to travel to the seminar an opportunity to travel and air their respective views on how the tyres could be improved. This resulted by consensus on a final proposal on how to improve the tyres at the closure of the seminar.

This helped the company improve the quality of its product and although it cost them a considerable sum, it did sell more tyres than previous sales programs. This demonstrated to the company one more issue, which was that better products can be developed when one seeks inputs and suggestions from consumers instead of relying only on one’s own creations and formulae.

I quote this story because it appears relevant in the present state of the Horn of Africa States, where the leadership of the region seems to be stuck with its own formulae and strategies, mostly those of the persons at the helm of the leadership, without seeking inputs from its own populations, which include the vast experiences of others be they politicians including the opposition parties, ambassadors, educators, academicians, elders, religious people, civic and social scientists and even the general population of the countries of the region. No wonder each of the SEED countries find themselves in unsecure and uncomfortable political situations.

Seeking inputs, ideas, and opinions from one’s population and cooperating with them is a vital component in the life of a leader. It is, indeed, the give and take principle that is much better than a one-way ticket, where views and strategies only come from the top to the larger bottom of the pyramid. It would be better to have a two-way process on how leaders should be dealing with their own populations and a country’s development processes be they political. Academic, health, social or other aspects of life.

In this article, we shall discuss a few suggestions for the leadership in the hope that it would contribute to their thoughts and thought processes with respect to governing their respective states individually and collectively the region. 

We noted in part two of this series that the leaders of the region should revisit their priorities and see what their populations want and not what they personally want. It is obvious from the ongoing internal conflicts in each of the countries that there is a major gap on how the populations think and how the leaders think. In other words, there is a gap, indeed a wide gap, between the wants of the populations and the wants of the leaders.

When cutting a glass or glass frames or even drilling deep into the earth in search of oil and gas and other minerals, a hard instrument made of diamond cutting edges are used. Diamonds are the hardest materials on earth, which cannot even be scratched. It is why jewelers also use them to cut other precious stones. But using diamonds for cutting is not an easy matter either. A jeweler would study very carefully the inner infrastructure of the diamond and they would learn exactly where and how to break them, which gives diamond gemstones the exquisite, multi-faceted faces and forms.

In difficult situations as is the case with the Horn of Africa States region, leaders should not just take decisions wildly or in haste. They need to use great care and deliberations and avoid works that would provide poor results and no improvement in the life of the countries and the region.

The violence and aggressiveness in the region, which only causes more bitterness among the populations and more obstinacy, should be replaced by a different attitude on the part of the leadership involving not only the language used but also better diplomacy. While a leader is expected to be strong, he should also be gentle and must handle issues delicately as an expert craftsman handles a superb but fragile jewelry piece.

It is important that words and actions match as should minds and hearts. The leaders of the region appear not only to have failed themselves but also their populations and countries, and the region in general. A successful country and region would generally have the populations and the leadership intoned and moving in the same direction. The Horn of Africa States region certainly is far from such harmony.

The challenges of our times require that the countries of the region should not only look inward but also outward to their neighbors and to the rest of the world around the region, which requires that the region should cooperate and harness the resources of the region together, in ways that serve it better than is currently the case.

The very location of the region, a major geostrategic one, requires that the region should be working together and not against each other. It is perhaps the only way some of the internal problems could also be solved for many of the problems of each country are based on unnecessary hostilities among the countries of the region. This would increase the growth of mutual interests of the countries of the region and enhance their negotiating ability with non-regional parties including international organizations and the many wolfing NGOs that currently operate in the region.

The leadership of the region should know of the interests of non-regional actors in the region and more particularly the new players such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in addition to the historical relations of the region including Turkey and Egypt, and of course the West and their differing and often contradictory/competitive goals and objectives, which not only troubles the region but puts the region into unnecessary competition within. They should be aware of the changing global polarizations including the rising China and its effect on the influences of the West and their allies in the region. The ussian presence in the region has never been absent as most of the arms and weaponry deployed in the region are generally of Russian origin and/or design.

Should they be siding with those non-regional actors or be siding with their neighbors who not only have the same populations but also have common histories? The leaders of the region should weigh matters more closely and not carelessly as seems to have been the case lately. The internal idiosyncrasies and folies often involving tribal and/or clan issues are fully exploited by these external forces, not for the interests of the region but for their own interests, which keeps the region unbalanced and unstable.

The non-regional actors use all the tools available to them, including studies and reporting they initiate to keep the region in a state of permanent conflicts within each country and with other members of the region. Note that the Horn of Africa States is primarily composed of countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, the SEED countries. Sometimes Sudan is included. Such studies always emphasize on the weaknesses of the region and the inability of the region to come together to form a regional platform to address not only the problems of the region but also its development. This is not really the case. The region is being manipulated to think that it cannot really help itself.

They know that should the region come together and integrate, the economies of all the countries of the region would grow and would thus create a significant regional powerhouse in a major geostrategic location such as it represents, overlooking the major commercial shipping route of the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean waterway and most of the freshwater sources for northeast Africa. They also know that the region owns a vast agricultural space and an enormous maritime space, a significant sub-soil wealth in the form of oil and gas and other important minerals. 

The foreign policies of the region should thus be developed with the above in mind, and not just represent regurgitated literature copied from other sources. A meaningful political platform of the region should involve not only an internal policy based on cooperating with the populations of the region but also regional cooperation visa vis non-regional parties and the rest of the world and international organizations. The weight of the region would grow, its very existence would be assured, and its views on international matters would be listened to and heard.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *