The Horn Of Africa States: Why The Region Is Not Progressing – OpEd


The paradoxes of the Horn of Africa States region include, among others, an important geostrategic location, a large population and hence a large market, a youthful population where 70% is reported to be less than thirty years old, a substantial natural wealth both above soil (agricultural lands) and sub soil (minerals including oil and gas), other assets including a large maritime space and many rivers, mountains, plateaus and valleys, and indeed, a generally good weather. Yet the region remains one of the poorest in the world and the international community is almost tired of hearing the name of the Horn of Africa. It produces most refugees and most hungry from the African continent and is a place of most conflicts. With all these assets and wealth, why has the region failed?

It is a good question for, indeed, the region has failed to unlock its resources and instead, kept itself locked up in ethnic and tribal issues, which have made it fall behind every other region in the world. The region has failed in mobilizing its human capital. Its policymakers rely not on the human capital available to them but on unqualified, ethnically related and loyal people who have only encouraged nepotism, corruption, mismanagement and hence underdevelopment. 

The policymakers of the region failed to understand that the most important asset a nation or a region has is its people, its human resources, without which no progress can be made. If invested well, the benefits that can be drawn from such investment would be enormous. Unfortunately, the policymakers of the region, who themselves came to power on ethnic tickets, know no better and deploy the same formulae that brought them. It is an unfortunate story when the right people are not deployed or employed to harness the resources of each of the countries of the region, which as we noted earlier are incredibly vast and plentiful. This is manifested by the presence of many powerful countries that come to the region to exploit these resources when its populations are dying of hunger and unnecessary wars and man-made catastrophes.

How is it possible for such a region with all this wealth to fail to feed its own population and stay at the bottom in the scale of development in the world? In our humble view, the region has failed to master its human capital and relied more on its ethnicity, dividing its populations into groups, using those ethnically related and even within the ethnic groups, deploying the most unqualified of people, who are most loyal – the Yes-people. The policymakers of the region have encouraged discrimination, injustice and incompetence to thrive instead of the qualified and the competent.

The policymakers of the region have ignored the value of education, which they don’t encourage. Those who know are considered as dangerous and removed or remain unemployed until they leave the countries of the region for greener pastures in other parts of the world who need their abilities and knowledge. We know thousands of qualified Horn of Africans live outside the region and have become citizens of other countries whom they serve well. The region should have been able to entice and encourage these people to come to the region and serve the country and taken care of them the same way they are cared for in other countries. But, Alas, this is only a dream! The policymakers of the region appear to have anathema to high-quality, educated and productive workforces. No wonder the region remains underdeveloped, always conflicted and eternally hungry.

The economic, educational and health systems of the region remain unfair with the poor always underserved and the rich overserved. It is a system that encourages ethnicity and hence racial discrimination among the same people. One clan would be receiving all the scholarships given to a particular ministry, while the other clans/tribes may get only a few or nothing. It is a corrupt and unfair system which naturally eats itself from inside and never progresses. The systems of the region do not work on providing basic services to the populations as most policymakers are busy enriching themselves while they can before they are removed by another ethnic group. This is the unfortunate story of the Horn of Africa States.

The region has not been able to cultivate a competent society, which would have provided for its stability and peace and lessened grievances and tensions. It is a region which is always on its toes, troubled and tormented and whose energies are mostly spent on defending the policymakers from the others that want to replace them and would replace them perhaps in the not distant future. The region has not so far realized that all human beings are born with talents that would be useful to the society in which they grow. The policymakers of the region suppress such talents and try to encourage the ethnically related which has not served the region so far. This has only stunted progress and stunted the brilliant minds that could have served the region.

Should the region want to progress, they should encourage the competent to flourish and not the related. They should not encourage nepotism, corruption and interventions from on high that would harm the general public interest and must allow for the smooth flow of operations. Building a good government requires that one should entrust it with good and competent people. It is how the general public would trust a government and even foreign investors, who see the tremendous opportunities of the region but are unable to come forward, because of the fear of losing their investments. Money is cowardly and no investor would come in unless one wants to take advantage, and this happens today on a daily basis in the region. 

The region is a significant geostrategic location and would always attract both major and regional powers. One must note that it overlooks the important Suez Canal/Indian ocean waterway, and it is the source of the Blue Nile, and it has a coastal belt of some 4,700 or even 5,500 km, Sudan included. These are mostly clean and beautiful beaches and would have been a destination for the northern world should there have been peace and tranquility in the region. Unfortunately, the policymaker of the region relying on the incompetent ethnically related employee remains to be the main obstacle in this regard. This explains why there are no roads, no railways, no shipping industry, no tourism, no commercial agriculture, no fishing industry, no functioning hoteling industry, and indeed, no development of any substance and no industries and manufacturing in the region.

The region cannot attract capital or other businesses for it lacks trained skilled personnel that can handle sophisticated technologies, networks, free zones and infrastructures including digital talents, intellectual property rights governance possibilities and generally robust technology businesses. Politicians who are currently elected on tribal/clan basis cannot fix the region. They would always encourage the role of the tribe and clan in the public business for that is their only qualification. The constitutions of the region should be amended so that politicians should not be elected on tribal/clan basis but on what, one can do and would contribute to the country or region. This would encourage democratic political parties that are not ethnic. Any party that relies on tribe/clan infrastructure and campaigns on that basis should be punished and banned. It is how corruption would be reduced and bribery should be severely punished in order to not encourage its occurrence. This is how the human resources of the region can be developed, deployed and should be understood by the policymakers of the region.

It is said that it is only those who learn of moral introspection and self-auditing who can prove themselves with inviolable integrity. At present, the current policymakers of the region appear to be distant from this possibility, although anything can happen anytime. A person only displays his true mettle when he sees his wrong actions for what they really are and seeks forgiveness. Unfortunately, what is worse are those highly educated people who serve less educated people under the guise of the tribe and/or clan group and do not add value to the system which they serve. These are the ones who are really abused by the system, but do not know they are being abused and/or know they are being used but avoid doing something about it.

Many Horn Africans raised on tribal/clan basis live outside the region and still serve the useless wrong systems back home, despite their education and skills, which would not develop the region or the countries of the region since their religious adherence to the tribe or clan is stronger than even the religions they profess. No wonder the Horn African region stays behind other regions of Africa and remains abused by the old colonial powers or even by newly found-wealthy states in the region. They seem to be looking forward to being abused simply because they prefer to stay on top of the heaps of the poor of the region instead of effectively using their skills, if any, to improve the lot of the region or country they belong to. This is one of the main ironies of the region.

Lack of proper mobilization of its human resources is the region’s main sickness, for which no one has found a solution or a cure as yet. It is probably time that the leaders of the region or its social scientists, many of them in the silent majority, started working in this regard. Perhaps then, and only then, the region would have some respite from this tribal/clan madness which has bedeviled it for so long.

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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