The Horn Of Africa States: Beyond The Last Century Histories – OpEd


The Horn of Africa States region consisted of three countries in 1960, namely Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, although Djibouti was then French Somaliland. Currently it also includes Eritrea which broke away from Ethiopia in 1993 to make the region four countries.

All, in essence, have been shaped and erected through European colonialism, which to a large extent determined the legacies of the region todate. Those memories of the past and European colonialism are fading, albeit slowly and the region’s people need to move away from those thought processes and blame games. The region currently is managed by its own people, who should be laying down the groundwork for the future of the region in terms of thought processes, education and social issues and economic development. The times of blaming the Europeans for the past and present dilemmas of the region, are surely being relegated to old memories which are being forgotten. The youthful population of the region do not even remember much of the military regimes of the region some thirty years ago let alone the actions and activities of Europeans earlier.

The region’s fate, thus, becomes more and more, a responsibility of its people and leadership, no matter what was inherited from its colonial past. No doubt the old colonising countries still need the region and whatever it offers in terms of resources or other geopolitical considerations and they, indeed, have missions and have strategies for implementing these missions.

What does the region have in place for dealing with those countries and, indeed, the new powers that have replaced the old ones? There are now the United States of America and China and Russia and even small regional powers such as the GCC countries and Turkey, and, indeed, old historical relations which seems to have soured lately such as Egypt.

To know the evolving situation of the region is not only the preview of the leadership but also those of academia, opposition parties and civic societies, educational institutions, and media of the region. It is the collective approach of the societies of the region to address the new realities, for they affect not only the economies of the region but its stability and security and hence peace and life. It is where it becomes necessary for the region to devise its own survival strategies, in this uncertain future, which appears to be even more clouded than the past.

The HAS region is strategically located and has always attracted non-regional parties. It will continue to do so tomorrow and the future behind it. Such non-regional parties included traders and those who wanted to exchange commerce with it. Others were military and naval related projects of others, particularly in the last century. This continues under the new powers that be in the world. The Indo-Pacific agendas of major powers seem to be now affecting the region. It is, indeed, being drawn into that wider competition among major powers and also regional powers through their growing military and naval presence in the region. It is where there is a necessity for the region to come together and work out strategies together to address these oncoming challenges.

The new external security frameworks of the Horn of Africa States constitute major challenges for the region. If the Horn is not able to manage the growing presence and regional interests of foreign military actors, it risks increased fragmentation and/or becoming a part of wider international security competition, over which it is likely to have little influence. The region could even become the venue for the sort of destabilizing external competition last seen during the cold war. The international political and economic shifts that are driving the new external security dynamics of the Horn region are, at the same time, also a major opportunity, bringing new investments, infrastructure and connections to world markets. Taking advantage of the opportunities and managing the challenges will, however, require a significant shift in the approach of the Horn countries to their relations with external security actors. Currently the region acts on an individual and single-state format. A collective approach would be better.

Collectively, the region can create together an instrument or institution that represents the region in new partnerships with those foreign parties that do not compromise the future of the populations and socio-political development of the region. The region need not dug deep its heels but must work to understand the needs of others and work with the flow of events such that it takes advantage of whatever direction it takes.

What can the region offer collectively? The region has access to a large maritime resource where ports of differing kinds can be built and where hence food production in terms of maritime food sources can be developed. It can also provide accessibility to cargo, commercial and naval and military movements of the world in the geostrategic location of the region. It offers a significantly large market of a youthful population that can either be consumers and producers at the same time at reasonable costs. It is a region which dips to a deep historical background which would assist its youth work on strategic technologies given the right opportunity. The region can also produce food for its growing population and for others, noting that it identified grains and seeds for food and tamed animals such as camels and donkeys and its own brands of cattle both for food and burden. The region can also develop as a beautiful tourist attraction, offering its beautiful weather, which is reasonable year-round and its blue pristine blue seas, again year-round.

The region has gone through tumultuous periods in the past eighty years and is, therefore, ready for settling down, leaving behind the miseries and disasters of wars and civil struggles. Those who take advantage of the opportunity at hand and create partnerships with the region would gain better footholds than those who would come later. Is the region ready for such strategic partnerships?

There are still forces of evil and forces of goodwill at play in the region and the forces of goodwill seem to be gaining the upper hand at present. There is a shift in gaze and attitudes, although still many who keep putting down their own folk still abound in the region. The region does not need further splintering, as it was already divided by the Europeans of the nineteenth century into its currently four countries although it could have been more, had it not been for the foresight of some of its people to bring together parts of the region. The old colonial legacies are dying away and fading into obscurity, and the people of the region should be working on forging new paths for development and economic growth.

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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