The Horn Of Africa States: Betrayal Of The Cause By The Leaders – OpEd


The Horn of Africa States is notoriously an unstable, volatile, hungry and environmentally devastated region, which is always in the news for one or two of these recurring devilish reasons. The region which consists of the SEED countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, is known for its intra-state or inter-state wars, that seem to flare up from time to time.

Currently there are such flare ups in Ethiopia’s Amhara, region, Somalia’s northern regions and potential clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia as a result of the quest of Ethiopia to have access to the Red Sea. Terror groups also operate in the region and have been a constant pain for Somalia. No wonder a failed African Union Mission force of some 19,000 is still in the country after nearly some 16 years, and there are the floods! 

It is not important how they explain themselves on what they are doing, the leaders of the region, but certainly, they seem not be doing the right things, for if they were doing the right things, they could have found some solutions for at least some of the problems. Even if there are hidden foreign agendas, they could have sat down together or with their people to figure out a way out for their dilemmas. On the contrary, they seem to be just doing or taking actions that only makes the life of people of the region more difficult and/or more miserable. 

The President of Somalia was pleased, indeed, just two days ago, to announce, and without shame, his wrong step to have Somalia join the EAC, a Swahili world organization, when he perfectly knows that Somalia is part of the Cushitic world, which inhabit the SEED countries. He could only say, “it is a large market”. So what? What is in it for Somalia? He was talking on behalf of a few Somali traders in East Africa who have already left the country and not the nation. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, instead of leading the way for a regional Horn of Africa States economic block, was recently threatening all the three littoral states of the region to have access to a sea. He almost hinted at force if necessary. The old presidents of Djibouti and Eritrea remain shellshocked and noted only that force would not work to bringing together the region and its people.

The HAS region is geostrategically located and hence attracts all kinds of foreign interests, including the West, West Asian countries, India, and indeed, East Asian countries including China, which has built the first of their foreign based military/naval bases in Djibouti, and now even Africans, the East Africa Community which already moved into Somalia, is wooing Ethiopia and the other two countries of the region, Eritrea and Djibouti. Note that Djibouti also hosts French Naval and military bases, the United States Africom base and the navies of other countries such as those of Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Spain, Germany and sometimes Turkey. One must note that the region owns a 4.700 km coastal belt, and overlooks the Bab El Mandan Strait, a choke point of some 28 km between Djibouti and Yemen, the western side of the Southern red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Sea and the northern Indian ocean. This was and still is the first global trade basin that served the ancient world of Egypt, Southern Europe, Arabia, Africa, Persia, India and China.

The unfortunate story of the HAS region is that its leaders have been stalling a regional approach to the issues of the region, be it economic, security-related or just plain politics with respect to relations within the region and with other countries, economic blocs,  and the world in general. This is a price, which is too high to pay, as now, some of the countries are slipping away, such as Somalia, which has just joined the EAC, another completely different regional group, whose agenda is very different from the agenda of the Horn of Africa States region. One must note that the EAC is a group that has come from a recent colonial construct which is barely a hundred and fifty years old, as opposed to the Horn of Africa States which was part of the ancient world and was part of the nations that shaped the history of mankind.

The current leadership of the region appears to be concentrating only on short-term gains, mostly personal preferences and not national or regional interests, which only exasperates its endemic weaknesses, and which makes it forget the longer-term and bigger picture. It is how the resources of the region continue to remain untapped and the vicious ethnic-based rivalries for power continue to plague the region. 

The region, indeed, has to contend with the two major competing forces of the world, one representing the West led by the United States and the other more multipolar but generally led by the Chinese. As we say, in the Horn of Africa, when lions kill, there would always the scavengers around such as foxes and hyenas and big birds. The region attracts regional powers too, in addition to the major powers, and the eternal competition over it, continues unabated.

The regional leadership stays at the center without adding to the development of the region in any way except wars and civic upheavals. The leadership of the region has not come up with solutions for the region’s multitude of dilemmas todate. They remain pursuing personal and/or national agendas without adding into their thinking processes, a regional approach to the region’s plight. The GERD issue in Ethiopia, the ethnic-based wars in Ethiopia, the ports of Djibouti which seem to be attracting, apparently, every conceivable navy across the globe, the continuing civil strives and nonfunctional governmental institutions in Somalia and the hermetic nature of Eritrea, all need a regional approach. There seems to be a manifest absence of regional leadership in the Horn of Africa States.

Another major feature of the Horn of Africa States region appears to be the failure of the its political elite. We cannot continue to be blaming the foreigner only, in this respect. In their book “The origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty – Why Nations Fail”, Daren Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, the two great and leading economists, revealed that “it is not geography, disease, or culture that explain why some nations are rich and some poor, but rather a matter of institutions and politics”, as commented on the book by Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man and The Origins of Political Order. Is the leadership of the region pursuing wrong politics or are they undermining their own institutions, for the region is certainly failing? The region’s leadership must certainly be making the wrong choices.

At present, the President of Somalia appears to be doing just that as he is the one who shows up with members of his family in every conceivable meeting, Somalia needs to attend across the globe. In less than two weeks, just recently, the President travelled to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Burundi, The UK, and Tanzania. Note the country is poor and lives on handouts, yet the President is always travelling with a large entourage. It appears that the whole government is only the President. There is no foreign Minister, there is no Prime Minister, and indeed, there is no one else, except him that can represent the nation, which is on its way to losing its sovereignty, anyway, thanks to him. He did not explain his case of joining the EAC properly except that it is a large market. That does not explain much, when he was talking to his parliament recently. I am not sure if the President has the authority to commit the nation at that level, for he did not seem to be asking for any approval from the parliament. Are we looking at a budding dictator? It certainly looks for he was also asking for a change to the draft constitution, which would basically only expand his role as the sole decision-maker on behalf of the nation. He must be looking around as to why Uganda has the same leader for nearly forty years, or for that matter, Rwanda or Burundi and many others. Why not him, too?

Another factor that determines the success and failure of nations is related to distribution of wealth and power. Where there is an equitable distribution of these two factors, nations thrive and where there is concentration of both wealth and power in the hands of a few, they ultimately fail. Where does the leadership of the Horn of Africa States region stand in this measure?  

Oppressive power, not heeding the advice of experts, catering only for the “yes” men and women, who do not add value to any leadership, and indeed, concentration of the resources of a nation in the hands of a few people, a few clansmen, and a few friends, lead the general public, the political elite and, indeed, the people in uniform to reject leaders, and/or undermine them. 

They eventually lead to the fall of nations. One does not have to go far, in the case of the Horn of Africa States. What happened to the strong regime of General Mohamed Siad Barre or the Empire of Haile Selassie? What about the Derg and Mengistu Haile Mariam or Meles Zenawi? What about the strong but short-lived regime of Abdillahi Yusuf. The region’s leaders seem not have learned anything even from the recent past of the region. They seem to be betraying themselves and the region again.

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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