The Horn Of Africa States: The Coming Transformative Years 2024-2030 – OpEd


The Horn of Africa States, the easternmost region of Africa, is marked by its distinct geostrategic location and hence its geopolitical value to non-regional powers be they super and major powers and/or regional powers in the vicinity of the region.

We need not repeat the fact the region links the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It has been a challenge for the region, which has a distinct historical and cultural affinity and background as opposed to countries of the region joining other groups based on thin grounds, to realign its interests in a regional format and infrastructure so that the region can face as one block the extra-regional powers that covet its location and, indeed, its wealth, both sub-soil and above soil.  The Horn of Africa States region houses the countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan together the SEEDS countries. 

This article presents a vision for the region during the next seven years starting with a brief introduction of its current situation. It is more of an appeal to the leaders of the region and those five countries to revisit their missions and visions with respect to the region and realign themselves to the same and complementary goals that would underpin the development of the region in the coming years and beyond.

The world is currently regrouping into blocks, when the nation state found itself too small and too weak to face the challenges of the world including technological and informational changes, economic infrastructures, food security and socio-political alignments. Even the powerful nation states of Europe and the Americas of yesteryears now find that they need to regroup into blocks, like the European Union or the USMC or the United States, Mexico and Canada. The world we live in today is exposed to multiple challenges involving both natural and manmade crises which include among others, famines and droughts, floods, health pandemics, climate change and other insecurities like food insecurity and supply insecurity. 

There are other giant extra-regional forces that exploit the world for their own ends such as terrorism, giant media outlets, and international financial and informational institutions whose activities go beyond their original homes to multiple countries and regions to operate. This has necessitated countries to group together to face off those multiple challenges, whereas some countries, and especially the major powers have become leaders, while others have naturally become followers. Survival of single states, in this harsh environment, requires collective approaches to matters of common interest among neighboring countries, which the SEEDS countries (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan) naturally are. 

Many countries enjoy ownership of leaders who have the vision and capacity to sniff the dangers lurking around and hence prepare themselves well to face off these multiple challenges, but others certainly do not have such leaders. The leaders of the Horn of Africa States, indeed, have the capacity to see the ways of the world but unfortunately do not have the capacity to coalesce together where each one believes, even if small, that it can face the powerful challenges in play alone. How wrong they are? The regional leaders of the HAS countries taking into consideration its historical background, its shattered economies, its geostrategic location and, indeed, common sense need to scheme together instead of scheming against each other to serve the really huge population of the region in this 21st century, which has not started well for the region. The main attractions/distractions of the region include among others the following:

A Geostrategic Location

The region is of great interest to many extra-regional forces simply because of its location, which could be of geopolitical and geoeconomic value. One must, in this respect, note that it links Europe to Asia through the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Sea (the northern Indian Ocean). How do the states of the region exploit this geostrategic location? Do they have the capacity to advance their interests collectively or do they keep working on the individual single state formation to be exploited as they have been over the past hundred years of colonialism and the neo-colonialism that followed? Can they advance their interests together to take advantage of the need for others to benefit from the region’s waters, ports and rich long coast of some 5,500 km? The region must not be blocked by its colonial history that gave rise to the current infrastructure and should move forward to realign themselves in order to face the multiple extra-regional forces plaguing the region.

The Natural Wealth

The region is endowed with natural wealth in terms of vast agricultural lands, large marine spaces, significant mineral wealth that include among other gold, oil and gas, iron ore, potassium, diamonds, lithium, uranium and many others, all in commercial quantities and it enjoys a sizeable market and labor of some two hundred million people that would soon rise to 250 million people. It is, indeed, a region of many promises and can feed many millions more beyond the region for there are rivers and lakes and plenty of rain that have watered its native agriculture for millennia and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. The populations of the region are also of the same generally related Cushitic and Semitic speaking peoples, where it is sometimes difficult for citizens living in the borders between the states to identify themselves as to which state they belong to. This is a great opportunity for the regional leaders to take advantage of this regional affinity of the populations and create together a viable larger region that can easily compete with other regional blocks.

Exposure to Extra-regional Forces

The region is mostly led by weakened governments that do not have the capacity to face off extra-regional forces in the form of terrorism whether these are ethnic based or religious, global media and financial institutions and technologies that do not respect generally African states and, indeed, many other regions that feel they can, and mistakenly, take advantage of the Horn of Africa States region such as those of the newly found wealthy states of the Arabian Peninsula and the East Africa Community. Even single states like India, Turkey, or Egypt also project power over the region, which they could not have done some years ago. These multiple forces, which include the major powers, do overwhelm the region, which none of the states of the region is able or have the capacity to resist alone and singly. The region thus becomes vulnerable to many external manipulators as the leaders of the region’s states wait for guidance as to what to do or not do from these manipulating forces from beyond the region. 

Dependence of Extra-Regional Powers for Sustenance

The region is wealthy and, as noted earlier, has the capacity to feed itself and others but is currently not in a comfortable situation to live by itself. Its governance and, indeed, many of its people depend for their livelihoods on extra-regional assistance coming from the extra-regional forces discussed in the preceding paragraph. For some reason or other, some of those extra-regional forces do not provide the help the regional states need, and one often hears of calls for assistance to the Horn of Africa States by international bodies like the United Nations and other NGOs.

One often also sees some of the regional leaders begging for aid and support from other non-regional parties that may have been the cause of the misery at hand in the first place. This makes the region dependent on others for sustenance and that dependency increases as the region’s problems multiply, since the countries of the region do not work together to prepare for such eventualities. One must note that ‘Aid’ is an instrument of political leverage and obviously the region is exposed to these manipulations on a daily basis. The Horn of Africa States region and its leadership need to rethink seriously and address the region’s fragile situation where it has become a servant in the hands of extra-regional powers and forces intent on keeping the region underdeveloped and dependent on them. The extra-regional powers only advance their interests and not the interests of the region, which always means trouble for the region. 

The future of the Region

The oncoming seven-year period of 2024 -2030 would be crucial for the region. One must note that it overlooks the Red Sea/Gulf Aden/Northern Indian Ocean trade routes. It will continue, therefore, to be of interest to nations of the north like the European Union and the Americas. It would also be of interest to countries of the Arabian Gulf, mostly the UAE, who see the Horn of Africa States regional ports as a threat to their own and who try to disrupt the development of these regional ports. In this respect, the leaders of the region are fully aware of this and would present themselves collectively to take maximum advantage of the opportunities and defend their turf against others. The single state format which was exploited to the full by these extra-regional forces will be diminished in the coming period. 

The security issues of the region would improve as the countries of the region come together and face the internal challenges in each state together. This would free many of the populations of the region to turn back to its agricultural base, which was not allowed by the evil forces that were operating in the region. Note the region was always an agricultural hub from early on in human history. They tamed many animals and discovered many plant foods and beverages. The camel, the horse, and the donkey on the animal kingdom and teff, enset, and coffee on the plant kingdom represent mere examples of the achievements of the region.

Many of the countries of the north will note the importance of dealing with the region on a collective basis and not on individual country basis as in the past. This would be less costly for them as the approach to a region as opposed to five countries is more beneficial and more strategic. They have started the process through the appointment of Horn of Africa States special envoys to the region. There is already the US, EU, Japanese and other special Envoys to the region. The Gulf countries will lag behind in this process and will wake up late to the issue, probably late. They would thus continue in their disruptive policies of the region in the foreseeable future.

The region will enjoy five to seven million youth entering the market each year in the coming seven-year period and its population which presently is estimated to be some two hundred million is expected to rise to some 250 million during the period, which would be beneficial for the region as the wars and civil strives wind down and development fever takes on. The region will be transformed fast and more infrastructural reforms will be placed and worked on in the region. The region will foster peace, inclusive development and economic growth. The region will deal with issues related to climate change as more of the region’s stamina and energy is released to deal with these natural disasters in an ever more organized regional infrastructure.

The region will continue developing the private sector involvement in the economies of the region strengthen the political evolution of the region such that electoral processes and avoidance of dictatorship tendencies are limited and new mechanisms for facing natural disasters are developed in a regional format.

The region’s problems do not represent unsolvable issues and a collective approach appears to be the most viable process that the region can embark on and will embark on in the years ahead as the continuing problems of the region accumulate and pressure the leaders to seek common approaches. Indeed, the region would be more peaceful, prosperous, and stable as the leaders realize the strengths of being in a regional setting rather than being on a single state infrastructure, although Somalia may have erred in joining the EAC. This would not be ratified by the Federal Parliament of Somalia and the EAC may realize its error itself and revoke the entry of Somalia into the group in the coming years. The region would create a more inclusive society, unafraid of each other, and investments would be made by the leadership of the region in its people, mostly, but also agriculture and food production, fishing, manufacturing, information technologies and telecommunication, finance and banking, and managing shocks both manmade and environmental and/or natural.

The region will create a formal infrastructure in the form of the Horn of Africa States and would in the general format be like the European Union where the state boundaries and identities would not be altered but economically integrated, where people travel to each other with ease and goods and capital move from part to another also with ease. It would not, indeed, be like the East Africa Community, which is working on converting itself into a federation, much like the United States of America.

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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