By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
December 28th, 2022
Somalia’s President Hassan Sh. Mahmoud is currently hosting President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti. It is perhaps suitable time to ask oneself if this impromptu encounter would push the process of the Horn of Africa States forward. President Ismail has not visited Somalia for a number of years. Somali Presidents on the contrary visited Djibouti on a number of occasions, the last of which was in November when President Hassan Sh. Mahmoud visited Djibouti to participate in and, in fact, grace the wedding of President Guelleh’s daughter to a member of the Federal Parliament of Somalia, in Djibouti. The wedding presented a new opportunity for public diplomacy in the region.
The region is currently at war on many fronts and security is tight, but diplomacy is still working and relations between the two brotherly countries is moving in the right direction. Some misgivings are still in the air and mostly due to the activities of countries beyond the Horn of Africa States such as the UAE and Egypt, and for that matter Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The big powers, the USA and China, and even Russia and India, are also inherently involved in the affairs of the region and this draws from its strategic location.
Other regional blocks such as the East Africa Community, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, and hybrid organizations like the IGAD, and others exert some pressures on the region each with its own goals and objectives and, hence confusing the region. The Horn of Africa States, if properly executed, would create a powerful region in Africa, with a background of thousands of year-old history to support and propel it forward. Unlike any other region in Africa, the Horn of Africa States enjoys historical relations with the worlds of yester years like South Asia, East Asia and mostly West Asia. The region at times controlled South Asia (South India and Sri Lanka) and Southern Arabia (Yemen) and it is only after the arrival of Europe into the region, that it truly declined.
The world works in cycles, and nothing is generally permanent. It would appear the decline has been slowed and a rise is on the offing. Every era has its men, so they say, in the Horn of Africa States and it would appear the current leaders of the Horn of Africa States have the stamina and wherewithal to re-establish a strong regional infrastructure that contributes to feeding not only its people but many of the other nations of the world and in particular those dependent on imports of food such as the Horn of Africa was turned into over the past century.
The SEED countries of the region, indeed, have multiple commitments such as those to IGAD and the Arab League and COMESA and others. These remain challenges for the region to address. Some of the challenges generally faced by other blocks can easily be overcome in the Horn of Africa States as they already trade with each other but on informal basis. Populations on each side of the borders within the region are the same people and, indeed, could be brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews, and nieces. It is, in fact, the same people, the Cushitic people, who can easily intermingle and interact with each other should the suspicions and false identities created over the past century be removed from the table. Negotiations between Presidents Hassan Sheikh and Ismail Omar can add on to the earlier discussions between Prime Minister Abiy and Presidents Isais Afwerki and Mohamed Farmajo. This would complete the cycle of having the four member countries of the Horn of Africa States meeting in one place. Can Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud be able to invite the missing two to Mogadishu?
The most worrisome would be a continuing interference of Kenya, an obstacle to the formation of a Cushitic Alliance. Should President Ruto be invited to a meeting with Presidents Hassan and Ismail in Mogadishu, it would create distrust and the region’s inability to form its own regional organization, would be, at least delayed, as Kenya is part and parcel of the East Africa Community, a regional block that does have an agenda different from those of the Horn of Africa States.
A huge portion of the population of the region only see themselves as enemies of each other and cannot fathom the benefits a regional integration would bring forth. The inadequate and poor infrastructures linking the region add on to the perceptions of being different from each other when, indeed, the region is populated by the same people, who have the same looks, the same culture and the same values. Fear of domination by the larger countries also plays a role in weighing in on those unwarranted misgivings. Issues of creating a regional infrastructure would go through a process of negotiation and there are not much that the member countries could disagree, for they all need each other.
President Ismail’s considerable experience at the helm of Djibouti can contribute to the development of the Horn of Africa State’s region, where the institution would most likely be headquartered. Djibouti’s location, its good relations with most of the members of the region and its major links with the rest of the world would be contributing factors.
A piece of advice for President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and President Ismail Omar Guelleh at this moment of history would be, what Horn Africans say: “No one remains on earth for ever. Let a good memory remain of you.” Work of setting up the Horn of Africa States with your brother President Isaias Afwerki and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. You have today a good opportunity to make history and you would be remembered. Seize it!