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The Horn of Africa States and Special Envoys

June 27, 2022

By  Dr. Suleiman walhad
June 27th, 2022

In the United States, democracy is considered the cornerstone of the art of ruling and governance and they have presidents, the senate, congress and the judiciary, all instruments of governance, built to be balancing and checking on each other less one of them becomes dictatorial almost in the form of the European Monarchs from whom early European Americans ran away. Indeed, the congress and the president always bicker over who controls the country’s foreign policy. Most hostilities in which the United States is involved in, are initiated by the executive, i.e., the presidency, which bypasses the rule that all wars be organized/declared by the congress. The congress also uses power over the presidency through an approval process of senior appointments. But the approval process drags on and especially over the last couple of decades when an appointment can drag on for extra-ordinarily long times because of bickering between an administration and its opposition in the congress. But governance and significant issues cannot just wait for an approval process that simply drags on because one party just opposes another for the sake of ideological differences and where the national interest could then be compromised.

It is where special envoys have re-emerged into the world of diplomacy lately, an ancient art practiced by humanity throughout history. Special envoys are not the permanent ambassadors of one state to another or from one state to a group of states or from one group to another group, including multi-laterals such the United Nations. Special envoys have generally less power than the permanent ambassadors and have often temporary and special tasks to achieve. They generally represent the highest executive authority in a country as “personal representatives.”  It is defined as “Special envoys that can be officials of government or private citizens employed by the head of state in his conduct of foreign relations” (https://osetc.gov.ph of ambassadors and special envoys).

The Horn of Africa States is now bombarded by special envoys. Indeed, this is of interest as there is a growing list of special envoys to the Horn of Africa States and the latest one to the region is Sarah Montgomery, the UK’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa States and the Red Sea. Before her, were the US special Envoy, the third one (Ambassador Mike Hammer) since two previous American envoys left the region within a short span of time before him. The European Union has already its own special envoy in the region, Annette Weber, a veteran of the region and the continent that spans over 25 years. The Chinese have also recently appointed their own special envoy Xue Bing to the region.

A special Envoy does represent the Head of State and has special access to power in his own state and is therefore able to advance an agenda much faster than the normal diplomatic missions. It is perhaps the only reason a special envoy is appointed and more particularly when a country, region or multi-lateral group is working on a significantly important matter.

But why all these special envoys to the region? Other than the strategic location, are there other critically more important issues which the Horn of Africa States region is not aware of? Perhaps it is good that we look into this matter more in depth. Obviously, the first issue that we should look into is economics and let us see how important the region is economically for all these major powers. The region has oil and gas, the largest commodity traded in the world every day. This would be of great interest to any of these powers. Then there is uranium, where the Horn of Africa States is reported to be home to a third of the world’s reserves. But neither the oil and gas nor uranium, both sources of energy in the region are not exploited to date. They are only mentioned as a potential producer of these highly sought commodities.

There is also the long coastal belt of the region, some 4700 km on the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. This is also a rich fishing ground region that would be able to supply food for millions of people. But the beautiful white beaches, the nature of the seas themselves with its own fauna and flora, are attractive by themselves. A huge tourism industry is quite possible, although the populations of the Horn of Africa States do not see it clearly.

The most difficult part and perhaps why the special envoys are appointed for the region, as opposed to other regions in the continent, is that the owners of the Horn of Africa States have a history, a history as old as humanity itself and therefore represent themselves as not-too-easy a prey and therefore the region needs special envoys who can handle matters that cannot be handled with ease and care by normal ambassadorial diplomats. We must note that the region was an empire builder itself and invaded West Asia many a time in the past and its populace went and settled in countries as far as India and the islands spread in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Chegoes and Mauritius and others. And more recently, there was the battle of Adwa, where an invading Italian army was defeated and the Mad Mullah, Sayed Mohamed Abdullah Hassan who harassed the mighty British Empire for nearly a quarter of a century, prompting the Empire to use aero planes to bomb him and his Darwish state out of existence, when there was no other possibility of defeating him. It was the first-time aero planes were used in a war in Africa.

But who is Sarah Montgomery of the United Kingdom, who is appointed as Her majesty’s Special Envoy to the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa States? We must first welcome and salute her! She is reported to have been previously at the British embassy in Washington as “Trade and Economic Counsellor.” She is also reported to have held senior roles in the Gulf, Yemen, and Iran section at the UK’s National Security Secretariat. She was  “Head of the Gulf, Yemen, and Iran teams in the UK National Security Secretariat (and NSS lead on international strategy and engagement during the COVID-19 response).” She was at one time Development Director in the British High Commission, Kenya (in the then Department for International Development). The lady is well versed in the art of diplomacy and worked in many other important jobs for the United Kingdom foreign policy.

The main reason Montgomery was appointed is perhaps due to the fact that the Gulf and, in the main, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates, has become major players in the security of the Horn of Africa States  and especially after the election of the new president of Somalia, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmud, who is reported to be close to these two countries as opposed to his predecessor, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo. Her job in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa States is to use her expertise to develop a more coherent policy and strategy for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the region. She will engage with all the powers that be that are involved in the region, and she will be the “Ra’sa  Al Harba” or literally the “Head of the Spear” in Arabic of UK Government’s response to the international activities in the Horn of Africa States and the Red Sea.

The Horn of Africa is strategically important as it sits opposite the Arabian Peninsula, on one of the most important waterways of the world and more specifically on one of the significant choke points, the Babel Mandab (The Gate of Tears). It is a dynamic region whose main feature is continual evolvement of governance, hard times, civil strives and international involvements. The now overt presence of the Chinese is shaking nerves in many traditional circles that were involved in the Horn of Africa States region, and hence more special envoys. The United Nations Organization and the African Union have their own special envoys too. Perhaps a poor region such as the Horn of Africa is, is hiding something more critical than they are letting the poor general public know! Let us see then, the next special envoy and from what quarter? The Indians were sniffing around with Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the foreign Minister, in the region recently. Maybe we would see the Russians or the Turks or even the sleeping Arab League!


*DrWalhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at walhad@hornafric.org





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