By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
July 8th, 2023
How are the moods and attitudes of the people of the Horn of Africa changing with the changing moods of the international community and the region itself? It is, indeed, a difficult question but simple at the same time. The Horn of Africa States is located in one of the geostrategic locations of the world where those who are facing off with each other see each other eyeball to eyeball. On the one hand, one notices that the region is oblivious to all those matters going around it, staying engaged in its traditional harmonies and disharmonies, mostly expressed through violent clan/tribal competition for power and hence, laying down the bed works for further internal conflicts in the region. On the other, the region seems to be on top of its situation and keeps managing and hosting all those opposing international groups on the same ground. They all need the region, anyway.
The world is changing, but whether for better or for worse, is unclear, but it certainly does not appear to be any longer at ease. We still have the Russian-NATO confrontation in Ukraine, which gets worse by the day, and we have the traditional conflicts of West Asia still simmering with no end in sight. The conflicts of the Horn of Africa States and its tribal shades, its hunger and insecurities also appear to have no end in themselves. The region’s woes seem to being worsened by international terrorism and climate change, which is playing havoc on an already distraught region.
There was hope for the region when some gubernatorial changes took place, but the changes seem not have improved its plights, its problems and/or its conflicts. On the contrary, one notices the region appears to be reverting to its old ways of internal conflicts, which only helps more those who want to take advantage of its bounties. The two main countries of the region, namely Somalia and Ethiopia, seem to be at odds with each other, while the other two countries, Eritrea and Djibouti, were never at peace for a long time. The recent return of Eritrea to the regional fold was, thought to be, perhaps, a new beginning but the political outlook of the region’s leaders to international problems, which have nothing to do with the region, seems to be tearing it apart, one again, making the region, a pawn to be moved about as others wish.
Has this something to do with the personalities of the regional leaders or is it lack of communication among them, or is this something to do with the larger public of the region? It remains unclear. However, what is clear is that the consensus and the closer relations among the member countries of the region in the recent past, appears to be wearing off, and this provides the foreign hands that were operating in the region, some respite, enabling them to continue disrupting the region and preventing it from ever rising to its measure.
The region, indeed, needs to find itself and move on from the past, where it lost many of its youth through unnecessary conflicts. It is a world of blocks, where the single state format, only remains with the bigger powers. But even great powers gather around themselves many other countries. It is how economies are expanded and how economies of scale are exploited to develop country economies as well. A common approach to common problems should be the natural way to handle issues. It is how peoples of countries in the same region come to know each other and/or discover each other, despite being segregated from each other through political maneuverings.
The region must notice the emerging multipolar world, the growing cohesion among the old European protagonists and the new powers that are emerging such as India, China, Turkey and Brazil. Indeed, West Asia seems to be also changing through the influences of the new emerging powers. The old antagonisms between the GCC and Iran seems to being managed for the better and in a more peaceful way instead of the confrontations of the past. The problems seem to being exported to Africa and most notably to northeast Africa, which is closest to West Asia. The internal conflict of Sudan, the endless clan-based politics of Somalia and, indeed, the tribal wars of Ethiopia, all seem to have foreign hand involvements. Would the region wake up to address these matters collectively? This should be drawing the attention of the elite of the region, including its ruling politicians and opposition, academia and its civic societies.
Wouldn’t the region be better off working together? It would be unrealistic to have each of the countries developing smoothly, on its own and making their own choices without directly or indirectly affecting the affairs of a neighboring country. It is, perhaps, time the region realized and acted upon the geostrategic location of the region and took advantage of it collectively.
The Horn of Africa States region must not only look at its gloomy picture painted of it by foreign media. It is, indeed, a nice place which is home to millions of people who go about their chores of survival on a daily basis. It is a region which is rich in resources and a youthful population that can be molded into a formidable regional economic power. Many of its leaders must know better than what they actually do or are forced to do, but the region can install and maintain peace not only in each country but collectively in the whole region. Trade among the countries already exists albeit on a small scale and exchange of students and education and health services also take place. It is these minor activities that the region needs to build on and improve and enlarge. The region must share the fruits of its resources, and this is the only way forward, if it has to recover some of its past glories and forge new paths of growth and development for itself.