By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
May 5th, 2023
Instability and fragility are descriptions that mark the Horn of Africa States region. The new flare up of the Sudan conflict only adds to the miseries of the region. This has been the case of the region over the last four decades and prompted by internal conflicts based on ethnicity and tribalism and, of course, prodded by foreigners fighting their proxy wars in the region. One of the most homogenous countries of the world, Somalia is a great example where clan/hunting groups could destroy a country and leave it exposed to all kinds of marauding forces that have no interest in the wellbeing of the country.
And Somalia is not the only one but Ethiopia, the largest among the four SEED countries of the region has also been affected by tribalism and ethnic conflicts. No one can explain the Tigray war or the current Amhara uprising against the Federal authorities of the country other than being tribalistic and the same goes for the other continuing conflicts such as the Somali/Afar or the Amhara/Oromo infighting in the country or the Amhara/Tigray wars.
Djibouti has been subjected to tribal conflict (The Afar/Somali) in the nineties and this, although currently quiet, is smoldering under the ashes. Eritrea under its long ruling party is on the brink of an explosion, for as soon as the aging leadership is out of the way, no one knows what would become of the nine different nationalities in the country.
The Horn of Africa States region, although generally from the same Cushitic stock, yet destroys itself through its sub-clan and tribal formations which have been the backbone of organization in the region. This, indeed, is paradoxical for it is a sword with two edges – an edge which is dangerous for others when the region is organized and an edge which can splinter it just like a broken glass. Over the past hundred years, it would appear the edge which splinters the region has been the main active culprit and it has pushed country against country and tribe against tribe and sub-clan against another sub-clan of the same tribe. The result is that it made the current Horn of Africa states region, the laughingstock of the world, which produces so many of the refugees of the world and as unstable and as fragile as any region can be, even producing a classical example of a failed state.
The tribal/clan conflicts of the region causes more damage to its people than any foreigner can, for it no longer produces its own food and relies heavy on aid and food grants from an increasingly impoverished world, busy on its own internal problems and the European wars that seem to have been rekindled by the current war in Ukraine. These have made the region more unstable and more fragile.
There was, indeed, some progress in the recent past when economic growth in the region was improving and countries like Ethiopia and Djibouti were achieving growth of GDP at above 6% and even the most fragile state, the literal failed state of Somalia, was making a 3% GDP growth. Little is known of the Eritrean economy for the country remains closed to foreigners and outside studies.
Events in the past three years appear to have pushed back any progress achieved earlier as Ethiopia plunged into the Tigray conflict and the change in the Somali government a year ago, which seems not to be building on the progress achieved earlier. The current Somali government appears to be destroying most of the achievements earlier made and pursues a completely differing goal and strategies and not necessarily for the better. Djibouti economy is a function of what happens in the surrounding countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen and it appears, at present, to be stuck as all three countries are busy dealing with security matters instead of working on and developing the economies of their countries. The region thus remains fragile with the recent consecutive droughts taking their toll and worsened by the war in Ukraine which has disrupted supply of grains to the region.
The region remains to be affected by its communal infrastructure of tribes and clans and hence competition over the resources which in the past was related to water, and arable lands and perhaps some minerals, but which now seems to be represented in the governance infrastructures of the states. Those who rule would get most of the economic pie, so the failed politicians of the states, perhaps, reason. This competition over the governance of the states has weakened the states, and indeed, fractured the traditional social contracts. These local competitive manifestations have been aggravated by foreign parties and more so, the current geopolitical competition among the major powers and regional powers, each pursuing its own interests in the region. There appears to be a need for the accessibility of ports, mineral reserves, fresh water and ultimately the geostrategic location of the region. These have caused the region’s instability and fragility and the resultant poverty and the continuing migration out of the region to other parts of the globe.
There comes, therefore, the need for a new approach for the Horn of Africa States. A cooperation among the states of the region and integrating the economies of the region would build a better, more stable and peaceful region. This should not belittle state-level development programs. Cooperation and collaboration among the states would only add value to the state-level programs. The ethnic/tribal element, the main cause of the issues, would no longer become a determining factor in the lives of people who would together live under a new set of rules that go beyond the competing tribal/ethnic groupings in state settings.
The Horn of Africa States is not poor. It is made poor by its own people who collaborate with the foreigner who does not want it to be different from what it is presently – an impoverished, unstable and fragile region. We know the region’s location alone represents a money-making machine if well utilized. Its long and beautiful coasts, other than producing marine food, can also be a major tourist attraction to build on a major blue economy and its vast agricultural lands and animal life can be a source of food, not only for the region but also for many more millions beyond the region. Like many other parts of the African continent, the region is not devoid of minerals, which abound in the region. Gold, diamonds, aluminum, phosphates, uranium, oil and gas, copper, iron ore, rare earths and many more are reported to be in the region.
But it is also the source of the Blue Nile which provides most fresh water to northeast Africa, and it enjoys one of the most expansive solar presence, geothermal energy and even wind and oceanic energy. The Horn of Africa States, indeed, is blessed but also cursed by its own resources and hence is unable to find its way through the present quagmire. Integration and collaboration among the states is the only route through which it can lessen the effects and impact of the forces arraigned against it.
Many people of the region believe that a regional integrated economy would dismantle, belittle and destroy a national impetus. Perhaps, they do not understand what a regional integrated economy represents. Economic integration does not involve losing one’s sovereignty. It is an agreement between two or more countries to eliminate trade barriers, allow for easy travel and both people and goods, and align both fiscal and monetary policies among themselves. It does not represent one country taking over another country or destruction of the economy of one country as opposed to the growing of the economy of another. It, indeed, is what most failed politicians would opine against. The Horn of Africa States region is in a state which can only be saved through an integrated infrastructure to look after the region and its people.