By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
June 8th, 2023
When governments meet the needs of their people and country or region, they are described as being “Good Governments”. When they fail their people, country or region, and do not provide or are unable to meet the needs of their people, they are called “Bad Governments”. Being good or bad is relative to the environment under which a government operates, but this does not rule out the expectations of the general population of a country or region and even the international community.
Both good governments and bad governments collapse eventually, and they can last for short or longer periods. In any case, when there is good governance, people tend to rely on the government for many of their needs and sustenance. These are generally good economic infrastructures that provide food, education, housing, health services, roads, rail and other transportation means, and others, all functioning properly and smoothly. Good governments, in their turn, receive the support of the citizenry in terms of taxes and other services such as helping defend the country or region from enemies from within and from without. Societies that are governed well tend to rely heavily on the infrastructures in place and the leadership of the country or region.
When bad governance is in place, one should expect the opposite. There are generally no common platforms to guide the populace and people tend to fend for themselves for their sustenance. They do not rely on the leadership of the country or region and may even throw up traitors or what is generally referred to as the fifth column, which keeps undermining even the small and good things bad governance was trying to achieve. Bad governments generally undermine the core principles of a society, its morals and ideals. They, indeed, behave in norms that are not generally acceptable to the society they rule. These could be corruption and illegal wealth accumulation, nepotism, using their children and wives in governance infrastructures and bureaucracies, rewarding crooks and punishing the good ones in the society.
The Horn of Africa States region, over the past sixty to seventy years, has been marked by a serious crisis in governance. Power was and is centralized and institutions of governance are weakened by those in power and hence the region was never able to find balance and equilibrium. Governance seems to being used to keep those in power, in power and the general populace of the region seems to being abandoned to their wiles. No wonder many migrate away and cause the region to lose its skilled people, and in their place, allowing mercenaries and crooks to thrive in the region.
The region remains on the table of most countries and institutions that are concerned with developments in the region. These include among others, the United Nations Security Council, the United States of America, the European Union, China, the African Union, Türkiye, India, the EAC, and others. Probably the files on the Horn of Africa States region on most tables would constitute a large percentage of the total files and other dossiers that are scrutinized regularly. This, in the main, results from its strategic location overlooking one of the main seaways of the world for commercial and other shipping requirements of the world. Being the source of the Blue Nile adds to its significance. The fact that the region was governed in the past by strongmen, who eventually led to the total collapse of proper governance in the region, adds to the dilemma of the region.
The annual commercial goods that pass through the region’s strategic choke point, Bal El Mandab, a body of water barely 28 km wide, amount to some US$ 700 billion carried by some 25,000 to 30,000 ships including some 2 billion barrels of oil. The region owns a maritime zone where naval forces of many countries ply on a daily basis and keep vigil in the region. These include the navies of the United States, Peoples’ Republic of China, Russia, India, Turkey, Egypt, GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar), Spain, Germany, South Korea Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and others.
No wonder the world has dispatched so many special envoys beyond the normal ambassadorial representations to the region. They include envoys from the United Nations Organization, The UNHCR, the African Union, the United States, the European Union, the Peoples’ Republic of China, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Finland, Turkey, Japan, and others.
Governance in the Horn of Africa States region has been improving over the years but remain far short of optimal levels. Ethiopia, which enjoyed great stability over much of the past hundred years, recently found itself fighting for existence and barely resisted breakup, while Somalia remains the most fragile of the region, where extra-governmental actors still play havoc on the country in terms of religious terrorism, fractured constituencies, that do not show loyalty to the federal government, and of course the new locusts in the form of NGOs. Eritrea remains isolated and an unknown quantity while Djibouti keeps watch on the unpredictabilities of a region, generally marked by violence and volatility.
The region is recovering from a very unstable situation and the international community, as usual was not helpful despite claims to the opposite. Indeed, many of the foreign players in the region prefer to keep the region conflicted, not knowing that the flames they rekindle could one day backfire on them. These are, in the main, neighboring regions such as those of the EAC and the GCC countries.
The opposition parties of the region appear not have understood what an opposition should be. By opposing everything a ruling party does even if it is good for the country or region, they appear to be working for the enemies of their countries and region. Indeed, they mostly represent a fifth column in the affairs of the Horn of Africa States region. They sell out their countries and region cheaply.
No wonder they create resistance to their activities by the ruling parties and hence more restrictions which then makes the ruling parties autocratic and authoritarian. This has been the repetitive cycle of the Horn of Africa States governance infrastructures todate. When will they learn and understand?
It is clear that countries like Somalia is just recovering from a long and terrible civil war imposed on the nation using its weaknesses in the form its ethnic and clan composition. Social contracts are not yet established, and politicians only see negativity in all actions of others. Ethiopia is not different, for it has embarked on a trail that cannot be thanked – the ethnic/religious divides of the population. The other members of the region, namely Eritrea and Djibouti still continue to remain under the same ruling parties for the present.
Thus, the Horn of Africa States region, despite gaining some ground in the recent past, continues to suffer from longstanding challenges where consensus-building and the art of compromise remains elusive. The region is still working on state formation, which satisfies its populations, but misguided foreign interferences, poverty and climate change, remain obstacles that the governments of the region need to overcome. It is where a collective approach on the matter rather than the singular state approach is most necessary and required.
The devolution of powers within the Horn of Africa States region although generally accepted by the populace has caused more problems than originally envisaged where tribal/clan sub-national states seem to be applying powers that should normally stay with the federal governments. The cases of internal conflicts in both Ethiopia and Somalia is based on the sharing of sub-national tribal/ethnic states with the center. It is an element that was not well thought of in the past and which must be addressed by current and/or future leaders of the region.
The democratic process in the region remains stunted for it is not based on ideologies and ideas to move the nations forward but on tribal/ethnic basis where the worst among the clan/ethnic groups are thrown up to lead nations which they cannot, for they neither have the capacity nor the morals to sustain a thriving democratic process. The region would need to revisit its whole civic infrastructures through intense and fast retraining of the populations. The people of the region would need to be re-educated as to what their civic duties truly are.
The present governance of the region would need to take stock of their situation. They, indeed, have unruly populations and uncooperative global communities to manage. Many of the international communities wonder why the region is so volatile, ignoring the fact they, the international community, had much to do with the present seemingly unmanageable chaos in the region, just to protect their usage of the region’s geostrategic location and huge land and maritime resources.
The past cannot be undone but the future can be shaped. The governments of the Horn of Africa States should at least be sitting around the table to figure out together how to address the region’s plight. They would be able to find some solutions which would be helpful not only to them for the rest of their terms but also for those who would come after them. No one lasts forever. It would be wise if they left some good marks for themselves in the pages of history.