By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
September 25th, 2023
The past and the present of the region profile it negatively. They both mark it as a hungry, starving, hopeless, conflict-ridden region, where tribes and clans fight over crumbs, a region, which does not look forward or plan for the future but, which lives in its day-to-day miseries. The region is still engaged in meaningless sovereign single-state infrastructures, that seem to be fighting with ghosts, without paying any attention to the world evolving around them, the hegemonistic forces from near and far, threatening the very existence of the region and preventing it from developing into a cohesive region.
It is over thirty years now that the region has been trying to find itself and where its constituent states have been suffering lonely struggles for survival in a constantly degrading world, where lies have become the norm, where oppression and aggression on nations and peoples over vast distances, are increasingly committed in the name of illusions.
It is perhaps time that the region moved away from this survival issue to one of planning for long-term development and economic growth creating employment for the bulging youthful population of the region, which is now inching towards a fifth of a billion people. It is in this respect that we have been proposing the Horn of Africa States for quite some years now. We discussed the subject mostly in grand terms but not really in depth. It is why we present to you, fellow, citizens, in this article, our vision of the region’s development prospects and the general socio-economic and political infrastructures it should follow in the future.
We know this would look like a dream when we know that in the past the countries of the region were mostly at war with each other for most of the past sixty years and that the populations of the region were incited against each other. We also know that each of the countries of the region has its own internal problems in the form of tribe/clan competition for power and we know that forces from beyond the region are constantly whispering into the ears of the region’s leaders. We also know that imported terror groups are functioning and operating in the region, so as not to let it breathe.
The challenges are enormous but face them, we must. Therefore, we present a general guiding beacon light for the future of the region. This might look confusing and impossible for some of my fellow citizens of the region, but deep down we know that there is a possibility of having the region working together and developing together into the future.
First, the region must create a platform in the form of an institution, which sets out the general goals, processes, and policies of the region. We call this the Horn of Africa States or HAS, an institution that unites and integrates the region into a cohesive unit that faces the problems of the region, both within and without. We mean an organization organized like the European Union or the Organization of Turkic States, where each country’s sovereignty is assured but which work together in developing common policies for dealing with internal policies on all fields and dealing with external parties in unison. Such an infrastructure would have departments that deal with, for example, agriculture, transportation, ports, airports, civil aviation, industries, marine and related activities, etc. It would also have common external policies, which emphasize the interests of the region, without antagonizing or stepping on the toes of others.
Second, the region must develop into a modern integrated regional economy emphasizing market-based infrastructures and policies, with a socio-cultural system transforming the thinking processes and outlook of the people of the region away from the traditional format into a regional citizen, where people feel at home in each of the states of the region, despite belonging to one of the states.
Third, the region must develop an economic development program emphasizing the development of the natural resources of the region be it agricultural, marine, industrial, telecommunication, and high-tech industries and so on. Such an economic policy should be pragmatic where the roles of both public and private interests are safeguarded for the betterment of the citizenry of the region. Decision-making and managerial skills should be based on possibilities and reasonable studies, that do not harm, unduly the environment.
Fourth, the region must develop an investment climate, which encourages investments from within and from without allowing for repatriation of both capital and profits and which protects the rights and obligations of all citizens, residents, and investors in each country.
Fifth, the region should thus formalize its outside borders and legal infrastructures and lay down a framework where all the states are linked together in economic activities in a common space. This would emphasize that a citizen of one state can start a business in another state with ease, and goods imported by one country and hence taxed, would be able to be transported to other member states without additional taxes, where such taxes can then be shared proportionately among the concerned states.
Sixth, the region is home to many ethnic groups. This ethnic or tribal composition of the region has been the pain of the region for so long and the region needs to deal with this problem in a pragmatic fashion where the rights and obligations of a citizen are protected both in law and actual actions. The region must work on maintaining inter-ethnic peace, harmony, and competition for anything should be based on ability, skills, and who can do better, as business is. We know many businesses start up and fail and others start up and may succeed. A citizen’s measure should always be on what he or she can achieve on his/her own skills/capacity and not on tribal/ethnic background. The living standards of the people of the region must be constantly and regularly improved if the region must go forward. This would necessarily require putting in place mechanisms for taking care of the downtrodden, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor. No society is good if does not look after its weak.
Now having noted the above, we know the region faces many challenges, that we share with the rest of the world like climate change, troubles associated with new world orders being created, developments in technologies at unprecedented high speeds, the world becoming almost one village and increasing populations and hence hunger, food shortages, water shortages, and of course, human suffering resulting from all the aforesaid and others.
It would, therefore, be necessary for the region, its leaders both ruling and opposition, civil societies, academicians, universities, and institutions of higher learning to pay attention to these ills and help work out solutions, that are original and regional. We must, therefore, in the respect emphasize the value of education for the youth of the region, and they must, therefore, be enabled to master the new technologies at play. Institutions of higher learning and universities must work hard in this respect and regional policy should, therefore, be put in place. The region is fortunate that it owns vast arable lands, native grains, and plenty of water, most of which is wasted unnecessarily. It must lay down policies for improving the agricultural policies of the region with the aim of becoming not only self-reliant in food production but also exporting food to others. It is ironic that the region relies on grain exports from countries at war like Ukraine.
Water shortages in the world are becoming critical. We are already aware of the crisis the GERD has already created. This is not the end and others may come to the fore in the future. This requires a defendable regional policy with respect to water. The region already owns a large and growing population, which must be always assured of water availability, and effective policies in this regard would be needed.
No development takes or can take place without energy. The region has now access to the GERD which may produce enough energy for the region. But this is not enough and will not be enough in the future. The region enjoys an extensive solar energy potential, wind energy potential, and even geothermal potential, which must be developed. The region would need concerted energy development policies, particularly, when we also know that it has potential elephantine fields of oil and gas both onshore and offshore, which must be developed.
The region overlooks one of the main seaways of the world – the Suez Canal-Red Sea-Bab El Mandab-Gulf of Aden-Somali Sea-Indian Ocean. It has a coast of some 4,700 km of mostly white beaches and hence nearly a million square km of maritime exclusive economic zone, which presents a potentially large blue economy. It is also the easternmost region of Africa and, therefore, represents a major gateway for Africa to Asia, its east, south, and west, and even Europe, with which the region had historical ties throughout recorded history.
The subject is vast. This is but a cursory look at the matter. The success of the region or its failure for that matter depends on you all. We know the region can do better and it should do better. We must know that the destiny of the region mostly lies in the hands of its people, and you must respond to the challenges at hand with positive energy. You would succeed, if you put your energies together, in this regard. Good Luck.