By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
February 27th, 2023
The Horn of Africa States is often confused in map presentations with the IGAD region. One must note that the Horn of Africa States is a different region which does not include countries like Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan. None of them belong to the Horn of Africa States which consist of the SEED countries, namely Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. There are, of course, the wishes of those who benefit from lumping together East African and Horn African countries and there are those who for some historical and/or non-apparent reasons deliberately confuse the map of the Horn of Africa States region. This is, perhaps, why the region’s political, economic, and social progress remains stunted for there seems to be confusion as to what is actually the Horn of Africa States region.
Geographically, it is a region that currently consists of the four countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. Politically, they may not, at present, be fully aligned, but these countries have a lot in common, including but not limited to historical background, population ethnicity, complementarity in economic profile, political instabilities, mainly emanating from the tribal/community nature of the social infrastructure of the people.
Much like the Gulf Co-operation Council of Arabia, they share a common destiny and therefore should naturally be aligned together in all aspects of life, including economic development and economic cooperation, and/or facing the world together. The relationships of the region had its own ups and downs throughout the long history of the region, but what is clear is that when they are working together, they were better and left the region’s mark on their worlds of those long-ago times, and when they were divided, they all went down and sunk, each in its own problems and quagmires.
The region appears poor in the eyes of the world but this is not really the true picture of the region’s economic potential. There is always a need for regional development which needs finance and funds and the individual countries of the region are always stretching their hands begging other countries for assistance. They never look inward and never prepare the way to look inward. They could make the rules of the game in the region better to make people trust the systems of governance within the region and its member states. It is how the funds within the region, large enough to finance many projects, can be exploited for development.
The system must be enabled to protect the local investors and for that matter any investor so that they can invest in the region instead of keeping their monies and funds outside the region. It is how they make other countries employ their people using the region’s monies partially, of course. But if the systems of the Horn of Africa States were made to be safe, people would naturally invest in their lands. I was a Chief Executive Officer of a bank once and a customer came to me for financing a project. I knew he was a customer of one of the competitive banks and he said that he could not trust them anymore, simply because the other bank would steal the idea and finance itself for itself or for one of its friends. If there was a law protecting intellectual properties or for that matter the rights of everyone, then the people would respect the law. They would not run away and migrate and perhaps die in the high seas of some far away regions. People would be employed at home and would not need to run, and funds stashed away in other parts of the world would find their way back into the region. Even funds scattered in one part of the region would find their way to be invested in other parts of the region.
The region is underdeveloped, and there is no doubt about that, and hence needs to deploy the funds in the region to help overcome the underemployed or the unemployed, which would contribute to the further development of the region. It is a chain reaction where each element of the process also triggers another for the better, only if the laws of the region and hence the systems were fair and just and protected for both the weak and the strong or the rich and the poor.
The region owns, indeed, an entrepreneurial culture which it should take advantage of. Should the laws and process be eased instead of fossilized, foreign investors collaborating with local investors could be providing finances for the development of the region. Note the region enjoys a long coastal belt of over 4,700 km excluding the coasts of its numerous islands, where tourism resorts could be established taking advantage of the clean blue seas of the region or the huge agricultural lands of the region which could be producing not only for local populations but millions more across the world and the large youthful population that can take advantage of the digital technologies of today and contribute to its further development, and who could also be employed in industrial projects in the region.
The Horn of Africa States region should look carefully into itself and abandon the old fashioned tribal competition, where one group believes that they have God-given rights to govern and where others believe that they more numerous than the others, and where, hence creativity, excellence, and competence is thrown out of the window.
Cooperation among the SEED countries would be seen by many as a dangerous development and these countries would need to be discrete but clearly determined on their common destiny. They and only they truly own each other and can only move forward together. It cannot be the IGAD region or the East/Central Africa Community or the Arab region. They have the lands, the seas and the population and an important geostrategic location. Take advantage of it and do not lose sight of this, however much they try to use the sons and daughters of the region to rip it off country by country. Do they not say in the lands of the Horn of Africa States that those who come together can even mend cracks in the sky?