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The Horn of Africa States Peace and Development Summit (June 20-21st, 2022)

June 19, 2022

By
Dr. Suleiman Walhad
June 19th, 2022

And now that China’s non-intervention policies in the governance of others appears to being left behind through the expected June 20-21 Peace Summit for the Horn of Africa co-hosted by Kenya and Ethiopia, to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it is good time to revisit our views on the Horn of Africa States’ peace and development, presented earlier on April 15, 2022 and perhaps expand it a little on the matter of peace and development in the region.

Probably, it is good to start by redefining the region, where it seems, that there is a confusion on where is “The Horn of Africa” and the Horn of Africa States. Obviously, one can start with defining it as the “conflicted states” or the “Drought and Famine States” with recurrent conflicts or droughts and famines, all man-made and mostly resulting from the pressures of non-Horn-Africans who have interest in keeping the region conflicted and destitute, while they take the natural resources of the region. But it is best to define it geographically, as it is clearer and more cut.

Indeed, the Horn of Africa States, which needs peace and development, are the countries of the Horn of Africa Peninsula, most often referred to as the Somali Peninsula as opposed to the Arabian Peninsula on the other side of the seas dividing the two regions and are represented by the SEED countries, an acronym for Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, which were plagued for over a century by forces from beyond. In fact, the four states were formed by these foreign forces and ever since, their arrival towards the middle of the nineteenth century, the region found no peace for pseudo-nationalisms and ethno-based conflicts were instigated within the region, using some of the unscrupulous sons of the region, in addition to climatic changes, drought and man-made famines.

The region does not include countries like Kenya or Uganda, South Sudan or Sudan, which belong to other blocks like the East Africa Community or the “Swahili World” or the Egypto-Sudanese block, which wanes away one time only to bounce again another time. But one often sees in the Horn of Africa, countries like Kenya or Uganda or the Sudanese (North and South), which appear to be double-dipping, taking from this group or that. They are here and there and the world beyond often gets confused and sends envoys to vast unrelated regions with differing problems and differing issues to manage. No wonder some of them fail and admit their failure and leave, but there are those with more malign intentions who despite knowing the difference, still stay and continue the confusion. Such is the European Union, which in the past was the main colonialist of the region for some one hundred years.

The unending story of the Horn of Africa States’ problems started with the Europeans, indeed, followed by the cold war antagonists of NATO and Warsaw Pact, and continued by the Americans and its lackeys in the region and now the Chinese have come to push over the Americans. What does this pose for the region? We know of the American footprint in the region, in its endless war against terrorism and its presence in Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and Balli Doogle in Somalia to name a few of the American presence, using hired soldiers from the region to do their “works.” The Chinese have also shown up in the region with its first foreign based naval outpost in Djibouti and this overt competition does not pose well for the Horn of Africa States, which needs peace and development and not conflicts beyond the region being played out in its soil and seas. The Horn of Africa States must know that they are targeted individually for a country like Djibouti stands no chance of confronting either China or the USA and the same goes for all the other three individually. The Peace Summit in the Horn of Africa is an indication of China’s currently more aggressive and open approach. Will they enforce it through land forces this time or use soft persuasion? This is to be seen!

We see Somalia just coming off an election process that should have been completed in one day like all other election processes in the world. In the Somali case, the election process dragged on for some two years and was completed only recently with the election of President Hassan Sh. Mahmoud. He has nominated Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, yet to be confirmed by the Federal Parliament. How did it take that long? We will let the reader use his/her imagination to figure out the whys and the how’s! At least, on the positive side, one should include this, in the Guinness Book of Records, as the longest election process ever in the world!!! – Another milestone in Africa’s governing processes.

In Ethiopia, a peaceful country for quite a long time and the beacon of hope for many other African countries, historically and economically, out of the blue, found itself in a civil conflict and actual internal war in 2020 and that conflict still lingers on. It does not pose well for the country. They even tried to test Ethiopia’s tolerant society, where one can worship how one wants. The recent Gondar clash between Muslims and Christians, people who lived together for over a thousand years, is a prime example of this.

Eritrea has been a pariah in the region for quite some years and it is only recently that the chains around the country were being slowly removed only to see that those who do not wish it well are working hard to keep it in the enclosure designed for it. Djibouti plays all the cards, and this tiny state would not stand the pressures exerted on it, in the longer run. It would appear that fatigue is setting in.

This is why the way to survival of the region of the Horn of Africa States lies in the four countries working together to face the external pressures and have their populations saved from the miseries emanating from the influences of foreign related issues and their own internal idiosyncrasies. Remobilizing the populations towards living together with their neighboring populations in the region should be a prime target of the elite of the countries of the Horn of Africa States, both ruling groups and opposition.

The old prejudices should be removed, and the slate cleaned off the antagonisms, the fake nationalisms and the ethno-federal governing structures that were put in place by those who did not wish the region well. It would be on the onus of the ruling elite, the academicians and the new young bloods to come up with a format that is workable for all members. A partnership in the format of the European Union would be ideal with grand outlines of the rule of law within the region. The member countries can have their own internal rules, but they should be in line with a master treaty approved by all the populations individually through referendums in each country.

The master strategy of China is to tie together the European, Asian and African economic zones into one giant Afro-Eurasian economic zone, while the Americans would first look into the western hemisphere as their traditional backyard. The Americans are, however, overambitious as usual and are also looking into competing with China in the Afro-Eurasian zone through an initiative they call the “Build Back Better World”. This is an infrastructure financing mechanism for low- and middle-income countries,  and it is designed to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative. How both will fair, we leave it to the future!

What should the Horn of Africa States do in this fierce competition between these giant bulls? It is not easy for a poor region, such as the Horn of Africa States is, to play one against the other, but welcoming both and taking advantage of whatever is offered to the best of the region’s ability would be good. However, as they say there is no free bread, and the price tag might be high. It is where a collective approach to the matter would be the most appropriate.

A man had ten sons and he gave each one a stick and then he asked the first one to break his stick and it split into two parts. He took back all the sticks and added a tenth one to replace the broken stick and then asked his son to hold them together and break them. This time it was difficult. Teaming together and working together provides a stronger negotiating ploy and this would lessen the pain. It is high time the Horn of Africa States took advantage of its main resources – the seaways, the river waters, the strategic location and its growing and talented large young population in addition to its sub-soil and above soil wealth, which all add up to a significant force, other regions would seriously pay attention to. It is the role of the leaders and ruling elite to guide and prepare the region for the future.

The much-pronounced idea of China not interfering in the internal policies of countries has not been proven, for their full support for ruling elites and corrupting them, is reported in the international media. However, the fact that any foreigner would attempt to influence the leadership of poorer countries cannot be disputed. It has always been the ways of history. Both the Americans and the Chinese are after their interests and why shouldn’t the Horn of Africa States look after its interests too? And since they cannot individually be able to negotiate better terms, is it not a better idea for member countries of the Horn of Africa States to work together? While some would attempt to disrupt this co-operation among the Horn of Africa States, in the long run, they would fail.

And the Chinese political interference is showing its true colors through the now announced “Peace Summit” to be held in Addis Ababa, to be co-hosted by a non-Horn of Africa States country, Kenya, which falsely claims to be part of the Horn of Africa States, when it knows it belongs and perhaps even leads the East Africa Community or perhaps, it is the Chinese who are confusing the region even more. Ending the conflict in the Horn of Africa is not the affair of others, but the affair of the Horn of Africa States leaders (both rulers and opposition). It is they who should be sitting together and using their ages-old art of compromise and living together, to show their people the way to real peace through equitable sharing. It is the only way, for peace can neither be fixed by others be it the Chinese or the American-led West.

One thing should be clear, though! It is that the Horn of Africa States includes only Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, most of which were wracked by civil wars, foreign-inspired terrorism, overstaying in power or military or attempted military coups. It does not include Kenya, or Uganda or South Sudan or Sudan and the confusion starts here. The Non-Horn of Africa States have problems and issues that are not related to the ethnic conflicts in the Horn of Africa, the main gateway used by foreigners to the region through supporting this group or that group and hence expanding and turning the effects of a minor clash into  one of national proportions. It is how international terrorists seep into the landscape using the traditional culture and faith of the people as the gate-opener. It is how the negative aspects of life are promoted such as processes of negativism, non-compromise and those arts that lead to conflict creation and maintenance.

Would Xue Bing, China’s special envoy to the so-called “ larger Horn of Africa” succeed in brokering peace and development in the region? It is doubtful! The uncharted waters of his mission remain murky. Starting with non-regional parties to be included to the core region, the SEED, is a non-starter for one. Beijing should have appointed a special envoy for, solely, the Horn of Africa States, and not have included the so-called greater Horn as its main springboard for its now new interventionist policy. This is just copy-catting the American-led West strategy, which already failed, for they lump together regions, which have nothing to do with each other. No wonder two American envoys left the region within short spans of time. Can China fall into the same trap? It did, indeed, do so.

The Horn of Africa States is a special region which has special needs. Unlike many other African regions, it is part of the ancient world, which dealt with the Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and even the Chinese. Its understanding of world affairs and their place in the world should be read differently. It is not part of the colonially created regions of the East Africa Community and enjoys a long history that special envoys should learn and know before they embark on their journeys to the region. It is understanding  and knowing “who one is dealing with”, which makes a difference. Many of them come to the region and then complain that the Horn of Africa people have little sense on the “art of compromise”, but they do and have lived together in the region for millennia. They can still live together and would find their own ways of achieving it, should there be no special envoys who come as instructors and masters teaching the people how to live! Or who play one group against another and another and another!

It is one of the unfortunate stories of the Horn of Africa States, that young unemployed Westerners show up in the region and enrich themselves through linking themselves with powerful organizations in the home countries who have interest in the continuation of conflicts of the region ad hence the disruption of the lives of the people of the Horn of Africa States. It is perhaps the way of the world, where the strong trample on the weak in the endless process of survival.

The onus is on the leadership of the region (both rulers and opposition) not only to ward off the foreigner from whichever quarter, but also to work towards bringing the people together and creating a truly regional block that serves the region. The old prejudices created by the ex-politicians and foreigners should be wiped off and removed, and this can be easily achieved through the movement of goods, people and capital across the Horn of Africa States region.

It is better to swim together than to sink divided!

*DrWalhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at walhad@hornafric.org.

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