By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
July 16th, 2023
The elite and the political class of the Horn of Africa States region, currently appear to be drifting, with no particular direction, unlike the predecessor leaderships of the region in the past. Despite their knowledge of the fact that the region is located in a geostrategic location extremely important for most nations of the world, the region’s leadership appears to be more concerned with handling local dilemmas and internal issues that should have been settled long ago, but which remains re-inventing itself constantly, namely the tribal/clan competition for power, in essence money. This seems to being re-enforced by external forces which prefer to keep them busy on anything other than waking up to taking advantage of its geostrategic location, an asset many covet to have.
Some three years ago, there seemed to have been attempts towards reconciliation of the region and cooperation and, indeed, some efforts to pioneer a new regional construct, different from those that was constructed in the nineteenth century by Europe’s colonial powers of the time. However, at present, the instabilities of the region compounded by those beyond the region such as Ukraine conflict, the souring USA/China relations, the waning power of Europe and the apathy of the Afro-Asiatic regions, continue to be of concern to many pundits.
The major factor that has changed in the past year was the change of leadership in Somalia, which appears to have a different attitude towards the region. Perhaps, one should conclude that it is a matter of the personalities of leadership or communications among them. While this may be the case, there seems to be another dimension to the problem of the region. This is related to the unease and unpreparedness of the political class of the region to accept radical changes to the infrastructure of the region or even to accept closer relations among the countries of the region. Is this an internal issue based on the old ethno-centered nationalisms or are they being brainwashed by foreign forces? Whatever the case, there seems to be a continuation of the politicians’ adversarial and non-cooperative relations.
Building new relationships is not generally easy and it takes time and effort to grow and thrive, but there should at least be a driving force, determined to make any relationship successful. It cannot be all the parties involved at the same time. That would be a great paradox if it was the case. This, therefore, needs at least the foreign ministers of the region to be communicating with each other regularly and preparing the ground for major encounters among the leadership. This would influence how the political class discovers opportunities and maintains them. In the process there would be disappointments and resulting frustrations, but politicians should not give up processes that are beneficial for the region and its people, who share much more than their differences.
Everyone knows that the Horn of Africa States is a conflicted region and that it is marked by miseries that involve loss of human lives through not only natural forces such as droughts and famines but also through man-made disasters such as the tribal/clan wars for power-grabbing and imported religious terrorism. It may, therefore, be unrealistic to expect all these issues and foreign interferences to end suddenly. However, one should always have an optimistic view to push the region towards peace and stability and, indeed, closer relations that would serve it better than what it has, hitherto, been exposed to.
They say in the Horn of Africa States that one can only avert a disaster or a misfortune before it happens but cannot do anything about it once it happens. The region has already suffered so much over the past three or even four decades. One cannot continue lamenting about the past but should work hard to avoid repetition of the past mistakes, and it is, therefore, important that the region starts working on changing the old formulae, which did not work well for it. A closer and a more cooperative approach to its many issues, both domestic and foreign, would be better. It is where the foreign ministries of the region should be dusting out their ledgers towards the region, before too much dust settles on them. Peace would be a dividend of a closer relationship among the SEED countries, as cooperation among the region’s security services reduces possibilities of conflicts spreading beyond small locations which can eventually be controlled and eliminated.
Another dividend of closer cooperation among the SEED countries would include improvement of governance as governments turn to the business of governance away from conflicts and conflict resolutions and managing wars both within each country and those with others beyond the region. One should note that rebellions and criminalities increase in conflict zones. In some countries, the economic system may depend on weapons and war industries, but the Horn of Africa States region is not one of those. It, indeed, is one of the victims of weapons-based economies, which use it as a market for their killer war machines and products.
The dividends of a closer relationship among the SEED countries would also include economic development and in particular, private business. Trade, indeed, promotes peace and eliminates conflicts as commercial interests and business take over the mindset of people in the place of military confrontations. This would enhance and promote the building of a healthy economy away from the informal and mostly illegal trade among the countries of the region. The private business would, no doubt, include investments of corporations in one country in the other countries to serve the large market of the region. They may include manufacturers, banking and finance and other services companies.
A further dividend of a closer SEED cooperation would include the sharing of costs of projects that are too big for one state alone to bear, and which would eventually benefit all. They may include the building of port infrastructures, airports, roads and rail and other major investments.
Elimination of mistrust among the SEED countries and promotion of friendships among them would create more opportunities. Less energy and less resources would be spent on military build-ups and imports of arms and other war-related products when there is peace and closer cooperation among the countries of the region. This creates a climate of friendships and trust, which eliminates suspicions among the countries of the region and enhances, in its place, cooperation and hence collective assurance against non-regional threats.
In short, closer cooperation among the SEED countries would promote the flow of goods, capital, people goods and services and goodwill among the states of the region and this would speed up its economic development, eliminate its multi-faceted conflicts, reduce foreign interferences using its idiosyncrasies and indeed, help to promote its financial systems, reducing their dependencies on the mercy of others.