By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
August 4th, 2022
It is often said that countries and regions, and in fact empires collapse because of two major factors. The first is external aggression to which currently, the Horn of Africa States, as it presents itself, is vulnerable. It is strategically located and is coveted by many a nation as it straddles one of the main seaways of the world – the Red Sea, Bal El Mandeb, Gulf of Aden and the Somali Sea (northern Indian Ocean) and is the source of the Blue Nile and the Sobhat and Atbara rivers which provide most waters to Egypt and Sudan. The region also owns though not exploited as it should be, a huge hydrocarbon potential and in particular oil and gas both onshore and offshore. In the current world of today under the crisis of Ukraine and Taiwan, external competition and foreign quarrels, as being brought to the region, appear to be an ever more dangerous threat to its already suffering populations.
The other factor is internal chaos and decay. The Horn of Africa States consists of countries which house internally competing tribal and clan concoctions that can easily be exploited by any external aggressor as seems to be the case. The member countries of the region appear to be drifting apart, although in the recent past, there appeared to have been a rapprochement – The Somali/Ethiopian/Eritrean co-operation. This appears to be withering away with the election of a new administration in Somalia. The latter is drifting aimlessly to join another region, the East Africa Community with which it shares little and for the wrong reasons. Somalia argues that this would provide a large market for Somali products, and this has no basis for there is no Somali product that the East Africa region does not have. Somali is far behind every other country in the East Africa country, for at least thirty years when Somalia was trying to find itself. It is barely recovering and alliance with its natural region, the Horn of Africa States with which it shares history and ethnicity would be better idea than joining the Swahili world.
Somalia made erred in the past through its membership of the dysfunctional Arab League and should not be in a hurry to join another similar block with which it shares little – no history, no ethnicity and in fact no religion or culture either, other than being together both in the African continent.
Aggression from both within and from without and from near and afar easily derail peace development and reconciliation in the region. Internal decay both political and economic and this tribal/clan competition for the meagre resources of the region is, in the main, paving the way for external aggression and it also provides hustlers and terrorists safe ground to breed and exploit.
It is where the leadership of the region seem to be failing for if they fail to work together and cooperate to face off both the internal and external aggressions, the region is bound to fall over the abyss. This would bring in, not only political-economic collapse but also socio-cultural erosion that could not be easily reversed by future generations. One setback should not be enough to derail a whole process which started earnestly, and the leadership of the region needs to be resilient and patient to withstand the forces arraigned against it. It is our belief that the region’s future is at stake. Would it be broken into a multitude of quarreling tribal/clan states that cannot be functional as states, but which would be minor vassals for much bigger nations? Would the region’s population be wiped out slowly through hunger, starvation, and disease? Would the region’s resources fall into the wrong hands to be exploited for the benefit of others and not for the population of the region?
The internal and external aggressors, sometimes working alone and sometimes working together seem to be reviving the old antagonisms and unnecessary divisions created over the past two centuries first by European colonialists and continued or kept alive by the pseudo-politicians of the region, who instead of leading their people to economic growth and peace, used them as fodder for the folly of internal and external wars. We are unfortunately now facing stark exploitation of false premises such as Eritrean/Ethiopian discords, Somalia/Ethiopian border clashes, Djibouti/Eritrean border disputes and so on. Who would be benefitting from these discords and troubles? The Horn of African States citizen should note this and not be led astray by false prophets supposedly working for them. It is perhaps time the region’s population, the Horn of African States citizens and leaders, took back the destiny of the region in their own hands. No one else is going to make it for them.
Some of the region’s leaders, perhaps, believe that they can install peace and development in the region through the help and assistance of others and accordingly keep begging others for help. What they are forgetting is that this is the world, the way it was always – the survival of the fittest. Help is often relative when it comes to countries or regions. What comes first is “what is in it for me!” in other words, countries and regions look for their interests first. The Horn of Africa States region is a region that offers many advantages and opportunities – a long coast and hence ports and other infrastructures, plenty of water, a growing young population and hence an extensive market and a strategic location. Why shouldn’t the leadership of the region take note of this and work together instead of competing among themselves and save their populations from a lot of miseries?
Foreign interventions can only help to a certain extent. It is on the onus of the region’s leadership, both governing and opposition groups, learned people and elders, religious people and social activists, to work towards building the initial peace building processes brick by brick within the region. A regional cooperation is the only platform. Each of the member countries of the SEED countries has its own internal problems, that often crosses borders into the others’ territories. It is why it is an absolute necessity to have the Horn of Africa regional block, economically integrated, people travelling and investing within the region with ease and negotiating with others from a strong collective bargaining position. Calling for non-regional external actors to create peace development processes in the region is a recipe for disaster.
We note many special envoys being appointed and sent to the region by many countries. The special envoys are not to create peace development and reconciliation in the region. They are being sent to protect the interests of their countries in this region, which fortunately is endowed with features many others covet. We are aware of the United States Envoy to the Horn of Africa States, Mike Hammar, was recently circulating in the region and countries like Egypt and the UAE were part and parcel of his itinerary. Both are Arab countries who have a lot of stakes in the region and more specifically Ethiopia which is the source of the Blue Nile. Instead of letting Ethiopia face alone whatever machinations the two countries and others would be cooking for Ethiopia, we believe it is on the onus of the total leadership of the Horn of Africa States region to be acting and working together collectively to face off those who may seek to harm the region directly or indirectly. Collective bargaining is better than individual bargaining anyway.
The region’s internal issues, mainly clan/tribal concoctions, would need to be settled by the governments of the region working together sincerely. Settlement of disputes and reconciliation does not mean that governments would be working together to suppress dissent. Human rights including but not limited to right to life should be protected and ingrained in the constitutions of the countries and governments should pioneer the rule of law and justice and enable the populations of the region abide by them. Adherence to justice, rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms are the basics of life and there is where the governments of the region should not fail, to enable peace development and reconciliation take root in the Horn of Africa States.
Helping hands could then be extended when sincerity is first demonstrated by the region itself on how it wants to proceed into the future collectively. Countries work in blocks and there is no better demonstration of this than the European Union, which has over the years overcome many of the problems that face any regional block. The Horn of Africa States does not have to discover all the right processes. They already have been created, agreed upon and applied these process and mechanisms. All that the Horn of Africa States has to do is to borrow them and apply them in its own environment for all those that are possible and modify others for its own purposes.
Peace is a precious commodity, more precious than gold or diamonds and platinum. In fact, it is expensive, and many have paid their lives to achieve it. The governments of the region should know that it is in the best interest of the region and its populace to live in peace together so each subset or grouping can earn a better life than is currently the case where fear of wars and civil strives prevent from using their potential for creativity and innovation and production to expand the economic pie of the region.
“Not to unite is bad, not to want to unite is worse”
*Dr. Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.