By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
This is the third article in my series the Horn of Africa States. It was first published in January 2005, and as I noted earlier, it would seem, it is the right time to republish it, for like its previous sister articles, it addresses a way forward for the Horn of Africa, that is different from the current antagonistic self-destroying structures of national states.
A drop of water remains only a drop of water and may even evaporate so quickly in certain climes, that it may amount to naught at the end of the day. It may also freeze in other climes and remain frozen forever. However, add a drop of water to another drop, and another, and another, and continue adding, and one might end up with a stream. But again, a stream will remain only a stream, unless it joins another stream and other streams, until a river is born. That is how mighty rivers are born. From this we can see how the joining of drops and streams of water give rise to mighty and major forces, that can change the shapes and contours of the earth, forging huge waterfalls, and cataracts, from which power and energy is extracted, when they are disciplined, channeled, and focused through especially engineered tunnels and turbines and other machines.
The same remains true for a society, for a society remains insignificant, just like a drop or a single stream of water, unless its individuals are prepared to work together and sacrifice something of their own for the good of the whole. The same goes for countries, in regional sets. Individual countries, like individuals in one community, must sacrifice something of their own and bear and tolerate some hardship, if they are to function as a harmonious regional setting for the betterment of their populations, instead of antagonizing their populations against the populations of their neighboring countries. Tolerance must thus become the greasing oil for the parts to work together smoothly. There can be no teamwork, without it.
When people work together or confined together in confined spaces, there will always be disputes and disagreements, and sometimes open conflicts. These differences are inevitable, for it is the nature of man to have differences of opinion, and that is what makes people people and stronger, for complaints must be voiced, and addressed. However, despite the differences, the general intention of a community, a country or even a regional setting, is always contained and maintained. This is done only in one way, and that is a considered descision of the component parts to remain united in the face of differences and disagreements.
A family, in this respect, is kept together or united by affairs of the heart and blood, while a society is kept together by a deliberate decision or will, if one might say, to remain united. It is along these lines, that we are continuing to argue for the case and cause of the Horn of Africa States (“HAS”), which in our humble view, should replace the current insignificant, small, separated and senselessly competing countries of the region, and where the resources, wealth and energies of the region can be geared towards the betterment of the lives of the populations of the region.
I am, indeed, proposing a realignment of priorities from the current huge expenditures on arms and weapons, preparing for physically destructive wars, to meet the other major challenges of the region such as hunger, diseases, and illiteracy, and in general, I am proposing a structure that will carry forward, the lot of the peoples of the Horn of Africa.
It is very strange that the place, we generally call the cradle of humankind, the land of Lucie, remains still far behind other regions of the world, so backword and so impoverished and its senseless leaders so engrossed in petty wars against each other, using the poor populations they control as fodder for fire and death, all for some perceived false national and tribal prides and/or prejudices created long time ago by the forefathers.
In this part, I want to address the role of the business community of the region and how they can help in the realization of the Horn of Africa States project, for its is in their best interest to have this project realized.
Businesses, governments, and societies are highly interdependent. A business cannot succeed without a government, which lays down a general framework and order of activcity, and business cannot succeed, without a society, which provides the marketplace. All living organisms must interact with each other and must be affected by the forces in their environment and, therefore, the key to survival is adaptability, and hence businesses, like living organisms, must adapt to the changing environments in the region.
Businesses consist of many sectors, segments, and industries while governments consist of the people involved in the political life at various levels, regional, national, or even international levels. Societies consist of of many ethnic, tribal, and other groupings. Businesses were once thought to be dependent on the marketplace only, but it is increasingly becoming clear that businesses and societies interact with each other and with governments.
Looking at the way, governments may affect business, one may pick up the geographical limitation a government may affect a busiess activity, in the form of borders beyond which a foreign government may impose import taxes and/or other non-tariff barriers or one’s own government may impose export taxes. Businesses open doors and create relationships, and they tend to operate in stable environments. They are, therefore, naturally attracted to peaceful environments. In fact, businesses affect the environments surrounding them, much like how a pebble thrown into a pond creates ever-widening ripples.
We, therefore, call on the business community of the Horn of Africa States (“HAS”) to play its rightful role in the realization of a better space and an environment that is geographically wider, more peaceful, and interact with a larger and more receptive society.
Business is part of the society and in the Horn of Africa, it was involved in the processes that prolonged the ages-old hatreds created to serve the purposes of its religious, colonial, and political masters. They were so far away on the wrong side of the fence, and they lost a lot of opportunities that they could have exploited, not only for the good of the people but also for their profit motives.
Businesses in the region must change and entrepreneurs must work together towards the establishment of a friendlier environment where they can operate and interact with a larger marketplace than with the ethnic groups within the region only. As we noted earlier, businesses thrive in friendlier environments, and in the Horn of Africa region, one must note that it was, indeed, far from being friendly for so many years, decades, and centuries.
When one looks at the market size of over 200 million, one must ask oneself, if the business community was acting rationally over the years. In my view, they were not, and this could be due for many reasons, but the primary reason is the ignorance of the business community. They may have been hoodwinked by governments of the regimes that governed the region and accordingly, they conspired and collaborated with the political elite to prolong the suffering of the people who are the basic component of its marketplace. In general parlance, they were shooting themselves in the feet, for instead of encouraging their goverments to avoid wars, the business communities of the region worked hand in hand with the regimes to limit their market spaces and hence continued over the years to help the regimes strangling the populations of the region.
W recall we grew up hearing of words like “contraband” or illegal goods entering from bordering regions and struggles between the police and smugglers and fights between smugglers and other similar incidents, that were almost a daily occurrence, because my hometown is on a border area. I guess this must still be going on. One must ask oneself always if this indeed is normal, and particularly, when we know that the people on both sides of the border are cousins and brothers and aunts and uncles to each other.
The populations along the borders of the countries of the region are all related. They are brethren and kin and kith, and no government can cut such blood ties, no matter how much force is used to prevent an interaction between the communities that live around the borders. As far as they are concerned, the borders do not exist in their minds, for they were drawn by men from Europe a century and some years ago. In other words, the borders are so porous and could never become real barriers. They only add to the miseries of the populations of the region. Zeila and Harar are twin cities and Borama and Jigija are similarly related, and so are Zeila, Borama, and Djibouti, yet they are in different countries, with differing loyalties at present.
I propose to the business community of the region to play a different and better role than they have hithereto done in the building of the Horn of Africa States. This project would not only enhance the fattening of their pockets but would help build a more friendly environment for the populace of the region, where the governments do not spend the largest part of the meager resources in the acquisition of lethal weaponry, but towards the development and building of better lives for the people of the region.
It is urged that the business community help build the natural infrastructures that would assist in the creation of the Horn of Africa States. These infrastructures would include among others, the hardware such as roads, railways, airlines and shipping lines and other transport logistics such as warehouses, and other physical structures that would be required to create a cohesive region. They would also include the software in terms of friendly investment laws, tariff-free transfer of goods and services from one part of the region to another and other similar requirements such as elimination of the various current currencies, and creation of one regional currency, establishment of one central bank, although the trend is going towards cryptocurrencies where the role of central banks are being eliminated, and one stock market and so on.
The business community of the Horn of Africa must wake up if they are to compete with the rest of the world’s block economies. Working towards that goal would assist in the inflow of foreign direct investments into the region, which today, by international standards, is neglibile. The larger market would help entice intrepid investors come to the region to take advantage of the opportunity, before the whales come in. The business communities of the various countries of the region are urged to work together through their chambers of commerce and other associations to work together for their own good and eventual survival.
They can work together through regional symbosiums, conferences and other regional trade forums, aimed at enhancing their collaboration and the realization of the Horn of Africa States project. It is urged that they must be aware of the following advantages, which they can draw from the Horn of Africa States project:
- An enlarged marketplace
- A more peaceful environment
- Development of the economy as expenditures on lethal weapons are reduced
- A common currency
- A common central bank
- Free flow of capital, goods, and services within the region
- Unihibited movement of people within the region
- Attraction of foreign direct investments
- Ability to negotiate better terms with other economic blocks or larger economies
- Creation of a regional stock exchange
- Better exploitation of the resources of the region
- And so on.
The above and many other advantages can be drawn from the creation of the Horn of Africa States. It is time that the business community started to look after its own interests rather those of the political elite. It is time the business community started to play a more active role in a better realization of a better destiny for the people of the region, which is different from being confined to smaller spaces. It is time the business community started to lean on the regimes of the countries of the region towards the creation of a wider economic space for themselves. It is time the business community stopped working for the political elite and worked towards what is good for the people of the region and for themselves. It is time the business community started to think positively and dispensed with the fear of others for the greatest fear of all, indeed, is fear itself.