By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
July 21st, 2023
The 1980s of the last century was a miserable decade for the Horn of Africa States. The countries of the region at the time, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti were all embroiled in intense civil wars, while Eritrea was not even born. It was part of the struggles that bedeviled Ethiopia at the time. The 1980s heralded another miserable decade, that of the 1990s, which harbingered the collapse of most state governments of the time. The decade also saw the emergence of Eritrea as an independent country, which fearful of all the negative forces around it, locked up itself into a hermitic state. Djibouti was also, during the decade, exposed to inter-tribal strives of its population, but eventually saw it emerge safe and sound.
Ethiopia acquired a liberation movement government and not a state government which continued to rule it for almost the next three decades. The liberation movement government laid the foundation of a tribal based governance infrastructure in the region, which continues to bedevil it. Somalia’s government collapsed and it is still trying to figure itself on how to govern itself. It has splintered into a multitude of clan fiefdoms that seem not to want to do anything with each other, despite sharing one ethnic group, one language, one culture, one religion and indeed, just being one family. The country todate involves almost independent sub-states in the form of a federal infrastructure, much like the one of Ethiopia. Indeed, the new Somali governance infrastructure was imported from Ethiopia.
Other than the wiggly federal governance infrastructures of the two largest countries of the region, Somalia and Ethiopia, it was also affected over the past three decades by climate change and the region suffered much from droughts and famines. This was compounded by world issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic which also had its toll on the region.
Foreign interferences and non-governmental organizations that descended on the region did not prove helpful but, indeed, turned out to be more harmful that the original good intentions. Foreign soldiers which were brought into Somalia over two decades ago still remain and they do not seem to have achieved anything.
Imported ideologies in the form of religious terror have also played havoc on the region and continue to do so today and represent the raison d’etre for the presence of foreign troops and mercenaries in the region.
Wars in other regions such as the ongoing Ukraine conflict, which has almost the dimensions/appearances of a world war and competitions among the world’s major powers and regional powers surrounding the region, have not been helpful either. Being located in a significant geostrategic location overlooking one of the major seaways of the world did not give any respite to the region but attracted foreign forces of many shades, including those who claimed fighting piracy and assuring safety of shipping in the region, but which in reality came to exploit and steal away the region’s maritime resources.
The other main marker of the region, being the source of the Blue Nile, has also had its negative effect on the region. The first really tangible project of Ethiopia to exploit the potential of the river in the form of the GERD alarmed Egypt, one of the main beneficiaries of the waters of the Nile. Fearful that Ethiopia may stop the river completely, Egypt raised alarms, which todate remain bounding gongs of bells. It would be unrealistic for Ethiopia to stop the waters at barely 15 km from the borders of Sudan and Egypt should know better but the alarms created another maelstrom to deal with.
The world is not longer at ease and the region, already at the bottom in the scale of regions suffers much. What should the region be concerned with in this world where negativity rather than positivity reigns and where insecurity in the place of peace and security remains the main concern. The region, in addition to its traditional risks involving tribal/clan strives, now faces food insecurity, low or even negative economic growth and continued foreign interference not necessarily for the good of the region.
The region enjoys significant potential economic possibilities, but it has limited resources to exploit these. The maritime resource as represented by simply encouraging tourism and attracting visitors to the blue seas of the region still remains a distant dream. Its agricultural lands can produce much of its food requirements but remains stunted by the continuing civil strives. The large livestock populations could have given rise to a large economy based on animal husbandry and all related industries – meat, milk, leather and others. All of these possibilities and many others including the sub-soil resources, remain distant as a result of lack of organized capital and finances. The region may have, at least, some of these resources but remains unable to deploy them because of the poor legal infrastructure which does not assure of its safety. The region needs to work to settle its internal melodramas if it has to be able to exploit its resources.
While it is difficult, it cannot continue to be negative, and it cannot dream of overnight enrichment either. In between is realism and the region should strive to achieve the possible but cautiously and with great care. One cannot disturb a boat already in precarious and dangerously choppy waters. Being realistic with oneself is the best way – secure ones place with care and slow but steady improvement and hence growth. In the long run, this would achieve better than taking hasty decisions and/or taking sides in an unsure world.
The region should work hard to set down a road map for itself in the form of an institutional framework as the HAS project would represent. This would not only protect it from the wolves dancing around it but would also create developmental opportunities that would employ, serve and, indeed, exploit the market potential of its large population. The emerging multipolar world does, indeed, require that the region pulls itself together to have a voice that can be heard and listened to, instead of the single states which currently remain its representative infrastructure.
The region should always know about what is happening around it. Being alert and aware of the surroundings is a good thing, as it enables one to take appropriate actions to deal with them. The region must remain knowledgeable of the surrounding risks and must take all the necessary steps and precautions to avoid unnecessary risks.