By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
October 2nd, 2023
The Horn of Africa is generally home to many related peoples that live across the boundaries created through European influences of the nineteenth century. Indeed. One finds relatives living in several countries of the region. There may be relatives settled in Ethiopia and Eritrea and Djibouti or Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia or Djibouti and Eritrea and/or Somalia and Ethiopia and Ethiopia and Djibouti. Conflicts that arise in one country may thus spill over to another country. What this demonstrates amply is that the region is simply one historic outfit that was divided in the European scramble for Africa. In some places, one often finds farms that extend beyond one country to another, and businesses that cross into several countries, but which are carried out beyond government policies. It is, indeed, part of the necessities of the region.
The last forty years of the last century saw inter-state conflicts over territories in the region, but this appears to have now moved on to intra-state conflicts that affect each of the countries of the region. The leadership of the region, both ruling and opposition, seem not to have managed these conflicts which have become a great marker of the region. Is this because leadership-to-leadership reconciliation is not possible, or have they failed themselves and their people? One thing is quite clear. There is presently no leader-to-leader collaboration in the Horn of Africa States. Attempts have been made earlier but it seems the project has failed or was it made to fail by forces, that do not wish the region well?
What the region needs to realize is that it is generally interdependent as similar populations inhabit several countries of the region. Their survival is interconnected and, therefore, they need to be working together. But working together requires sincerity and a genuine desire to overcome unnecessary suspicions. This should be achieved through genuine dialogue that leads to peace and economic cooperation across the porous borders that separate one country from another in the region.
Deep-down conflicts are based on a lack of equality and justice within a state or claims of one state on another as has been the case in the region over the past half-century. This, therefore, requires collaboration among the states of the region in instilling peace, justice, and fairness within the region and within each state. Processes in this respect can be worked out together either through the region’s leadership or through its population’s other organizations such as businesses, academicians and higher education institutions, and/or civil societies.
Leadership-to-leadership reconciliations seem not to have worked, although they hold both the stick and carrot in their hands. Why this has failed is beyond me. However, leaders emerge from their societies, for good or bad. Can we perhaps assume that the societies of the region are prone to civic chaos, and therefore cannot reconcile? I believe this is not the case and the population of the region can work out to settle their problems and forge ahead establishment of a more peaceful region. It is where it becomes necessary for other organizations in the region to get involved.
In this regard, one should point out the many entrepreneurs and businesspeople who work together across the region. They have a lot to offer in creating a reconciliation process in the region. They already hold business discussions among themselves and enter investment/trading and other arrangements among themselves. They have relations with the leaders of each of the states on their own and can, therefore, have genuine influences on them.
They would, indeed, be those who benefit most from any cooperation among the states of the region. They should, therefore, work with the leaders on political cooperation, reconciliation, and the eventual creation of an integrated economic platform in the region. It would help their pockets and help reduce tensions, grow hope and peace in the region, and ultimately general development, and a genuinely peaceful environment for all actors to play, be it sociocultural, political, or economic.
The business community of the region should be the bedrock upon which the region’s future rests, and they should not only create dialogue among the politicians but also among the various other components of society such as academicians, universities, and civil societies. It is how peace is created, how tensions are done away with, and how eventually regional integration is promoted.
A regional reconciliation and eventually integration does, indeed, require the regional leaders to play their part, but the business community should also play their part, prodding them to create a more peaceful environment in the region, which is in the interest of all, for even those foreigners who currently believe they would lose if the region reconciled and hence work on keeping it disheveled.
The value of the business community’s involvement in the reconciliation process has not been genuinely appreciated in the past, but their involvement in creating environments for discussions and arrangements using their networks would be an invaluable asset to the region.
Most of the reconciliation processes, both inter-state and intra-state that have occurred in the region, were mostly related to politics and security, which are generally symptoms of a society’s deeper causes of the conflicts – lack of equity, fairness, and justice. It is our belief that the business community has a role to play in the region’s reconciliation processes. It has the necessary networks, assets, and connections, and after all the need to create a peaceful environment for their businesses to operate smoothly and functionally.
The concepts of equity, fairness, and justice have been some of the main elements missing in the governance of African countries since their independence in the early sixties of the last century. The Horn of Africa States were not spared of this and each of the countries of the region was marked by a concentration of power in the hands of a few people, harboring close relatives and ethnic-based administrations to stay in power for a longer period than was necessary. This, of course, led to the current ethnic-based competition for power, which most often turns to violence, and hence the destruction of whatever has been achieved in the form of development in the past.
It is where the need for all organizations of the region, be they governmental, business, civic societies, and, indeed, the business community, comes from; more specifically the business community of the region, whose customers are everybody in the region. It is where the need for promoting skills, abilities, and capacities rather than ethnicities becomes necessary.
Businesses are all the time engaged in negotiations and discussions among themselves selling each other processes, products, and/or services and/or with financial institutions seeking finances for some of their projects. They should, therefore, put these skills into play in the region. Collaboration and cooperation and the negotiation processes are some of the elements in their toolkits. We are hopeful they would put these skills at the disposal of the region.