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The Horn of Africa States Sustainable Development

By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
{May 1st, 2022}

The four countries of the Horn Africa States region, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti (“SEED”) are all members of some of the poorest countries of the world. Somalia and Eritrea are both included in the 10 Poorest Countries of the World (based upon their 2020 Gross National Income “GNI” per capita in current US$), with Somalia at US$ 310 per person per year and Eritrea at US$ 510 per person per year. Ethiopia and Djibouti fare better, with Ethiopia at US$ 890 and Djibouti at US$ 3,320 per person per year. Although Djibouti’s income is higher, the cost of living is much higher than any of the other three members of the region, for literally, everything consumed in the country is imported and hence the higher cost of living, which makes the people really poor. {Source World Population Review 2022}

The region is further affected by fragility of the environment, which lately was not helpful – Degradation of the general environment, lesser rainfall, warmer weather, unplanned urbanization and all leading to lesser food production. This was further aggravated by weak institutions both formal and informal and compounded by civil wars and forced displacements. Clan and ethnic competition for  lands, has also now become a major problem, where ownership is now clannish or tribal and not through “only governmental permits”.  The normal administrative regions have now become ethnically owned lands and no other citizen could just easily come forward to exploit a piece of land for whatever reason with permission from the government authorities, alone. There is now a tendency to have a local, with no clue of whatever one wants to do with the land or no contribution in terms of capital, to become a partner.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia could not expand, as its growth started to infringe on ethnic lands and the city can only grow upwards now. This is not limited to Addis Ababa. It is a kind of an unwritten accepted rule in every city/town or village in the region. This is not limited to cities but also to the rural areas where grazing is also limited now to clan and/or tribal lands and hence putting pressure on the traditional livelihoods of many of the citizens of the region who were pastoral nomads, and where conflict and infighting among the various clan and ethnic groups is becoming more of a common phenomenon.

These matters which affect adversely the livelihoods of the region need to be addressed through a collective setting and the members of the Horn of Africa States would need to pursue collaborative works to ease the pressures on the movement of capital, people and goods and services within the region. The collaborative works should include collective investments in infrastructure, provision of energy, water, education, health and even access to finance. The governments of the region need to develop region-wide micro-finance projects to provide capital to the populace of the low-income groups of the region and they are the majority, for if they are economically lifted upwards, the whole region would benefit from their improved economic situations.

It is a common cliché to say that this and that should be done. Only practical actions and efforts would yield results and we urge the citizens of the region and its member governments to participate and contribute to the building of viable economies in their villages, communities, towns and cities. Improving one’s farm, or artisanal works such as trades (carpentry, plumbing, building inexpensive houses, etc, etc.), drilling of wells or building small dams to retain rainwater from running away in the total region, would contribute tremendously to improving the economic situations of the citizens, wherein they would be able to pay their taxes or more taxes and hence helping the governments to cash in more revenues. This would assist the governments provide better services and would lessen their need to beg for funds from foreigners who have their own goals in providing handouts to anyone.

Many of the Horn of Africa people expect the president or prime minister or governor or mayor or whoever is responsible for a community or neighborhood to do all the works, cleaning the streets, cleaning the front of their houses or homes, landscaping the lands around one’s homes, doing the farming, watering the animals for them and again running the administration, etc, etc,… This is not possible. A leader is person at the pinnacle of an administration and can only give guidance and set rules. However, if the people do not do their part, put their houses in order, doing their farming, looking after their animals, preparing for the recurrent droughts and famines, while they have plenty, it would cointinue to be a disaster, in the region. It is high time the people of the region did what their forefathers  and foremothers used to do. Work in the environment they lived in and make the best of what they had and not wait for handouts from others. It is unfortunate that modern Horn Africans are so used to extending their arms for help to others all the time. The world does not work that way. The citizenry of the region should exploit the rich lands they have, dig their wells, create small dams or bigger water holding grounds, prevent all the waters running away in streams from running away, while they have opportunities and fish in the vast waters they have. These waters are already being depleted by the foreigners who are illegally fishing in the seas of the Horn of Africa. They should not, in effect, be reactive to problems but proactive.

The Horn of Africa States region is not really poor, although in present circumstances, it is included in one of the poorest regions of the world. It owns plenty of water and it owns oil and gas reserves, and it owns iron ore, magnesium, potash, gold, silver, nickel and even rare earths and many other above soil and sub-soil wealth. These need to be exploited even at limited levels in the initial years for they are all strategic resources that have high value. The region has one of the longest coasts and rich fishing grounds and the members need to work on developing fishing fleets together to exploit these resources. The region should not be as hungry as it appears to the rest of the world. Those who have capital in the region and there are many of them who can create share companies with better organized management, instead of the now family-owned businesses, the region is endowed with.

The region should leave behind, the general characteristics the region is known for – conflicts and conflict resolutions, nation-building processes, starvation and hunger, droughts and famines, political disputes and move forward to a viable, decent region where compromise and consensus is the art of how to do things. Actions talk louder than talks!  Improvement of the economic situations of the citizens of the region would be more helpful than the continuous infighting for political posts and it is how “sustainable development” can be achieved.

A World Bank Report entitled “ Supporting Regional Peace and Development in the Horn of Africa” in 2014 noted the following:

“There is greater opportunity now for the Horn of Africa to break free from its cycles of drought, food insecurity, water insecurity, and conflict by building up regional security, generating a peace dividend, especially among young women and men, and spurring more cross-border cooperation.”

This was in 2014, and yet today in the second quarter of 2022, that is seven long years later, it appears nothing has changed. The droughts, the famines, the civil conflicts, the food insecurity, still remain the main ills of the region and the cyclical occurrences of these, the report was referring to, still mark the region, despite the pledge of the World Bank at that time to spend some US$ 1.8 billion to confront these recurring issues. The question is what has happened, since that lofty statement by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on the first day of a joint visit with the UN and other partners to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. At the time he further noted that “This new financing (the pledge of US$ 1.8 billion) represents a major new opportunity for the people of the Horn of Africa to make sure they get access to clean water, nutritious food, health care, education, and jobs.”

In addition to the World Bank Group’s pledge, the European Union also announced that “it would support the countries in the region with a total of around $3.7 billion until 2020,”  about 10% of which would be used for cross-border activities. The African Development Bank also announced a pledge of $1.8 billion financing for the Horn of Africa region from 2015 to 2018, and the Islamic Development Bank  also committed to deploy up to $1 billion in new financing in its member countries in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan).  There was a pledge of some $2 billion by the Arab Coordination Group to be provided for the region over the period 2015-2017.

These are enormous amounts of money for a poor region, and it should have lifted up the lives of the people of the region to something slightly better. However, the situation remains the same and maybe even worse, for at that time there was no civil conflict in Ethiopia or  troubles in Djibouti. We always say the region should be better defined to avoid confusion and should only be the members in the Horn of Africa namely, the SEED countries, i.e., Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. What happened to those pledges or where they simply just “pledges” for the cameras and never deployed? Where did the funds go? Would the recent pledge of US$ 1.4 billion (this month April 2022) by the UN sponsored support groups, be different?

The World Bank Group Report of 2014 noted that “Many of the countries are rich in natural resources, have vast untapped farmland and have business communities that are innovative and eager to contribute to their economies.” And why are they still hungry, disorganized, unstable, and unable to solve their problems? The World Bank Group Report correctly noted that solutions to the challenges of the region lie, in collaborative works. These collaborative works of the member partners of the region would address the clan/ethnic virus that the region is exposed to. It will address and assist the emergence of qualified leadership, taking advantage of the creative nature of the people of the region, away from the destructive mode to which they seem to have been programmed and use their creativity in a more constructive mode.

Like all foreign assistances and support, probably only a small portion of the pledged funds would be coming to the region directly, maybe in the region of 10 to 15%, but even this tiny portion seem to be falling into the wrong local hands and this explains why nothing changes in the region. The recurring famines and droughts, the civil strives and the infighting among the politicians and the international community always pledging funds for the region, with only a small portion reaching the region and falling also into the wrong hands, continues.

It is high time the leadership of the region, and this involves the governments and their oppositions, the concerned citizens of each of the members of the region (Accademia, sports people, cultural icons, etc.,) all working together for the citizens of the region and not just fighting each other or competing with each other, for their own personal gains, while the people for whom they are fighting each other or competing, are dying away and at the mercy of the unscrupulous! The region’s leadership would need to work together on developing the region’s ports (both sea and air) all along the long coast of the region and the vast territory of the region, create multiple corridors, and roads and rail, to these seaports and airports, managing its water resources, improving ICT connectivity and enhancing energy security, such as developing the enormous hydro-electric capacity of the rivers of the region), creating a skilled labor force, and developing its vast farmlands. These are all potential drivers of not only the region’s economic integration, but also its political, social and cultural collaboration, where they can together face the major recurring challenges of the region.

The region is currently detached from the UN Global Sustainable Goals! It is, in fact, in a struggle for survival. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 are expected to end poverty and protect the planet by 2030. Every country has to play its part. It is a tall order for countries such as those members of the Horn of Africa States, for all of them are struggling with surviving the very harsh environment they find themselves in, and where many of its citizenry are worried about the next meal, let alone protecting the planet!!!!

As all the pledges of the past have indicated, only the total leadership of the region can ensure to pull the citizens of the region out of the unsustainable and unlivable environment they have plunged the region into. Both the authorities and their political oppositions and the elite of the region should learn the art of compromising on certain fundemental issues to assist and help in the survival of the region without this continuous need for outside help, which would not come anyway. They must help their co-citizenry! Paradise does not fall from the sky. It is earned through hard work and the onus is on the backs of the elites of the region!

The members of the Horn of Africa States should swim together and not sink together.

*DrWalhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at



2 thoughts on “The Horn of Africa States Sustainable Development”

  1. Subject: The members of the Horn of Africa States

    Whether we like it or not, the members of the group [and other fraternal groups] are destined not to flourish but to DISINTEGRATE into pieces. Just watch. THE END.

  2. Ittu Aba Farda

    Excellent article. It is loaded with reference material and written in easily comprehended language. I will bookmark it. Keep writing sir!!!

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