By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
June 3rd, 2023
Geographically the two regions are neighbors. The EAC extends from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean and enjoys not only a huge land space (5.2 MM sq. km) and hence access to the world beyond their coasts and to the HAS region, North Africa and SADC countries. With a population of nearly 300 million, it presents a major marketplace. The region is also the source of many of the world’s demanded minerals such as copper, cobalt, coltan, diamonds and even lumber and plenty of water as it is the source of both the great rivers of Africa – the Congo and the Nile.
The HAS region is equally large with an area of some 1.8 million square kilometers, and a maritime exclusive economic zone of an impressive another one million square kilometers. It enjoys a population of slightly more than half of the EAC population at 157 million and hence an equally large marketplace. The HAS region also owns a large resource base including not only sub-soil minerals but also large agricultural lands and effectively a large space extremely good for human habitation in terms of climate and availability of food.
No wonder it is where humankind, supposedly, originated and spread to other parts of the world. The HAS region is also a source of the Blue Nile, which joins the other great tributary of the Nile, the White Nile, originating from the EAC region, in Khartoum, Sudan to pull it to northern Sudan and Egypt and eventually Egypt, the only source of most freshwater to that big African country.
Unlike the EAC, the HAS region overlooks one of the great shipping lanes of the world, both commercial and military and indeed, scientific and research ships as well – the Red Sea, Bab El Mandab, Gulf of Aden and northern Indian Ocean (the Somali Sea), which thus places the HAS region close proximity to international trade routes and makes it a significant entry and exit points for Africa’s imports and exports making it a potential EAC partner.
However, a problem arises when out of sheer misunderstanding of a region, in a moment of weakness, is exploited by another and this is perhaps what is happening to the relationship between the EAC and HAS regions, wherein the EAC region or at least some of its members are constantly and without provocation from the HAS region, trying and attempting to disrupt the natural cohesion of the HAS region, pulling some of the HAS members to join the EAC. The EAC has been working hard on the weakest of the HAS region countries, Somalia, which does not enjoy a constitution, where the government still works on ad hoc basis, and which does not control its own territory to join the EAC. This is a recipe for disaster for both parties.
A wrong message has been sent by the EAC when it sent a fact-finding mission to Somalia to see if Somalia can join the EAC. I doubt they consulted the other members of the Horn of Africa States region, like Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and even if they consulted them, any view they would have given would have been that Somalia is not ready yet to join another organization at present or some other excuse. This makes the relationship between the two regions non-cooperative and, indeed, unhelpful in the process of creating the bigger African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), where regional blocks working together and cooperating are supposed to be developed and cooperating for the mutual benefit of the continent, the weakest economic region in the world, despite its rich resources.
The EAC push to have Somalia join the EAC comes from the belief that Somalia’s membership would be beneficial to the EAC region as it owns one of the largest maritime exclusive zones in the continent. They ignore that the maritime region of Somalia is part of the Horn of Africa States region which needs it for its own survival purposes. The long coast of the HAS region which stretches for some 4,700 km is a contiguous region and cannot be disrupted through interferences from non-Horn African countries which the EAC represents.
In the long run, this would create unnecessary disruptions to the lives of peoples in both regions, and it would have been wiser if the EAC abandoned the idea of bringing in Somalia into the EAC fold. This would, indeed, lay down the foundations for peaceful cooperation between the two regions, which need each other, not only in terms of economics but in their African-ness. This would be helpful in the fight against non-regional interferences, extremists and terror groups and in the building of developing EAC and HAS regions and thereon the African continent.
The presence of EAC soldiers in parts of the HAS region (Somalia) does not warrant interventions in its politics and/or economic infrastructures and highlights the need for accelerating the withdrawal of these forces from Uganda, Kenya and Burundi from Somalia, as they seem not to be doing the mandate for their presence in the country, but some other ulterior motives that are not in the interests of the Horn of Africa States region.
The AMISOM-cum-ATMIS mission in Somalia has utterly failed in its mission and needs to be replaced by Horn of African States forces only if there is need for foreign forces. The current Somali army, if not denied equipment, like those of AMISOM-cum-ATMIS soldiers, would be able to handle the security needs of Somalia, on their own.
The main reason terror groups stay is, perhaps, related to the possibility that they are financed to keep the terror in the country at high levels, and hence justifying the continued presence of foreign soldiers in the country. It takes two to tango in the parlance of dancing and if the two regions have to collaborate in the future for the good of both regions, it would be advisable for the EAC region to withdraw its troops from the Horn of Africa States region, and the sooner the better.
Enticing a weaker country, like Somalia, into the fold of the EAC would not be a good solution and would cause problems for the EAC in the future. It does not even have the capacity to negotiate properly, nor does it have the mandate of its people to join new organizations, such as the EAC with which Somalia shares little. Why embark on difficulties that can be avoided!
The two regions currently do not have common ground. The Horn of Africa States region does not yet own institutions that can engage with others on its behalf. All four member countries of HAS have good relations with all the members of the EAC member countries at individual levels. However, unlike the EAC, there appears to be undeveloped relations among some of the HAS member countries, mainly due to limited engagements. This explains to some extent why the EAC gets encouraged to invade the HAS region diplomatically through enticing some of its members to join them. Does the EAC believe that the HAS region would not come to fruition? This would not pose well for cooperation among the two regions!
The world is changing, and countries are coming together into groups and blocks and hence the EAC and the HAS regions, although the HAS, as an official block, is yet to emerge. The prosperity and security of any country, therefore, depends on its alignments and allying with others. The Horn of Africa States region and its members would need to use their cultural cohesion to cooperate among themselves and in due course with the EAC as a region. The EAC as a region would be more helpful if they assist in the formation of the HAS region and use their experiences to create the HAS institutions. This would go a long way for the two regions in working together successfully.
The HAS region remains significant and essential for world economic growth, stability, and trade, indicating that the region would not be left alone to its wiles. Interferences, even from close quarters like the EAC, the Arab World and especially Egypt and the GCC countries collectively or individually and of course the major powers in the form of groups led by the USA, China, or Russia, will continue.
The regional project of the Horn of Africa States would not only be beneficial for the region but also for the EAC in terms of security and stability for it would help settle the long-standing conflicts of the HAS region and its instruments such as the foreign-imposed terror groups that operate in the region. The HAS regional block would bring in new norms and rules of the game in the region and would hence promote peace and security. This would further help deal with the external influences that currently seem to be designed to rip the region further into an unending streams of competing and non-cooperating tribal/ethnic enclaves. This would not be good for the EAC and for that matter the populations of both regions and the world at large, taking into consideration the geostrategic location of the HAS region.
Closer cooperation among the HAS countries would no doubt improve and help grow the economies and trade of the HAS region within itself and with the EAC and others. Currently trade among the HAS countries is generally informal and small in scale. However whence such cooperation is embarked on, investments from within the region would rise and grow as entrepreneurs find themselves operating in a larger marketplace of some 157 million people. Production would not only be to satisfy the needs of the HAS region but would also include exports to the EAC and other markets. The small companies and enterprises currently operating in each of the states of the region would find themselves being required to satisfy larger demands. Such cooperation would, thus lead to better employment opportunities for the large and growing youthful population of the region and would offer investors, from within and from without, new opportunities to invest.
This would revive the natural highland/lowland cooperation of the region where the hinterlands would be connected to the coastal regions in terms of new transportation infrastructures such as more roads and railways and the construction of more ports and establishment of commercial shipping companies. It would also enhance the construction of a regional navy to protect the vast maritime economic zone of the region. Indeed, this would also be advantageous to the EAC, which would eventually benefit from the transportation infrastructures of the HAS region. Countries like South Sudan and Uganda and even Rwanda and further on Burundi and the East of the giant DR Congo, would have more access to the sea than is currently available to them such as the congested ports of Kenya or those of troubled Sudan.
The HAS/EAC regions would both benefit from the renewable energy of the GERD and also from the oil and gas of the HAS region, which are surely expected to be developed in the future. Note the region is reported to contain large reserves of both, offshore and onshore. As developments of the oil and gas projects require a large outlay of funds and peace and stability for operation, the HAS project would enhance possibilities of fund sourcing and the peace and stability required.
There are those who fear that multiplicity and overlap of organizations would complicate matters in the region. In this regard they generally refer to the IGAD as a regional organization or the East African Standby Force or the COMESA and others such as the larger AU. None of these organizations are designed for the specific Horn of Africa States and involve other regional and even continent-wide issues. The Horn of Africa States region would deal with and represent the SEED countries cooperating and collectively addressing their domestic and external issues together. Institutions like IGAD are NGOs and really do not need to continue to exist for its members belong to other regional organizations including the EAC and the HAS. It is financed by non-regional parties and does not serve the region as it should. Moreover, it does not have the correct matrix of rules to make it operationally successful.
Whether to compete or cooperate is a choice which the two regions have to make. It is, in our view, better that the two regions should cooperate and not infringe on each other as the EAC is doing now, and especially more so when it is attempting and pushing one of the weakest countries in the African continent, Somalia to join it, a country that cannot even settle issues within its own territory. How unfortunate!