ByDr. Suleiman Walhad
May 16th, 2023
It is a world that is being increasingly polarized and where elephants are pushing each other and the poor grass on the ground is being trampled upon. We have major powers like the United States with its allies in the European world and elsewhere on one side and the Chinese with, perhaps Russia, are all vying for influence and presence in the Horn of Africa States region, and others, perhaps overlaspping each other. This emerging multipolar world has its eyes as usual on the extremely important geostrategic location – the Red Sea, Bab El Mandab, Gulf of Aden linking the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, a major waterway for shipping, which the Horn of Africa States overlooks.
Although the Horn of Africa States region was and is helped by many in its developmental process, it did suffer from the old East/West confrontation during the cold war when the Soviet Union and its allies were facing the USA and its allies. Wars and civil strives that still linger on today in the region have their routes in that confrontation, which has disrupted tremendously governance in the region. It is difficult for the region to balance between these current competing forces and especially when the idiotic idiom of “you are either with me or you are against me” stuff has become almost a norm on how to treat little states to persuade them bluntly to choose, when they do not need to choose. They really have no say in any matter.
The region is further weakened by the fact that it does not have its own regional institutions where they can discuss and produce solutions on how to address these oncoming global issues, where they have no say. They still rely on the old approach of the single nation-state format, which is not helpful under these circumstances. They know that this nation-state format does not work for they are fully aware of how NATO and Europe have come together to face off Russia in Ukraine, and for that matter Russia, which has China and others on its side. No single state can achieve much on its own, but together, the Horn of Africa States region presents a formidable force. It is not a world where one single state can take decisions that affect not only itself but even the surrounding countries. Sudan is currently conflicted and all the overflow of people from that country has flooded the region. This is natural and should be expected. However, not putting together mechanisms for addressing collective issues is not natural.
The Horn of Africa States region is poor, and they would definitely need assistance from whatever party it comes. However, the region’s single state approach to take judgments and decisions affecting a state and the neighborhood, would not sit well into the future. In the West, they have now adopted this approach of me against my competitors. The Chinese, the rising power from the east, will no doubt push to enhance its advantages, and here is where a clash affecting the region seems unavoidable in the long run.
At least, the state to state confrontations that marked the old East/West confrontations in the region, where some of the countries of the region were antagonists, is no longer in place. Today civil chaos and weak governance is affecting the region more than any other issue, which leads its economies to falter and hence the continuing poverty of the region and the civil tribal/ethnic based strives. All this point to the need for regional mechanisms to be put in place. Perhaps the closest organization that could have served as a regional bulwark was the IGAD, which demonstrates its dysfunctionality by the day. It is, indeed, an NGO that is financed by forces from beyond the region and it hence serves the interests of those financiers but not the region. The Horn of Africa States region needs its own regional block and mechanism to deal with its internal and external paradigms. It is the only way. But how would this happen?
The leaders of the region should revisit their mindsets and at least come together in regional meetings to discuss the way out for the region in this increasing polarized world where blocks of countries are facing each other. It is no longer individual nation-states facing each other but groups against groups. No one likes those that stay on the sidelines. They lose.
There are also assertive emerging regional powers which are putting their footholds in the Horn of Africa States. They include the GCC countries with Qatar, the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the forefront. With its enormous wealth, the GCC region sees the Horn of Africa States region as its backyard and jealous of countries like Turkey, which have come lately to the region. Egypt is another country which has ages-old interest in the region, for it is the source of the Blue Nile, which supplies most water to the country and is also an entry/exit gateway for shipping that passes through the Suez Canal either way.
No wonder the internal divisions of each of the states in the region become aggravated all the time and as soon as there appears a sense of tranquility. Rival states including the regional and major powers exploit the internal divisions in each of the states and use them as footholds. These rivalries of the major powers and the mini powers stunt the economic development in the region, which in addition to its strategic location, also owns significant resources, be it agricultural, marine and/or minerals.
We cannot over-emphasize the need for a regional mechanism, where the leaders and people of the region address their concerns both internal and external, and as it is often said, no nation is more than its leadership. If the leadership is weak and disoriented, then a nation is weak and disoriented. When the leadership is strong and willing to achieve better, it does achieve such better status.
The Horn of Africa States region needs this regional mechanism to survive this increasingly competitive world, where blocks are facing each other. It cannot be at the butt of nations all the time. It is time the leaders of the region, for once, took a firm assessment of the region’s situation. The multiple major and regional powers involved in the region only increase its instability and insecurities and hence impoverish it more, despite the aid and grants they tend to provide. What is given by one party through one hand is destroyed by its other hand. What do the leaders of the region want? It is the one question they should be asking themselves before they sleep every night.