By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
May 14th, 2023
We live in a world where digital economies, where goods and services are increasingly delivered through accelerated digital systems, is becoming the norm. It is sad, however, to note that the Horn of Africa States people are still busy on tribal/ethnic conflicts, which do not add one iota to their life systems. They know not, unfortunately, that the world is on the move, away from the unipolar world of the recent past to an emerging multipolar world, where bloc politics seem to be re-emerging almost in the style of the old cold war era where there were two major blocs who were facing each other militarily and economically – The capitalist versus the communist-cum-socialist blocs.
The Horn of Africa States suffered much from those blocs of the past which ended up in wars and conflicts that are the root cause of the current undefinable and aimless tribal/ethnic competition on governance and politics, which leaves the general population of the region destitute and hungry most of the time.
Geography has placed the region in a geostrategic location, coveted by most economic/political/security blocs of the world, whether of the past or emerging ones. It lies astride one of the major sea lanes of the world in the center of the world, where ships, commercial or otherwise, move from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandab and the Gulf of Aden. The region is the source of the Blue Nile which provides water to Sudan and Egypt. The region also owns potentially a large resource base both above ground and underground in the form of lands for agriculture and minerals including gold and diamonds and energy sources such as oil and gas, and hydropower.
This pivotal position has marked the region and drawn many an aspiring a nation to the region. Other than the major power blocs, there are also major regional powers sometimes acting for their own self interests and sometimes on the prodding of major powers that also affect and interfere in the region. One cannot ignore the Egyptian interest in the region or the Turkish or the GCC interests. Even the EAC countries and more specifically Kenya, which has tasted some of the good things of the region, spends a lot of energy and costs to maintain its presence in the region and/or try to keep it in the traditional nation-state format, sometimes inviting some of the countries into the EAC, a region with which it shares little.
These complex dynamics have always affected the region in terms of politics, economy and even ecology and environment, where now man-made droughts and food shortages and civil conflicts are a regular occurrence, and wreaking havoc on the region. Now wonder most of the news on the region is about the food shortages, hunger and appeals for help to the region in international arenas and never how to promote the region and/or help it earn its own food through its sweat.
The Horn of Africa States has not woken up to the changing world around it where nations are becoming groups for economic and/or security purposes in the place of the nation states that singularly used to take judgments in the past on a nation’s destiny. Today, the world is made of many blocs, some overlapping each other. They include the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN), The G7 and G20 and G77 nations, the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Organization of Turkic States (OTS), and many others.
In Africa, there are the EAC and the SADC and the ECOWAS regional blocs, among others. It is, indeed, a world where the individual nation states are turning into regional blocs and this process is likely to be non-reversible, except perhaps for powerful nations with large geographical space, large populations, technology and military power to defend itself – a very unlikely scenario. Even the most powerful need others!
However, one should note that the new emerging multipolar world are not truly antagonistic blocks. Some are simply blocks for trade but subservient to others and some are truly blocs that face other blocs on all matters involving the economy and security and this is where often clashes occur as is happening currently in Ukraine, a war generally defined as a Russian-Ukraine war, but which is truly a cover for a deeper conflict.
The Horn of Africa States needs to interact with external partners in unison and not as individual nation states, where they stand little chance of making their way forward. Each of the individual states of the region has its own advantages and weaknesses but together they present a stronger group. The region represents a large market inching towards 160 million people, a sizeable land surface, a sizeable marine exclusive economic zone and a long coastal belt. It enjoys a large number of rivers that flow down from the roof of the continent such as the Blue Nile, the Omo, the Genalle and the Shabelle rivers and others. It has plateaus and valleys and a large animal production base and agricultural lands, which if worked can feed not only the region’s population but many millions more within the region and beyond.
The first quarter of the twenty first century is about to end with two and a half years to go. Would the region continue to operate in the single state format and hence be easy prey for other blocs as is happening today or would they group themselves as they should, to be able to sit at a suitable position in the table of blocks of nations? This is a matter that is not only for the current leaders of the region but also for the opposition, the future and upcoming leaders, its academicians and thinkers and its people in general. Those who are unable to swim with the tides are generally left behind and may perhaps be swallowed by oncoming waves.
The world is not a kind place. It has never been, and it will never be. The region has long been defined as a conflicted region, when, indeed, such conflicts have mostly been instigated by forces that have interests in the region, using many a time some of the unscrupulous sons of the region. There are, indeed, internal problems of the region based on its tribalistic organizational structures, but nowadays these are aggravated by forces beyond the region.
The actions of others with respect to the region have mostly been based on negative aspects of life such as prevention of terrorism, resistance and wars against communism, which the region can never adopt to because of the peculiar free spirit nature of the people of the region, denying other countries and blocs from taking advantage of the resiurces of the region and/or preventing of implanted piracy. The region had never had piracy until recently despite having been a maritime region for thousands of years. And lately, major policymakers of the world have been working on preventing the refugee outflows from the region, which was, indirectly or directly caused by the actions and/or inactions of these same policymakers from elsewhere in the region.
The other side of the coin could have been promoting the region and helping it help itself, through assistance to develop its economy, health, education and generally the life systems of the region, when interference was inevitable. Some of the countries and/or blocks that listen to the region were, indeed, more successful in setting up better relations with the region, at least, not an antagonistic one or based on suspicion of each other, as the region defines relations with some of the external partners.
Whether it is multipolar or unipolar, the world would continue to have its problems, the essence of man. It is how the region would work out its relations with the world at any time. And at present, it is perhaps good time for the region to make a collective effort to work together to face the others on the other side of the table.
Not to unite is bad. Not to want to unite is worse.