By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
January 1st, 2023
This is the first day of year 2023. It is a good time to welcome it with an article on the inter-connectivity gaps of the Horn of Africa States, highlighting what they have been telling the region to do and what it should actually be doing, if it has to move forward and close the gaps that are apparently obstacles to the region’s further development. Obviously, the region has a long coast, some 4,700 km and it enjoys a vast territory of nearly 2 million square kilometers. This vast territory consists of agricultural spaces and mountains and plains, rivers and lakes, forests and dry lands, almost desertic. It lounges near a major ocean and overlooks one of the main sea-lanes of the world and a narrow strait that is as important as the Suez Canal for international trade. The region is not empty of people, either. It enjoys a youthful population of some 160 million who live in thousands of villages, towns and cities, and/or are scattered nomadic settlements. The region, nevertheless, lacks inter-connectivity among these thousands of villages, towns and cities and these scattered rural populations.
Hence service provisions, transportation of goods, and movement of people in the region are limited at best. Cross capital and investments within the SEED countries of the region are also hampered by lack of the necessary regional investment laws and protective rules and regulations. It would not be easy to manage all of the above drawbacks within a short period of time, but addressing them, however, is a must if the region has to change its status from its currently disparate single unitary states to a co-ordinated collaborative region on all fronts. An awakening to the realization that there is nothing really terrible to prevent this happening is not apparent. Less than two hundred years ago, there was no such man-made constraints, fake nationalisms and/or borders. Anyone in the region could travel and settle anywhere one chose and start to live and trade and invest and/or start a family within the region and there is no reason the region cannot re-invigorate those long-ago connections.
There were corridors like Massawa and its hinterlands and the Assab and its hinterlands and Obock and Tadjora and Zeila and Berbera and Bossaso and Mogadishu and all the way to Ras Kiamboni and their hinterlands. Today we have major cities like Djibouti that have joined the club and many more are to join should the mindset of the people of the region be freed from this absurd selfish attitude that has come to dominate the region. Even clans and not states are claiming lands, coasts, and ports, which naturally would not benefit them if they antagonized all those who could be customers using the services they offer or the products they produce.
We are starting a new year and as any new period represents a rebirth, the region, needs to revisit its priorities not only at the regional level but also at the national levels. Growing economies always need larger markets and public and private authorities should take advantage of the opportunities at their doors – the large regional market of some 160 million where goods and services could be offered and where, hence, money could be made. A regional setting and inter-connectivity would also allow the region to negotiate in block with those beyond the region, not only in terms of costs of goods and services, but also in determining the political outcomes of relations with the outside world. A united front and one voice of such a vast region would be stronger than what a small state can expect to obtain from any negotiation with major powers and other organized regions.
It has become a common phenomenon to see others encouraging, and hence carrying out what they refer to as “capacity building.” It is how they have confused the region, which they have disabled and is no longer able to stand on its own feet. It is one of the issues which the region should grow up from. Enough of thirty-some odd years of capacity building, which has not added one iota to the development of the region.
The region is confused with a multitude of programs all aimed improving at the lot of the region. But all these programs, first require needs assessments, feasibility studies, communication activities that include not only unnecessary meetings, monitoring and common areas of interest. All end up to nothing when completed and the process that started in the early nineties still remain and continue to mar the region. It is time that the region walked away from any study program presented by non-regional parties and launched its programs on its own. The region would have hiccups and would stumble, maybe many times, but it would learn more from its own practical experiences than any capacity building program of others. All of these capacity building programs serve only the needs of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have ruined the region, so far.
The region got exposed to international financings, which were limited in scope and size, and could not add on to the development of the region. Indeed, many of the financing programs incapacitated the region’s natural developmental processes. These financing programs were not designed to fill in the region’s financing deficits in terms of infrastructure and other areas. A prime example was, clearly, the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which was denied the financing it needed to be built and which, fortunately, the region, on its own financed. Alternative financing collected from the region, and not connected to others would be the best sources of funds for the region.
The region’s inter-connectivity would contribute to the region’s energy, socio-economic, environmental and financial development. Inter-connectivity of the region would be, in essence, paramount to its future development and installation of peace and stability. It would fill-in the gaps that currently provide others, avenues to enmesh themselves in the region and mess it up.
As we say, in the Horn of Africa States, it is better to have an aching leg than to have an aching spirit. The region should work on closing the inter-connectivity gaps itself and not wait for others to do the job for it.