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The Horn of Africa States: The Misplaced Modus Operandi of Regional Foreign Policies

June 20, 2024

Dr. Suleiman Walhad
June 21st, 2024


Great and regional powers have cendent and was able to determine its reompeted over the region over the past two hundred years with the regional states having not much to say on developments therein. Before then the region was indeplations with parties from beyond the region on its own terms.

Those past relations of long ago often involved countries like Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, and the Indian sub-continent and the countries of Asia as far as China. The linkages of the region to those countries and regions were generally through trade across the vast Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Persian/Arabian Gulf. On occasions there was a land corridor along the western coast of the Red Sea to Egypt on camel caravans but sometimes on horseback.

The opening of the Suez Canal has caused a fundamental change not only in the relations of the region with other parties but also within itself as new countries arose in the region out of the influences of Europeans and others in the region. It gave rise to the current countries of the region, namely the SEED countries and if extended further north, the Sudan.

Many of those who write on the region represent the old European colonial countries of the region and their replacement, the United States and its allies and, indeed, point out not only to the competition on the region from countries of the East, mainly China and Russia and their allies, but they also add the new regional countries that were themselves created by the Europeans in the Arabian Peninsula and West Asia. Only Egypt and Persia of the ancient relations of the region still stand as was before.

The competition for the region involves jockeying for influence and allies in the region not only for economic and trade issues but also for military and naval presence in the region. No wonder, one finds the presence of naval forces of countries like the superpowers of the United States, China, Russia, and middle powers like the UK and France and smaller countries like Spain and Japan and others. One also finds West Asian countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey and even some of the old countries like Egypt in the region.

The competitions for the region are intense not only because of its geostrategic location but also for its mineral resources and other economic factors including its large market of some 160 million people. This intense competition has been the main cause of the instability and fragility of the region, for it was not left alone to be and develop on its own. The foreign competition over the region has also introduced foreign terror ideologies, which have burned out both the green and the dry in the region.

The competition over the region beyond socio-political and economic reasons extends to power projection, which because of the push and pull forces among the competitors has caused great damage to the region’s development. It has caused many of its people to flee the region to more peaceful parts of the world and it has caused the states of the region to drift apart ever more instead of closing their ranks together to face those external interfering nations and regions.

The states of the region failed in a nutshell to strengthen their relations among each other and all serve others for meaningless national goals, which does not add one iota to the region’s competitive advantage and its long-term interests as a block.

The region simply presents a new arena for competing powers to face off each other through proxy wars involving the tribes and clans and now even the states of the region where Ethiopia seems to have antagonized every neighboring Horn African country. This puts the region at the mercy of those foreign parties and more particularly those families of the Gulf that are learning to become governments themselves like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and who are using their newly found wealth powers with great fervor. All competing powers have expanded their physical, economic and political presence in the region, which destabilizes the region and makes it more vulnerable to further interferences.

As noted in previous writings and articles, the region is significantly important as it borders the Suez Canal/Red Sea/Bab El Mandab/Gulf of Aden and Somali Sea (Northern Indian Ocean) waterway, which carries some 15% of global trade and about 12% of world’s energy. It is the source of the Blue Nile which provides most fresh water to northeast Africa (Sudan and Egypt) and is potentially a significant hydrocarbon, hydro energy, geothermal and Eolic energy producer. It is also a potentially large food producer both agricultural (farms, animal husbandry) and marine. The region presents itself as a large market, some 160 million people of youthful age (some seventy percent below 30 years of age) and hence a large labor source.

All of the competitors over the region consider relations with the region as zero-sum and leave no quarters for the states of the region to operate, pressuring them to take sides or else become enemies and hence the target of their ire and anger. They do not even let the governments of the region converse with each other and discuss matters among themselves or have them have other relationships other than their own. It is, indeed, a sad story for the region.

For some of the competitors over the region, the instability of the Horn of Africa is beneficial and a goal in itself, as it gives them economic advantages over them. Such competitors include the United Arab Emirates who have modernized their traditional piracy activities to current superficial investments in the region. The Horn of Africa States do not, indeed, realize that such countries are, indeed, harming the future of the region more than they can ever imagine.

It is where the foreign policies of the Horn of Africa States have failed. They have misplaced the goals of their foreign policies which currently is directed at each other and not at the real foreign interfering countries, who have disrupted lives and lovies and peace in the region. It is not clear if the countries of the region have foreign policies or just work on the whims of their leaders. However, it is important that the region truly wakes up to its precarious situation and take note of the gravity of the matter, which calls for a better and closer relations among the countries of the region instead of attacking or disturbing the peace, unity and sovereignty of each other as seems to be the case at present and more particularly Ethiopia which appears to be wrongly seeking acquisition of the waters of others. 

The region could have limited or constrained the foreign interferences in the region to manageable levels, should they have been working together. They could have negotiated better terms in trade for the region and built new regional platforms to manage not only its foreign policies but also its economic relations with others. This would have included collaborating in the needs of each of the countries of the region with respect to international trade, infrastructures such as roads, rail, ports and space.

Great efforts are being wasted by the region on non-starter issues like the claims of others over the lands and seas of others or the penalizing behavior of some over others in support of non-regional parties. Efforts should have been directed at creating new regional platforms instead of the institutions like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which as an NGO is simply a conduit of foreigners into the region.

The unnecessary competition that appears to have been set among the nations of the region and hence misplaced rivalries would only harm the region in the long run and would keep it as fragile as it has been over the past three decades. This is not to the advantage of the region and its innocent populations, which are the ones that are suffering most. Leaderships should generally work towards lessening the suffering of their populations and development of their countries economically and in every possible other field. Such is not apparent in the Horn of Africa States in the region at present and there seems to be more unnecessary competition being formed among the countries of the region when they should have been collaborating and cooperating together.

The region currently works on individual country basis wherein each country of the region pursues its own interests. It would have been much better off if the states of the region were collaborating and presenting a regional voice to others instead of the individual voices. It is important that the region should be drafting itself a new bargaining regional platform, which would be not only in the interest of the region but also in the interest of all the foreign competing forces be they Western, West Asian, Indian or Chinese. A common forum to face off the foreigners would be a better venue for the region.

Such a new platform would enable the region not only to voice its need but would force the foreigners to change their tact as well as now they would have to deal with a larger block instead of the individual countries which gave them many cracks to exploit for their own ends. It would also remove the regional malcontents that use the many interfering foreign parties for their own nefarious ends such as drug, weapons, and human trafficking.

The Horn of Africa States region needs to revisit and rework itself out. Certainly, the current individual-country based policies are not working for the region and it has only caused and created more cracks than was hitherto possible in the past. No wonder many of the citizens of the region find the governance of their countries lacking, weak and hopeless. It is perhaps high time the regimes of the region reworked their modus operandi and more particularly their foreign policies which currently seem to be misplaced and directed at the region instead of the outsider interfering nations.



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