By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
April 1st, 2023
The Horn of Africa States region faces many challenges, and among these challenges are terrorism whether religious or otherwise, foreign interferences, domestic political turmoil and instabilities and hence weak governance, natural disasters due to climatic vagaries and hence low local food production and resultant hunger and poverty. These challenges and others are all common problems of each of the SEED countries, which comprise the region. However, the failure of the region to have a common approach to all these issues is perhaps the foremost challenge of the region.
Common approaches to issues generally require organized processes and mechanisms through which the region could work together to address the current problems and the future stumbling blocks that would surely arise as the region moves towards a more institutionalized architecture. The countries of the region currently operate individually, but it would have been a better approach should they have been working and collaborating together to address the challenges, including developmental processes.
Ethiopia is struggling with its TPLF and other local tribal issues, although it appears that the country is moving away from the destructive confrontations and working towards more peaceful solutions of the issues. Somalia is struggling to recover from the still ongoing civil war which divided the country into clan enclaves and fiefdoms, with some declaring secession. Within the clan fiefdoms, internal sub-clan secessions remain a marked feature of the country. Cases like Gedo of Jubaland and Las Anod of Somaliland come to mind in this respect. Djibouti and Eritrea both have aging leadership and the future is unclear as to whether they would go the ways of Ethiopia and Somalia with internal strives coming to the front.
These challenges and others could be better addressed when the region works together and collective actions by the states of the region are implemented through a regional block, which not only addresses the politics of the region but also its economic, social and cultural reconstruction. The price the regions pays for not implementing an integrated region are many, but the following may be the most important.
The first price the region pays is time for the longer it takes the region to realize the need for regional integration, the more the problems of the region would stay and probably even get worse. The region needs to note that the world today works in blocks and the stronger and more expanded a block is, the stronger the individual countries within the block become. Peace and stability, economic growth, financial development and better access to capital, local and foreign investments and generally a socio-cultural development of the region’s populations would be assured. Time is of essence.
The second price the region is pays is that there is no full exploitation of the resources of the region which does not help peace and stability in the region. An authentic regional HAS integration would assure of the region peace and stability and hence a full and better exploitation of the region’s resources such as its energy (both renewable and those based on the region’s hydrocarbon potential), maritime trade and maritime resource exploitation such as its ports and port infrastructures and related road and rail projects, growth of food production using the region’s water resources and energy. This does not exist at present and would need to be established early.
The third price the region pays is lack of large-scale projects. In a world where goods and people both move freely, one can imagine the large-scale economic projects that can be launched. In the HAS region this remains, at present, difficult to think of, although bilateral agreements between some of the members of the region do exist such as the road and rail links between Ethiopia and Djibouti, and/or the air travel links between Djibouti and Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and others.
The recent history of the region does, indeed, negate the possibility of integration. However, the negativity arises from the legacies of colonialism, for before the arrival of colonialism in the region, the region was generally socio-economically integrated. People and goods used to move freely from one part of the region to another as so were socio-cultural relations. Scholars and students and even general populations would move about in various parts of the region without major hindrances.
We know the HAS region is a cocktail of internal political/tribal and clan strives, further complicated by imported religious terrorism. However, the possibility of wars between the four states of the region has been reduced to almost zero over the past decades and this is a good omen for the region. The local internal strives in a country can be addressed with assistance from the other members, should it seek help from them. This would at least be good neighborliness, even if there is no integration.
We, in the respect, say that the region should not continue to be intoxicated by the suspicions and mistrust of the past, which were, perhaps, related to the colonial times and early independence, which came in an unprepared fashion. The diplomatic strategies of the four members states of the region, may at present look different, but there is no reason why they should not revisit those strategies, if they need to serve their peoples better.
The leaders of the region should navigate wisely the historical context and the future requirements of the region to serve the populations better. The price of non-integration is certainly high and only serves to delay development and economic growth of the region.