By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
April 25th, 2023
The Sudan conflict has once again bared facts about the Horn of Africa States and the greater region surrounding it. The region has neighbors like the GCC countries which have significant interest not only in the region but also Yemen just across from the region. It has also Sudan as a neighbor and Egypt further north. On the south is the East Africa Community (South Sudan and Uganda and Kenya). All of these countries and regions have their own issues which impact on the region, one way or the other. Let us take these regions and countries one at a time.
The GCC countries
The GCC countries have been involved in the region for a long time, for multiple reasons. On the one hand, the GCC countries rely on hydrocarbons as a major source of income and hence were and still are against development of any hydrocarbon development on the opposite side of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden on the wrong belief that this would significantly affect their main source of income. Note the Horn of Africa States region lies on a straighter forward position for ease of transport and hence lesser costs and would need shorter pipelines for export of hydrocarbons from the region to the rest of the world. It ha also access to a large ocean which would make it impossible to block transportation of hydrocarbons from the region as opposed to the GCC countries where the source of oil and gas are mostly in closed environments such as the Persian Gulf, with chokepoints and arch enemy Iran on the other side. The recent cooling down of relations with Iran may help but it is too early to assume closer relationship between Iran and the GCC would develop.
The GCC countries also use the Horn of Africa States and Sudan, for that matter, as a way to project power of wealth, on the belief they can bribe their way through to the corridors of power in the region and Sudan. Investors from the GCC countries have been also investing in political, agricultural projects to airline services and exploitation of minerals from the region and beyond in the African continent. However, most importantly, some of the GCC countries and especially the United Arab Emirates, the old Trucial states, has been trying over the years to block development of major ports on the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and the northern Indian Ocean, on the fear they would compete with Dubai ports. The port of Aden in Yemen is no longer functional, and the Port of Djibouti realized early on that the DP world was not playing a fair game and broke the contract it had with it. A court case is in process at present on the matter. But the UAE has been trying to take ports in Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia. They already secured Berbera port opposite port of Aden and are trying to take on Kismayo, Bossaso and Gara’ad and others in Somalia.
Egypt has been linked to the Horn of Africa States and Sudan throughout its history from time immemorable. The link between Egypt and the region and Sudan is the Great River Nile, where a major tributary, the White Nile originates. Egypt was always involved in the region through trade and culture and the Nile waters and from 1869, the Suez Canal, where ships move from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, reducing costs of transportation from the old oceanic voyages involving the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. It was a great blessing for Egypt but trouble for the Horn of Africa States, for it brought European colonizers to the region at the end of the nineteenth century, which caused the creation of many of the countries of the region as areas of European influence. Egypt itself was subjected to European colonialism for some time although it was able to extract itself early on. Egypt’s lifeline, as it claims, depends on the Nile and the Suez Canal apart from revenues derived from tourism. Most of the waters of the Nile that reach Egypt originate in the Horn of Africa States through the White Nile. The ships passing through the Suez canal should also pass through the Bab El Mandab or the gate of Tears, a narrow body of water of some 28 km, which was deepened after the opening of the Suez Canal. The Bab El Mandab Strait divides the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. Egypt has to have good relations with the region and Sudan, with which it shares a lot such as history, trade, culture and language.
The East Africa Community
The East Africa Community is one of the largest blocks in Africa, now stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. It includes major countries like Kenya, Tanzania, the DR Congo and smaller countries like Rwanda and Burundi and South Sudan. South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 but still exports its oil through Sudan, where currently an infighting between its soldiers is underway. The East Africa Community also has presence of HAS soldiers as peacekeepers between South Sudan and Sudan in the Abyei region, where most oil is extracted.
Conflict in Sudan would be a great disaster not only for Sudan but all the surrounding regions and countries. It would have repercussions in Chad, Libya, Central Africa Republic, South Sudan and, of course, Egypt and the Horn of Africa States, mostly Ethiopia and Eritrea. Sudan already hosts large Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees resulting from previous conflicts. The GERD project, a primary development project of the region, would also be exposed. The region would be watching developments with care. It is where it is necessary for the region to take the initiative for the reinstatement of peace in Sudan.
The Great Powers
The United States of America and its allies in Europe, the Peoples Republic of China, the Russian Federation all have stakes in the region. It is centrally placed and borders the geostrategic waterway from the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean. It is a good market for weapons and other war equipment such as vehicles and others. It also provides an abode for rest and relaxation after months on the oceans for their naval personnel. All of these great powers have only their interests at heart and do remove authorities in the region from power when they can get away with it. It happened in the past and there is no reason not to believe they can still do the same in the future. It is important they the region be wary of their maneuvers all the time.
The Horn of Africa States region is no stranger to conflicts. An apparently foreign engineered conflict is now tearing apart one of the most important neighbors of the region, the Sudan, which neighbors, as well, the great Sahel region of Africa in the west and Egypt and Libya on the north and the densely forested mineral rich central Africa region in the south. The conflict may spill over to the region, and it would absolutely be essential for the region to help contain it before it spreads and causes more chaos.