By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
July 19th. 2022
Despite being marked as a problem region with droughts, starvation, civil strives, complex foreign competition, and wars mostly based on ethnicity-cum-foreign interferences, the Horn of Africa States also presents an underlying potential that can and would make it a much sought-after region. A deep historical background dating back to almost the beginnings of homosapiens if not the origin of them all, coupled by a capacity to stir and keep the world watching it all the time, the region owns the ability to deploy all the forces currently tearing it apart to its advantage and moving on to create a dynamic entity that would not only put an end to the poverty of the region and its other major issues but also make it a contributor to the ending of human miseries of poverty, insecurity and wars in many other parts of the world.
Why do we say this? We know for one that the region has a shared history, a shared cultural base and a shared economic livelihood. We know too that the region is potentially extremely rich in resources, which include among others an ocean and seas, and trade routes that are vital for the world, for it lies at strategically and centrally placed location – The Red Sea-Gulf of Aden and the Somali Sea (Northern Indian Ocean) and within this route, it overlooks one of the most important choke points in international seafaring and trade routes – the Bab El Mandab or the gate of Tears. The region could exploit this to benefit its people.
The region shared experiences throughout history from ancient times to the present day. Egyptians called it the land of Gods, or the land of their grandfathers and the Greeks called it the land of cinnamon believing that cinnamon was from the region. They did not know the traders of the region were bringing it from the Indian sub-continent. The Romans also knew it as the land of aromatics for it was the sources of incense and frankincense throughout history and even today. The Persians knew it as the land of the tall and most handsome men. Such a shared experience remains and can be used to resist any temptations to cause conflict among the various segments of the population of the region.
The region enjoys advantages of being neighbors, for all the countries have shared borders. They have cultural and structural similarities, and they are all underdeveloped and have the same developmental priorities – moving on to the twenty first century, for they do not have to go through all the processes humanity and countries have passed through in the past. These are all the features for a viable economic integration.
The Horn of Africa States owns a significantly large youthful population that can easily be trained to adapt modern technologies and modern production and processing mechanisms. They have been trying over the past three decades to rip the region apart through creation of disagreements among neighbors on their histories, cultural affinities, creating false clan and tribal prides, clan/tribal territorial disputes, religious strives and religious terror groups, mistrust among the politicians and traditional leadership of the region. The region was not able to see the advantages of co-operation and mutual interests, which advance the region and move it forward.
The large resources of the region including the largest traded commodities in the world, oil and gas, could not be extracted and/or exploited mainly because of the continuous clan conflicts and clashes. Its other minerals both ordinary and precious metals could not be extracted either except, perhaps, small quantities of gold, diamonds and other gemstones. Even the seas and the ocean of the region have been taken over by others who fish and perhaps even extract many other minerals from it without the region knowing to what extent.
It is time the region took note of its similarities and put aside the minor differences within each country and among the constituent SEED countries. An economic union marked by a common market, customs and a monetary union and ease of travel within the region, would be ideal to start with. Each of the SEED countries would benefit and the populations would be enticed away from unnecessary fighting and inter-clan strives. We must be aware that the region is home to all the three Afro-asiatic tongues and languages – Cushitic, Semitic and Omotic. The region is also endowed with the fact that it can use three other major languages of the world – Arabic, English and French and, therefore, should not suffer from any linguistic issue.
Some of the constituent SEED countries belong to sleeping organizations that have failed over the years such as the Arab League, while all of them belong to the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (“IGAD”) with others, an institution which has failed because its infrastructure is based on consensus of the leaders of the member countries and has no enforceable structures to implement its decisions. The Horn of Africa States should move away from such organizations and build a more viable, economically integrated region that has enforceable rules and win-win infrastructures for all the countries.
It is extremely important that the SEED countries know all major areas where they can co-operate. Fishing, agriculture, science and technology, communication, banking and finance, trade, transportation, education and health, free movement of people and goods and services across the region, security apparatus and peace building, and of course social development and tourism and others are many areas where the Horn of Africa States can co-operate, for such a co-operation will raise the wellbeing of the region and each country. This would also lessen foreign interferences and hence the impact of such interferences on the life of the average Horn of Africa States citizen.
Many are wary of the big brother syndrome towards Ethiopia as the biggest of the four countries. Whence the general infrastructures of the regional institutions are based on win-win contracts and agreements that equally protect the big and the small, such fear would be alleviated. The region is presently marred by political upheavals and turmoil. A regional setting would be a major guard and defense against such political disturbances. With such a setting, the resources of the region would then be exploited to improve the life of the people of the region. We present hereunder the potential wealth of each of the SEED countries:
|Country||Naural resources (tapped and untapped)|
|uranium, iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt, oil and natural gas, cement, gold, coal, livestock, farmlands, seafood and fish, wildlife, significant forest cover south of the equator and generally a potentially significant blue economy and tourism involving some 840,000 sq.km. of exploitable seas excluding its two main rivers the Juba and Shabelle as the only downstream country. The country enjoys a youthful population. 70 % of its population is under 25 years of age.|
|Oil and gas, coal, gold, platinum, bauxite, iron ore, potash, salt, diamonds and precious stones, tantalum (columbite), limestone and other construction materials, livestock, wildlife, large farmlands, forest cover in the southwest, native grains and food plants, plenty of water in terms of lakes and rivers including the Blue Nile and hence potentially an energy exporter, a significant tourism industry because of the vast diversity of the land and its long history as the cradle of humanity, a large youthful population of which some 70% is under 30 years of age.|
|Eritrea||gold, zinc, copper, oil, potash, limestone and other construction materials, gypsum, iron ore, oil and gas, ornamental marble and granite, agricultural land, wildlife, substantial forest cover in the highlands, a significant tourism potential and a blue economy, a youthful population of which 70% is under 30 years of age.|
|Djibouti||Livestock, salt, geothermal energy potential, oil and gas, fishing, ports (sea and air) blue economy in general including tourism, a small but a youthful population of which some 70% is under 30 years of age.|
All of the above are exploitable resources and can make the region truly wealthy. It is clear that the region would not be able to exploit these resources on its own. They neither have the funds for developing them nor the management and technologies, which now brings in the need for potential investors willing to take risks with them and make money at the same time. The only requirement from the region would be a proper legal system protecting the rights of all and above all the investors, in addition to welcoming them, in the first place and selling the region as the place to invest and make money, and there are many who are looking for such an opportunity.
“No matter how full a river is, it still wants to grow,” says an African proverb. Individually the SEED countries may all have self importance and pride but working and growing together is better. There is where the wisdom of tomorrow lies – the coming of a giant Horn of Africa States region. Let us remember Mandela, who said that “Poverty is not natural, it is man-made”. The region should not impoverish itself. It has all the atouts of an economically giant region over the horizon.
*Dr. Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].