Basic The Horn Of Africa States: Is A Regional Bloc A Lost Cause? – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Thursday, 30 November 2023


It must certainly look that possibilities of a new regional block comprising the Horn of Africa States of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti are fading. Ethiopia recently applied to join the BRICS grouping and its admittance is expected to be official in January 2024 along with other countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Argentina, and the UAE). Somalia has also been admitted to the East African Community (EAC) about a week ago (November 24, 2023), but its membership can only become official once the Federal Parliament of Somalia ratifies it. There are invitations for both Djibouti and Eritrea to join the EAC bloc, for Ethiopia has become a lost cause to its agenda, after having joined the BRICS Plus. But all is not lost!

The EAC is a West-backed group that is trying to keep countries away from joining the BRICS grouping. The West and BRICS Plus seem to be the only two major power blocs of the world today, which although different from the old cold war antagonists of some fifty years ago, look competing for world dominance today. However, the redistribution of wealth across the globe, the nature of nationalistic motivations of many of the major powers and the emerging new centers of power across the globe, all seem to point to a more multipolar world than a two-camps world.

Nevertheless, what is obviously apparent in the Horn of Africa States is that the countries are drifting apart. Ethiopia seems to be lonely and swaying its weight in all directions, even threatening its neighbors that it would take away their seas by force if necessary. Somalia, the second largest country in the region seems to have lost its directions. It has just joined the EAC, which is a Swahili world organization with which Somalis share very little, while maintaining its Arab League membership and its IGAD membership. All of these organizations have differing goals and objectives. How it would manage the contradictory agendas of these groupings remains to be seen.

The BRICS Plus nations seem to have an agenda that looks like challenging the existing financial order of the world, which is dominated by the US Dollar, the largest reserve currency in the world, after the United States started to weaponize it. Fear has crept into many nations, for they could be crippled in an instant and no wonder some of those countries have embarked to explore new possibilities, which have resulted in the formation of the BRICS and now the BRICS Plus after admitting more countries. The BRICS Plus countries own together a GDP of over $30 trillion or around 29% of the world’s GDP. That is a sizeable portion of the world’s economy and shows that the BRICS Plus countries have grown in stature and are vying for what they refer to as a fairer global financial and economic system.

This irks, of course, the United States and its fellow western countries, who are used to the Bretton Woods international financial order put in place in 1944, easily forgetting that it was France which originally led the United States to abandon the gold parity of the United States Dollar, when it asked for its US Dollar reserves in gold in the early seventies and which prompted the United States to seek collaboration from Saudi Arabia, to sell its hydrocarbons in United States Dollars and which henceforth gave birth to the Petrodollar, the dominant currency of the world.

The Horn of Africa States as a regional bloc does not exist. It exists only geographically and historically. At present we have individual countries created towards the end of the nineteenth century by the European colonialists who came to the region after the opening of the Suez Canal. They are today the countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, the SEED countries. They belong generally to the Cushitic world which stretch to northeast and North Africa, although they also include powerful Semitic-speaking populations, which are not generally much different than their Cushitic cousins.

The countries of the Horn of Africa States are located in a geostrategic place which is the envy of many a nation across the globe and especially major international and regional powers. The region is, therefore, linked to the commerce of the world through the passage of Suez Canal-Indian ocean waterway on its shores and the financial flows related to its large diaspora across the globe. The region has, therefore, to tread carefully, in the choppy waters of today’s economic and financial systems, where competition among the BRICS Plus and the West, remain critical.

One must note that the region, although it appears poor, does have substantial wealth both above soil and sub-soil. They include hydrocarbons, gold, cobalt, diamonds, nickel, uranium, and indeed, a vast agricultural landscape stretching for thousands of square kilometers, enough waters and river basins, some permanent and others seasonal. It has also a large youthful population of some 160 million which is expected to grow to over 200 million in the not-too-distant future. The region must, therefore, strategically plan for joining the global supply chains without causing headaches for itself.

The region would need to develop a regional mindset first beyond the national mindset, as the world develops into group interests. The current groupings, as defined in the format of the West and the BRICS Plus, necessitate the region to be  aware of the happenings around it. The region would need to have a financial system that is connected to their trading partners, which should not be interrupted by maneuverings of other groupings. They would further need to prepare themselves for smoothly joining the world’s supply chains for its minerals and other products and services. The region would need to have robust risk management profile systems that encourage investors and investments from beyond the region to exploit the resources of the region through win-win contracts.

Although the region seems to be drifting apart, nothing prevents the leaders from arranging encounters to sort out the differences, if any, for the best interests of the region and its people. Geography and destiny have brought the peoples of the region together. The leaders of the region should not be separating and dispersing them. Perhaps they should remember the kids story of the three cows and the lion.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

   *Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at

Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion at the XXIX International Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Berlin on January

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