Dehai News The Horn of Africa States: The Finest Hour Is Yet To Come – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 13 December 2023


The Horn of Africa States region has been a ground of warfare, conflicts, hunger, starvation and environmental degradation which led to death, destruction and underdevelopment for nearly a hundred and fifty years now, from the last quarter of 19th century to the present. The region saw the creation of its current political map during this period and saw its leadership hijacked by pseudo-leaders who have plunged the region into unabashed bloodletting throughout this period while, at the same time, serving non-regional parties of different shades and colors but mostly European. It saw the whims of politicians rise using as fodder, for the fires they unleashed on the region, the unsuspecting populations by appealing to their ethnicity and hence loyalty at no cost to themselves. But the region has paid dearly and continues to do so today towards the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. This should not continue!

The region is no different from any other region in the world. People in the region are born like any other person in the rest of the world with all the attributes that are also enjoyed by others in terms of talents, strengths, weaknesses and virtues and faults.  The region is said to be the cradle of mankind and it is where man first learned how to survive on this earth and from where humankind travelled to other parts of the world. It has been at the center of whatever is happening on earth from time immemorable to this very day, where events, good or bad, that happen in the region are always in the front pages of international media.

The region has produced throughout history many firsts such as the first usage of the world’s famous beverage of coffee and the taming of the camel. It probably developed the first oceangoing vessel, the famous Somali Beden, which crossed the Indian ocean to India. Its ancient rock arts of Las Gel, near Hargeisa, Somalia, is probably the oldest in the continent, while others not too from there in Dhambalin, depict warriors on horseback from the ancient times. It is the only place on earth where churches were dug out of solid rock in Lalibela, Ethiopia, and, of course many more landmarks.

Yet the people who produced those famous landmarks in history today remain divided, clueless as to where the region is going and hence their destiny. It is most unfortunate, but the tribal wars and the internecine conflicts seem to have a steely grip on the region. It has, indeed, descended below the belt for the nation state is no longer a safe haven or a pride for the citizens of each state in the region. The populations, poor as they are, now only find comfort in the tribe and/or clan enclave and not the nation or the region.

This can, however, be reversed when the silent elite who seem to have given up on their nations and the region wake up to the call. One cannot continue on lamenting about the sorry state of each nation and the region in general. It is clear that the nation states that are in the region have come about on the wrong basis, mainly because of the desires and influences of Europeans who came to the region in the 19th century and the collusion of some of the locals. However, that is now history, and one cannot undo the damage done. What the region needs is to move forward and make the best of what it has.

And it has Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and they are countries that house generally the same people and the current leaders or those to come in the future can redesign the region through working together. The infrastructures in place are not god-made. They are man-made and anything that is man-made can be molded again into a different form. At present, the countries need to change course and look into the region for support instead of seeking the support and aid of far-off countries that do not have the best interest of the region at heart.

This does not mean that the region or its constituent countries, the SEED countries, cannot have relationships with non-regional parties. They can! However, it is also important that the countries of the region work together earnestly and honestly without ulterior motives as the old politicians of the twentieth century did. The region cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes. The current leaders or those that may come to the region need to be courageous to change course, when necessary and, indeed, there is currently a need to change course.

We know that the governments of the region have failed the populations of the region in many aspects, but governments come from the people, and this then becomes a gridlock. How does one move from the gridlock? It is always the people in power who change things, but they can be prodded by the general populace also. At present, there seems to be apathy in the region where people seem to have accepted that it is their lot to be fighting tribal/clan wars all aimed at acquiring wealth and power but only for politicians using the tribal/ethnic background. This, however, can be reversed when the administrations appeal to and employ the best among the populations to help manage the affairs of the states and region.

The region is not without people who are talented and who can produce and contribute successful ideas, strategies and policies to revive the region and make it successful. The region has geographical atouts or advantages, God-given and natural. These include its location, the longest coast in Africa and hence a potentially immense blue economy, the waters of many rivers including the Blue Nile, the Shabelle, the Juba and the Omo rivers among others. It has, indeed, a sizeable youthful population of some 160 million soon to grow to over 200 million and hence a large market. Should the leaders decide to calm the region and they can, the peace dividends would be enormous for there would investments coming from near and far and even from within the region, which would allow the region to rise from the slumber it was in for over the past fifty odd years.

It is a matter of the leaders changing their modus operandi from this attachment to the single nation state format to a regional mindset and working with neighbors and not antagonizing them as was the case in the past for others to take advantage of the region at their will. The region should know that the region has not failed on its own but that others have worked on making them fail and be the laughing stock of other nations. They should not continue on the same path for that trajectory has only led the region and its people to miseries and more miseries.

This does not mean that the region cannot work with others, They should but first they should work with each other and collaborate. They should not be like the three cows that could not stay together, and each was hunted and eaten separately by the lion. Working together does not mean one gives up ones’ territory to another. It simply means coordinating and cooperating in terms of customs and taxes, cargo and people travel and movement of capital within the region conditioned on the needs of the region. Other collaborations can be worked out over time such as academic, business and people to people contact. There is no need for the continuation of the antagonisms created by the politicians, past. 

A collaboration among the countries of the region would not stop foreign interventions but would certainly lessen the adverse impact of these interventions. None of the four nations of the region would be alone but in a group that negotiates together with the others. Group strength is always better than standing alone. It is how the region’s survival and its rightful place among the world’s regions would be assured. It is how the finest hour of the region, which is yet to come, can be assured. The current leaders of the region should not forget history for history is in the making and those who make changes and useful changes will be remembered. But making wrong choices puts one in history too. It is the choice of the leaders and no one else’s. It is hoped that the leaders will choose the right path, which, in our view, remains to be as always, a regional set-up and mindset.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

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

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