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EurAsiaReview.com: The Horn Of Africa States: The Need to Change The Reality Of The Region – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 17 January 2024

By

Each generation of humanity lives in its own world realities. What was considered taboo in the past may become a reality or a scientific discovery in a coming age and so the world of yesterday would never be the same as the world of today, neither the world of today tomorrows.

Clearly new terms are always introduced to describe the realities of each generation. In the recent past, one heard of globalization and in the years before then, one heard of communism versus capitalism and today one may hear of deglobalization as the buzz word. The world changes and new terms are invented, and human interactions continue to impact the way of life at any one time. But there are constants in Life, and this is mainly the presence of man, who must survive the traumas and comforts of life.

These include among others liberation movements, nationalisms, democratic forces and not so democratic forces, dictatorships, populist movements left and right groupings and, indeed geopolitics. This era of today is no different and the world is mostly engaged in groups opposing each other and/or attempting to be better than the other, and at the end of the end, just playing the game of survival. 

Nothing really changes on the economic front for it always represents the art of food security, life presence, indeed, and the logic of survival through how humankind operates in assuring oneself of life. They always trade and exchange goods and services in markets and through decisions of politicians who represent themselves through the different faces of the prisms of life – control of the means of production, the distribution of goods and services and the provision of the necessary capital requirements.

In the old days, people were not exposed to each other or to large markets and hence decisions thereof, were limited to specific locations but as people travelled and discovered each other, the markets widened, and the decision-making processes expanded as it involved many more others. It is no longer the backyard market but places on the other side of the globe that may affect the way people live in any particular place and this gives rise to transportation and distribution processes that may, in certain cases, be important for the smooth operation of markets across the globe. Such is the Horn of Africa States region which overlooks one of the most important chokepoints in commercial shipping, where some 12% of global trade and 60% of its energy source in the form of oil and gas must pass through on their way to and from another chokepoint, the Suez Canal.

No wonder then that the Horn of Africa States region becomes geostrategically significant as ships would have to embark on a longer and hence costlier journey round the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, should there be a disruption in the Suez Canal-Red Sea-Bab El Mandab-Gulf of Aden-Indian Ocean waterway. The importance of this shipping waterway is rooted on the fact that the manufacturing base has shifted from the northern countries of Europe and North America over the past six decades to Asia in countries like China, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and of course Japan, South Korea and the tiny breakaway Chinese Island of Taiwan.

Corporations which were traditionally small, and family owned have been transformed over the past two centuries into major multinational corporations that operate in many countries and regions in the pursuit of life and profits. They no longer operate in the backyard but far beyond it in many distant markets. Many corporations were originally mostly from the northern countries, but they are joined by similarly large corporations from other parts of the world and as usual, corporations generally being after profits, they move on to where the cost of labor is cheaper and hence to the countries od South and East Asia and the America of the South. Very few have so far moved to Africa, where most of the raw materials are based and must be shipped from there to the industries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Depending on the nature of manufacture from low tech to high tech, new clusters will form but they would always be aimed at assuring each marketplace its necessary life requirements, peu import, the nature of the activities of that marketplace and goods produced will have to be transported and shipped from one region to another, which makes the Horn of Africa States continue to be a significantly important geostrategic location. However, how this would affect the region itself and its component parts remains the more important question for us in this article.

The larger countries of the region include Somalia and Ethiopia, but it also contains significantly important countries like Djibouti and Eritrea. The Lowland countries that actually face the shipping route excludes Ethiopia which is a highland country blocked from the sea. This does not mean that it is completely blocked out for it already uses the ports of Djibouti and Somalia and to some extent Eritrea. The region should have been able to create a platform where they could work together each providing to the shared pot its advantageous opportunities in the traditional highland/lowland cooperation. However, there are those from beyond the region who would not like the region to rise and wake up to its full potential and hence keep it disturbed and unstable, tirelessly toiling to stir trouble in the region. This has been the case of the region for now a century and a half, and this should no longer continue.

Unfortunately, Ethiopia, the largest of the region, both in size and population, which should have led to a stable and peaceful region, seems to have lost its way through the machinations of others, forcing it to become the instigator of many unnecessary conflicts to rage in the region both inter-state and intra-state. There are many major and regional actors involved in the life processes of the region and these could be motivated  by economic benefits, maritime security, and political influence. They deploy many instruments to realize their goals, which may includehumanitarian aid, cultural cooperation, economic assistance, and military cooperation in the war against terrorism, and political cooperation and others.

The Horn of Africa States region which could have stayed and played in its own platform, is being increasingly pushed to be part of the endless troubles of West Asia, and unfortunately the biggest country of the region has fallen victim to the wiles and whims of that other region. The current standoff between Somalia and Ethiopia, on Ethiopia’s wrong move on Somalia’s territorial integrity is part of the process to keep the region engaged in its own internecine bloodletting.

It is where it becomes necessary for changes to occur in the region’s relations with itself and its component parts. A regional rapprochement and efforts thereof would be necessary in this regard to come back from falling over into an abyss, which is not sensible or good for the region. The Horn of Africa States region will continue to attract the attention of many parties both friendly and unfriendly, but the important thing would be the need for the region to desist from activities that cause harm to the region. Such is the attempt of Ethiopia to enter into unnecessary MOUs with regions of another country, irrespective of its internal political disputes such as it has done in Somalia on the prodding of non-regional parties. Previous Ethiopian administrations resisted such prodding, but this Ethiopian regime seems to have lost its way because of all the fires and conflicts raging in its many important regions such as Tigray, Amhara and Oromia. They do not need to add the Somali State in Ethiopia, and Somalia. This may explode into a regional war involving all the four countries of the region, much like the DR Congo War (1998 -2003), which involved some seven African countries about two decades ago, which the region does not need.

The region is geopolitically located and would attract the attention of the United States, China, Russia and other major powers, let alone the regional powers surrounding it. The competing interests which sometimes overlap, of those countries would affect the region, which should have prepared itself as a region and not as single countries as is currently the case. This would not only have saved it from the current turmoil and trauma but prepared it to face off the others from beyond the region collectively. Such a change in attitude and reality is necessary for the region to help it play safe in an increasingly difficult multipolar world.

 

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

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


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