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EurAsiaReview.com: The Horn Of Africa States: Effects On Global And Regional Actors – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 06 March 2024

By Dr. Suleiman Walhad

March 6, 2024

Most writings and discussions on the region present its troubles both natural and man-made or self-inflicted internal and engineered external. In this article, we will present the effects and impact of the region on the global and regional actors who are involved in its affairs, whether they are invited or force themselves in or sort of gatecrash into it. One would thus understand that this would be complex and of multifaceted nature as no such study or views have ever been presented in this regard. 

The idea is to review what drives others into the region and how the region by country or collectively affects them and this is all aimed at restoring stability and peace in the region, not completely similar to but close to life before the arrival of the Europeans, into the region towards the end of the nineteenth century. Before then, the region did not have the borders of today and people could move, trade, and settle wherever one wanted in the region. 

We must note that the region consists of the four Horn African countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, together, the SEED countries, an acronym from the first letters of each country. Some also include Sudan, in which case the acronym becomes SEEDS. It is a region marred and plagued by multiple issues not only because of its geostrategic location but also because of  its potential resources, which include both above soil and sub-soil wealth. The region also owns the longest coast in Africa stretching for  4,700 km or 5,500 km Sudan included and hence a significant maritime space and potentially an enormous blue economy.

The region has, therefore, enormous influences and implications on international security, peace and global economies. Who are, thus, the global and regional actors that are involved in the region and how do their activities affect other global and regional actors with interest in the region? What should the region be doing vis a vis those actors as a region and as individual countries? These are some of the questions that the region’s governments, academics and policymakers should be asking themselves. We shall address some of the issues and the effects thereof on the global and regional actors in this article.

The importance of the Horn of Africa States is historical. Contrary to the notion that it only became important since the opening of the Suez Canal, the region was always important for humanity from its cradle and its exit from Africa to other continents. It was also the connecting link between the three old continents of Africa, Asia and Europe throughout the ages and was as important for trade as it is today. The normal trade that was the bedrock of its importance has now been complicated by today’s international issues of terrorism, human trafficking, piracy, drug and other illicit trades including arms and weapons trading and negative competitions among the rival global and regional actors. The main non-regional actors include among others the United States, the United kingdom, the European Union, and allies (collectively the West), China, India, Russia, the Arab states (mainly the Gulf States and Egypt),and African countries (mainly the EAC, IGAD and South Africa).

They all seek to have influence on the region and compete for its resources, which include among others, its geostrategic location.

The West

The West is generally motivated by its security, economics and maintenance of its pre-eminence in global affairs. Note the West pioneered the current world infrastructure and created most countries of the world during the colonial era. It would be unthinkable that the West would not be involved in the Horn of Africa States and particularly when it comes to its maritime security issues and trade. They are competing with equally powerful countries that have emerged since the colonial era including China, Russia, and now rising India. They view these countries as major obstacles to their way of life as they perceive it.

Other economic powers that are eating into the traditional pie of the West are the Arab States, mainly the Gulf states, which have enormous influence through their amassed oil wealth. The Iranians, which are not in good terms with the West is also another rival in the region and in particular with its influence on Yemen and the Houthis. China, Russia, India and now some of the Arab States including Saudi Arabia and the UAE are all in one camp, the BRICS Plus group. The Group also includes Ethiopia, a member of the Horn of Africa States region and one can thus note the rivalry that is growing in the region. They not only pose security threats for the West but also tough economic and trade competition.

China

China is a rising power and is mainly motivated by its security, economics and a strategy to never go back to the poppy days and boxer wars. It has a lot of interest in the region and invested heavily as an access gate to Africa’s mineral wealth and markets. It works closely with Ethiopia where it has invested heavily in infrastructure. It has established its first foreign naval base outside China in Djibouti, another member of the Horn of Africa States.

China thus sees the presence of the West as a rival in the region and upgraded its diplomatic presence in the region through the appointment of a special envoy to the region. It is, indeed, eating into the West’s pie of influence at both security and economic levels. China works with the Arab States and Iran and hence poses another evolving competitive advantage over the West. The Arab states were generally seen as part of the West’s natural allies in the past. This is shifting and only toughens the situation for the West. The countries of the region and the region collectively should not ignore this growing competition and the menace it poses for he region.

India

India sees the entry of China into the Indian Ocean sphere and the region as a threat. Note that the two countries’ relations are paradoxical in that they both belong to the BRICS Plus but are also intense rivals. They have, indeed, border issues at the roof the world, the Himalayas and glaciers thereon.

The West is shifting its main industries from China to India as both have cheap and skilled labor. India has signed into the establishment of a new corridor with the West to be called the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), which is designed to bypass the Suez Canal/Indian Ocean waterway, and hence would generally affect the Horn of Africa States region, although the region never really benefited much from this waterway, except that it brought too many conflicts and rivalries to it. India is building its relations with the region just so as to keep an eye on the activities of China in the region. 

Russia

Russia’s relations with the region is as old as the any other European country and probably older through the religious relations between Abyssinia of the past and Russia – the Orthodox Church but its influences in the region were more pronounced with the non-religious communist Russia and the Ex-Soviet Union and which had a major presence, at one time, in the region (Somalia, Ethiopia, and South Yemen).

Currently the Russian presence is not pronounced but is not absent either and is a competitor in the region. Note the weapons and arms used in the region are mostly of Russian origin. They are not only affordable but also deadly. Russia is generally motivated by regaining its traditional influences in the region, but currently has a full plate of its own troubles with the West in Ukraine. Its re-emergence in the region cannot, however, be ignored.

The Arab States

The Arab States involved in the region are mostly Egypt and the Gulf States. Even within the Gulf States, it is the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that are mostly involved in the region. Egypt has not only historical relations with the region but most of its fresh water comes from the region through the Blue Nile which originates in Ethiopia. It also earns substantial revenues from the Canal Suez, which is also linked to the region through its coastal belt of some 2,832 km along the waterway to the Indian Ocean, and which includes one of the major chokepoints of international maritime trade routes, the Bab El Mandab Straits.

Egypt is not pleased either with the GERD on the Blue Nile, which is the largest dam in Africa. The river descends from very high mountains and cannot be retained in Ethiopia, at least, with current technologies and possibilities. It is enormous and it should have an outlet. The two waters, the Blue Nile and the Red Sea are certainly important for Egypt and Egyptian relations with the region would always be part of its main features. Egypt’s relations with Somalia goes back to Pharaonic times as is its Coptic relations with Ethiopia, which is also historical, and Addis Ababa is both the capital of Ethiopia and Africa. Egyptian presence in the region is, therefore, a given and should be managed.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are wealthy countries that just woke up to what money can do and are therefore swaying left and right and to all sides on what they can do with their new found wealth and power. The Horn of Africa States is one of the regions where their powers are displayed. Saudi Arabia is discreet and invests in the ideological and/or religious sphere. The UAE, on the contrary is more on the political and economic fronts and so is Qatar to a smaller extent. The UAE finances Ethiopia’s and Sudan’s internal wars and currently manages some of the ports of Somalia without the direct influences of the Federal Government of Somalia. They are the ports of Berbera and Bossaso. Control of another port, Kismayo, also appears to being finalized. They had originally invested in Djibouti Port and Eritrea’s Assab Port but had to move out after disagreements with the government of Djibouti and Eritrea. Probably the same thing would happen in Somalia, should the UAE not change course on how it deals with the Somali regions.

The Arab States are, indeed, political influencers in the region through the deployment of their enormous wealth, but do not consider all the other actors in the region except Türkiye as competitors. Only Qatar does not consider Türkiye as a competitor in the region. One should also observe that some of the Arab States like the UAE prefer to have the stability of the region disturbed and troubled. They support different groups within each country and do not work with the governments of the region only. The chaos in most countries (Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia) are all blamed on the Arab States, but mostly on the UAE. The individual countries of the region deal with each country separately and do not see them as adversarial. The region does not have a concerted foreign policy with respect to the Arab States either. It is perhaps time the region as individual countries and as a region collectively developed  comprehensive strategies with respect to relations with the Arab States. Being brotherly is not enough in building diplomatic relations as appears to be the case on the part of the Horn of Africa States with respect to the Arab States. This is about the interests of the individual countries and the region through the vast array of diplomatic tools available.

The African States

Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and South Sudan are part of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (“IGAD), where the four Horn of Africa States countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti are also members. South African business and specially arms trade is also involved in the region. The EAC and other African organizations like IGAD consider the creation of a “HAS” region as making another complex layer to the already overcrowded regional organizations and hence stand in the way of creating a regional organization for the Horn of Africa States – HAS. This is more of a political issue. There is little trade among the countries and of course there is less issues with security as each country is busy on itself in Africa. Most of the activities of the continent including the continental and regional organizations are funded by non-African parties and hence Africa does not pose any problems for the region. However, most of the African countries with interest in the region appear not to be welcoming a new regional Horn of Africa institution, which they see as a threat.

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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The Horn of Africa as seen from the NASA Space Shuttle. Photo Credit: NASA, Wikipedia Commons

The Horn of Africa as seen from the NASA Space Shuttle. Photo Credit: NASA, Wikipedia Commons


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