Dehai News The Horn Of Africa States: An Integrated Development Platform – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Monday, 08 April 2024


The international community has over the years frustrated the development processes of the region using the region’s own internal issues as key pushing factors to hamper the progress of each country individually and the region collectively. This has led to the region’s chronic instability and its failure to build a better future. The tribal and ethnic competition for power and hence the distancing of competencies, skills, experiences, and sincerity from the governance of each country and general lack of coordination and cooperation of the regional countries have led to a breakdown of the rule of law, fair play and encouraged the concentration on unachievable ambitions in both development and security in the region.

Major distant countries and closer regions have participated either collectively or individually to play havoc in the region. These include major powers who in their competition among each other only bring in more chaos to the region coupled by new emerging powers interfering in the region’s political and developmental arena. These competing interests encourage the tribal and ethnic competition as each country or region aligns itself with differing groups in each of the countries of the region, adding to the already broken systems of the region that need to be amended, rebuilt and reconstituted. The Europeans, the United States, the Chinese, the Russians and the Gulf countries are among the countries whose involvement in the region are marked. The Egyptians and the Turks which have historical connections with the region are not absent either from the region. India, Iran and other countries are also involved.

The tribal and clan conflicts for power are further aggravated by religious terror groups organized, managed, and financed from beyond the region to play havoc in the security and peace of the region. In Ethiopia the Amhara, the Tigrayans, the Oromo in the main and the Somalis and Afar, the Benishangul and others fight over resources, powers and lands. In Somalia clans and terror groups play havoc in the country’s governance infrastructure, which is split into semi-autonomous regions including regions which claim to have seceded from the country’s central governance structure. Eritrea and Djibouti are both dominated by long-serving leaders and the future of both countries remains unpredictable. Both are marked by almost fossilization of political and thought processes. None of the region’s governance infrastructures appears to have clearly accountable political platforms.

Most of the populations of the four SEED countries of the region live in extreme poverty and would continue to be poor unless the region wakes up to the plight of its people and changes its damaged political and hence economic platforms for the better. The international community would not help other than through lip service and minor and insignificant processes including provision of almost expired foods for the hungry populations. It is ironic that a region which domesticated first food plants such as the teff, the ensette, its own cereal foods such as sorghum and barley and finger millet and domesticated the camel, its donkeys and horses and cattle, today remains so poor and relies on imports and food from outside the region, despite the availability of vast agricultural lands, water, and extensive maritime space, full of fish and marine life.

The Horn of Africa States region can do better and can address the challenges facing it both at country and regional levels. It needs its governance infrastructures to change strategies and work for the populations instead of for personal gains and/or just ethnic and tribal political gains. An inclusive long-term process needs to be instituted in each country and the region collectively. This requires creating an assurance of peace within each country through political inclusiveness, fair-policy institutionalization, justice and the rule of law instead of the personal, tribal and/or clan law which has frustrated the region and which provide the entry points for the antagonistic foreigner into the region. 

The region needs to institute the necessary political will in this regard. We know it can do better for it is endowed with all the advantages a region or a country needs to develop in terms of populations and markets, extensive land space, access to a significant air and marine space, a significant number of rivers and water resources including sufficient amounts of rain which can be harnessed not only for agriculture but also for many other purposes such as energy, substantial sub-soil resources including oil and gas, gold, lithium, uranium, platinum, silver, diamonds, copper, iron ore, cobalt, zinc, and others. The region can also harness the vast solar access it enjoys and its wind energy. These can only be harnessed through an earnest will and serious determination on the part of its governance infrastructures both at each country level and cooperation at the regional level.

It is where a common regional approach becomes necessary. In the current world no country can develop alone. It must work with others on all fronts – social, economic and political to be able to have a more solid negotiating power with other regions. The Horn of Africa States region must look at the neighboring East Africans, the Europeans, the North Americans, the South Asians, the Turkish States and others. All have their regional platforms. Why shouldn’t the Horn of Africa States, which have historical relations dating back to millennia, same populations and are neighbors living next each other, create a common platform to work together and develop the region together? So far, the region’s political elite have failed, not only at national levels but also at the region level and it is time they faced the realities of the region and tackled its developmental processes together instead of their personal interests as seems to be the case.

Courageous men do take courageous actions and steps that, in the beginning appear impossible or out of step with the realities of the time. However, nothing stops President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud of Somalia, Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed of Ethiopia, President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, and President Ismail Omar Guelleh pf Djibouti, the leaders of the SEED countries meeting each other. It would probably be a great event that would be marked in history. Such an encounter would reduce the suspicions among the four countries and help create a more appropriate environment in the region. It would help in finding common solutions for the region’s common problems at many levels.

The leaders can discuss and settle the illegal MOU, which was recently instigated by Ethiopia’s Prime Minster Abiye Ahmed, and establish a more friendly environment among all the leaders of the region including a first peaceful encounter between Presidents Guelleh and Afwerki who could settle the long-standing border dispute over a small space on the border between the two countries. This should help improve the security of the region, its peaceful processes and hence stability. 

The four leaders can create a new regional infrastructure probably to be installed in Djibouti, which would work in the region’s political, economic and social development. The new regional infrastructure, the Horn of Africa States region (“HAS”) should work in enhancing free trade, a customs union and a common market among the four countries. Eventually they could take other steps such as a monetary union and others that would help consolidate the region’s integration. A regional Horn African states integration will greatly help in peace building in the region, not only among the countries but also within each country, which seems to be tearing each country apart at present.

The leaders of the four SEED countries should start promoting a new deal for the region, moving away from the past and its mostly foreign-inspired conflicts. A dialogue process is absolutely necessary and should be initiated. Would it be President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud or Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed or President Isaias Afwerki or President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who would initiate a first encounter? It needs a lot of courage and political astuteness to embark on such a great venture.

All four countries seem to be relying on foreign countries and what is generally termed as the international community to guide them. This is the wrong approach to both national and regional development. Meaningful developments only take place when they are initiated locally and/or regionally. The region would not embark on a successful developmental process through IGAD, the international community handouts and/or the Gulf paycheck diplomacy which seems to have mesmerized some of the leaders of the region. It is perhaps high time that the leaders of the region promoted a sense of inclusiveness and belonging of the citizens of each country and region. Good governance comes from such inclusiveness.

This would lead to economic development and progress, strong institutions both at the national and regional levels and this would contribute to better services for the populations of the region. Peace would be enhanced and hence both local and foreign direct investments in the region, and especially the private sector.

Each of the countries of the region naturally has some constraints, financial or otherwise, but working together would enhance their capacities. There is an absolutely considerable space and scope where technology can help. This would help in reducing corruption, improving performance and accountability and allowing prevalence of justice for all. The information and communication technology is improving and governments of the region should be working on further development of this sector. It is the way of the future and the governments should continue to make it as affordable as it is today or even more affordable. Technology would also help transform the structural base of the economies of the region and help it feed its populations and compete with other regions of the world.

The Horn of Africa States region does face many challenges, which cause its continuing conflicts, its rampant poverty, its lack of peace and stability. It is why the need for a common platform, a developmental platform becomes necessary and appropriate. And it is why the leaders of the region need to involve all the citizens of each country in an inclusive platform that would help enhance national and regional affairs, build strong and accountable institutions and hence peace and development.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

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

ERi-TV, Eritrea - ጸብጻብ ዑደት ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቂ ኣብ ዋዕላ ደቡብ ኮርያ አፍሪቃ | Reportage on President Isaias Afwerki's visit to South Korea for the South Korea-Africa Summit, held from June 3-4

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