Dehai News The Horn Of Africa States: The Impoverished Region – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Saturday, 04 May 2024


The Horn of Africa States region is part of Africa and shares many of its ills with the rest of the continent. These would include marginalization and dependence on others involving, in the main, foreign actors and forces in its socio-political and economic systems. The foreign actors include the historical colonial Europeans and Americans, the Russian-Ex-Soviets, the entry of China into the continent and, indeed, the rise of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have become pests feeding on Africa and which have disabled most of the institutions, be they health or educational and others, that were inherited from colonial Europe after independence. These have together not only kept the continent marginalized ever more but also increased its dependency on others.

This has contributed to the rise of corrupt leaderships, who mostly lack self-confidence in themselves and hence rely more on their tribal/clan backgrounds to rule over vast territories inhabited by populations generally considered internal tribal/clan enemies instead of co-citizens in the countries whose contours and maps were made by Europeans.  Instead of serving these populations, the corrupt leaders in European-style suits continue to serve the foreign actors and forces, who themselves continue to exploit the region’s wealth and natural resources.

There was hope and expectations of development, and forward march into a better future in the region, after independence. However, and unfortunately, those leaders who took over the nations of the region were no more than the servants and puppets of the colonials who pretended to be leaving but never really left. The hopes of the general citizen in the region like the rest of their brethren in the rest of the continent were thus dashed to dust. This brought in coups and military involvement in governance, which further disrupted freedoms and enabled more, the involvement of tribalism and clannish management systems, underpinned by the colonial masters indirectly, harboring thus instability and conflicts which still continue today.

The main actors of the world of economies and finance such as multi-lateral corporations, investors and merchant banks made themselves scarce and stayed away from the region and still do. Unlike other regions of the continent, the resources of the Horn of Africa States region including among others its sub-soil wealth, its large markets, its enormous blue economy potential, and its geostrategic location remain underexploited.

Given this dismal involvement of the main actors of the world economy in the region, the region’s economic performance remains at best jaundiced and of no interest to major business executives around the globe. Perhaps one would encounter foreign adventurers of no consequence in the region signing major contracts with governments, which they cannot implement as they neither have the financial nor skills and experience to carry out their parts of the bargain expected by the corrupt leaders of the region. None of the contracts signed with foreign parties ever succeeds till to this day.

One would have noted in the region oil and gas exploration and drilling contracts, major agricultural projects, port development contracts and others that have not really developed or got implemented the way they were designed in the beginning or to the expectations of the host countries.

Many international investors and major merchant banks prefer to leave the continent for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which have so far not proved themselves to be of worth for the continent, prescribing for it wrong and ill-advised processes that only increase the dependency of the continent on others. The Horn of Africa States region is not spared from this phenomenon. These have only resulted in the region’s poor economic performance, civil conflicts involving tribal/clan competition for power and hence the scarce and small economic pie, poor infrastructures and inefficiencies in governance and the rule of law, which remains in the hands of a few tribal/clan chieftains in the region.

Like the rest of Africa, the region, with the exception of Somalia for being generally anarchic in governance, have turned to China with respect to development projects and the Chinese have not disappointed it. Unlike Europe and the Americas or the West in general who link governance and democracy on their own terms with respect to assistance and investments, China does not seemingly involve itself in governance. They are reported to stay aloof on how Africans govern themselves although this is not probably the case. They must maintain close contacts with the governing groups with all that it entails to protect their interests. 

Ethiopia, the largest country in the region, Djibouti, and Eritrea which is not generally in good terms with the West, all deal with China on the economic front, mostly on infrastructures such the building of railways, roads and ports.  The many actors and forces in Somalia including the multitude of NGOs, the IMF and the World Bank, the West, and the new entrants into the region, the GCC countries, with their enormous wealth, and the terror groups that have been imported into the country, have kept Somalia confused at best, anarchic and directionless at worst. Somalia’s governance is clannish, and each clan throws up the worst among them to face off the other clans, which only produces poor leadership for the country.

The region, after the collapse of the military dictators, could have had a second chance but it did not. It only turned to the animalistic tribal/clan safety net which, of course, denies  and stands in the way of any form of national development, let alone a regional aspiration. This has only impoverished the region more, in addition to the worsening climatic changes and world stage political and economic maneuvers of major powers.

Despite its ownership of a multitude of resources including its geostrategic location, the Horn of Africa States region, unfortunately is more impoverished with every year that passes, giving rise to a mass exodus out of the region and the continuation of the tribal/clan competitions for power which is the root cause of all the instabilities in the region. Its inability to sift through the many forces entering the region have cost it enormously. Every country and every actor that comes into the region is not a friend and many are pursuing their own interests and securities which is perhaps contrary to the interests of the countries of the region. 

The world’s competitions elsewhere which, at times, are in the form of wars such as the NATO/Russian proxy war in Ukraine, the Palestinian/Israeli war and the problems of Asia, and those of some other African regions, all affect lives in the region as supply chains get disrupted and prices rise. These all further add to the impoverishment of the region.

A major discourse that the region misses is related to the rule of law, fairness and just treatment of one’s fellow co-citizen. The fact that competition is tribal/clannish, denies fairness and equality under the law. It denies sharing of opportunities among the citizenry as the tribal/clan chieftains in power show and act preferentially towards their own tribes and clans, which only accentuates misgovernance and hence the conflicts and the continuing instabilities in the region. These add to the impoverishment of the region as focus is no longer on development but on tribal/clan wars either fighting each other within a country or tribal/clan uprisings against the center.

 It is ironic that over thirty years the region is at war with itself while the world is watching it. The region must be the laughingstock of the world as the  people who pride themselves as having been there from the cradle of mankind keep tearing each other apart with significantly no explicable reasons other than just tribes and clans. The fact the region cannot produce its own food and relies on others for everything, without earning its living from its own resources, clearly paints it as a hopeless region with a hopeless leadership. A country is just a refection of its own leadership, and the impoverished nature of the region may reflect an impoverished intellect or the misguided priorities of its leadership, but in any case, an impoverished region.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

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

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