Dehai News The Horn Of Africa States: A Geostrategic Geopolitical Minefield – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Tuesday, 11 June 2024


The region has always been a bridge connecting Africa, Asia and Europe from ancient times to this day. Despite its apparent poverty, it still plays a pivotal role in world affairs and major and regional powers still keep it in mind and include it in their calculations geostrategically and geopolitically. It was always a conflict-prone region for some centuries now starting with the arrival of the Portuguese in the Middle Ages, through the Scramble for Africa, the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War, when despite being in the same socialist camp, conflicts still continued in the region.

Nothing has changed and the currently brewing East and West standoff still affects the region with USA-led NATO on one side and the BRICS Plus on the other. This is further complicated by the regional wars such as those endless Middle East wars culminating in the current Palestinian/Israeli war in Gaza. The region knows no respite as the world elephants face off each other with their proxy wars within the region, which impacts its tribes and clans, some of whom with limited understanding of matters wrongly believe in unachievable matters.

The region has known no peace as civil conflicts mostly based on tribes and clans raged since the collapse of the military regimes in the early nineties of the last century. These conflicts also involve banditry and imported religious terror, which have plagued the region for four decades now with foreign forces involved for their own ends and interests. The old territorial disputes have now become tribal/clan conflicts in each of the countries and endless wars over supremacy of one tribe/clan over another is eating away the green and the dry in the region, compounding the complications associated with climate changes and environmental degradation.

This was further compounded by the recent destabilizing actions of some countries like the United Arab Emirates and others involving once again territorial disputes and sovereignty issues of some of the countries of the region. This only serves the interests of the troubled Arabian Peninsula, which is corrupting the politics of the Horn of Africa States region to compensate for its shortcomings with respect to its own region.

The Nile Issue and more particularly the GERD of Ethiopia puts the region into another conflict involving waters again. The other water which involves disputes between and among the countries of the region involves the Red Sea. Both the Red Sea and the Nile waters are matters that can be worked out within the region but since foreign parties are involved, these issues assume bigger and more malicious proportions.

The MOU signed by Ethiopia with a region of Somalia, the fear of Eritrea and Djibouti with respect to the desire of Ethiopia to have access to the Red Sea are all matters that can be settled at a regional level through an integrated economic regional platform. This, however, is not allowed by the forces who believe they benefit from the chaos of the region. Unfortunately, the leadership of the region do not read it that way, making the region a minefield of extreme proportions that can explode on anyone at any time.

The appearance of being friendly with the region as shown by some countries like the UAE and then acting in the opposite direction is not helpful and only complicates the conflicts of the region. Somalia and Ethiopia know each other and would not truly embark on disturbances that would pit one against the other. This would be costly for both. The Eritrean front would be an equally costly affair and Djibouti is another minefield with all the foreign naval bases in that country. Sudan is already chaotic and messy.

The region does need peace and stability to move forward on the economic and social fronts and not wars or even disputes among the countries of the region. The origin of the current disputes such as the MOU, is certainly from beyond the region, but the international community and many other forces do not allow it to get out of hand. It is a minefield which is better left alone.

The involvement of the United States, the UK, the French, Russia and China and even countries like Türkiye  and other European countries, would not allow the minefield to explode. It is best kept ‘as is’ unless the region moves in a more stable direction. It is a region, which is fully armed for weapons have been pouring into the region from the sixties to this day. Currently conflicts are confined within the states of the region. There are no inter-state conflicts, which the MOU almost triggered. Fortunately, common sense has so far prevailed but there is no guarantee that the foreign forces involved in the matter would settle for the current state of no peace no war in the region. 

It is best that the leadership of the region both ruling, and opposition does not go along with the bidding of the Arabian Peninsula and in particular that of the United Arab Emirates, whose interference in many countries has not been good and was thankless. One should look at  the interferences of the UAE in countries like Yemen, Sudan or Libya or even Syria where they have interfered negatively for many years. The Horn African leadership should know better than to go along with those countries of the Gulf and their corrupting paycheck diplomacy.

It is ironic that the region despite all the troubles of the past has not learned yet that it can live together, trade with each other, invest in each other’s country and travel to each other with ease and share the bounties of the region. They do not need the foreigner to tell its leaders what to do and what not to do and the leaders should not be appealing for help all the time carrying these begging bowls. These are what hurts the region’s interests more than any other issue. The tribe and the clan are but excuses used by those who have nothing else to offer to their countries and the region.

It is significant to notice that the African Union, the Arab League, the United Nations Organization, the United States, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Russian Federation, China and many other countries and organizations have understood that the region does not need another cycle of conflicts and wars. They understand that the region is not cured yet and is as fragile as it was over the past four decades. The terror groups operating in the region add to the tribal/clan minefields of the region, which would undermine world peace and stability. Interfering countries from the Gulf have been forewarned not to bust the minefields of the region.

Multilateral financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank understand the risks involved and their support for countries in the region and in particular for Ethiopia and Somalia would be terribly affected. The UAE and other Gulf countries will not replace these international institutions in meeting the current financial support needs of the region, and for that matter, no other country including China would replace them either.

The region has both risks and opportunities but the continuing conflicts are hurting the region. The region, indeed, has access to waters that are of significant value not only for the region but also for others from beyond the region. These waters include the Nile waters and the Red Sea. They have always been of value for mankind and trade and life have flowed from these waters for Europe, Africa and Asia. They will continue to be important and of value for always. It would thus be beneficial if the leadership of the region understood the import of these waters for both the region and for others and managed them well for both. This is where the region draws its nature as a geostrategic and geopolitical minefiel.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

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

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