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The Horn Region Integration Agenda– What Lies Ahead For It?

Posted by: haile habtegaber

Date: Thursday, 07 December 2023



The Horn Region Integration Agenda– What Lies Ahead For It?

I read Dr.Suleiman Walhad’s piece on the Horn Region with appreciation and found it to be interesting in so far as the current indeterminate state of attempts towards regional integration is concerned. As a follow-up to Dr.Wahad’s analysis I shall briefly lay down my perspective on some of the preconditions necessary for the initiative of regional integration of the Horn countries.   

 Dr.Wahd asserts that some of the Horn countries are pulling into different directions and joining different blocks rather than building a robust and inclusive one. This he argues, is an obstacle to the desired goal of integration. Although valid, this to some extent a simplification of a complex problem. Joining other adjacent clubs may be a diversion to a certain extent but is not the main obstacle to the realisation of the much sought Horn Region integration. When considering about robust and effective regional integration whichever form it takes, it is useful to think of it as a process taking place at two levels. There first level involves intra-national or internal integration within a country. The second level is integration dealing with interstate or regional desired to be promoted. But even here it would be premature to think of current regional integration in terms of forestalled political integration and without taking into account of evolving developments, the vision and direction the leaders are taking.

Let us dig a little deeper to get a better insight of the problems that have to be dealt in order to enhance the success of the regional project.  

The primary question that comes to mind when one considers the success or failure of integration of the Horn of Africa is ‘what should be the minim and basic preconditions’. Given that the region is crowded as it is by ethnic diversity and division, what should be done as a perquisite?   Clearly the unhealthy and draining internal socio-political climate in some of the countries resulting from failure of the political leadership has weakened the evolution of robust nationhood in some countries as a necessary strategic base to regional integration. Needless to say, to achieve a durable, and effective regional integration, comprehensive, coherent and consensus based, and well-designed national integration is needed as a launching pad. However diving deep into the current governance of particularly Ethiopia and Somalia, the two largest important countries of the Horn of Africa, one cannot escape the calling for prudence. The work to be done in promoting solid sagacity of nationhood that translates into ties, sense of collective identity and history, on domestic political integration, building healthy and evolving positive connection between the diverse ethnic groups is much to be desired to say the least. Furthermore governance in both countries can be said to be predominantly ethnic/clan governance rather national and democratic governance. Pulling together in unison for a binding social cohesion and national identity and awareness shared by all as a basis for common destiny is extremely deficient in both of these countries.   

Visibly in these two countries national integration is a far cry from the desired situation to conduct effective foreign policy engagement. Somalia is physically dismembered and devastated by persistent internal conflict driven by debilitating religious extremism and clan mind-set in place of national allegiance for decades now. War and violence are the order of the day sapping national energy with uncalculatable loss of opportunity cost. Ethiopia is equally beset by parochial ethnic divisions and catastrophic underlying ethnic rivalries not to mention the open warlike fighting up and down the country threatening its very survival as political entity.  

 It must be told that the situation in Ethiopia as the largest constituent country of the Horn Region by any measure, has by far the most significant impact for the realisation of integration. But the current leadership has military solution in place of political. The Federal government seems unable to succeed by compromise, negotiation and reconciliation to resolving the ongoing internal escalating ethnic conflict. Sadly also the political leadership of Ethiopia seems to be very vulnerable to foreign powers manipulative interferences and dictates losing its independence and ability to govern and lead the country effectively. Unfortunately this government is incapable to resolve national crisis and conducts its foreign policy in the interest of foreign powers which compromises its stand with its neighbours as a trusted partner. With such constraints what Ethiopia does or not do becomes a problem than a solution.   

Given therefor, the deleterious and rife domestic socio-political polarizations obtaining in some of the countries, the resolution of national problems should be considered as the most critical and substantive issue as a prelude to regional undertakings. Lack of strong and cohesive national political integration is a serious handicap.  The Ethiopian prime minister should first endeavour to resolve his country’s internal problems before embarking on external wanton adventures. It is incomprehensible how Ethiopia with its dysfunctional political and administrative system can be expected to play constructive role.

But even more bizarre is, as if this was not more than enough a problem by itself, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia with outrageous impunity and absolute disregard to the UN charter and conventions, has launched an erroneous, dangerous and illegal agenda of building a sea port of his own by forcefully commandeering land belonging to one of the sovereign countries along the Red Sea coast. As with all Ethiopian leaders before him, this prime mister also could not break free from the Red Sea syndrome that afflicts Ethiopia body politic.  This Ethiopian cloud of invasion rightly considered as existential threat to the Red Sea coastal countries, is an absolute antithesis to the goal of regional integration that we are talking about. By this reckless action the Prime Minister is killing and extinguishing any hopeful dream of integration.  Instead of resolving the horrific socio-political situation and put his house in order, the Prime Minister has come with another disastrous but futile agenda to make matters even more unattainable. No one can neither quantify nor prefigure the consequences for world peace and security should war break out by design given the immense strategic and geopolitical significance of the Horn region.   

However not over simplifying the above stated negative conditions, can creating a new club or joining others be a panacea for the evasive integration? We already have IGAD (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda), EAC to which Somalia has been invited to join, and a doubted SEED comprising Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. There are two critical questions here:

1.    Why do we need new institutional structures while there is IGAD which has been in existence since 1996. If IGAD has not succeeded in executing its mandate as envisaged, wouldn’t it be imperative to reinvigorate it to build on viable and effective integration? What reason or guarantee do we have to say a new institution will work better and deliver the deemed regional integration? What lessons can be drawn from IGAD’s work so far?

2.    Furthermore what kind and level of integration are we talking here? What is the immediate goal of the envisaged regional integration?  Is it a semblance of political integration by which individual states will give some of their national powers for the common objective on paper OR going for it for real with formal constitutional and legal measures and if so can this be possible given the diverse national interests and serious internal divisions in some of the counties not to mention the obstacle to overcome nationalism?

From my own perspective a modest attempt at pragmatic functional integration by which countries of the region can work together based some selected but manageable social, economic and cultural policy activities would be more likely to succeed than formal institutional and constitutional framework to realise integration. If pursued with full commitment and vigour, integration built on evolving functional integration would also serve as foundation for promoting peaceful coexistence and future deeper regional integration.    

Finally as for the countries that are at devastating war with themselves, prior submitting to collaborative initiative, working on internal political integration is a critical step. Strong and enduring cohesiveness among the diverse ethic groups and or clans in each country is paramount. For all the haunting internal crisis, political solution is the only way forward and the key to creating a political entity at ease with itself.

As a closing remark I want to say this to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Throw away the ill thought agenda of invasion you have nurtured hidden from the public to acquire land of sovereign independent Red Sea littoral states. Your reckless misadventure is poisonous, futile and a negation of the constructive role for the integration of the Horn Region your country can and is expected to play.

Haile the Netherlands



Dr. Fikrejesus Amahazion at the XXIX International Rosa Luxemburg Conference in Berlin on January

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