By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
June 20th, 2023
The collapse of the old ruling elites in the Horn of Africa States region, gave rise to the present elite. They rose out of the chaos that followed the collapse of the old military regimes, which themselves, replaced the older either kingly or republican parties, and who adopted socialism as the hallmark of their administrations. Tribal and ethnic based opposition parties generally led the oppositions to the ruling socialist military parties, which collapsed with the Ex-Soviet Republics and in general the left parties of those bygone days. They took advantage of the political chaos that followed the collapse of the military regimes to come to power and further weakened governmental institutions of the two main countries of the region, namely Ethiopia and Somalia.
Ethiopia gave independence to Eritrea, while Somalia splintered into a multitude of clan fiefdoms owned by some of the main clans of the Somali population. Ethiopia further adopted a federal infrastructure based on ethnic tribes and languages, while Somalia broke down into its large array of clans and sub-clans. The elites of the new tribal/clan regimes of Ethiopia and Somalia created an ecosystem of inequalities and where citizens have become divided into first-class and second-class citizens. They, indeed, have become predatory and leaders of chaos, which makes the Horn of Africa States region become prey to other forces from beyond. The remaining two countries of the region and namely Eritrea and Djibouti both remain under the control of single parties.
There appears to be in the region, despite its wishes otherwise, a lack of knowledge of general governance and the workings of politics, which is currently abused through tribal/clan prisms. There also seem to be no clear vision for any of the countries other than to keeping the existing tribal/clan regimes on even keels. There, indeed, is no vision for the region let alone the constituent SEED countries. These two factors contribute to dispersal and/or distancing from circles of governance, of experts and knowledgeable people in all fields in the states of the region. This, therefore, allows reliance by the regimes on consultancies from others from beyond the region, mostly NGOs, who have their own agendas for the region. This culminates in keeping the region as chaotic as it can be, which allows the unscrupulous to exploit its resources and/or prevents exploitation of the resources such as a potentially thriving tourism the region could have enjoyed, let alone its natural resources.
Perhaps the region’s experts and knowledgeable people of the region, individually and/or collectively did not offer their help to the regimes and fled the scene, and the regimes could not, therefore, be blamed for all that is going on, in the countries, and for the interferences of others. This could have been out of fear or simply a search for greener pastures. In either case, the regimes lost most of those who could have had institutional memories and the workings of efficient administrative systems.
Sadly cronyism, incompetence, corruption and indeed, tribal/clan dominances which have replaced the old regimes seem not to be much different from the systems they intended to replace. The region, indeed, needs to revisit itself and rework the scaffold of management. All could participate if, in all honesty, people started thinking and acting in terms of individuals and not in terms of the collective tribe and/or clan, where the most competent could be given the reigns and helped in executing the good ideas they may come up with.
A series of regional conferences and meetings at many levels, be they governmental, academia or business or simply civil societies could be encouraged to take place, instead of letting things take their own course. But then, it is always up to the leadership of each country to allow such events without taking offense. They would probably leave their names in the pages of history for the good they did in their times instead of the bad they did. The politics of tribalism/clannism and their accompanying corruption-cum-cronyism could be reviewed and replaced by a more nationalistic regional aura. One must, however, note that the region does not have the luxury of time to experiment with new thought processes. What the region needs today is to have the current leadership of the region take the bull by the horns and reform their own regimes from within and thence create a regional collective together.
The regimes of the Horn of Africa States, face an increasingly polarised world where the West is fighting to maintain its traditional hegemony and the Chinese, Russia and other emerging powers like India seem to be on the rise. For the Horn of Africa States and for Africa, in this respect, neither holds the best interest of the region at heart. In the case of the West, one notes that they, indeed, offer political alliances-cum-support but do not offer any economic dividends. They would not like the Horn of Africa States or for that matter the African continent rise. This still remains anthemic to the West. In a sum total, a political alliance minus economic support amounts to nil at the end of that simple arithmetic.
The Chinese and the other major rising powers, on the other hand, offer economic support, in terms of infrastructures such as rail, roads and bridges, airports and seaports but political alienation from the rest of the world and would not come to defend the region or Africa. The story of Sudan should not be forgotten. China will choose where its interests lie. This amounts to an economic support minus political support which amounts, at the end of the day to zero, in the same simple arithmetic.
It is where the necessity for a Horn of Africa States regional block becomes necessary to harness, not only its geopolitical situation but also its geoeconomic advantages. Indeed, the region is situated in a geostrategic location coveted by all and there is no need why the region cannot collectively work together to take advantage of this opportunity without unduly stressing anyone. The current single-state format of the region and hence approach to handling global issues of which the Horn of Africa States as a region would always be a part because of its location, does not represent a workable and successful structure. It is where the necessity for creating a collective Horn of Africa States institution is not only required but a necessity. What we see missing is leadership taking initiatives in this regard and/or mistrust created by none other than those who milk the region in its current format.
There is no reason why there should not winning solutions for all the countries of the region. The region enjoys a large and growing young population which represents a large market. It has resources in terms of agricultural lands and marine foods which if properly exploited could feed not only the growing population of the region but also millions more into the distant future. The region also enjoys a large mineral base including oil and gas, lithium, diamonds, platinum, iron ore, potassium, uranium, rare earths and many more, and above all, a year-round good weather, where one does not really need to drastically change clothing apparel for hot and cold weathers. It is, indeed, a tourist paradise with its blue seas and towering mountains and savannah country. Of course, it also has desertic and semi-desert environments which add to its beauty, in their own ways.
At literally the centre of east/west air travel, it could also become a world-renowned stopover for people travelling from east to west and vice versa and stopovers for yachting people and cruisers. The region is centrally located and could become a reasonably tourist destination for many who want to escape the cold weathers or even the hot weathers. And for producing, the region provides a large cheap labor which can be easily trained into any industrial production.
A regional infrastructure would create many opportunities for the populations of the region but most of all peace and stability, which have been missing from the region for a long time. The leadership of the region owes the populations this dividend and they should be working towards this goal without rest and without respite. It is what they can offer the region’s population, at least.