Dr. Suleiman Walhad
August 6th, 2022
The SEED countries i.e., the Horn of Africa States own and straddle a complex but fortunately centrally located strategic region in the world. It owns a significant youthful population on a large geographical space of some nearly 1.9 million square km involving mountains, plains, plateaus and coasts and it enjoys sunshine around the year and plenty of rain that feed the Great Nile River, but it is also paradoxically exposed to irregular rains, dry weather, and droughts in large parts of its vast lands. Many are awed and fascinated by the immense potential of this region and try to disrupt it and exploit every conceivable slight differentiation in its historical context, current infrastructure, and peoples and countries of the region, both politically and economically, fearing that an economically integrated Horn of Africa States would be difficult to manipulate for their own nefarious ends.
Historically, throughout human history, the Horn of Africa States region was always at the crossroads of trade and people movement among the African, Asian, and European continents. Empires and sultanates have grown and subsided in the region throughout history and both Christianity and Islam have entered and embedded themselves in the region almost from the beginning of each religion, but despite few short-lived struggles between the two religions, adherents of both have been largely tolerant of each other for millennia. The region is the source of the lifeline of countries to the north of the region i.e., it is the source of the Blue Nile, the Sobhat and the Atbara rivers, which provide most water to Sudan and Egypt. It also owns and straddles the main shipping seaway that feeds the Suez Canal and hence trade between the three old continents of Africa, Asia and Europe through the Red Sea, Gulf of Berbera and the Somali Sea.
The region is so important that it always draws the attention of the great powers of the world. At one time it was the Greeks and the Persians, which was replaced by the struggles between the Romans and the Persians, and this was followed by colonial Europe which dug and operated the Suez Canal for nearly a century. This was followed by the competition between the Ex-Warsaw Pact led by the Ex-Soviet Union and NATO led by the United States. Today, the same struggles and competition continues over the control of the region between the superpowers of China and Russia on one side and the United States and Europe on the other, although there are also some intermediate powers struggling to have some footing in the region. All of these competitions only cause headaches for the region’s leadership and protract the miseries of the people of the region who are already suffering from the effects of climatic changes affecting the entire planet. The region of the Horn of Africa States remains one of the most affected areas in the world, where droughts and famines are ever more becoming a regular occurrence.
And because of the mess and chaos in the region, forces of evil, terrorism and all kinds of unwelcome actors have found themselves a safe place to breed and cause havoc not only to the local populations of the region but also to the world and most importantly to neighboring regions as well. The region is now exposed to increased arms trafficking activities which imperils not only the population of the region but also any chances of reconciliation. The illegal trade in arms appears to be a lucrative and profitable business and some of the big boys of the region perhaps play a part. It is one of the sad news of the region, which connects it to all kinds of nefarious activities including transnational terrorist groups, drug smuggling, and other conflicts.
Despite these negative tags, the Horn of Africa states, poses another poster picture. There is the possibility of both individual country and regional peace and the possibility of enhanced co-operation among all the members of the SEED countries. Relations among these countries after passing through the problems and difficulties of the past century and half are bound to have hiccups on the path to common addressing and common understanding of regional issues, but the main goal remains shining and could be achieved. It is often said that one cannot change the past, but changes start always somewhere, and a new page is always better to start from where one stands. No one can change the past, but one can change what is coming and determine where the end would be, and the Horn of Africa States region is presently on the start line. The future is wide open, and possibilities at its door are vast. Would the leadership of the region (both ruling and opposition groups) seize the opportunity? But the Horn of African States citizen has also a choice and he/she should persuade the leaders to work towards lifting up the region and not sinking it further.
The Horn of Africa States owns potentially undeveloped but exploitable resources such as crude oil, gas, gold, copper, silver, platinum, iron ore and even coal and more. The region also owns vast tracts of fertile soil, wildlife, and not so small tracts of forest cover. One should not forget that the region owns some 4700 km of coastal belt and even longer coasts surrounding its many Islands and this represents an economic world of its own – a blue economy which could include not only fishing and shipping but also trade, tourism, manufacture, and mineral extraction and even marine sports. However, its main importance comes from its strategic location, which the region has yet to exploit to its fullest.
This is a region which links the East and the West, the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. It is where a substantial portion of world oil and gas (some 11%) and a significant part of world’s other goods passes through. Note it connects the Red Sea, the Bab El Mandab, and most importantly one of the most important chokepoints of sea transport, and the Indian Ocean and is a gateway for the Suez Canal, without which this man-made water channel would end up to naught. It owns major ports needed for international trade and mostly for the African continent, for which they are major entry points. One must note that the African continent is a source of some 40% of world’s raw materials, and it owns plenty of both water and energy sources, which makes the world tick, signifying its essentiality for global economic growth.
The region is the origin of coffee and exporter of one its best qualities, generally and wrongly referred to as Coffee Arabica. It should be Horn Africanus or Ethiopian to be more precise. It is also home to indigenous grains like the teff and other food plants like the ensette and its own barley, wheat, sorghum and millet native grains. Despite the mostly man-induced shortage of foods in the region, it owns great farmlands which can feed not only its population but many others and especially those in the dry Arabian and Egyptian lands. It is where the latter two regions have failed, for they do own financial resources, which could have enabled them to cooperate with the Horn of Africa States which owns the lands and the water to grow food to feed both populations, instead of disrupting the lives of the people of the Horn of Africa States through unnecessary conflicts, arms supplies and endless political maneuverings.
The Horn of Africa States region further owns a large youthful population, which is a hidden asset. They can be easily trained and adoptable to modern mechanisms of production when such opportunities are made available. The leaders of the region need to pay attention to this important asset, which should not be wasted in senseless clan/tribal conflicts and regional disturbances. This would be a major defense wall against uninvited foreign intruders like terrorists and mercenaries and other evil forces that today mark the region. As people move from the rural areas to urban settings, the region would need to prepare for this mobility of people, preparing the old urban centres and the new ones that would come up to accommodate reasonable living conditions in terms of roads, streets, drainage, sports and culture, schools and healthcare facilities and many other aspects of life. This would require, of course careful planning and resources and minimizing internal conflicts and using the resources of the region for development would be the correct path.
The region is generally agricultural and manufacturing plays only a minor role. Services are also limited, while transportation is hampered by the underdeveloped road and rail infrastructures of the region. Ethiopia remains the largest economy with Somalia, after decades of civil chaos, barely recovering. Djibouti’s economy is generally based on services while Eritrea remains a small agricultural economy. Generally, the region would need to co-ordinate and plan together for the future, where complementarity would play a major role. Ethiopia, for example would be the main source of energy and in fact labor. It does own the largest population. Somalia and Eritrea and Djibouti would offer the long coast for development of ports and other infrastructures that would employ many of the unemployed youth of the region. Should the negativity surrounding the region be reduced, there would the intrepid investors who would come to invest in the land and seas of the region to make money. The region’s governance should be able to change the stiff and unfriendly legal systems currently in place in most countries to accommodate those investors and others. No one would be taking the land. Let the investors make money and make money for the region as well. It is when you scratch the back of others, that they would scratch yours too, but nothing is free. Preparing oneself for foreign investors is not an easy process, but one must know that investors would only come to make money and not for other ulterior motives. As long as they make money, they would stay. It is on the onus of the leadership to bring them in and keep them in. Mostly this is related to the legal infrastructures, for like all business, there are always contracts and legal agreements whose clauses and articles must be protected and maintained. The rest depends on efficiency and ease of governmental services, skills and costs. The region should work on all fronts for minimal costs and efficient services to attract investors who would attract more investors, all intending to make money.
Skills are assured through good education and the region should educate its populations to enable them work in the new technologically advanced world we live in today. Poor education, outdated curricula and poor management would need to be addressed and updated to handle 21st century skills. Another important aspect which most countries overlook is that investors from outside would also bring in skilled personnel from beyond the region not only to train the local staff but also to manage the projects they are investing in. They would also bring in their families and sometimes their friends. What is important for them, as is also important for the local populations, is the availability of a good healthcare and reliable system, including but not limited to hospitals, but doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel and good health insurance companies. Many countries overlook this and find themselves disappointed when most foreigners leave or advise potential investors not consider investing in the region.
The Horn of Africa States is potentially rich but poor currently. To unlock its prosperity, the region would need:
- To create officially the platform of the Horn of Africa States as a regional block with all the formalities and necessary infrastructures and organs.
- To improve public administration, install rule of law, create a sound macroeconomic framework for the region and in each country, reduce corruption, and present to the world easy and transparent business procedures, that would be able to attract not only local investors to invest more but also non-regional and international investors.
- To reduce and minimise internal upheavals, which mostly involve clan/tribal competition over the current meagre resources. Should the pie increase, the rule of law implemented, and competence placed before the clan/tribe, the region would perform much better than is currently the case.
- To ease travel within the region, so that people can travel to each part of the region and easily settle where they wish to reside in the region as long as the person is carrying official Horn of Africa States papers.
It is always better for the SEED countries to swim together and not sink divided.