The Horn of Africa is a strategically significant region that geographically commands the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the northwest edge of the Indian Ocean. The region consists of one of the fastest growing economies in the world that have seen a remarkable economic expansion for the last decade. There are countries in the region that can be categorized as failed states, and some that pursue democratic principles whereby freedom is cherished. It’s a complex and diverse region in terms of culture, religion, economy, security, and politics. It is one of the most dynamic regions in the world but is marred by terrorism, pirates, border issues, human trafficking, and ethnic feuds. The traditional understanding of the Horn is that it is prone to conflicts and mistrust. In fact, the rapprochement of Ethiopia and Eritrea became a new window of opportunity that illuminates the renaissance in the region whereby member states are working to advance their mutual interests.
Furthermore, the strategic advantage of Somaliland’s position attracted giant regional players and other big powers to attempt to gain leverage in Somaliland. Ethiopia advanced its bilateral cooperation with Somaliland to a new dimension, besides the security and the diplomatic fronts, by taking advantage of the UAE’s investment of nearly $450 million in Berbera port. Ethiopia’s efforts aim to reduce its dependency on Djibouti ports and thus it cosigned a concession deal with Somaliland and the UAE that gives 51%, 30% and 19% to UAE, Somaliland, and Ethiopia respectively.
From a geostrategic point of view, it is obvious that Ethiopia has a great interest in the Berbera Port since it is the closest port to the isolated but economically viable eastern region of Ethiopia where the export and imports of livestock, agriculture and newly found oil originate. This tripartite deal triggered a port acquisition competition in the greater Horn. Later, Ethiopia signed new ports deals with Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia and Kenya while the UAE, driven by Djibouti’s Doraleh port confiscation from DP World, invested in Berbera. This fall out with Djibouti encouraged the UAE to support and facilitate new diplomatic engagements between the hostile neighbors of Ethiopia and the previously isolated Eritrea. One can argue that Berbera port fundamentally shifted the state of affairs of the Horn and played a key role the resurgence of the wider Horn of Africa to promote a deeper economic integration.
Ethiopia is the largest economy in the Horn, a region that is a gatekeeper for Africa with its natural and human resources. After Abiy Ahmed was appointed as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister in April, when a revolution forced his predecessor’s resignation, the new Prime Minister has introduced enormous and swift reforms which had wide-ranging implications, including the rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia after 20 years of stalemate that had changed the dynamics of the region in particular and throughout the continent. Moreover, the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Somalia President, Dr. Abiy Ahmed and H.E Mohamed Farmajo respectively called for the UN to lift the sanctions imposed on Eritrea for its alleged role in destabilizing the region. This upset Djibouti because of its unresolved Dumeira dispute with Eritrea.
It is worth mentioning that Djibouti accommodates global powers as it hosts the largest American permanent military base in Africa, the only Chinese base outside its mainland, and other major powers. It is understood that the Americans are uncomfortable with the Chinese base in Djibouti and are not convinced that Beijing does not have ulterior motives. Moreover, the Americans expressed discomfort with a deal that allowed a Chinese-state owned enterprise to operate Doraleh Container Terminal after DP World was expelled.
The United States is the architect behind the Ethiopia and Eritrea peace process through the UAE. Earlier this year, Donald Yamamoto, then the top U.S. official on Africa and current US Ambassador to Somalia, met the Eritrean President in Asmara, before meeting with Ahmed Abiy in the Ethiopian capital. This shows that the US, through Saudi Arabia and other GSS members, wants to strengthen its influence in the region to counter China’s growing power, which manifests itself in Djibouti through its enormous investment.
The latest developments in the Horn of Africa are not good news for Djibouti. It further isolates the tiny country from the rest of the region. It seems any additional segregation could potentially push Djibouti to retaliate negatively. Such a move will have a destructive impact on the stability of the Horn and might create new political rivalries in the already fragile region.
Challenges and Opportunities
The current State of affairs in Ethiopia poses many challenges to the new leadership in Addis Ababa including the disproportional representation in the administration, military, and security. In addition to this, Ethiopia has not yet laid the grounds for more democratic, transparent, fair and inclusive elections, which would give the chance for the democratic plurality and free speech enshrined in the Constitution to make meaningful institutional, political and economic changes. As it stands, there is no constitutional separation and independence of the branches of government to prevent the legislative and judiciary branches from becoming rubberstamping tools of the government.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought several times during the independence and post-independence of Eritrea and later exported their conflict to the whole region. They waged a proxy war in Somalia; Eritrea is often accused of accommodating, training and arming the terrorist networks in Somalia to overthrow the weak governments that were backed by Ethiopia. On the other hand, Djibouti and Eritrea had a military confrontation over a border dispute. In this regard, Eritrea was seen as a repressive and destabilizing force by many. Subsequently, this led to sanctions being imposed on Eritrea which negatively affected the lives of the ordinary people and led to mass migration. The Ethiopian-Eritrean proxy conflict increased opportunities for terrorist infiltration of the Horn and East Africa and for ignition of a larger regional conflict.
Somalia has long been regarded as a failed state which suffers from terrorism, piracy, armed conflicts, poverty, and recurrent droughts. The current federal government has no strong relations with its own federal member states. Recently, Somalia’s federal states withdrew cooperation with the federal government; at a time when the president of Somalia was taking part in a tripartite conference in Asmara intended to seek regional cooperation. This clearly weakens the president’s capacity to maximize his diplomatic policies and serve Somalia’s interests in the region.
Security is an important factor – more specifically extremism-related incidents. Somalia seemingly became a safe haven for radical groups; mainly Alshabab and ISIS. Throughout the years, the militant groups became a more regional threat by carrying out terror attacks in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somaliland. Such beyond border incidents could contribute to less stable environment and rein the new waves of change in the region. Since the deployment of African Union peacekeeping forces, known as AMISOM, a little but significant progress have been made to contain the expansion of those groups into more regions within Somalia and the neighboring countries.
Somaliland is an example of peace and democracy in the Horn that regained its independence from Somalia in 1991. Somaliland’s recognition is viewed by many as an expression of peace, stability, and democracy in a very strategic but turbulent region. As Somaliland struggles for its acknowledged position in the region and, as it is already attracting foreign investments, increased disorder can negatively impact the little progress that Somaliland gained.
Despite Somaliland’s long-standing relationship with Ethiopia, the country’s engagement with other regional states has been limited due to the lack of substantial foreign policy strategy to engage with the regional block as a gateway for its quest of recognition. Somaliland failed to synergize its priorities with those of regional members through diplomatic means, to protect its interest and maneuver the new waves in the Horn. Consequently, these failures represent a substantial obstacle to Somaliland in particular and the region in general.
The Horn of Africa region is currently taking a different direction focusing more on peace and political maturity that can benefit all. As now the most pressing conflicts in the region have been transformed into more cooperation and economic integration, the few remaining issues can be dealt with through the same approach. Berbera Port along with DP World’s African market in Ethiopia can create an enormous regional economic power over the rest of the continent. Although it is a long way to go for a sustained peace and development in the Horn of Africa, some cases present positive regional development: the resolved Badame case is expected to contribute to the regional peace and stability.
Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates are attempting to broker peace in the region. This shows the increasing importance the GCC nations put on East Africa in an attempt to battle the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in nearby Yemen.
The recent Jeddah meeting between the leaders of Djibouti and Eritrea to resolve the decades-lasting border-related standoff can also be considered another element in the wind of change blowing in the Horn. Thereafter, another layer of exercises is still waiting to be resolved – including tackling ethnic conflicts within and or across the borders and contextualizing democratic values in the region. Finally, to complete the peace efforts, the leaders of the region must find a lasting solution for the Somaliland/Somalia issue by engaging in mediation efforts between the two sides.
- Prepare a strategy to solve Ras-Dumeira case with the assistance of the other stakeholders
- Since the Horn of Africa is shifting its Paradigm to promoting democracy, human rights and economic integration, Eritrea needs to adopt such change and shift its institutions accordingly.
- Eritrea should work for a long-lasting peace mechanism with Ethiopia that will not be affected by a regime change in the long run
- As Eritrea rejoins IGAD, it is essential for the country to be proactive in its engagement within the organization
- Djibouti should resolve issues with UAE regarding Daroleh port case and restore its relations with the Emirate
- Djibouti should adopt and implement the agreement concerning the case of Ras-Dumeirah that was recently signed in Saudi Arabia
- Djibouti should find a way to harmonize the superpowers presence in the region before those interests turn into confrontations.
- Somaliland needs to initiate an independent, prudent and cohesive foreign policy strategy that pursues national interest priorities.
- Somaliland should continue to be an example of democracy in Africa, thus the parliamentary elections in 2019 should be held on time and in a fair and free manner.
- Somaliland needs to revisit its approach in talks with Somalia and come up with a new strategy to ensure mutual interest. Both Somaliland and Somalia should be honest about finding a long-lasting solution to their current stand-off
- Having significant geo-strategic location, Somaliland should translate its position into the benefit of the Horn of Africa and the world.
- Ethiopia should use the current change to promote democracy and human rights at federal and regional levels.
- Ethiopia should work out a new strategy to soften regulations and open its market with its neighbors as the regional economic integration is gaining momentum.
- Ethiopia should continue the current engagement with its neighbors towards peace mediation efforts and extend the initiative to other African countries.
- The Federal government needs to implement the agreed federal constitution and allow the regional member states their fair share in the areas of long-term strategic decision making with regard to the future of the country.
- Council of regional member states should always open a door for dialogue and working relationships must be reinstated.
- Federal Government should avoid measures to undermine the regional member states. Such actions may lead to chaos and give room to the militant groups.
- Somalia should be prepared for serious dialogue with Somaliland for a forward-thinking strategy.
- Somalia should implement previous agreements with Somaliland to ensure the trustworthiness of any future talks.
- Somalia and Somaliland should refrain from speeches and actions that can hinder dialogue
Freedom Center for Strategic Studies (FCSS) is a nonprofit policy research organization dedicated to providing strategic insights and policy solutions to help decision makers work towards a better world. The Center provides effective and sustainable strategic policy alternatives that improve governments, institutions and decision making through research and analysis. Peace and security research are a priority. FCSS aims to provide dialogue in matters related to disputes.
• 06th October, 2018
Printed with permission. The opinion expressed in this policy brief are that of the Freedom Center for Strategic Studies (FCSS) and do not necessarily reflect that of Somaliland Chronicle.