EDITORIAL – This week, Saudi Arabia cemented its idea of having an African-Arab bloc to secure the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and provide a corridor for safe movement of goods.
Known as the Council of Arab and African States for the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, eight countries bordering this region published the formative charter of a bloc that could work for or against the Horn of Africa.
But the meeting convened by Saudi King Salman showed that the countries were working together to work together on common challenges and strengthen economic integration.
According to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, the idea was to prevent challenges affecting the Middle East and the Horn of Africa from affecting the necessary transport in the seas.
“This is certainly a very dangerous moment and we need to be aware of the risks and dangers not only for the region but for wider global security,” he told reporters in Riyadh, referring to tensions in the Middle East.
“We hope that all actors will take all necessary steps to prevent further escalation and any provocation,” he added.
The minister spoke about the dangers of the Red Sea and the Gulf, but referred directly to the escalating tensions between Iran and the United States following Washington’s assassination of Supreme Iranian Commander Qasem Soleimani.
Iran had threatened revenge, but the real threat was such that it often worked through proxies like the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Could the question rise beyond the two countries? Everyone from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to Iraq called for de-escalation.
So how important is this council formed in the midst of the chaos in the Middle East?
The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia all agreed to tackle what they called key threats in the region, such as piracy, smuggling and other threats at sea, which are important international shipping routes that include attacks on ships. to settle regional scores.
The waters of the Red Sea are considered the world’s most important shipping route for goods between Africa, Europe, America and Asia. The area, which covers about 178,000 square kilometers, is connected to the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and thus connects hundreds of shipping companies that are designed to deliver goods on time.
“It is of high strategic and geopolitical importance for global shipping and trade,” said Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, a political adviser at the Regional Block Intergovernmental Agency for Development (IGAD). IGAD members include Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.
“That is why it is necessary to provide an economic strategy for investment and development cooperation between countries that share and use the waterway and other countries that have an economic interest,” he added, referring to South Sudan and Ethiopia, which are deadlocked. .
With Saudi’s economic muscle and geopolitical influence, observers say it could help poor nations like Somalia and Eritrea protect their marine resources from e.g. Illegal fishing.
Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.
The Somali Coastal Piracy Contact Group (CGPCS) has been working to arrest, prosecute and deter pirates by bringing together some 60 countries from Western, African and West Asian countries, and has reduced piracy costs to regional economies from the original $ 7 billion to $ 1 billion. , 4 billion, according to the CGPCS.
The pirate incidents are almost non-existent today and fall by as many as 450 per. Years ten years ago, according to figures from EU naval forces participating in an anti-piracy war.
But piracy flourished due to the absence of institutions in Somalia, not their presence. In fact, a study showed that pirates ventured out to sea to fight illegal fishing boats, and that ransom demands were an unintended fruit for them. But now that Somalia’s government is stronger, the threats in the waters of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden are different, albeit urgent.
When Saudi Arabia announced the idea of the coalition in December 2018, IGAD also set up a task force to help establish a common position for members of the Red Sea. Some experts believe that Riyadh could be determined to win allies as it competes with regional rivals Iran and Turkey.
“The Saudi coalition wants to control the Red Sea and the routes in the Indian Ocean, as there is tension between Iran and the United States. If this conflict continues, the Middle East or to some extent the Persian Gulf will become insecure, ”said Dr. Abdiwahab Shiekh Abdisamad, a commentator in the Horn of Africa in Nairobi.
“It will help the Saudis, not the Horn of Africa region,” he argued, referring to the coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, which includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and often ropes in the Horn of Africa countries.
The Houthis are backed by Iranians, and although the conflict is currently on hiatus, observers fear it could break out again depending on how the Iranian-American tiff goes.
Somali Senator Ilyas Hassan saw his country’s inclusion in the Council as beneficial to Saudi Arabia, which has always competed with Qatar for influence in Mogadishu. “Somalia may be working to become a Saudi ally. And I do not think it will help Somalia, “he said.
“Because there is competition between Qatar and Saudi Arabia for allies in the region.” Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo was expected in Asmara Ethiopia on Friday at the invitation of his host Isaias Afwerki.
As his first trip to Asmara since 2018, the two leaders were expected to discuss the impact of the formation of the council this week, with some commentators saying that Eritrea was possibly Saudi Arabia’s envoy to win Mogadishu.
All in all, it could suggest external control over regional issues, experts said.
Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, an Ethiopian researcher in peace and security, and governance, strategy and leadership, said the Council was signaling another actor that was going to dominate the scene in the Horn of Africa.
“Extra-regional actors with strategic adversarial goals have competed and gained the upper hand in the Red Sea,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
“Competition between regional actors for cross-border resources has increased, undermining the sovereignty of countries.”
The formation of the council came when IGAD was expected to publish its position on the Red Sea later this year. But Sheikh said the Saudi initiative does not contradict IGAD.
“The IGAD members of the Saudi initiative (also known as the Red Sea Council) will act as a bridge to help harmonize a common position in both interests,” he argued.
“In fact, there are only two initiatives / platforms. The IGAD Task Force and the Saudi-led initiative. Three of the Saudi members are also IGAD member countries. The Summit of Heads of State on 29 November 2019 instructed the task force to work closely with the Saudi initiative. ”
Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister of Somalia’s northern breakaway region, Somalia, Yasin Haji Mohamud, was this week breaking up the Council, saying his region would not accept external control.
Northwestern Somalia declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but is not yet internationally recognized as a sovereign state. As such, it is still seen as part of Somalia, even though it operates its own government, judiciary, central bank and currency.