The Mooted Horn of Africa Alliance presents opportunities on a banana-skin trail

EDITORIAL | On January 27, the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia issued a formal proclamation suggesting that a new regional bloc was in the works, confirming what experts had talked about before.

The meeting in Asmara, Eritrea, told the leaders that their “sincere and comprehensive discussions” about the situation in their countries had seen that a solution could come from some form of formal cooperation.

“The three leaders adopted a joint action plan for 2020 and beyond,” said a dispatch shared by Villa Somalia, the official residence of Somali President Mohamed Farmaajo.

“It will focus on consolidating peace, stability and security as well as promoting economic and social development,” the communiqué explained.

The three countries have been embroiled in civil strife for the past three decades. Now just stabilizing, they now face the threat of al-Shabaab and a swarming mass of youth who remain unemployed and politically dangerous.

According to various UN reports, terrorism, arms smuggling and human trafficking are the main issues facing the three, and the Horn of Africa in general. Yet the consignment also acknowledged that the potential economic growth here has been hampered by poor infrastructure, insufficient skilled human resources and, in general, net import economies.

The leaders; Isaias Afwerki from Eritrea, Farmaajo from Somalia and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from Ethiopia also admitted that they probably could not do it alone; and promised to engage “their friends and partners on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.”

These partners were not listed, but they could well come from the neighborhood, meaning Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan could be in exit … or even countries from all over the Arabian Peninsula.

So why are these countries planning a new bloc when they already belong to one; the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)? One of the reasons, experts claim, is that IGAD, which was formed to deal with regional security crises and natural disasters, has experienced internal war shocks.

“IGAD is a security block that can be made irrelevant along the way,” said Prof Macharia Munene, associate professor of history and international relations at USIU-Africa.

“But it is a question of power politics. If the rulers of Eritrea and Ethiopia now feel that they are in love with each other, think they can form a formidable economic bloc with the still troubled Somalia; it points to strategic ambitions…. Ethiopia wants an outlet to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea … and once it is reached; it does not need Djibouti. ”

Eritrea has boycotted IGAD meetings (whose other members included Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Djibouti and Ethiopia) meetings for nearly a decade, although observers believe it suspended itself as relations with Addis Ababa became more acidic. time. Addis was chairman of IGAD until 2019, when it was handed over to Khartoum. But an Ethiopian national is now the head of the secretariat at IGAD based in Djibouti. Eritrea and Djibouti have some issues ironing out beyond their borders so they have not had a good time with each other. But President Afwerki and Prime Minister Abiy signed a historic peace deal in 2018 and subsequently opened channels between the two countries in nearly 20 years. Abiy has since won the Nobel Peace Prize for it.

“Afwerki’s eyes were always on the ball, which was to lead Hornet into a kind of Cushitic Alliance,” noted Dr. Alex Owiti, coordinator of the Center for Conflict Research Institute in Nairobi, a think tank focusing on political situations in East Africa region.

“He was in the shadows when Abiy won the Nobel, but he is the oldest statesman of the three. He certainly wants a controlling stake in the power games. Now he is asserting himself, ”noted Dr. Owiti.

Among IGAD states, Kenya was the most stable, had a secretary since 2010 and often, along with Ethiopia, influenced the bloc’s decisions. Few wanted to be governed in this way, and Dr. Owiti says the motivation for Afwerki was to get something they could use to their advantage. That thing is now the believing Horn of Africa Alliance.

The charter, the launch or where the secretariat will be based are all a subject subject to agreement between the three leaders. However, some observers believe that it is working with units outside the region. Located near one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, Eritrea and Somalia had often left the mantle to Djibouti, which now hosts military bases for any global power except Russia.

With logistical interests in the area, Prof Munene argued that some foreign nations may be motivated to seek a coalition and ensure stability.

“It seems that it is an external influence. It seems that some of the countries on the Horn have been persuaded to form an alliance. ”

Ethiopia imports most of its goods (95 percent) through Djibouti. But experts say it would be foolhardy for Addis Ababa to put all its eggs in a basket by simply tapping on Djibouti.

“It needs access to the Red Sea through Eritrea. It needs the Indian Ocean through Somalia and Kenya. It is a strategic insurance if the relationship e.g. Is angry with Djibouti, ”claimed Mahmoud Yusuf, a security analyst and retired Kenyan diplomat.

“Furthermore, Ethiopia is a large country, the southern part of which probably depends on Kenya and Somalia. The northern parts may need the Red Sea. This can be a cost-saving measure if we are talking about import economies. ”

So far, it seems, only those seeking access to the sea or political power need the alliance. Kenya and Ethiopia enjoy the so-called ‘special status’ agreement; which means that trade agreements between them have certain privileges. Both countries with South Sudan signed an agreement to construct an ambitious infrastructure project known as the Lapsset-Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor.

Estimated to cost $ 1.2 trillion in 2012, the project involved a port in Lamu, Kenya and highways, railways, pipelines and airports in the three countries. So far, the port’s four berths are almost complete and the motorway between Nairobi and Addis is nearing completion. And while Ethiopia has routinely said its share of the port is intact, the supposed alliance may distract it, experts say.

“Kenya needs to continue working in the port and implementing the programs on its side of the Lapsset,” Munene added. “It will give it a strategic advantage because Ethiopia still needs access to the Indian Ocean.”

However, there is one thing; Critics of Farmajoo have said he stands behind the alliance just to secure external support against internal opposition.

“President Farmaajo is lobbying Eritrea to deviate from its policy of non-interference, wanting to use weapons, ammunition and soldiers in internal struggle,” said Idd Bedel Mohamed, a former Somali diplomat now trying to compete in the scheduled elections later in the year.

“It is important for both Eritrea and Ethiopia to maintain neutrality; otherwise, Somalia is heading for civil war. It does not serve your interest. ”

Villa Somalia has refused to use external actors to play politics in Somalia, but this criticism indicates that the alliance could die if any of the opponents defeat Farmaajo; or if the partners change government and the new guys reconsider the position.

Meanwhile, an IGAD official denied that such an alliance could kill the body, instead arguing that the alliance could actually complement its work to address regional issues.

AXADLETM