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Regional Outlook in the Horn of Africa

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  • May 22, 2017
    Round Table
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Shri Jayant Prasad, DG, IDSA

    Dr. Andeab Ghebremeskel, Director General of the Eritrean Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS) visited IDSA on May 22, 2017.

    The ECSS is a small government funded think tank based in Asmara, Eritrea. They have a staff of around 12 researchers and are mostly involved in tracking and analyzing Eritrea’s foreign policy, the developments of the Horn of Africa and to a limited extent, the domestic developments in the country. The main purpose of Dr. Ghebremeskel’s visit to the institute was to speak on the topic Regional Outlook in the Horn of Africa, interact with IDSA scholars, and understand India’s perspective on China’s Belt-and-Road initiative (BRI).

    During the interaction the following issues were discussed:

    Horn of Africa

    The Horn of Africa consists of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. The Greater Horn of Africa also includes Uganda, Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo. The region is strategically important since it is close to the oil producing region of Middle East. Approximately 40 per cent of oil produced in Middle East crosses through the shipping lanes of Red Sea. Djibouti is the choke point on this shipping route. It is due to this reason that countries like United States, France and China have a military base in Djibouti. Saudi Arabia and Germany have also shown interest in establishing bases in the region.

    Countries in the Horn of Africa have similarities in terms of ethnicity and culture. The region is rich in minerals Gold, Zinc and Hydrocarbons. However, its mineral wealth has not been a blessing, rather it has been a curse since the oppressive regimes in the region have not utilised the wealth for the welfare of the citizens. The region has witnessed many famines.

    There is a lack of unity among the countries of the Horn of Africa. Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which consists of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda, has been a weak sub-regional organisation due to disagreements among member-states. The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia has been an enduring problem in the region. In 2000, there was a war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the effects of which are being felt even now and constrained regional co-operation and development. Peace was brokered between Eritrea and Ethiopia by Algeria and a peace agreement was signed in presence of Algeria, Britain and Germany. While Eritrea has been following the terms of the agreement, Ethiopia has been violating them thereby escalating the conflict in the region. The other main conflict in the region is the dispute over the waters of Nile River among the riparian states of Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Djibouti. This conflict has the potential of bringing the region to war.

    Horn of Africa and extra-regional powers

    Being strategically located on one of the busiest shipping routes, the Horn of Africa has seen the interest and interference by many external powers. The United States, France and China each have a military base in Djibouti. China had offered to establish a base in Eritrea but the Eritrean government rejected the offer. Due to its proximity to the Middle East, any conflict in the Middle East has an impact on the Horn of Africa region. Most recently, the civil war in Yemen has had an impact on the region with many GCC countries showing an interest in establishing bases in the region. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has established a base in Eritrea. UAE has long term commercial interests in the region and its military base is also a means of countering Chinese presence in the region.

    Al-Shabaab and ISIS

    Al-Shabaab’s influence has been curtailed by the presence of the forces under AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia). The Al-Shabaab has resurfaced in some parts as a result of Ethiopia withdrawing its forces from Somalia. The ISIS is also prevalent in the region and there is a breakaway group of Al-Shabaab that has sought allegiance with ISIS.

    China’s Belt-and-Road initiative and Africa

    It is still too early for Africa to make up its mind on BRI. Due to the FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation), Africa knows what China expects from Africa. Africa needs not only hard infrastructure, but also soft infrastructure.

    Piracy in the Horn

    The piracy in the Horn is unlikely to thrive again. The presence of multi-national naval force in the region will keep a check on piracy.

    India’s perspective on Belt-and-Road initiative

    India was not opposed to Belt-and-Road initiative (BRI), its opposition is to the aspect of BRI that impacts the sovereignty of India. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) impinges on India’s sovereignty. OBOR is a Sino-Centric initiative specifically targeted towards the development of China’s western provinces, to pull Chinese economy from the middle-income trap and to shift from low-tech to high-tech production. Belt-and-Road circumvents India and only touches its periphery. The Belt-and-Road is not only about geo-economics but it aims to transform the geopolitical balance by connecting Xinjian to Persian Gulf by Gwadar port and thereby giving China an ability to have two ocean navy. This dimension of BRI has to be carefully accessed.

    (Prepared by Nachiket Khadkiwala, Research Assistant)