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OrientalReview.org: Unrest In The Horn Of Africa

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Tuesday, 01 December 2020

 

The Horn of Africa itself is of significant interest to many countries that consider themselves a geopolitical entity, since its geographical location allows it to control the connection between the Red Sea (and therefore the Suez Canal) and the Indian Ocean, where a large flow of ships passes. Djibouti hosts French, Italian, American and even Chinese military bases. On the other side of the strait is Yemen, where the military conflict continues, in which Saudi Arabia and its partners are intervening.

The clear signs of destabilization have been recently observed in two countries of the region – Somalia and Ethiopia.

The day before, there was a message about the death of a CIA officer in Somalia. He was a Special Division operative and a former Marine. This event was interpreted as something extraordinary, since in this East African country there is a large number of American troops – more than 700 people. Some of them are on a counter-terrorism mission.

Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Although Somalia is formally a federation, which is enshrined in the country’s provisional constitution, inter-clan and interethnic confrontation remains there, on top of which is the activity of criminal and terrorist groups. About ten years ago Somali pirates were widely known for hijacking ships passing near the coast and demanding ransom for the seized sailors and cargo. This problem was partially solved with the help of military operations of various states, but it did not disappear completely. Another problem is the activity of the al-Shabab terrorist group which is associated with al-Qaeda. In late November, al-Shabab officials killed a group of Somali soldiers trained by the US military.

A report on countering terrorism in the region prepared for the US Congress indicates that by 2021 the local Somali security forces will be able to deal with threats on their own. Apparently, this has become the rationale for the decision to withdraw American troops from Somalia. And Donald Trump gave the appropriate instructions. However, it brought criticism from politicians and the US analytical community who claimed that if the American troops were withdrawn, the country would surely plunge into civil war. Not all clans support the federal government of this country, so even if special bases of the African command remain in the region (it is assumed that operations against al-Shabab will continue with the help of combat drones launched from Kenya and Djibouti), an internal conflict for power may begin.

Parliamentary elections are to be held in December in Somalia and presidential elections are to be held in February. This is another cause for concern, as many politicians and clan elders do not want the incumbent head of the country, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, to keep his post. He also intends to run for office again. It is also interesting that he is supported by Qatar – the main sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Horn of AfricaWhile Djibouti can achieve relative security through the presence of foreign military bases, the situation in neighboring Ethiopia remains critical.

Following the outbreak of conflict with the Tigray National Liberation Front, government forces captured one of the major cities in Adigrat province on November 20, killing hundreds of residents and fleeing tens of thousands to neighboring Sudan.

On November 24, Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission said more than 600 people had been killed in Mai Kadra, another town in Tigray province. Ethnic cleansing was carried out there with the support of local police. Despite calls by the UN and the African Union to end the bloodshed, the Prime Minister Al-Ahmed refused to stop the military operation and begin negotiations.

What is happening may also affect the country’s economy, namely the activities of external investors such as the UAE. The Emirates are funding 92 projects in a wide variety of sectors in Ethiopia. In addition, 50 thousand migrant workers from Ethiopia are in the UAE as part of the unemployment reduction program. In addition, there is evidence that the Emirates are helping to fight the rebels using the Assab military base in Eritrea.

Another destabilizing factor is the construction of a large dam in Ethiopia, which is called the project of the century. This is a serious concern for Egypt and Sudan, as its launch will affect the water level in the Nile, which is directly related to the agricultural activities of these two countries.

The outbreak of civil war can be used as a pretext for intervention in Ethiopia. Note that the representatives of Egypt have already discussed this possibility with the representatives of Eritrea. So far, Cairo is using diplomatic pressure to enlist the support of Zambia and Namibia in the construction of the dam. Sudan, for its part, boycotted the last negotiations which took place on November 21.

US specs in Somalia
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Damian Donahoe, deputy commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa, center, talks with service members during a battlefield circulation September 5, 2020 in Somalia

At the same time, it is necessary to note the partnership between the UAE and Egypt on a number of regional problems, in particular, countering the expansion of Turkey and the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood organization (banned in the Russian Federation). It is not yet clear how different views on the Ethiopian conflict and the construction of the dam could affect the cooperation of the two countries. But there is a potential for cooling the relationship.

These factors indicate that chronic instability in the region, which is based in part on historical conflicts, could escalate into serious chaos. This will require not only the introduction of foreign troops (African Union countries, the Arab contingent, probably the United States or NATO) as a peacekeeping contingent, but also the solution of a number of humanitarian tasks.

On the other hand, there is also potential for cooperation. The former president of Somalia recalls in his article that in 1977 Ethiopia and Somalia began a war for control of the Ogaden region. At that time, Fidel Castro proposed to the Soviet leadership a plan for establishing peace in the region – the creation of a confederation from Ethiopia, Somalia, South Yemen and the future of Djibouti (at that time it was a French colony). The solution of this problem would lead to the establishment of control over the Red Sea and, accordingly, the Suez Canal, as well as the disclosure of the economic potential of the region. These plans were not destined to come true, in particular due to the fact that the military leader of Somalia Siad Barre rejected this proposal and preferred a conflict with Ethiopia. However, the idea of regional integration continues to live today. In 2018, the Ethiopian leadership began rapprochement with Somalia and Eritrea by signing a tripartite agreement that, according to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, could be a prelude to political integration. It is likely that some forces are not interested in this process, which is why there were processes of destabilization and provoking friction.

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