The world of today is interconnected more than it ever did in the past, and all nations are, indeed, connected through a grapevine of cables, satellites, ships, airplanes, cars, mobiles, and fixed lines. Geography is no longer an obstacle for nations and people to connect, trade and exchange information. Many countries, in order to be connected to others, must establish relationships either diplomatic or commercial or even security and defense. Some countries are in smaller economic groups, while others are in larger economic and security groups.
The Horn of Africa States region is a close geographical region but appears to be as distant from each other as any two countries can be although the peoples of the countries are closely related. In border regions, the same families live on both sides of the border. They trade with each other and work with each other most of the times but under the radar as the governments of the countries of these peoples appear to be antagonistic to each other and hence most border activities appear to be contraband and illegal most of the times. Instead of complementing each other, the countries of the region appear to be competing with each other and taking advantage of each other.
There are concrete opportunities for the countries of the region to share and benefit from each other. They are highland and lowland countries where some are vastly agricultural while others are traders connected with the rest of the world through their maritime connections. Ethiopia for, instance is a major agri-food producer in the region while Somalia is a trading nation with vast connections to the rest of the world through its trade networks. There is then possibilities of synergies of the two economies if they really wanted to cooperate.
Unfortunately, the two countries have been involved in over a century of conflict where the populations are kept from each other and each country has primed its own against those of the other, which leads to mistrust and hence possibilities of conflicts and confrontation. Indeed, they had several wars and many border skirmishes since the 1960s of the last century and even earlier in that century.
The two countries along with the other two countries of the region, Eritrea and Djibouti, could build a customs union agreement to reduce trade barriers and taxes. They could jointly participate in international fairs, trade forums, and showcase their combined strengths and advantages such as a large consumer market with a large and cheap labor force for both local and foreign investors to invest in the region.
The region is geostrategically located and overlooks the Red Sea/Indian Ocean shipping waterway through the Suez Canal and they could have optimized the opportunities of using this waterway. They could have built roads, railways, and ports together. They could have taken advantage of the weather of the region, which has an all-year-round beautiful characteristic where tourists from the rest of the world could have come to take advantage of its seas and coasts. A major tourist industry linking a coastal environmental to a highland and savannah plateaus and beautiful sight-seeing features could have been developed which earns for the region massive incomes, instead of being a begging region as is currently the case today.
The region could have been a gateway for the rest of Africa to the Indian Ocean and hence Asia beyond through a rail and road network. They could have collaborated with international investors in financing and funding construction of such networks, where goods from Asia could reach West Africa in less than two weeks after they arrive in the ports of the Horn of Africa and vice versa to Asia. Logistics and transportation could, thus have been optimized for all those who use the region’s rail and road, and shipping networks.
The region’s investment agencies could have collaborated to attract mutual investments both local and foreign and they could have successfully invested in each other’s markets. There could have been educational and health services collaboration among the countries of the region and the countries of the region could have stood better ground in negotiating and bargaining with others and hence the region could have attracted better pricing for its products and its imports. Note the region is a large market with a youthful and growing population of some one hundred and sixty million people at present. The region could have implemented together major projects and leveraged its assets and its geostrategic location to build a thriving economy involving not only trade, but tourism, industrial, educational and logistics and transportation and marine.
Many in the region believe that the problem of the region is its different countries. Indeed, it is for they do not work with each other, but how can one treat such differences. A solution could lie completely in a different premise than where it is generally assumed to be. Once upon a time there was this bicycle rider when all of a sudden, his brakes failed. Luckily for him, there was a bicycle repair shop not far from where he was and he, therefore took his bike there to have it fixed. The bike repairman started to tap his hammer on a place which was not where the brakes jammed and before he could protest, the repairman handed over the bike to him. It was running smoothly like before. What was wrong with the bike and how its was repaired is similar to a human society. When something goes wrong with a human society, people usually jump to the wrong conclusions about where the problem is, and start working on the wrong premises and bring forth the wrong solutions. Usually the root cause of the problem could be in a different place and until the malaise is removed, the problem would not go away.
The Horn of Africa States region lacks solidarity among the countries of the region and of course there are foreign intrigues involved in the region. It is always better to pinpoint the location of the malaise of the region, which in our view lies in the lack of cooperation and collaboration among the leaders of the region to create trust in the societies of the region. Working on the symptoms is not a solution but working on the roots causes of the misunderstandings is the actual solution of the region’s problem and this is related to mistrust among the leaders of the region and their easy acceptance of foreign advices and directions instead of their own in the region. It is where we think that conciliation among the countries and leaders of the countries of the region rather than confrontation is important for the region and the actual cure of the region’s devastating problems lies therein. It is the law of nature that for a tree to bear a fruit, it must start with the seed and not the fruit itself and one must, therefore, start with improving the seed and not the fruit itself.