By Melaku Tegegne
The catch-word for this epoch-making transition period should be: Preserving independence through Unity! The idea is to create a union within union – the union of the Horn of Africa in the Africa union.
Presidential hopeful Barak Obama, in his moving speech to Berliners last month, called, among others, for strong unity and solidarity of the world people across ethnic, religious and cultural differences. He said the world people in unison should tear apart the walls that became barrier to unity. It sends a clear message to Africa where Barak Obama’s father came from, especially to the Horn of Africa, one of the current trouble spots in world politics. This is the main reason behind the writing of this article.
In another development, the EU under the current French chairmanship is bracing itself up to bring the Mediterranean countries within its fold, with the sole objective of expanding its economic territory. At this critical period of international relations when the battle against terrorism hasn’t yet subsided, nuclear proliferation unabated, and most of all, democracy is under assault or is being compromised in a number of third world countries, the recent move made by the EU leadership is a welcoming development.
The move not only helps to diffuse political and military tensions in the Middle East, the most volatile region in world politics, but also broadens the horizons of globalization. This kind of a move should also include Africa, the least developed continent which didn’t receive the necessary focus of attention of development by Western countries.
The late former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, in her marvelous book “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West,” underscored the importance of economic integration among rival and culturally differing states. She said, “We understand that the more interaction that takes place among peoples, states, companies, and universities in South Asia – and specifically Pakistan and India- the less likely it will be for these traditional enemies, now both nuclear-armed, to engage each other in potentially disastrous conflicts in the future. Just as democracy promotes peace, trade promotes peace.” It is an apt expression.
The African Union (AU) which replaced the Organization of African Unity some years ago has been modeled after the European Union. The AU which is the brain -child of the immortal son of Africa, Dr Kuwami Nkrumah, has a long way to go to implement its over all integration and unification plan. The continent is still mired in inter- and-intra-state conflicts and wars due to border conflicts, ideological differences, competition over scarce resources and the like.
In this article an effort is made to highlight some of the common factors that bind the peoples of the Horn of Africa together and underscore the necessity of establishing a unified sub-regional union sooner than later., in the coming few years if not decades.
I prepared this article a few days ago and kept it for a further contemplation. Incidentally I saw news under the heading “integrating the Nile Basin countries,” carried by the Uganda’s Vision newspaper and posted on Ethiopian Review, July 23, 2008.My ideas concurred with the academician from Addis Ababa University and made to send this article to Ethiopian Review.
1. Blood relationship.
The peoples of the Horn are interrelated by blood. Just to cite some examples, Somalis live in three neighboring countries, namely, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia. Likewise, various ethnic groups that live specially in the border areas of Ethiopia, Somalia Sudan, Eritrea and Kenya are interconnected with marriage, economic, social and cultural ties. The blood relationship can be nurtured well so much so as to enable the peoples of the Horn to realize their objective of unity.
2. Border trade. Border trade among the Horn of African countries can serve well for the unification process. The existing border trades are rife with contraband trade activities which are often the source of conflict among states and tribes. This state of affairs can be straightened up when the desired objective is met.
3. Ports. Eritrea has two ports, namely, Massawa and Assab.Ethiopia has been using these ports, specially the strategic Assab port until the 1998-2000 border war between the two countries. During and after the war, the government of Ethiopia has resorted to using mainly the port of Djibouti, and occasionally Port Sudan and the Somalian ports of Berbera and Hargessa (?), In terms of geographic proximity and economic advantages, Port Sudan, Hargessa and Berbera are not economical to Ethiopia. Hence, the need for resuming the Eritrean ports, specially the port of Assab, the nearest to the hinterland of Ethiopia, is a matter of urgent priority to be done by Eritrea and Ethiopia. Of course, this requires a prior task of cessation of hostilities and the disengagement of the huge military forces of the two countries deployed along Badme and other locations since 1998.
Because of the border war between the two countries, Eritrea and Ethiopia have suffered huge economic losses and missed a lot of social and cultural opportunities. It is also not difficult to assume that the impact of the war and its attendant factors have contributed to the prevailing poverty in the two countries, despite the denial of the necessity of food aid to Eritrea by its president.
In a similar vein, Kenya has the port of Mombassa which is a lifeline to both Kenya and Uganda. United Somalia has two ports, Hargesa and Berbera with great strategic location. Somalia’s ports can render great service to Ethiopia, specially to the Eastern regions of the country provided that peace prevails in the Ogaden region where currently war is raging between the military forces of the Ethiopian government and the militia of the separatist force, the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
4. Rivers. Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile which contributes 85% of the water to the Nile River which is formed at Khartoum. At Khartoum the Blue Nile joins the White Nile and continues its long march to the Nubian deserts and the Aswan dam in Egypt. Although Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile which contributes the major share of the water to the Nile River, it benefits little from the water resource. The main beneficiaries of the international river are Sudan and Egypt which harnessed it for hydroelectric and irrigation developments.
The Nile has always been a source of conflict between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt because of the controversy that arises due to the inequitable share of distribution of the water resource among them. Ethiopia has always been the underdog, for it has never been given due respect and equal status by past and present Sudanese and Egyptian leaders.
The late Egyptian President, Sadat in 1978, had even threatened to attack Ethiopia via the Sudan if the Nile is disrupted by Ethiopia. Ethiopia has never stopped complaining about the unfair treatment by the two countries, and the reciprocity from the side of the Sudanese and Egyptian presidents has never been pleasant.
Therefore, if the Sub-regional unification proposal materializes sooner than later then the tug-of-war between the three countries will find a lasting solution.
Ethiopia has often been described as the Water Tower of Africa, Other than the Nile; the country has many large rivers. The trans- national rivers, Genale and Wabisheble flow to Somalia, Dawa to Kenya, and Awash to Djibouti. Awash has been harnessed to a certain extent in the form of hydro electricity and irrigation. During Ziad Barres’ invasion of the Ogaden in 1977-78, Ethiopia has lost millions of Dollars due to the destruction caused by the fleeing soldiers of the expansionist dictator on an extensive agricultural plantation in the Wabishebelle area. There are also occasional border skirmishes along the common border between nomads who roam around in search of water and grazing lands for their cattle. Therefore, a sub- regional unified development can pave the way for integrated and fast-paced development for the poor peoples of the Horn who usually fight over scarce resources.
Ethiopia is also blessed by underground water resource but often experiences erratic rainfall which has always been the cause for cyclical famine like the current year where 4.5 ooo, ooo of our compatriots are in need of urgent food assistance. If there was peace in the region, such a disastrous calamity could have been averted.
The potential for irrigated agriculture in Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia are unfathomable, and the possible bumper crops that can be obtained from this can free the peoples of the Horn from recurrent famine and chronic hunger.
5. Intra-transportation. Ethiopia is linked to Djibouti by road, rail way and air. Sudan and Kenya are interconnected by highways. Ethiopia is interconnected with Eritrea by roads and air. Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia are connected by roads.
To sum up, it is difficult if not impossible, to enumerate all the factors that connect the people of the Horn of Africa in such a small article, and therefore, I would rather limit myself to the above mentioned common factors, and pass on to a role model-The East African Community-which can serve as a point of departure for the envisaged sub-regional unification plan.
I don’t have latest figures about the organization. The information I have about the economic community goes back to eight years back when I was back homeland. The member countries, namely, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda were dividing their share of properties because of the conflict they developed over unequal benefit among the three countries. Uganda and Tanzania complained that Kenya which is relatively advanced than the two countries benefited most from the establishment. Such kind of a mistake shouldn’t be repeated by the newly proposed organization.
During the same period I mentioned above, there was a proposal made by the US government to establish “Greater Horn,” which comprises Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. Egypt had shown great enthusiasm to join Greater Horn at the time, but many of the other countries were reluctant to accept Egypt for fear of lack of cohesive unity that may arise as a result of its membership.
To sum up, the Horn of Africa, described by some scholars as a cursed area because of ceaseless wars among neighboring countries, cyclical famine, tribal conflicts for scarce resources, needs an immediate attention by the highly developed Western Industrialized countries. Like the Middle East, the Horn of Africa is a trouble spot that can endanger regional and international peace or stability. Therefore, it needs a Marshal Plan as well as the importation of democracy to salvage the helpless millions of peoples in the sub-region by Western countries. In this regard, the financial package plan forwarded by Mr. Tony Blair to Marshal Africa as a whole also augurs well for the Horn of Africa. By giving priority to the development of this sub-region it is possible to rescue the rest of the continent form poverty and backwardness.
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The writer can be reached at [email protected]