Arab countries and the Arab League must take a more active role on the questions of stability, security, and economic development in the Horn of Africa, speakers told the second day of the latest conference hosted by the Doha Institute's Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) on Monday, November 28.
Speakers at "The Arabs and the Horn of Africa: the dialectic of proximity and identity" gathering at the Sheraton Doha Resort and Convention Hotel said that due to increasing penetration of the region by both great powers and Israel, the answers to such questions were existentially linked to Arab national security... Participants also discussed the opportunities inherent in an investment and commercial partnership between Arab states and those of the Horn, with the condition that the former participate in resolving the multiple crises and conflicts of the latter.
Partners in eradicating extremism
Professor al-Tayyib Zein al-Abdin, Advisor to the Director of the University of Khartoum, spoke during the first session of the day, analyzing the impact of Salafism and other extremist movements on stability and development in the Horn of Africa. He explained that the emergence of Islamist organizations in the societies of the Horn of Africa was a relatively recent phenomenon that began during the era of independence after the end of World War II, as he populations of several Arab countries began seeking education and work in various Arab states, especially Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Libya. Among the major ideologies and organizations that entered the Horn region through such contacts were the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin), Hizb al-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), and, at a later date, the forces of jihadi (struggle) thought, which were by from the experience of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation - in which many Muslim volunteers from the Horn region, especially Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan, took part. After returning to their homelands, these some of these individuals and groups became the nucleus for jihadi organizations seeking to achieve domestic political goals, and some later became linked to the organization of Al Qaeda.
Professor Zein al-Abdin argued that Arab states must help combat extremist thought in the Horn of Africa by working to promote peace and stability and the laying of the foundations for sustainable development. He added that Arab countries should do more to help end the predicament of the Somali state, and to resolve border disputes in the Horn region, particularly those between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Djibouti and Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and Sudan and South Sudan. According to Professor Zein al-Abdin, a greater role for Arab states should also include assistance in developing adequate infrastructure in the Horn states (which would help attract Arab investment to the region), the establishment of cultural and research centers, foster cooperation among the states of the two regions (including joint specialized conferences dealing with issues that interest both sides), encouraging the instruction of the Arabic language in the Horn and the Swahili language in the Arab world, and disseminating the values of Islamic moderation among the youth of both regions.
Dr. Mohammad Ahmad al-Sheikh, Professor at the Thika College for Sharia and Islamic Studies in Kenya, devoted his presentation to analyzing the Somali case, shedding light on the history of the conflict and its various dimensions. He explained that the collapse of the central government in Somalia and the emergence of three separate entities, in the absence of an effective Arab presence, has led the country to become an arena for proxy influences: international, Ethiopian, and Kenyan. Dr. al-Sheikh noted the existence of an Arab League representative office in Somalia, but added that the League has had no significant role in formulating a solution to the ongoing conflict - a failing which may be related to the lack of a unified vision within the Arab League to deal with the Somali crisis. However, multiple reasons have caused the regional and international parties involved in Somali affairs to actively exclude the League. These reasons include the collapse of the Somali state during the escalation of Arab discord over the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the radical changes witnessed by the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of US hegemony on the global scene, as well as the polarization that took place within the Arab system and the emergence of the phenomenon of terrorism, which made Somalia - according to Western analyses - a haven for terrorist groups. All of these events were compounded by the absence of Somali leadership capable of dealing rationally with local developments, of lessening the fears of regional and international powers, and therefore of benefiting from their Arab and African identities in a balanced manner. A clear example of this Arab exclusion from the Somali dossier was the Ethiopian refusal to the holding of the closing sessions of the 2009 Somalia conference in Saudi Arabia, with the West supporting Ethiopia's position.
Dr. al-Sheikh said that while the lack of Arab League involvement in the Somali case may have political determinants, the Arab League's failure to support cultural and academic institutions has been unjustifiable and is a failure that may negatively impact popular efforts exerted during the last two decades to foster and develop Arab culture in Somalia.
The professor said the current situation in Somalia points to three likely scenarios in the coming phase: either the transitional government in Mogadishu will succeed in enacting some changes in the country's political structure, Arab, regional and/or international forces will intervene in Somalia to impose stability, or new civil and political forces will emerge which are inspired by the regional changes and seek to rebuild the Somali state on new foundations based on local solutions and political agendas that assuage the fears of regional states and the international community.
Promising investment opportunities for the Arabs in the Horn of Africa
Dr. Abdullah Hamduk, a political analyst, economic expert and former consultant with the UN Commission for Africa), addressed development issues in a presentation titled "Arab investment in the Horn of Africa: Challenges, opportunity, and prospects". Hamduk asserted that, despite the reigning stereotype presenting Africa in general and the Horn in particular as zones of crisis and challenge, it also is a region of considerable economic and investment opportunity, especially for Arab countries due to geographic and cultural proximity. Dr. Hamduk added that Arabs will face competition from major economic powers such as China, India, Turkey, and Brazil, which view Africa as an optimal target for investment.
Dr. Hamduk argued that Arab sovereign funds and investment companies should adopt similar methods to those employed by Asian and Latin American economies in Africa.
The speaker outlined the main determinants for foreign investment in the Horn of Africa, especially political stability and lasting peace and security, which would allow investment in both human capital and natural resources, and permit the achievement of regional integration.
Dr. Hamduk noted that the African Continent was among the few regions of the world that have escaped the global economic and financial crisis relatively unscathed. The countries of the continent have maintained an average GDP growth rate approaching 5 percent during the first decade of this century, and "despite the fact that the rising prices and demand for commodities were the main factors behind this high rate of growth, African states have also labored to achieve structural reforms that foster the development of the private sector and the mobilization of local resources, as well as aiding trade and investment and economic diversification. African economic performance has also recently benefitted from the lowering of the burden of debt, the increase in aid and the flow of private capital, and the enforcement of peace in many conflict zones.,"
He also argued that the Horn of Africa region should represent a prime commercial and investment target for the Arab states due to its massive investment opportunities, but that this should take place without ignoring the fact that many hurdles remain in the way of increasing the partnership between Arabs and the Horn of Africa, which is due to various reasons - relating to both sides - that have continued to exclude the Horn region from the sphere of Arab investment.
The region's problems are due to interests, not ethnic diversity
Dr. Kidane Mengisteab, Professor of African Studies at Pennsylvania State University, said that the Horn of Africa represents a mosaic of cultures with vast ethnic diversity on the regional level, as well as within the countries themselves. The region is home to over 340 dialects and languages, Dr. Mengisteab said during his lecture, which took place in the second session of the day. Professor Mengisteab said that Sudan (meaning both North and South), was the most diverse of the Horn countries, hosting more than 134 dialects and languages, followed by Ethiopia with 89, Kenya with 62, Uganda with 43, Eritrea with nine, and Djibouti, which features three local languages. In this regard, he affirmed that the diversity of identities was not, in itself, a source for conflict; he used Somalia as an example of a country that features ethnic homogeneity, but has been mired in civil war for over two decades. Dr. Mengisteab said that the Horn of Africa does not suffer from a crisis of communal identities, but from competition over power and resources among influential political powers. This has created a challenge to the management and stability of the state, especially during the phase of the building of the nation-state. "When states fail in adequately managing ethnic diversity," he explained, "diversity becomes a source of violent conflict."
In his presentation, Dr. Mengisteab focused on both the sources of the civil, border and secessionist conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the major repercussions, while attempting to explore what some see as the new approach in facing these challenges. He affirmed the necessity of enforcing stability in the Horn region, adding that this quest cannot succeed without an effective regional partnership with the international powers.
Dr. Adlan al-Hardallo, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Khartoum, delivered a presentation on "the impact of the emergence of the state of South Sudan on the strategic balance in the Horn of Africa". Dr. al-Hardallo said that despite the proximity between the Arab and African states of the region the intermixing among their peoples, and their civilizational and historic interactions, they all suffer from tensions - political, security, ethnic, and tribal - and these tensions are often the reason for the outbreak of conflicts among the Horn states. Conflicts in the region abound: Ethiopia-Somalia, Somalia-Kenya, Ethiopia- Eritrea, Sudan-Ethiopia, Djibouti-Somalia, Eritrea Djibouti, Djibouti-Ethiopia, and North Sudan-South Sudan. Dr. al-Hardallo said that these conditions endow the Horn of Africa with complexity in terms of national security, with the events in any one country causing repercussions for the entire region because these multiple conflicts intersect, feed one another, and result from certain stances in foreign policy that lead, in turn, to the further escalation of conflicts.
He also noted that the relations of the Arabs with the Horn of Africa take place within a network of international ties in the region and the Middle East, and these relations often represent interests that contradict with those of Western powers. The Horn region is a zone of competition for the global powers due to its strategic importance, which relates to political, economic, security, and military considerations. This is especially true when it comes to the United States and certain European countries, which seek to isolate the Afro-Arab countries from the region, depriving them of any influence or initiative to resolve regional conflicts. That is clearly the case in Somalia today, as it was in Sudan during the war between the North and the South, when the Egyptian-Libyan initiative to resolve the conflict was aborted.
In his paper, Dr. al-Hardallo stressed that the division in Sudan has become a paramount concern for Egypt, which has built its relations and its strategic water interests on the basis of the unity of Sudan. Egypt fears the increasing Israeli influence in the region and the dangerous water policies of Nile Valley states, with Israel and the United States participating in the formulation of these policies. The objective is to pressure Sudan, Egypt, and the Arabs in general in the context of regional Arab-Israeli competition in the Horn region and the Red Sea. He opined that the Gulf states could contribute to fostering relations with the state of South Sudan through investment, which serve not only in interests of the South, but also those of Arab investors and of Sudan itself.
Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, Program Head for the African Conflict Prevention Program at the Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS), Addis Ababa office, discussed the case of Ethiopia and its relations with its neighbors in the context of Ethiopia's being one of the most interventionist states of the Horn region, and the one which most frequently enters into armed conflict with its neighbors. Maru argued that Ethiopia, with its diverse resources and cultural, linguistic, and religious make-up, could contribute to achieving regional stability and security, pointing to the fact that Ethiopia is the pillar of stability in the Horn of Africa, and a partner for development, peace, and security in the long run.
American hegemony over Africa
One of the most important presentations of the second day of the conference was by Dr. Mudawi al-Turabi, General Secretary of the Parties Council in the Sudanese Government of National Unity, Undersecretary of the Democratic Unionist Party, and a member of the Defense and Security Subcommittee of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee. A specialist in defense issues, Dr. Turabi delivered a paper titled "US Africa Command (AFRICOM), the Horn of Africa and Arab national security". In his lecture, Dr. al-Turabi asserted that American policy in Africa is linked to several interests. On the economic level, the US desires to open new markets in different parts of the world, especially in regions with massive investment opportunities and open markets to American products. The paramount importance, naturally, remains access to the oil of the continent, proven reserves of which are currently concentrated in its west. On the political level, the United States raises the slogans of democracy and human rights as two main pillars of its Africa policy, but these principles are a tool employed by the United States to pursue its own interests, and not a practical objective that it seeks to achieve.
He added that in order to achieve these political objectives, the United States labors to form new elites in Africa that are loyal to the West in general and to the United States is particular. These are the figures whom the United States describes as the new leaders of Africa, such as Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, Isaias Afewerki in Eritrea, Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, and Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In discussing the American security and military objectives informing US Africa policy, Dr. al-Turabi said the United States seeks to improve the capacity of the continent to deal with security issues that affect international security in general and US security in particular, with the focus on terrorism (in the American definition). In this regard, the US has initiated the formation of AFRICOM as an intervention force intended to enable African countries to create a security environment that promotes stability and address emerging crises. . Additionally, the United States focuses on matters of political Islam on the continent, especially since the bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Dr. al-Turabi notes that talk of AFRICOM has decreased in the recent phase due to the ongoing financial and economic crisis, which has imposed a rearrangement of priorities. However, AFRICOM's mechanisms are still in place following the official appointment of General William Ward as the first commander of the force on October 1, 2007. Military drills and joint exercises continue, as well as the redeployment of troops between military bases in Europe and points of presence in Africa. These facts are in addition to the visits of military and civilian delegations to Africa, with a slight change in schedule, represented in the intensification of the "humanitarian work" of the US Army in the poorest African nations. Professor al-Turabi points to the fact that African nations that rejected military bases (because their burdens are heavier than their benefits) did not reject the strengthening of economic and military cooperation with America. Algeria regularly hosts American soldiers and warships for joint maneuvers and trainings, and maintains close military, security, and economic ties with the United States. Libya has also done all that it could to normalize its relations with America and Europe. In addition, military maneuvers continue in the Mediterranean Basin, under the supervision of NATO and with the participation of the Zionist entity, in proximity to all the Arab states bordering the Mediterranean (and even those that do not, such as Jordan), since the Zionist entity remains the perpetual strategic ally of the US and NATO, and its presence and participation must be imposed on everybody.
The repression of diversity in culture and identity is an element of instability in the Horn of Africa
With the sessions of the first day of the conference, as well as the first two sessions of the second day, having been devoted to the historical, political, economic and security axes, the third and fourth sessions of the second day focused on the cultural and social axis in the relationship between the Arabs and the Horn of Africa.
The first speaker was Dr. al-Baqir al-Afif, Director of Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment and Human Development in Khartoum, who offered a critique of Sudanese identity in terms of identifying the commonalities and differences between what is Arab and what is African in the Sudanese self. This confusion eventually led to the division of Sudan, Dr. al-Afif explained, imploring Sudanese in the North to regain their pride in their African identity because that would be a bridge between the Arabs and the African Continent as a whole, and not only the Horn region.
Dr. al-Afif said that Sudan has been the archetypical example of the state-in-crisis for several decades. Some Northerners describe themselves as Sudanese Arabs, meaning that they are Arabs first and Sudanese second. Others identify themselves as Arab Sudanese, which means that they are Sudanese first, but with Arab origins. There are also the Islamists, who view themselves as Sudanese Muslims, with a minority of them placing Sudan ahead of Islam. Others describe themselves as Arabized Nubans, and some as Nubian Arabs. Professor al-Afif said these varying perceptions present clear evidence of the confusion surrounding identity, and that Sudanese are not precisely sure of what they are.
He spoke of the North Sudanese case as one resembling the broad Arab situation, in terms of a cultural failure that has reached the level of bankruptcy. Time has proven that the Northern ruling elite in Sudan will not halt its exclusion of everything representing "the other", and that this class is not learning from the lessons of history. As soon as South Sudan seceded, a "New South" immediately appeared, which is the remnant of the African element in the country. There is currently an ongoing war on a front extending from Darfur in the West to the Ethiopian border in the East, and war also could flare up between the two new states (Sudan and South Sudan).
On a different front, Dr. Steve Howard, Director of the African Studies Program at Ohio University, spoke on "the Arab world and the peoples of the Horn in each other's gaze". Dr. Howard presented a critique of Arab culture and its perception of Africans in general, and even the Sudanese who share with Arabs many cultural and linguistic characteristics - denouncing what he termed "Arab racism" in Sudan. He said that the Horn of Africa region has developed, individually or collectively, multiple tracks of relations with the Arab homeland, noting that Sudan, Djibouti, and Somalia are all members of the Arab League, but that the Arab region pays little attention to the Horn, except in terms of what relates to its direct interests and security. Dr. Howard also critiqued the deficient Western perception of the region, which is seen solely as a zone of poverty, droughts, and famines, without paying attention to its linguistic, cultural and heritage wealth.
Dr. Abdullah al-Bashir, Information Analyst at the Qatari Foreign Ministry, spoke of the image of the peoples of the Horn in the chronicles of Arab geographers. He noted that Arab and Muslim geographers and travelers have supplied human civilization with original intellectual contributions on the Horn of Africa and that their works remain an important scholarly source. He also warned that while some of those geographers relied on realistic descriptions and accurate recording, others resorted to fiction and fantasy. He added that the image of the peoples of the Horn in the chronicles of geographers and travelers has been affected by the works of earlier civilizations, such as the Greeks. These depictions were also affected, especially among travelers, with the tendency to exaggerate and to impress, which led to the mixing of the real with the fictive.
Dr. al-Bashir stressed that the contours of these images took root in Arab imagery, and that their effects remain alive today. He also stated that building future relations between the Arabs and the peoples of the Horn on foundations of cooperation and integration requires confronting the past and offering a new reading of history. Critical works and research must continue to rectify the images of the peoples of the two regions in each other's imageries. This requires the creation of additional forums for critical dialogue and further interaction between both the elites and the general populations of the two regions.
Dr. Abdul Salam Ibrahim al-Baghdadi, who heads the African Studies Department at Baghdad University, offered an analysis of state failure based on a report that classified Somalia and Sudan as among the world's most failed states. He sees Somalia as a "dead state" as it has been fragmented into several regions, continues to suffer from civil war, and has conflicts with neighboring countries, while Sudan is a candidate to become a fragmented state after the succession of the South, and there are no real indications that the Northern part of Sudan will achieve stability.
Dr. al-Baghdadi said the Horn of Africa contains over 200 ethno-cultural groups that inhabit a political environment that is deficient in terms of managing diversity, and raised the question: Is heterogeneity the path to instability? According to him, the experiences of the United States, India and Tanzania prove that ethnic diversity does not entail conflict. These three states contain hundreds of ethnic groups, but they coexist under stable political systems. Tanzania is the closest of these states to the Horn of Africa and has 135 ethnic groups, but it does not suffer a problem of national unity despite being economically poor; with the exception of the Zanzibar crisis in 1964, Tanzania has been capable of managing coexistence. On the other hand, Somalia is a homogenous country, but it has not known stability since 1991. It is obvious from these examples that managing diversity is more effective than attempting to assimilate and to impose homogeneity.
The Horn of Africa is a strategic region due to its geographic location, potentially holds vast energy reserves, and is the subject of international competition. The countries of the Horn experience internal tensions and low levels of stability, all in the shadow of international interference.
Dr. al-Baghdadi notes that the belonging of political elites in these countries to a specific racial or ethnic group often means that political and economic benefits are restricted to those attached to the dominant ethnic group. This model, which excludes other groups, is an indication of the deficient management of diversity and the corruption of governance in these countries, which in turn causes a permanent crisis of instability in the Horn region. As a result, the region is also in need of a genuine democratic revolution that acknowledges the other and achieves the values of equality and citizenship.