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The new scramble for the Horn of Africa

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By Siyad Abdigedi

The Horn of Africa is experiencing a return of 1880s; a period characterized with a mad rush into Africa by competing European powers – popularly referred as the Scramble for Africa. Nearly a century and a half later, foreign powers are all out again in competition for Africa, especially the Horn of Africa. This time inspired by slightly different motivations.

Countries in the wider Horn of Africa include Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and most recently Kenya and Uganda. Since the departure of the colonial powers, the drums of war never went silent in the horn of Africa thus remaining one of the deeply conflicted regions in the world.

Experiencing all sorts of wars including border wars, ethnic tensions and religious conflicts. These vicious cycles of war coupled with perennial famine left behind a trail of death and destruction across nations in this part of the globe. Lack of political will by the international community and weak states that merely struggled to survive derailed efforts to salvage the situation. For the longest time, the region remained isolated and left to deal with its own problems.

Most recently, however, we have witnessed a surge in the number of foreign actors showing interest in the region, Gulf States being most assertive ones. Most of these countries that lie on the western banks of the red sea have had a historic relationship with the Gulf that lie on the eastern shore, however, these renewed relations and the scramble by the Gulf states and other emerging powers for the region is quite strange and does beg the question of why now.

In the shortest time recently, the region has experienced a far-reaching change in its external security relations. A once abandoned corner is now a busy stage buzzing with activities from external forces each pursuing its own agenda.

The little darling

Djibouti has been the little darling for many of these new competing powers. It became an attraction spot not only for powers from the West but also the East. Apart from the United States, Japan and France, which were the first external forces to establish and maintain military bases in this tiny country, other foreign actors like China, India, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Italy, Spain and Russia have since joined the theatre, with some foreign forces expected to pour in. The race for bases literally turned Djibouti into a Garrison.

China and India are the latest entrants into this arena of competition. In 2017, China built its first naval base in Djibouti port of Doraleh after agreements with the Djibouti government. As part of its belt and road Initiative Africa, The Chinese have also built the Djibouti-Ethiopia rail, which has since proved a great economic breakthrough for both countries.

Last year, an Indian naval ship on a humanitarian mission made port calls twice at Djibouti, delivering tons of food supplies to Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic crisis was at its peak.

Djibouti is strategically located on the Bab El Mandeb strait, a passageway for approximately 40 percent of the global trade. It is 27km in width and links Red sea to the Gulf of Aden. Its geographical proximity to this important trade route and other conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia where most sea pirates sail from makes Djibouti an ideal base to counter any threat that would undermine the safety passage of goods along the red sea.

In 2015, UAE has established its first overseas military base in the Eritrean Port of Assab, a move that irked Ethiopia, which perceived Eritrea as a number one foreign threat to its existence. The establishment of the second military base in the port of Berbera has further caused displeasure among the Ethiopians and the Somalis. The latter saw the move as a total violation of its territorial integrity and sovereignty while the former was wary of the UAEs intensions in a region it considered its strategic backyard.

In 2016, relations between UAE and Ethiopia improved significantly following the signing of trade and investment agreements between the two nations where UAE helped in financing development projects in Ethiopia.

In Sept 2018, UAE and Saudi Arabia have achieved the greatest mediation breakthrough bringing to an end decades old rivalry between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The two countries have since then opened borders, resumed diplomatic ties and established embassies. They have also exchanged prisoners of war and allowed direct flights across cities.

Key player

Qatar and Turkey are other players that have long been into the scene way before UAE and Saudi Arabia. Turkey is a key player in the region with a special focus in Somalia – considering it its traditional ally. Its engagements with the Somali federal government ranges from political, social to security cooperation. Turkey helped Somalia in training its special forces called Gorgor.

Since 2014, a Turkish firm runs the port of Mogadishu, while other Turkish companies took the role of building roads, schools and hospitals. Between 2013-2015, Turkey facilitated mediation talks and discussions in Ankara between Somalia and Somaliland that has since flopped. Turkey has displayed the will to revive the talks and in 2018 appointed a special envoy to spearhead the effort.

Qatar on the other hand maintains the second biggest embassy in Mogadishu after Turkey. It has embarked on economic activities and implemented a wide range of development projects in Somalia. It is also in the process of building a seaport at Hobyo, which lies along a strategic pathway that leads to the red sea.

There is formation of strategic alliances and buildup of foreign military bases happening in the Horn of Africa.

The recent heightened rivalry between the Gulf States has been shifted across the Red Sea to the countries in the Horn of Africa, and therefore this can be viewed purely as show of might.

‘War with Iran’

Saudi Arabia is preparing for likelihood of future war with Iran, and is therefore shopping for alliances to fight along them. In   Emiratis to build bases and ports in the region.

Djibouti’s proximity to the important routes for global trade makes it a strategic base to counter threats to global trade like piracy and terrorism.

 

Siyad is a security analyst with over 15 years experience.

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Politics

Joho wants to be Raila’s running mate

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Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho is demanding to be picked as Mr Raila Odinga’s running mate in this year’s presidential election to return a favour to him and the Coastal people who have been supporting the ODM leader for close to two decades.

Governor Joho, who is also the ODM deputy party leader and who dropped his bid to contest as the party’s flagbearer in the August 2022 General Election in favour of Mr Odinga, is now asking the party to pick him as a running mate in the coming elections.

“But I am telling Mr Odinga that if they continue bugging him, he can pick me as his running mate. I am capable of becoming a deputy president. For 10 years, I have been a two-term governor but I will soon become a normal citizen. But I cannot thank you enough, my good people,” he said while bidding farewell to Mombasa residents at the Mama Ngina Waterfront on New Year’s eve.

“But I am telling Mr Odinga that if they continue bugging him, he can pick me as his running mate. I am capable of becoming a deputy president. For 10 years, I have been a two-term governor but I will soon become a normal citizen. But I cannot thank you enough, my good people,” he said while bidding farewell to Mombasa residents at the Mama Ngina Waterfront on New Year’s eve.

Mr Odinga is yet to name his preferred running mate.

Mr Joho is eying a national leadership position after ending his final term as governor.

In September last year, Mr Joho dropped his presidential bid in favour of his party leader after he was promised an influential Cabinet position.

He says he is ready to retire from local politics to join the national arena.

While giving his New Year message, the Mombasa governor said he will contest for the presidency in the 2027 General Election.

“This time around I am not on the ballot but I am drumming up support for Mr Odinga. But 2027 will be my year; I will vie for the top seat. Were it not for my people’s support I wouldn’t have become who I am today. I give you thanks. I love my people so much,” he said.

He added, “I will not be here after the polls, but I don’t take it for granted that for the 10 years I have been at the helm, you have been with me wholeheartedly, supporting and loving me. I love you very much Mombasa people.”

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Politics

Somali premier forms committee to investigate ‘attempted coup’

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Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has appointed a special committee to investigate his attempted suspension by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, local media report.

On Monday, Farmaajo suspended Roble from his duties as he was under investigation for suspected corruption.

The prime minister’s office called the decision a “failed coup d’etat” and Roble accused the president of trying to sabotage upcoming elections to remain in office and urged the armed forces to report directly to the government.

The committee includes close allies of the prime minister, such as the ministers of defense, security, education and public works.

Earlier this week, Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the Somali authorities to engage in dialogue to find ways of ending the political crisis in the country.

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Politics

I am not power hungry, says Raila

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ODM leader Raila Odinga has dismissed claims that he is looking for political fame and power to benefit himself.

Raila said his only aim is to uproot the corrupted system of governance and establish a strong foundation for socioeconomic and political growth for country.

“I don’t dream of staying in power forever but I want to live good leadership for the future generation to come,” he said.

Raila said he is energy is projected towards improving the lives of the citizens by eradicating poverty through proper education, a health system and a platform for massive investments.

The ODM leader said it is a pity that many years have passed yet illiteracy, poverty and diseases are still an issue of concern despite having plenty of resources to exterminate them.

He said the time has come for Kenya to devise new ways of tapping investments and creating employment opportunities for the benefit of every citizen and not a few individuals.

Raila said he wants to increase food and nutrition security by setting up improved water and agricultural projects.

He told locals to reject wheelbarrows and choose a government that will ensure enough and respectable jobs are provided.

“Don’t be told that Kazi Ni Kazi, we want you to have good employment, not just a job,” he said.

Raila said he will ensure that each Kenyan has access to cheap and affordable healthcare services.

He spoke on Wednesday spoke at Matuga Girls’ High School in Kwale county during his Azimio La Umoja popularization campaign.

Raila promised the locals that he will improve the fishing systems and set industries for processing and value addition for the fish produced locally.

He said Kwale has vast resources lying dormant that have not yet been fully exploited.

The ODM boss said with the right leadership the unstable economy can be resuscitated and stabilized.

Raila said he will address the prolonged Kwale water shortages and capacitate local farmers to produce enough food.

He said countries like Namibia, Brazil and Egypt are doing great because they have better development plans and Kenya is no exception.

Raila assured locals that his dream is valid and applicable if only given an opportunity.

He warned citizens against being bought on cheap money and remain strong to realize their dreams of making Kenya a better place.

Raila also cautioned locals to shun tribal politics and embrace peaceful coexistence.

He said Kenyans must live together as one and appreciate all gender for the country’s prosperity.

“Let’s not alienate ourselves on tribal, religious or gender,” he said.

Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth said Raila was the leader Kenya is longing to have.

He said Raila is loyal and focused and the solution to the country’s many problems.

“Leadership is not about chest-thumping and Raila is not like that, with him Kenya is in the right place,” he said.

Kenneth urged locals to vet leaders before blindly electing them to power.

Agriculture PS Hamadi Boga said Raila’s agendas reflect the needs of the Kwale residents.

He warned locals against choosing unproductive and visionless leaders whose main agenda are empty talks.

In the morning Raila had a closed-door meeting with ODM grassroots leaders and welcomed new members to the party in Diani.

The ODM team officialy welcomed former Kinango MP Gonzi Rai in the party.

Source: The Frontier and The Star.

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