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The new scramble for the Horn of Africa




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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What comes next after Janan’s surrender?




By Siyad Abdigedi

The surrender of Abdirashid Janan to the Federal Government of Somalia ushered in a period of calm for the citizens of Gedo. Residents of Mandera and Beled Hawo towns, which are located on the border of Kenya and Somalia, respectively, feel a big weight lifted off their shoulders, they no longer have to worry about a potential conflict of armies, which has always been reported to result in civilian casualties.

Just a few months ago, an aggressive dawn assault by Janan’s men on the Somalia federal army in Beled Hawo resulted in the killing of an entire family of six, with only the mother surviving the attack. A number of Janan’s men were also captured.

Janan, a former Jubaland state government security minister, was detained in Mogadishu in August 2019 for suspected human rights violations but fled in January 2020 and had been on the run before his recent surrender.

The surrender was secretly orchestrated by Janan’s loyalists and Somali Chief spy Fahad Yassin. Janan was later fired from his position as a security minister by Jubaland’s leader, Ahmed Madobe, for surrendering to the federal government in Mogadishu. He was flown to Mogadishu and met with top security officials before handing over his militia and weapons days later as talks between him and the federal government continued.

The Federal Government of Somalia and the administration of Jubbaland have been at odds. The Farmajo administration had previously rejected Madobe’s re-election but later accepted its legitimacy to serve as a transitional government for two years.

Possible results of Janan-Mogadishu negotiations

Rub my back, I rub yours, will most definitely be the compromise between the two parties. In return for cutting ties with Madobe’s camp, Mogadishu can grant him amnesty from his case.

The surrender of Janan to Mogadishu represents a significant political breakthrough for Farmajo because it ensures the stability of the Gedo region. Janan was a crucial figure in Jubbaland administration, and his surrender, along with his forces, weakens Madobe’s camp morale. He not only defected with troops and arms, but also with secrets, which is a critical asset in countering Ahmed Madobe.

Farmajos’ administration could also be planning to advance troops in the near future in order to capture Buale town with the help of Janan and his men and make it Jubbaland’s capital city. Middle Jubba is made up of four districts: Buaale, Sakow, Salagle, and Jilib, all of which are now under the rule of Al Shabaab. Planting an alternate regional government here would undermine the Madobe administration, which is headquartered in the port of Kismayu.

The talks between the two could follow a separate path, yielding a myriad of other possible outcomes that would undoubtedly have a significant effect on Jubbaland politics in the coming months.

Siyad is a security analyst with an emphasis on the Horn of Africa.


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Maritime Dispute

ICJ to hear Somalia, Kenya maritime case despite Nairobi withdrawal




The International Court of Justice is scheduled to begin hearing the oral arguments in the maritime dispute between Somalia and Kenya, despite the latter pulling out of the proceedings in protest after being denied a fourth extension to postpone the case.

In a rare move, Kenya informed the court earlier this week that it would not be participating in the oral arguments, citing its unpreparedness brought on by the global pandemic and the presence of Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, a Somali national, on the international court’s bench.

Somalia’s legal team will present its oral arguments first, between 3 PM and 6 PM on Monday and will continue its presentation on Tuesday between 3 PM and 4:30 PM.

The ICJ will hold the hearings in a hybrid format – another feature Kenya objected to – in light of the COVID pandemic. The hearings will be aired on a Livestream on the court’s website and UN Web TV.

Somalia launched legal proceedings against Kenya at the international court based in The Hague in August 2014 after failing to settle the issue through diplomatic channels. Kenya questioned whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the case, pointing to the 2009 MOU signed with Somalia’s then Minister for National Planning and International Cooperation, Abdirahman Abdishakur. The court rejected that claim and ruled in June 2019 that the court was within its legal rights to adjudicate the case. Since then, the issue has been delayed and postponed several times at Kenya’s request.

At stake is a potentially lucrative, triangular stretch of 100,000 square kilometres of offshore territory believed rich in hydrocarbons and fish.

Despite Kenya’s withdrawal, the ICJ can still proceed with the case and render a verdict since Kenya has already submitted its written arguments to the court. The ruling cannot be appealed, but its enforcement relies on the UN Security Council, of which Kenya is a non-permanent member.

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Maritime Dispute

Kenya withdraws from ICJ maritime case with Somalia




Kenya has notified the International Court of Justice that it will not participate in the maritime case against Somalia just a day before it is scheduled to begin. Kenya has cited the court’s perceived bias and its unwillingness to delay the case – for a fourth time – due to the pandemic as the main reason for withdrawing from the legal proceedings.

Kenya’s Attorney General, Paul Kihara Kariuki, notified the ICJ of the decision to pull out in a letter written on March 11 to Phillippe Gautier, the court’s registrar.

“Kenya wishes to inform the court, through the Registrar, that it shall not be participating in the hearings in the case herein, should the same proceed from March 15, 2021, as presently scheduled,” the letter from Kenya’s attorney general states.”

Despite Kenya’s withdrawal, the ICJ can still proceed with the case and render a verdict since Kenya has already submitted its written arguments to the court.

Kenya, who referred to the move as “unprecedented in its history in relation to any international adjudication mechanism,” told the court that its latest legal team did not have adequate time to prepare for the case. Various Kenyan media outlets reported that top-level international lawyers were brought in to lead the maritime case in late February 2021, just weeks after the court rejected Kenya’s request to have the maritime delimitation case with Somalia postponed for the fourth time. Kenya added that the global pandemic had stripped it of financial resources to fund the case.

“The consequence of this is that Kenya and its legal team were deprived of the opportunity of having necessary preparatory meetings and engagements, ” Mr. Kariuki states.

In addition to the refusal to postpone the proceedings further, the letter to the ICJ cited further causes to justify its withdrawal from the international court.

Kenya objects to the hybrid format the hearings will be held in due to the current COVID pandemic, although some members of the court will attend the oral proceedings in person. Kenya argued that since its defence is based on demonstrations, the current format is “unsuitable for the hearing of a case as complex and as important as the present one.” The court said that the representatives of the parties involved in the case would participate either in person or by video link.

“Since the case is not urgent for any reason, Kenya least expected that the court would make this into the first cause to heard on its merits via video link, despite one party’s sustained, well-grounded objections, Kenya stated.

In building its case for withdrawal, Kenya wrote to the ICJ that one of its jurists, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, could potentially curry favour in support of Somalia. Yusuf, a Somali national was President of the Court until February this year .

“Kenya’s concerns and perception of unfairness and injustice in this matter are exacerbated by the inexplicable rejection of Kenya’s preliminary objections to this court’s jurisdiction and the dismissal of the request for the recusal of Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, given his past exposure, on behalf of Somalia, o the issues in this case. This is notwithstanding the fact that Kenya has taken extensive measures that are illustrative of its good faith and seriousness in defending this case, including by filing pleadings within the timelines directed by the court.”

Somalia launched legal proceedings against Kenya at the international court based in The Hague in August 2014 after talks with Kenya failed to settle the dispute. The case has fuelled the diplomatic fallout between the two East African neighbours.

Somalia dispatched its team led by Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Guled last week. Guled expressed confidence that his country was winning the case.

“Our duty is to unite and defend our land and our real estate, which is a historic responsibility and the most precious legacy we will leave to future generations of Somalis,” said the deputy prime Minister before departing from Mogadishu.

The ICJ is tasked with deciding who has jurisdiction over the 62,000 square-mile triangle in the Indian Ocean, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons. Neither party can appeal the decision. The court will then rely on the UN Security Council, of which Kenya is a non-permanent member, to enforce the ruling

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