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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

Why Nairobi MCA are yet to be sworn-in

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Nairobi MCAs are divided over the unexpected delay to swear them in more than one month since they were elected. They claim Governor Johnson Sakaja’s silence on the matter is worrying yet elected members in other counties have been sworn in.

The leaders claim the delay is linked to intense lobbying by top leaders of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Azimio coalition to marshal numbers to get the speaker slot once the House is convened.
Korogocho MCA Absalom Odhiambo said the swearing-in should not be delayed any longer since there is need to embark on serving the electorates.

“The voters don’t want to know whether we have been sworn in or not. All they want is to be served and promises we made during campaigns be fulfilled,” Odhiambo said yesterday. Odhiambo challenged Governor Sakaja to convene the first sitting by Thursday as it had been speculated.

His Gatina Ward counterpart Kennedy Swaka said some members were now operating from the streets and cyber cafes since they had not been sworn in.

“It’s shameful that other county assemblies have kicked off business yet here in Nairobi, we are being told to loiter in streets because the governor is trying to buy time,” Sakwa said.

However, Peter Imwatok, the outgoing Minority Whip argues that the MCA’s have no mandate to pressure Governor Sakaja before the constitutional timelines lapse.

Nomination list

Imwatok, who is serving his third time as Makongeni ward member, says the Constitution stipulates that the members must be sworn in before 30 days after the gazettement of nominated members.

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Politics

Having too many Twitter followers could slow down your US visa application

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Having a legion of followers on social media could slow down the processing of your  US visa application, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Amb Macharia Kamau warned MPs.

Kamau told MPs that due to the American legislation, individuals who are politically active are always on the government’s radar.

“Once you become a Member of Parliament and your Twitter handle has got one million followers, that is enough to trigger the fact that you are now a politically exposed personality. This will result in your Visa [application] being referred to Washington and once it goes into reference, it joins a long queue…sometimes it can take up to three or four months,” Macharia said during the induction of Members of Parliament (MPs) at Nairobi’s Safari Park hotel.

At the same time, the PS said that some Western nations were using the visa issue to safeguard their national interests.

“If they don’t like a certain MP when they come for visa application, they will  give all sorts of excuses such us; your visa has been referred, there is a backlog, etc. And before you know it, you have given up. Your intended reason for travel is crashed,” he said.

The Principal Secretary said the vigorous process is a result of  American foreign policy shift that began during President Barack Obama’s reign and identifies people who are politically active.

 

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Politics

Raila-backed candidate wins Kisumu Speaker race

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Mr Elisha Oraro who was being backed by the ODM leader Raila Odinga in the race for speaker of the Kisumu County Assembly narrowly carried the day after a spirited fight by his opponent Samuel Ong’ow.

He garnered 25 votes against Mr Ong’ow’s 22 in a duel decided in a second round of voting. The first round saw Mr Oraro get 24 votes against 23 votes cast for his opponent. The other contestants attracted no votes.

Mr Oraro was the speaker of the last assembly, a house that impeached his two predecessors. When nominations closed at noon on September 19, seven people had submitted their papers for the Speaker race.

They included Mr Oraro, Mr Ong’ow who is also a former majority in the same House, lawyer Kenneth Oduor Amondi, James Kounah Ochieng, Victor Otieno Odongo, Linda Ogweno Atieno and Nelson Lennoa Jalango Adul.

Of these, only four met the threshold required for the position. They were Mr Oraro, Mr Ong’ow, Mr Amondi and Mr Kounah. The other three were not proposed and seconded by any of the elected MCAs.

On Monday, almost half of the elected MCAs boycotted a meeting attended by Mr Odinga, a gathering whose agenda was to rally the lawmakers into voting for Mr Oraro.

It was the highest level of defiance so far to the opposition leader that has annoyed the rank and file of the ODM party.

For the position of deputy Speaker, only two candidates – Vincent Odhiambo Obuya and Nereah Akoth Okombo – had been cleared, leaving out Joachim Oketch, who held the seat when the last assembly dissolved.

More than a week ago, Mr Oraro got a major boost when ODM nominated him as its candidate for the seat for a second time.

Mr Oraro had a foot in as he sought to keep the seat he inherited after the previous assembly impeached Onyango Oloo over corruption claims.

In a September 8 letter, ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna notified assembly Clerk Owen Ojuok of the party’s notice about picking Mr Oraro as its preferred candidate.

Before the vote was cast, the Nation had it on good authority that the number of MCAs supporting Mr Oraro and Mr Ong’ow, the two main contenders, was a tight 23-24, and that the race could go either way. In the end, Mr Oraro carried the day.

Only 24 elected MCAs attended a dinner meeting held at the Grand Royal Swiss Hotel, as the others allied to Mr Ong’ow skipped it, the result of serious lobbying that could embarrass Mr Odinga if MCAs from his Kisumu backyard reject his candidate and elect someone else.

The Kisumu assembly has 47 MCAs – 35 elected and 12 nominated.

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