Horn of Africa: International interest in region growing

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While foreign policy specialists believe it is important that solutions to economic and political challenges in the Horn of Africa — Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia — be African “owned,” international entities will continue to have an impact on the region.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Africa Phillip Carter recently told a panel on conflict in Somalia that the United States and international partners remain committed to moving a peace process forward “with the goal of creating political and economic stability in Somalia and fostering basic security.”

But, “above all,” that “peace process must be Somali-owned and -led,” Carter told the participants in the March 10 discussion, jointly sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Institute for Peace.

Somalia, without a unified government since the early 1990s, increasingly has come under the sway of warlord militias and terrorist groups whose fighting precipitated a humanitarian crisis and turned the capital of Mogadishu into a war zone over the last 16 years.

Carter said the United States is actively supporting the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia as well as providing $5 million for the creation of a more permanent joint security force.

The United States and a number of European and African nations are part of an international contact group facilitating peace talks in Djibouti between Somali groups whose chaotic fighting has enabled pirates operating off the coast to prey on international shipping with relative impunity. (See “Kenya Accepts Seven Alleged Pirates from U.S. Navy for Trial.”)

Carter, who recently returned from a Somalia crisis meeting in Brussels, Belgium, added, “One thing we discovered in our contact group discussion was a wide range of interests among a bunch of different donors and countries to support” peace efforts in Somalia.

At a March 12 hearing before a House of Representatives subcommittee, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn said, “It is essential to continue to work with the countries in the region and the traditional donor countries, including the members of the European Union, Norway, Canada, Australia and Japan.”

At the same time he agreed with Carter that Africans need to chart their own destinies. “The United States cannot and should not be expected to solve the problems of the Horn on its own,” he told lawmakers.

International interest in the region

Shinn, now an adjunct professor of political science at George Washington University, mentioned a number of countries that now are interested in the Horn region, including “Egypt and some of the Arab Gulf states, which have a direct interest in developments in the Horn.”

In Sudan, China has become “the principal non-African influence, and has a growing presence in Ethiopia and Eritrea,” he said. “China will not always agree with Western donors on the best approach to the region, but it has cooperated in Sudan and Somalia and should increasingly be brought into discussions concerning the Horn.”

Shinn said Russia should be part of the consultative process “if for no other reason than to try to minimize the potential negative impact of its arms sales and because it has expressed a growing interest in investing in countries like Ethiopia.”

The former diplomat said India is “a major player” in the Horn, especially in Ethiopia, which is its principal African recipient of economic assistance. Recently, Turkey has also made an effort to increase its relations in the Horn, especially with Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Shinn said.

South America also has interests in the region, Shinn told the House panel. “Although Brazil’s main African focus is West Africa and the [Portuguese-speaking] countries, it is expanding ties with Sudan and Ethiopia.”

Shinn stressed that all the countries mentioned should be part of efforts to solve problems in the region. In addition, the United Nations and agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, African Development Bank, Arab Development Bank and Arab League (Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti are members) also “have the ability to influence developments in the Horn.”

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