Current Geo-Politics in North-East Africa: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia Somalia and Sudan

Dr. Suresh Kumar

The states of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan as part of Horn command the one side of Gulf of Aden from Port Said to the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb and the Red Sea connects to the Indian Ocean securing its significant Geo-Strategic position in Africa and on the globe. The winners of the Second World War distributed their booty in the way that France got Djibouti, Britain took the coastal areas of Northern Somalia, Italy grabbed Eritrea and the Southern Somali coast and Ethiopia controlled Ogaden. ‘Like most countries of the Sudanic belt, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean across the Continent to the Red Sea, the whole area between Ogaden to Eritrea is divided along religious lines with Islamized low-Lander pastoral population being in historical conflict with Christian high-Lander agriculturists. This eruption of micro nationalisms on the Horn has spurred the outside interest of big powers that has provided them a chance to perpetuate their own hold on these countries and the strategic Horn coastline’ (Raman. 1978:emphasis mine). The Bab-el-Mandeb is the link between the Red Sea, the Arabian Peninsula and the African coast with a distance of 22 miles apart from one another. It is the meeting point of Red Sea and the Indian Ocean through the Gulf of Aden, with Perim island situated within the narrow strait, reducing the navigable area from 22 to 16 ½ miles only. Today, whoever dominates this strategic gateway to the Red Sea also controls the entrance to the Gulf of Suez, Sharmel-Sheikh, and Gulf of Eilat. This vital area is vulnerable to blockades and piracy and permits a real threat to Red Sea traffic that engulfs the world’s most precious international economic traffic.
The strategic importance of this region has been dramatized since 2006 by the area’s proximity to Middle East oil fields of Iraq and Iran and the piracy in the Indian Ocean trade routes. ‘The US has a vital interest in keeping open the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, the port of Djibouti and the Red Sea for the free flow of international shipping, especially of USA, Europe and Israel. For these reasons, the Red Sea is today a focus of strategic rivalry’ (O. Chaland. 1978:116: emphasis mine). Today Djibouti is a great strategic port providing US armed forces air base between Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The conflict in the Horn is not ideological but above all strategic and military. The core issue is to control on the Red Sea and command the Horn, Arab and Africa.
Today, it is most vulnerable area having different perspectives (in UNO, USA, EU, AU, COMESA and IGAD) keeping the US involvement in the centre in collaboration with one or other states out of five mentioned above. In lieu of that, all these states are facing interference from the Border States on the pretext of terrorism, peace and security, illegal occupation of land and neo-scramble, democratic functioning and development issues, human rights and rule of law. Beside that, drought here is creating a real havoc for the common man but it is not taken seriously. These issues need a fair explanation without any prejudice to know the real environment in the region.1 The real issues arise from the internal chaos and confusion within the Horn. The establishment of the United Stated Africa Command (AFRICOM) with the consultation of African leaders determined an appropriate location for this command in Africa. ‘It is generally assumed that AFRICOM was designed establishment without consultation with African partners, hence the evitable unified opposition and hostility across the continent. But this latest US approach to establish a unified geographic combatant  command for Africa and then even try to secure consultation with African partners is not different form other traditional US military and security projects developed and prescribed for the continent’ (David. 2010: 3). The sole super power is naturally in search of convenient littoral states like Somalia and Djibouti with convenient land bases like Ethiopia and Djibouti to supplies arms and ammunition to different states of Horn and Middle East and to lure them in their favour.
Eritrea and Somalia like Sudan is facing the accusation of training terrorists providing shelter or providing weapons or working with the most dangerous group of terrorism i.e. Al-Qayda of Osama Bin Laden. Ethiopia and US are the most vocal players on this issue but are not coming out with any evidence before the international media till today. Interestingly, Security Council Resolution 1907, dated 23rd December 2009 has put sanctions on Eritrea that needs an explanation, which will be discussed further. ‘Terrorists follow America where ever they go. Having the AFRICOM here would help us but it could bring terrorists’ (David. 2010: 5: emphasis mine).

The international jurisdiction refers to Peace and Security concerning Ethiopia, Eritrea and Ogaden region of Somalia is involved in this region. United Nation Mission for Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) failed to demarcate the land of Badme town as per the decision of the International Court of Justice in which Eritrea, Ethiopia, USA and European Union is the signatories. The democratic functioning and development issues are inter-related and Eritrea-Ethiopia-Sudan is blaming each other. Eritrea is lagging behind conducting the national election and respects the people’s opinion once again. The recent peaceful conduct of national election in Ethiopia May 2010 and Sudan June2010 may initiate the discussion on unresolved issues with the neighbourers and work for the peaceful settlement of disputes.    The issue of geo-strategic importance never ignored the issue of economic ventures and the involvement of international business in the Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The regional Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) touches the boundaries of all these states and persuades them to promote regional integration through trade development, and to develop their natural and human resources for the mutual benefit of all the peoples. This article attempts an appraisal of the situation in this area on the personal experience and assesses the conflict situation and suggests a viable solution.

1. Terrorism and Peace & Security
The word Terrorism means the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear for bringing about political change. Today, US domestic as well as foreign policy failed to maintain minimum political coordination in Horn of Africa particularly with Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya and Djibouti. Naom Chomsky observed on the US slogan War against Terrorism and expressed, “To call it a war against terrorism however, is simply more propaganda, unless the war really does target terrorism” (Naom Chomsky: 16).
The Islamic Court Union (ICU) government put its efforts to unite the different factions of Somalia such as Somali land, Punt land, Juba land and Nazer land. Moreover, Somalia air and seaports reopened under the ICU government. But US supports the Transitional Government working from Baidoa. The US and Ethiopia only recognize this government and providing arms and finance to it. Ethiopia supported this Baidoa government and declared ICU as Taliban government in Somalia to get money and muscle power from US. As a result, The British government cut direct aid in protest at a clampdown (on the issue of Ethiopia interference in Somalia in 2006), but the reaction of the international community, taking its lead from Washington, has been low-key” (The Guardian. 2006). US as per the past experience of 1995 disliked to direct intervention in Somalia and supported Tigre People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of Ethiopia. The US special Africa correspondent Charlene Haunter Gault expressed that the Islamists who are trying to impose Islamic rule in the country against the elected government, the possibility now of a war that will engulf the entire Horn of Africa which includes Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea that possibility looms very large”(National. 2006).
This was clear and direct threat of US to Kenya, Somalia and Eritrea. When BBC reported on 25 September 2006 that ‘Somalia’s interim Prime Minister (Ali Mohamed Ghedi) has asked for international help against the Al-Qaeda and terrorist expansion in the country’— is responded back by saying that “there is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals Muslims”(Foreign Policy Issue. 2006). On the name of Islam, US through TPLF tried to prevent the continued expansion of ICU in Somalia since 2007 but failed till today.
The USA and TPLF failed to capture Somalia beyond Mogadishu and retreated safely under the cover of US Marine Commandos in 2008. One needs to know the reality behind this attack. The Islamic Court Union (ICU) was on the way to establish peace and stability through persuasion (With other groups) in the country. The ICU opened air and sea routes for the people to people contact, revival of economic set up and enhancing friendly ties with neighborhood countries. The changing domestic and international environment in Somalia is one of the biggest shocks to neo colonial adventurous policies.  Along with it, the peace and stability is direct threat to US oil (such as Concoco, Phillips, Amoco and Chavron. Now Conoco and Amoco are known as BP) and weapon industries as the ICU will put a check on exploration of oil free of cost from its sea coast and arms weapon smuggling. Recently, the Cheney’s oil multinationals of US signed thirty years ‘Oil Agreement 2007’ with government of their own choice in Iraq and the similar efforts are going on in Somalia. Oil as major source of Somalia destabilized Somalia and the region as such that lead to the piracy and instability in the region.
Moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was worn in as President in January 2009 under an UN-brokered plan to forge a national unity government in Somalia (Khaleej. February 2009).  Similarly, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke took the oath of Prime Minister in Somalia (The Gulf. 2009). But it did not weaken the ICU and Al-Shabbab domination around Mogadishu and in Somalia. ‘There are grounds to believe that what pundits call sticky issues are not issues that could derail the peace process if all parties are sincere in their proclamations of seeking lasting peace after all should the faith of a nation be held hostage over principles? Duplicity must not be allowed to plunge the peace process into the same bloodbath it has continued fro a long time in the country. Rather than posturing, parties must do whatever it takes to persuade top bring an end to the conflict’ (The Sub-Saharan. 2009). President Ahmed recently did not say the word terrorism; he implied it is one of his country’s biggest challenges. It is noted that his government has little control. Al-Shabab has taken over most of Somalia (Khaleej. October 2009).
Presently, Somalia is full of weapons because of the arms dealers and buyers, pirates of seizing ships all round the border and Somali territorial waters, left over of the Ethiopian soldiers during retreat, USA provide million dollar weapons to the TFG government (but captured by Al-Shabaab). Why big powers allow Al-Shabaab and other groups to capture their weapons? The answer lies in the uncontrolled exploration of oil from Somali sea coast because these weapons are big enough to continue the civil strife in Somalia. These developments will not lead to any concrete solution in this region. The ultimate solution to the Somalia issue needs a federal approach.

Geopolitics Federalism and Somalia
There is a reason to propose the idea of Geopolitics federalism in Somalia. The first is the absolute need to seek peaceful reconciliation and secure indigenous solutions to indigenous problems. It is the time to share peaceful negotiation with the different regions according to their needs respectively and people utilization of natural resources. The peace process will give answer to the crisis-trader and crisis-makers.
Second, the external intervention will only exacerbate the situation, prolong the conflicts and entail sorrow and remorse. The Horn of Africa is passing through the danger of neo-colonial expansion that can only arouse with the committed understanding. Somali people cannot be oblivious to the subtle manipulations underway to impart a different connotation to the concept of the International Community by reducing Somali unity and represent its interests of Scramble agenda and its ilk to the exclusion of all others.
Third, the Somali group’s representatives ensure their participation in the consensus Government for the smooth functioning in national and regional or local level. It will ensure genuine allocation and distribution of financial share to their provinces and work for Somali unity. The neighbouring countries or regional organizations may play the role as a facilitator in achieving peaceful reconciliation, building a process of reconstitution and consensus government.
Fourth, the geopolitics federalism of Somalia will be the opening of sharing financial allocation of resources and its distribution on the basis of different local areas need, which will guarantee equitable economic, political, social and cultural development. This proposal for peaceful reconciliation will delineate the fundamental objectives of development in Somalia like:
1.    Rehabilitation of war-affected areas;
2.    Rehabilitation of social services including food distribution, health facilities, and potable water;
3.    Rehabilitation and development of infrastructure;
4.    Ensuring the return and the rehabilitation of refugees;
5.    Protecting and enhancing the fragile environment;

Fifth and last, the uniqueness of the peace talks between the various factions of Somalia, will point out a clear message that the problems of Somalia can be solved by the Somali’s themselves.2 This will direct towards brutal forces, which consider themselves as omnipotent and hunt to paralyze North-East Africa and implement their own political and economic ventures.

2. Land and Neo-Scramble

The history of ‘Divide and Rule’ had been started with ‘Scramble of Africa ‘ 1885 evidently led to Africans loss of control of their own affairs, overlooked the sentiments of thousands of tribal sects. Today, these neo-scramble forces are talking about people’s sentiment that shows their pseudo face value. The similar approach is started through USA in Somalia and Sudan. USA is trying hard to cultivate the issue of Somalia through TPLF and Sudan earlier through South Sudan and now on the name of Darfur. This is the plan for the neo-scramble of Horn of Africa.

The Issue of Scramble in Eritrea

It is time to recall the historical judgment of Ethiopia Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC) in April 2002 under the Section 7 of the UNO Charter. Eritrea respects this decision and is still waiting for the implementation of EEBC decision. The other side propagates the idea that Communities will be divided, Dialogue is Essential, Demarcation will not bring lasting peace has been delayed the implementation of border demarcation. Eritrea believes in practicing Self-Reliance Economy is under their hit list and neo colonial powers make an effort to influencing its society either through spreading internal politics of communal, religious, linguistic, ethnic disturbance inside the country or employ external politics to disturb their border through cross border infiltration and mischievous activities. These neocolonial forces engage in exercising Eritrea under external politics, disturbing its peace and development through border.
Going back to history, all knows that US Kagnew army and radio station located in Asmara during the Haile Selasie period. Today, the Middle East pressure (Iraq crisis and current Iran nuclear issue) and US interest forced them to keep an eye on Red Sea base. The intention here is crystal clear to use Red Sea port being a geo-strategic importance in future for their deceitful purposes under the direction of AFRICOM. Once the EEBC implemented, this region will work for the political stability and economic collaborations within the framework of ECOWAS.

3. Democratic functioning and Development Issues

Abraham Lincoln popular saying is always remembered and respected i.e. Democracy is the rule of people, by the people and for the people. But this is not implemented in a right way in all these countries.

Eritrea, Ethiopia and Democracy
Eritrea political stand right from the beginning is to maintain Unity in Diversity in clear terms. President Isaias observed, “Under any circumstances we do not have any intention or agenda to divide and destroy the Ethiopian people and that we are proud of our entire political life. —There couldn’t be any reason that there wouldn’t be peace in Ethiopia while all neighbouring countries Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan live peacefully” (Eritrea Profile. 20 June 2007). Eritrea has adopted one party system having the one political party namely People’s Freedom for Democratic Justice (PFDJ). The State is facing drought conditions, unemployment and poverty and the international/regional pressure to adopt multiparty system. The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) issue is getting minimum response because of close market economy of state. The government’s Self-Reliant approach (for app. 3.5 million populations) of socio-economic development is not working successfully under the international global recession and drought year of 2009. The issue of poverty is really serious and good number of educated youth is leaving the country speedily by crossing the border and entered into Sudan illegally. The price of everything is very high and the inflation rate is beyond control. The ultimate answer to all queries as per the government media is to demarcate the border under EEBC judgement. Once the EEBC implemented, the Eritrea government and PFDJ cannot skip its responsibilities to have people’s verdict through national election again and move towards sustainable development accordingly.
Ethiopia conducted the national election and the final result of June 21, 2010 elections gave verdict to the ruling party namely Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). ‘The EPRDF secured 477 of the 547 federal parliamentary seats; its partner parties won 8 seats in Afar state, 2 seats in Benishangul Gumuz and 3 seats in Somalia state’ (Newsletter. June 2010). Ethiopia and EXIM Bank fo India signed agreement in Addia Ababa, enabling to set up a representative office of EXIM Bank in Ethiopia. This office will look after the Bank’s interests in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and other countries. Around 75 Indian companies have received investment licenses worth $ 2 billion for investment in Agriculture and horticulture.
Overall, demarcation in the peaceful environment in Eritrea and Ethiopia may tend to have lower interest rates, lower risk profiles, shorter payback periods and provide a more stable atmosphere for investment in the coming future.

Sudan and Democracy
The result of National election June 2010 in Sudan strengthens the President Omar al Bashir government to implement the Peace Accord 2005 (North and South Sudan). North-South relations have been a subject of intense, sometimes emotional, debate in Sudan for decades, and this is likely to continue even as the country is at the threshold of a peace agreement that acknowledges the right of Southern Sudan to self-determination (Lam Akol. 2010: 179). Today, the major challenge is to implement people’s policies and not to tolerate vindictive policies. ‘The Nuer tribesmen attacked Dinka cattle herders in Tonj, one of the most remote parts of oil-producing south Sudan and seized about 5000 animals. They killed 139 people and wounded 54. A surge of tribal violence in 2009 killed about 2500 people and forced 350,000 to flee their homes in south as per the report of Oxfam’ (The Statesman. 8 June 2010). Similarly, Peace Accord 2006 (east Sudan and National government) was the direct approach to establish peace in the region as a part of internal political development process.3  This agreement focuses on the development programme through different projects in the region that attests to the prevailing peace and security there.
The other sensitive issue of Darfur that began as a localized civil war (1987-89) and turned into a rebellion in the beginning of 2003 is a complex crisis of western Sudan. ‘Nearly 600 people died in rebel and tribal fighting in May 2010, the bloodiest month that the territory has seen more than two years’ (The Staesman. 8 June 2010: 13).   Mahmood Mamdani calling the violence in Darfur has had three consequences. First, it has postponed any discussion of context while imposing the view of one party in the 1987-89 civil war in the name of stopping the genocide. Second, it has conferred impunity on these same partisans by casting them as resisters to genocide. Finally, the description of the violence as genocide-racial killing- has served to further racialize the conflict and give legitimacy to those who seek to punish rather than to reconcile (Mahmood.2009: 7). Even the Abuja Peace process ended in failure in May 2006 and the common people was sufferer as a result. On 29 May 2006, feeling disregarded by the Americans and disrespected by the SPLA, ‘Abdel Wahid gave a vote of no-confidence in the peace brokers-the representatives of the AU, EU and Norway who were trying to facilitate his travel to south Sudan. He said, “Remember these words. All of you, the international community, will create big chaos in Darfur, endless fighting, endless suffering, endless chaos.” When next he was seen, it was in Asmara, in the company of Khalil Ibrahim’ (Julie. 2008: 229).  Overall, Darfur conflict is composed mainly of the Sudanese military and Janjaweed of Arab Baggara tribes of the northern Rizeigat, camel-herding nomads on the one hand and rebel groups of Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement from the land-tilling Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit ethnic groups.  ‘The UN estimates that the conflict has left as many as 450,000 dead from violence and disease and as many as 2.5 million are thought to have been displaced as of October 2006. Sudan’s government claims that over 9000 people have been killed (William. 2008: vii). Moreover, US politics was moved around the white house and even Powell or Condoleezza Rice underestimated the genocidal violence in Darfur. ‘The Atrocities Documentation Survey of more than a thousand genocide victims, as that cost of nearly a million U.S. taxpayer dollars, was condensed into an eight-page report that received little attention in the State Department’ (John. 2009: 220).   More over, the United States was deeply disappointed by the UN Security Council’s failure to reach unanimous agreement for a statement condemning the escalating civilian losses in Sudan’s Darfur region (Gulf. 2009:14).
It is the time  to find solutions that allow for the co-existence of a culturally and economically diversified population within the various regions of the country, including the building of new relationships within and between groups, new understandings of ethnic and religious identities, and new relationships between local communities and national and international forces, and to meet popular expectations of the new and alternative nature of the Sudanese state, thus producing not only a new system of governance but also a basis for a new Sudanese national identity (N. Shanmugaratnam. 2008: 27).

Djibouti and Democracy

Djibouti, one of the smallest countries of Horn is over-influenced through the International players. One issue of Mount Musa Ali , the high mountain on the border of peaceful states of Eritrea and Djibouti was raised and neighbouring states army came there with the excuse to rescue it. The practicality of this issue is that the issue of foreign military camps on Mount Musa-Ali peaked on a border junction of the three countries (Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia) is trying to create division among three states. Eritrea is exerting maximum efforts to work for a favorable ground work as in the cases of Somalia issue, Ethiopia crisis and the Djibouti. Moreover, As regards the Eritrean-Djiboutian issue, President Isaias pointed out that it is a fabricated ploy designed to undermine peace in the region through concocting a non-existing conflict. In this regard, he noted that ‘although the issue could have been resolved on the basis of mutual understanding and even arbitration, the authors as usual sought to exaggerate matters so as to blackmail Eritrea. The President explained in detail the numerous acts of conspiracy weaved on the part of enemy quarters over the past 11 to 12 years with a view to impeding economic, development and investment programs, as well as achieving food security, putting in place infrastructure facilities and foreign investment. Moreover, he outlined the various ploys employed through   deploying mercenary agents to block the flow of foreign currency into the country in a bid to undermine national security and isolating the country through forming alliances with a number of countries, among others (Interview. 2nd January 2010). President Isaias further underscored, “We are well aware of the whole affair and the acts of complication resorted to; and we don’t blame the Djiboutian brothers for the ensuing developments” (Aljazeera. 2010).

Somalia and Democracy
The intense civil war has raged in the country between a weak US-backed government and radical Islamist groups that are trying to overthrow it.  According to Somali human rights groups and UN Officials, ‘the Somali government which relies on resistance from the west to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as nine (International. 15 June 2010: 8). Similarly, the current anti-piracy strategy spends billions as ‘a vessel patrolling off Somalia costs $100,000 a day. Considering that there are more than 40 vessels out on patrol, the aggregate annual operational cost is about $1.5 billion. Despite that, the impact of piracy on East Africa is devastating: it endangers lives, curbs trade, kills tourism, steals food aid, enriches criminals, finds insurgents and perverts the regional economy (International. 9 June 2010: 8).  Somalia needs a political accountable government and massive socio-economic programmes to reconstruct the country.

4. Human Rights and Rule of Law
All these countries are not respecting human rights in totality. There are problems and counter problems to defy their human rights records. Djibouti needs a continuous economic support of US and defend its HR records accordingly. The record of different ethnic groups in Ethiopia raises questions on the HR record of the country. Similarly, hundreds of youth and officials are in jail in Eritrea and nobody knows their future shows that the human right record is not straight. Sudan does not need any explanation after the thorough discussion of Darfur and tribal violence in South Sudan. It is meaningless to talk about human rights in Somalia as the country does not have any elected government today. The issue is of rule of law and all the States adjust to it as per their conveniences. These are the political developments of individual countries in this region. More or less, all the countries are suffering either from Ethiopian TPLF militancy and USA domination on one pretext or the other mentioned above.


The ongoing war in the Somalia has led to a revision of the old mutual strategic position of military and political power in this region. The so called war on terrorism in Somalia supported by US air base of Djibouti and AU peace missions marked a major turning point for the neo-scramble power. This is the real triumph of US policies because they are fetching oil and natural resources free of cost.  Washington increasingly came to appropriate that only Ethiopia—would guarantee US control of what was becoming a strategically important signed facility in Asmara (Kagnew Station) and a convenient supply and oil depot in Massawa” (Spencer: 238). Today, the AFRICOM interest and its interference on the name of terrorism in Horn have agitated the majority of people in the region. There may be a good chance for normalcy to return, if the various Horn states adopt new self-reliant approaches to the solution of socio-economic problems. These boundary conflicts are likely to recede into background if a new Horn cooperation is forged on the fundamental ideals of genuine socio-economic development designed to improve the subsistence agriculture/nomadic sector which has remained hitherto completely neglected. This self-reliant developmental approach by the Horn will mark the turning point in the history of modern Africa, setting an illustrious example for hunger torn underdeveloped Africa’ (Raman: 381). India’s present position of a secular and neutral power inspires great confidence in the Horn. The role of India in the development of Human Resources and capacity building in this region will usher a new socio-economic development strategy based on self-reliant development. The Horn area being the real link between different parts of world may resolve their problems by adopting geo-political federal approach.


End Notes
1.    The author is visiting this region since 2006 and having a first hand experience talking to the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and officials of Djibouti. His latest visit was made in the month of Dec-January 2010 and having the experience of Security Council sanction on Eritrea.
2.    Delegate, Congress for the Liberation and the Reconstitution of Somalia from 6 -14th September 2007, Asmara, Eritrea as Political Analyst.
3.    The author attended the East Sudan Agreement Ceremony of on 14th October 2006 at State Palace, Asmara, Eritrea and shared his opinion with Presidents of Eritrea and Sudan and Chairman of East Sudan Front (ESF), Mr. Mousa Mohammed Ahmed. Dr. Suresh and Dr. Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohammed (Former Ambassador of Sudan in India and at present Chairman G-77) are Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator in Major Research Project of University Grants Commission, India on “Geopolitics Federalism: Vision of North and South Sudan from March 2006-09”.

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