Controlling Crisis in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea

By Gusau Mohammed, Aliyu | Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, November 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Controlling Crisis in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea


Gusau Mohammed, Aliyu, Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy


AFRICA AND AFRICANS HAVE PAID A GREAT PRICE for the conflicts and instability on the continent and the adjoining African areas of the Red Sea since the Cold War. African forces - through the United Nations and the African Union missions - have borne a disproportionate burden of, for example, the ongoing conflict in Somalia, a conflict which had its origins more in the great power rivalry of the Cold War than in African causes.

We can say this while also acknowledging the great contributions and sacrifice in Somalia of peacekeepers from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the United States, and other out-of-continent forces.

So before anything else, we must also acknowledge the vital work which has been undertaken over the years in conflict resolution, conflict arbitration, and conflict prevention by the Organization for African Unity and its successor, the African Union; as well as by the Arab League, and the regional African bodies. In the case of the Horn of Africa, IGAD - the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development - and the East Africa Standby Force are the principal mechanisms for regional peace enforcement. Without their mediation and, often, intervention, we would have seen even greater conflict in the African and Red Sea regions.

Today, we must also acknowledge that the global strategic climate has changed - and continues to evolve rapidly - thereby altering the circumstances in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in the Red Sea/Horn of Africa region. At the same time, transformative technological and social trends have altered the way in which societies interact and the way wars are fought and conflicts are resolved. Regardless of the way in which global and strategic power relationships pan out over the coming decades, it is unlikely that the mechanisms of competition will resemble those of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Yet we are left in this region with conflicts in Somalia and Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, Yemen, and even the downstream consequences - positive and negative - of the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration on national identity in what was once the Ottoman Empire.

History is always built upon legacies.

It is necessary, then, to review how we deal with the legacy conflicts and situations we have inherited from the Cold War and post-Cold War periods, and how we cope with new pressures on borders and with new conflicts. Do our existing political, diplomatic, military, and intelligence capabilities work well for us under these circumstances? Is our use of older political-military formations and doctrine appropriate to the newer, more fluid types of conflict and diplomacy?

In the context of the Suez/Red Sea/Horn of Africa region, a range of conflicts of varying intensities needs to be examined - many of them legacy conflicts from an earlier period of Cold War rivalries - which remain of concern:

* The conflict in Yemen is now an international conflict. It affects not only the security of the Red Sea shipping lanes, but also is a factor in the refugee crises impacting both sides of the Red Sea. The result is the flow of refugees out of the region, across the North African littoral to Europe. The political structures and shape of Yemen itself grew out of Cold War rivalries, as well as from age-old tribal and cultural loyalties. External influences into Yemen have been a spur to global terrorist operations, impacting not only the West, but also inciting radicalism in sub-Saharan Africa, as we in Nigeria have learned to our peril;

* The conflict in Somalia shows little signs of abating, although we have seen some amelioration of cross Red Sea activities in relationship to, for example, piracy. This conflict, too, has aspects of its origins in the post-colonial political structures which were then subject to Cold War rivalries. We continue to see regional ramifications of this, both in the outflow of militant activity into Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland, and in the requirement for African and international peacekeepers in Somalia. …

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