Today, Tuesday the 4th of December 2018, SIDRA Institute released its 8th Policy Brief titled “Regional Integration in the Horn of Africa: Is Prime Minister Abiy’s Initiative an Institution ahead of its Time?”. The Horn of Africa (HoA) region has been riddled with inter-state armed conflict, poverty, drought, extremism and famine. Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes have ruled much of the region and contributed to the broken political and social system in the region. Decades of underdevelopment coupled with social disparity and divisions along ethnic, religious, tribal, cultural and political lines have contributed to the conflicts and social upheavals within the region.
The Horn of Africa had not smelt any signs of integration until of recent in April 2018 when Mr.Abiy Ahmed was named Prime Minister of Ethiopia. It would be overly simplistic to attribute the concept of horn of Africa regional integration only to the inspiration of Mr Abiy Ahmed. For some time, this idea of regional integration was floated in a number of local and international forums as the springboard to construct viable polity to improve security and trade in the region.
It is with this background that this Policy Brief aims at analyzing whether this integration is an instituton ahead of its time. The Ethiopian PM called for the three countries, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia to become one country with one leader, would this be possible? What are the challenges that may hinder the establishment of such confederation? The tripartite agreement between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, didn’t include Djibouti, what are the implications to the region of not having Djibouti to such a plan? What implications it may have for “The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)”, the eight-country security, economic and trade bloc in East Africa? Is the current Federal Government of Somalia in a position to cement such a plan, with Ethiopia and Eritrea who are much stronger politically, militarily and economically?
Key policy Message:
The Horn of Africa region has long suffered a plethora of authoritarian regimes, social and political unrest, civil and interstate wars and catastrophic famine.
The Horn of Africa Region is vital to the world security and trade; its peace, security and political stability have far-reaching implications beyond the region.
The recent dramatic turn of events in Ethiopia that saw the selection of Mr Abiy Ahmed as the new Prime Minister ushered in a new era that presents enormous opportunities of political, social and economic reforms in Ethiopia that will be undoubtedly reverberate across the region.
The Horn of Africa transformational integration initiative inspired Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed could be seen as a plausible approach to end long held animosity, rivalry and bloody wars between the neighbouring countries in the region. If it is carefully crafted – considering the ethnic diversity, societal, cultural and religious sensitivities of its populace – such integration could bring political stability and economic prosperity to the region.
Due to the region’s history of ethnic violence, territorial disputes and trust deficiency, any reform such as the one currently championed by Prime Minister Abiy should not be rushed into but planned well with bottom up approach, first addressing the contentious issues of ethnic clashes and intra /inter country border disputes in the region, before any integration agreement is speculated.
Integration is not a mere free movement of people and goods across borders but a complex multi-layered process that will require profound changes and close alignment of political and governance structures, harmonization of laws and establishment of regulatory institutions, legal frameworks and agreements which will bind the nationals of these countries together.
The proposed integration plan leaves out the Republic of Djibouti, a small but strategically important country in the horn, and without its participation, the integration initiative by Abiy cannot reach its potential.
The current Federal Government of Somalia has more pressing security and governance issues on the ground and lacks the capacity and competence to join such an enterprise. Thus it is not in the best interest of Somalia to plunge into a regional integration plan without equitable participation with much stronger and stable countries in the region.
The impassioned discourse about future integration should not overshadow the overarching need to stabilize the region, strengthen the rule of law and bring in democratic system of government. The leaders of the Horn of Africa countries should, by showing genuine aspiration and unity of purpose, take practical steps to realize closer partnership and cooperation on peace, security and economic development.