In his recent interview, the President of Eritrea suggested that “Things have geopolitically and geo-economically been transformed these days throughout Horn of Africa (HOA). In that matter, we have to reschedule ourselves in a way to generate synergism”. This is in relation to the change that started in July 2018, between Eritrean and Ethiopia: two influential actors in the HOA region who have, for centuries, been in hostilities with each other. These two countries sought a win-win opportunities and signed a “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship” accord for peace and prosperity. This pact was very fundamental as its spillover effect has also inspired other positive developments throughout the region.
It inspired HOA countries, including Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan to get in the wagon of the train that takes to peace and development. In their initiative to regionalize their economic and security interests, leaders of the respective five HOA countries arranged multiple discussion events at bilateral and multilateral level in a way to strengthen common views. In the same token, the Red Sea littoral states also came out with fruitful engagement in establishing the so called “Red Sea Forum”, to enable the development of shared interests and identifying emergent threats among the littoral states. Eight Red Sea littoral countries signed ‘A Regional Charter’ in January 2020, a tangible step toward materializing an outcome in security and other fields of cooperation. This intuition towards multilateralism is expected to contribute on issues related to better governance and cooperation.
These two initiatives have accomplished many common deeds. They both underlined, for example, the degree of relevance of each and every state in the regional matters. Irrespective of its size, economy and military power each country in these initiatives would exercise its vision more efficiently and collaboratively. These initiatives have also aspired to achieve positive outcomes that produce cumulative political weight that could prevent external intrigues. This will significantly contribute for all-round integrations during these trying times of asymmetric, economic, and even shadow wars, by developing a common understanding and definitions of threats.
In the 20th century, both the USA and USSR have influenced the international relations decisively and, at the same time, ambivalently. Amongst the shiniest truths were and still is, both forces had never seen both the HOA and the Red Sea arena in Eritrean prism, in a way to promote deeper interdependence. According to their calculation, an independent and sovereign Eritrea was a hindrance to their strategic maneuverings. From the past historic experiences, global powers and the regional puppets, failed for 100 years to consider Eritrea as a geopolitical nexus. Such a perspective had not contributed anything good to this region other than empowering a very tiny, self-interested, evil, class. Particularly, for the people of Eritrea, it contributes for their century long suffering because of asking a very genuine questions. So, in calling to inspire the efforts of regionalizing interests, that encompasses both the HOA and the Red Sea arena, and to remind the fact that every existing effort that sidelined or victimized a specific country’s geopolitical right could not succeed, is based on two provisions:
First, Eritrea is a frontline of both the resources-rich and politically unstable Middle Eastern region and HOA. The latter is also identified by its inherited ‘highly politicized’ interstate and intrastate protracted tensions, including the political stakes of Somalia crisis, Nile water hydro-politics, South Sudan state making and Red Sea security and other geopolitical trends.
Eritrea also has a geographical proximity to the Red Sea area and Bab-el-Mandeb strait, the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, which empowers its significance. Viewed with a geopolitical and geo-economical lens, ‘Bab-el-Mendeb strait is a maritime chokepoint to the south or Indian Ocean as Suez Canal to the north, which link Europe with South, Southeast, and East Asia.
As a littoral state, Eritrea is with greatest maritime influences of a rewarding 1200 Km. long coastline and more than 350 strategic islands. It is one of the 38 coastal and island countries in Africa with highest naval influences. Its region, as a hub of cultural and economic activities, interact both black Africans and Arabs. The cultures, economics, linguistic heritage, religious affinity had indeed been informed by multiple of engagement astride these narrow waterways and particularly at the geographical spot where Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan are located. Archeological findings in Dahlak Islands and Adulis attest to this affinity making Eritrea not only a geographic but a geostrategic confluence of both regions from historical, social, political and economic standpoints.
The second argument lays on the fact that Eritrea has historically, been sidelined from every activities in ways to be utilized as a means to an end, undermining its nexus status. As history attests, every global power regarded Eritrean national interest in the same prism of Ethiopia’s interest, which has created a security loophole to both countries and the region. This resulted for the region to lose ample opportunities for development and prosperity, particularly for Eritrea, and its people who had to pay the ultimate price in order to revive as a nation.
Therefore, Eritrea with its peace, security, exemplary nation-building processes, and its social capital might contribute for much wider and positive regional cooperation, if and only if, it is genuinely engaged. History proves this to be true that placing Eritrea at a marginal status or utilizing its right for other objective will not work. Then concerning every multilateral initiative that offers for countries like Eritrea to contribute their best is worth succeeding putting the above justifications, to make every stakeholder in its surrounding as relevant as possible. Such synergy needs needs unwavering support now more than any time in history. As the recent interview of President Issayas Afwerki brought into light, many might get nervous by such initiatives if their wills are to keep the region weak and divided. But, when the communities in this region integrate their opportunities they would be able to overcome their challenges and move forward for a more secured and better region. This is, I think, what Eritrea has been campaigning and struggling for.