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For the Middle Eastern states, the Horn is a second or even third order priority, well below their concerns with Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In fact, their interest in Africa is an offshoot of these higher concerns. They do not treat African states as equals, not least because African leaders tend to ask for money when they visit. The African Union has come to recognise that it needs an external policy for the “shared space” of the Red Sea. But it approaches the Middle East from a position of relative weakness. The most dramatic illustration of such an imbalance was Libya in 2011 when the Arab states and NATO brushed aside an African Union initiative for a negotiated solution to the war.

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Starting at the top, one of the most striking things about the Horn and the Red Sea is that there is no regional organization that can grapple with its security challenges. The African Union does not cross the Red Sea. The InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) includes the countries of the Horn, but not Egypt — an historic powerbroker, with strategic interests in the Nile and the Red Sea — and also is confined to the African shore. The Arab League is not effective, which is one reason why the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has taken the lead in the Yemeni intervention, and is using financial muscle to win African countries to support its operations, rather than multilateral diplomacy. Ethiopia, the pivotal state of the Horn, is landlocked and keenly fears being surrounded by hostile states backed by historic rivals such as Egypt.

In the absence of any Red Sea forum or similar peace and security mechanism, the EU can play a role as convenor of the overlapping multilateralisms of the various regional organizations that between them could provide the needed forum for defining and addressing the region’s problems.

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