The current nature of competing does not seem will be resolved easily. It seemed serious and complex which can lead into proxy war in the horn of Africa, which is directly security threat to Ethiopia under any circumstances.
By Zeray Hailemariam for Hornaffairs
The dance began in mid-2015 the time Egypt agreed to transfer some of its territorial integrity in exchange for a series of lucrative contracts and promised diplomatic help, to the Saudi by giving up control over two of its islands: Tiran and Sanafir. Expectedly, Egyptian people were not precisely content by the move and responded angrily which led to the deal dead in the water. The kingdom of Saudi roared and begun responding in kind to Egypt to remind the other just how mighty it can be if pushed too far.
The first tangible blow came when Egypt voted this October in favor of Russia’s draft proposal on Syria to the United Nations Security Council, thus directly positioning itself against Saudi Arabia and its ambition to see Syrian President Bashar Assad fall from power. In an analysis for al-Monitor, Khalid Hassan wrote: “The draft was unacceptable to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which seeks to depose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and which viewed Egypt’s vote for the resolution as a deviation from the Arab position.” The vote triggered the first public condemnation by the Saudis of the Egyptian regime. “Saudi Arabia has informed Egypt that shipments of oil products expected under a $23 billion aid deal have been halted indefinitely, suggesting a deepening rift between the Arab world’s richest country and it’s most populous.”
To make matters worse, in December 2016, news broke that Saudi Arabia would open a military base in Djibouti. The Egyptians were shocked which automatically they responded:
“Cairo is totally against the deal because it considers Djibouti to be under the Egyptian sphere of influence and because its location is important for national security.
But why is the Horn of Africa so decisive to Egypt’s national security? Just Nile River’s water and to contain Ethiopia from using it by any means possible!
Egyptian diplomatic sources revealed that Cairo started almost a month ago moves to stop the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Djibouti to build a Saudi military base. The future will decide if it is possible for Egypt to stop the agreement between Saudi and Djibouti anyway. The hostility between the two stated countries is also deepening and further expanding to other areas. A source said, “Egypt is worried about a Saudi-Moroccan expansion toward this particular region, particularly after King of Morocco Mohammed VI tour to notably Ethiopia which came in parallel with Saudi contacts with Djibouti to establish the Saudi military base.
To further frustrate and kneel down Egypt, Advisor to the Royal court of Saudi Arabia, Ahmed al-Khatib, made an unscheduled visit to the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) which Egypt considered the visit as a dangerous move intended to harm the interest of 92 million Egyptians. For his part, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn called Saudi Arabia to support the project financially and to invest in Ethiopia in the areas of energy. However, the head of the Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, Anwar Eshki, has denied media reports claiming that Saudi Arabia intends to finance the construction of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam adding that he denied reports claiming that Al-Khatib’s visit to Ethiopia was retaliation for Egypt’s recent support of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, whom the kingdom opposes. That is why I say surely that the Arab politics is unpredictable since it is a childish calculation.
There were some mediating efforts for reaching reconciliation between the two countries, but there is no sign for their success so far. The Egyptian leaders lamented and said: “what is happening is an attempt to pressure Egypt. Egypt will only kneel to God.”
As for Iran, experience has proven that for every misstep the Kingdom has taken, Tehran’s traction has amplified tenfold, said a political analyst. What about Ethiopia? Will it be prepared to gain some benefits from this move?
UAE incursion in the horn: what is the motive?
Over the past 15 months, the United Arab Emirates has been building up its military bases in Eritrea. According to unconfirmed reports, the UAE took on lease Assab for 30 years. As a member of the Saudi-led coalition engaged in the Yemeni conflict, the United Arab Emirates has conducted operations from the Eritrean port of Assab. The United Arab Emirates will probably continue to strengthen its military ties to countries throughout the region. On April 2015, the UAE consulate in Djibouti was closed after minor dispute giving an opportunity for Eritrea to house Saudi and UAE. Thus, it is gaining a breathing ground.
UAE has secured military longer-term strategy, which also includes military assets stationed at a base in eastern Libya, near Egypt. Strategically speaking, the Saudi and Emirati existence in Eritrea and Djibouti was meant to contain the perceived enemy Iran expansion in the name of Yemeni conflict. However, both UAE and the kingdom will now use the bases to contain Egypt also. What can Ethiopia benefit or not?
Implications to Ethiopia
Given the past records of Saudi, UAE, Qatar, and their messenger regime of Eritrea, the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia’s security will be targeted. We should be reminded that there was a time when Eritrea supported Yemen’s Houthi fighters and functioned as a transshipment location for Iranian supplies heading to them. In the recent dance, Iran is rejected and the future will decide what the later will do to Eritrea if UAE and Saudi continue to settle there. Suffice to it; Sudanese troops also have participated in Saudi led military operation against Yemen which is shamefully against the Sana Forum. Thus, power balance of the region is changing. The political arrangement of the Horn is unpredictable. Friends can be enemies and enemies can be friends overnight, just like that. What is the position of Ethiopia in this regard?
Last months, Egyptian leaders were busy begging Somalia, Somaliland, and Djibouti to secure commercial and military base lands, which all deals were unsuccessful for the sharp decision, came from Somaliland leaders. Stating Egypt’s move is against Ethiopia and only for its own self-interest, Somaliland leaders refused to provide any base lands. The Somali leaders responded similarly though what the response of Djibouti was unknown at least for this author.
The Egyptian motive in the horn of Africa is not secret that it wants to encircle the historical perceived enemy – Ethiopia from halting the ongoing construction of Renaissance Dam which is being built on the Nile River. Thus, Egypt is conspiring to weaken Ethiopia by engaging in proxy war through supporting Eritrea, Al Shabaab terrorist groups in Somalia and some local anti-peace elements. Hence, it is simple to conclude that Egypt can side with anybody ready to wage war against Ethiopia for the sake of securing the Nile River fully. Egypt’s move is, thus strategically and is expected.
The Qatari government is also famous for sponsoring anti Ethiopia groups in the region including Eritrea, Al Shabaab, and local rebels. Surprisingly, the tiny oil rich Qatar is against Saudi influence in the Arab world by projecting its own influence in the horn of Africa and beyond. Qatar is also strong in sponsoring Eritrea to involve in Somalia’s proxy war against Ethiopia.
Exactly, the proxy war is among Egypt, Iran and Saudi for own deep interests in the horn of Africa. Qatar, Eritrea, UAE might have big role but are not the deciders. Saudi is known for organizing and spreading fundamentalist Islamists in the horn particularly to Ethiopia. And again, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia are next-door countries to Ethiopia. What happened to those countries has direct implications to Ethiopia. I do not see anything Ethiopia is doing to halt such serious encirclement against it by the stated countries so far. The strength of Al Shabaab against Ethiopia in Somalia attributed hugely to Saudi, Qatar, and Egypt through Eritrea. What is more worrying is that the stated opposing Arab countries are one in the issue of being against Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Foreign and Security white paper clearly states that Ethiopia cannot remain peaceful if the horn of Africa remained in state of anarchy. For example, the political crisis in Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan has been affecting seriously to Ethiopia’s political, economic, and social orders. Egypt, Qatar, Eritrea are struggling to set foots in our backyard so that they can get bases to destabilize Ethiopia. In Somalia, Saudi, Eritrea, Qatar and Egypt have been playing the cards against Ethiopia’s constructive role in stabilizing Somalia. As a result, IGAD is seriously weakened. The Sana’a Forum where Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti established for this purpose has been dead the time Sudan, Djibouti sided with Saudi led coalition invaded Yemen who was member state of the forum. The Forum was a military cooperation where it was mandated to defend each other. However, we have seen the friends turned against each other abandoning the agreement.
Generally speaking, the military projects of the Arab countries in the horn of Africa are becoming practical. Even if they fight each other, the war will be in the already war stricken horn of Africa. Thus, direct national security to Ethiopia given the Arabs past actions against Ethiopia. Careful scrutiny is in no time needed. However, if it is left unchecked, the military projects of the Arabs will surely disturb the whole region and mainly Ethiopia. Ethiopia should be awakened and must not be fooled by temporary gains. It should strategic study centers who monitor the situations.
Zeray hailemariam Abebe is a scholar of International Relations and is researcher in the horn of Africa’s conflict, inter-state relations and cooperation. He blogs at HornAffairs and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
**This article has originally appeared in the Ethiopian news website Hornaffairs**