UAE Security Forum: Reshaping the Future of the Horn of Africa.

Published on 17th December 2019

The current global order is one that is becoming increasingly turbulent and its future trajectory remains uncertain. The direction of the international system in the years ahead is a cause for tense deliberations among world leaders in many capitals around the world.

Indeed, some actors are trending in a zero-sum game driven by great-power competition. And as we reassess how we view the very nature of the global system, a diverse range of non-traditional actors are increasingly gaining the ascendancy, often at the expense of the state.

All the while, anti-establishment and populist sentiments are on the rise, and there is a multiplication of conflicts, particularly in our part of the world, that are increasingly becoming interlinked. Although these challenges appear daunting, I would not characterise the current global order as one that is in a state of “chaos;” rather, that the present global order we are witnessing is one that is experiencing profound transformation and evolution.

For the Middle East, a region that has, and continues to undergo intense transformation, driven by instability and power vacuums, these new dynamics provide an opportunity for regional states to reassess their strategic interests at the international level in the years and decades to come.

The Horn of Africa, another region that has undergone intense transformations recently, has had an exceptional  year. A year that has seen unprecedented transitions that have the potential to transform one of the most conflict-prone regions in the word into, we hope, a new region of cooperation and prosperity.

One of the countries that is going through such a transformation is Sudan. The UAE along with other international partners, supported Sudan’s efforts to reach an agreement that lays the foundation of an auspicious political transition. Sudan now has an exceptional opportunity to turn this transition into a sustainable success model that could become a blueprint for other countries in the region.

Sudan's political transformation comes at a time when neighboring Ethiopia also finds itself at a moment of profound change. Last year, as part of its peaceful transition, Ethiopia signed a historic peace accord with Eritrea, in which the UAE played a critical role in its fruition through bringing both countries together. Sudan’s and Ethopia’s recent achievements demonstrate that we ought to be more ambitious in finding new ways to lend support to diplomatic processes and initiatives that promise to deliver hope.

The people of the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have shared culture, trade, and social relations for millennia. Since the formation of the UAE, our engagement with the Horn of Africa has gradually grown and, over the past decade, so has our support to most of the countries in this region.

Today, the goal of achieving regional peace and stability, and economic prosperity drives our relations with the countries of the Horn of Africa. Please allow me to elaborate on this further:

First, the UAE's long-term commitment to the Horn of Africa is deeply rooted in the region's history and geostrategic significance as part of the Arabian Peninsula's immediate neighborhood.

It is in this region that Islam and Christianity first encountered one another and peacefully coexisted for centuries, exemplifying the principles of religious pluralism, tolerance, and peace that remain deeply embedded in the UAE's society today.

This region is also vital in ensuring freedom of navigation throughout the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This assumes an even more significant dimension in light of the unprecedented maritime provocations in the Arabian Gulf and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, through which between 7 and 10 per cent of global maritime trade passes.

Second, the UAE believes that the stabilization of the Horn of Africa should be viewed through a framework for securing economic, investment and trade opportunities in the Horn and the wider region, instead of focusing on security challenges alone.

In this context, the Horn of Africa, together with Eastern Africa, should be seen as part of the greater Indian Ocean economy, with its massive trade and economic potential.

For the Arabian Peninsula and the countries of the Gulf, the more their economies diversify in the years and decades ahead, the more interdependent the Arabian Peninsula will be on trade and investments throughout the growing African market.

In this context, strengthening infrastructure and transportation networks and supporting economic cooperation between the countries of the Horn of Africa, in addition to the development of this region’s economic sectors such as oil and gas, hydro power, and ports, will contribute decisively to the financial sustainability of the Horn of Africa.

Third, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula share most of the security threats centered in and around the Red Sea lane, the Bab el-Mandeb strait, and the Gulf of Aden.

Over the past decade, the UAE has played various constructive roles in the Horn of Africa, and continues to be a strong supporter of international efforts to return peace and stability to the region, through humanitarian, development, as well as security efforts.

The UAE also, played a leading role in undermining the threat of Al Shabaab terror organization; and as part of our efforts to protect the freedom of maritime navigation in the region over the past years, the UAE has played a pivotal role in combating piracy off the coast of Somalia, and supported inter-Somali dialogue to bring peace and security to the country.

The central role played by the UAE in combating Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the south of Yemen, and liberating Aden and many southern provinces, as part of the Arab Coalition, should not be solely seen as counter terrorism efforts targeting AQAP. These efforts are also integral to targeting and eradicating AQAP’s supply lines to Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

In this context, I would like to point out to the fact that three decades of Islamists' rule in Sudan should serve as a compelling reminder of the true nature of Political Islam when in power, serving as a sanctuary for the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical movements across Africa and the Middle East, and stifling social and economic growth for many decades.

As I have highlighted earlier in my address, the current global order is one that is fluid and is moving towards a multipolar system whose ultimate direction remains uncertain. Unfortunately this has meant that very often, particularly in the past few years, the Horn of Africa has not received the kind of vigorous international leadership and support that such a fragile and complex region needs.

Nevertheless, there is a new momentum in the region and we should collectively seize this opportunity to formulate sustainable solutions that serve the interest of regional states and meet the aspirations of its people. In this regard, I would like to propose that we focus on the following five areas:

First, strengthening the regional multilateral system that can support the ongoing transitions, preserve stability, and resolve disputes and conflicts. Wider regional integration is one of the most effective approaches to addressing the socioeconomic challenges that deeply impact many areas in the Horn of Africa. This goes hand in hand with the need for international partners to cooperate rather than compete in this region through collective efforts that focus on stability, security, and economic solutions.

In this context, the UAE looks favorably to Saudi Arabia’s plans to create a Red Sea grouping, and we believe that such models will ultimately play an important role in supporting stability and development in the Horn of Africa.

Second, empowering regional organizations to play a greater role in achieving regional security and stability and addressing underlying tensions and disputes. It must be stressed here that regional organizations are best positioned to develop effective solutions to the issues of their member states. In this regard, the international community can take inspiration from the outstanding role of the AU (as well as Ethiopia) in mediating between Sudan’s military council and the opposition groups, as well as its role in many peace and security efforts across the African continent.

Third, improving regional and state-level governance, in parallel with building accountable and transparent political and economic institutions. Facing a growing number of regional as well as global challenges, no country can manage them on their own, or stay immune. Guided by our leadership’s vision of good governance and strong, credible institutions, the UAE has actively engaged in supporting reform and good governance across many counties in the Horn and the African continent.

Fourth, in parallel with the international counter terrorism efforts, there must be greater international collaboration to curb states from funding and supporting terrorist and extremist organizations in the Horn of Africa. This must be an absolute, zero-tolerant commitment from the international community to combat AQAP and the threat of Daesh in the region and beyond. This demands coordinated and global action at every level but also support for the Horn of Africa states to provide services amongst the poorest and most marginalized, which is key to tackle transnational extremist ideologies.

Finally, the search for regional and multilateral appropriate architectures should not distract us from the immediate priorities in the Horn of Africa. In this regard, the region needs our concerted support to re-launch growth and investment while tackling reforms and underdevelopment. If the transitions in Sudan and Ethiopia are not managed and supported, the promising transformations that are taking place in the region could be reversed, which will pose great risks for the wider peace and stability.

The time has therefore come to reinvigorate our efforts and jointly support the Horn of Africa to turn the page into an era of regional cooperation which will enable it to unleash its full economic potential.

By HE Dr Anwar Gargash,

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. 

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