There was a fascinating discussion on the realities of sub-national and cross-border political and economic realities across the Horn of Africa last night at Chatham House – London’s most influential foreign policy think tank.
The debate highlighted questions of citizenship, ethnicity and identity, and how they are becoming increasingly cross-cutting and fluid, particularly for the young people, who are now the majority in the region.
The discussion, chaired by Dr Zahbia Yousuf, Senior Research Advisor, Saferworld
heard from three Somali thinkers and political figures – all influential in their own sphere:
- Mohamed Guleid, Chief Executive Officer, Frontier Counties Development Council
- Nuradin Dirie, Chair, Puntland Presidential Advisory Council
- Aden Abdi, Horn of Africa Programme Director, Conciliation Resources
Each explained just how complex the situation currently is across the Horn, with al-Shabaab posing a threat to communities beyond Somalia.
Mohamed Gulied told the meeting that al-Shabaab is now establishing bases in northern Kenya and was a danger for those communities, as well as wider society.
He called for local communities to be given devolved powers – including control over security – which would allow them to confront this threat.
There was common cause that al-Shabaab was evolving and moving away from its original goals and its Islamist roots and becoming transformed into a mafia-like organisation which would be much harder to confront.
Aden Abdi pursued this theme.
He suggested that a key issue was trade.
Currently cross-border trade is flourishing, but much of it is unregulated, or even illegal.
This has allowed al-Shabaab to act as a ‘policeman’ controlling and taxing the flow of goods and making money from which it funds its continuing attacks.
If cross-border trade was allowed – even encouraged – by the removal of regulations and border controls this could be eliminated.
Nuradin Dirie highlighted the way in which Somali youth were increasingly a transnational community.
For them the borders held little interest and played little role in their lives.
Via social media they communicated across the Horn – discussing issues of common concern, and keeping up a dialogue with people of their own age and culture.
This was – he stressed – a positive development. But was it one that politicians really understood, or knew how to deal with?
The panel raised questions about trans-border identities, when countries (like Kenya) at times refused to accept the nationality of some of its Somali citizens.
Can a Cushitic Alliance work?
There was some scepticism about whether proposals by President Isaias Afwerki during the recent meeting
with his counterparts from Somalia and Ethiopia for a Cushitic Alliance would work.
The suggestion of a Cushitic Alliance (based on the languages predominantly spoken in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia) was designed to replace IGAD.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development was established in 1996.
It succeeded the earlier Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), a multinational body founded in 1986 by Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, with a focus on development and environmental control.
Eritrea had been excluded from IGAD’s meetings because of its interference in Somalia and its previous support for Islamist movements. But Asmara rejoined
the organisation in 2011.
One question highlighted by the Chatham House speakers was how any substitute might work. Could a Cushitic Alliance be effective if it does not include Djibouti?
And with Djibouti and Eritrea still at odds over their border dispute
, it is difficult to see how could be realised.