China presents a historic opportunity to consolidate its influence after overcoming the danger of destroying its interests in the Horn of Africa due to repeated wars. It takes another step with the initiative to hold a summit of countries in the region for peace and development.
Al Jazeera Net- A great scramble has been witnessed in the Horn of Africa in the recent period. Since the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of governments that adopted the socialist approach, the region has witnessed turmoil, but without international intervention except for a fraction.
What made the armies of the world camp in it now? Is it anti-piracy as they claim? Or the intertwining and overlapping of the security of the region near and far? Or a desire to reserve advanced positions for the strategic interests of competing countries? Or a return to the old competition by means and new agendas? Why so many special envoys to this region? What is the purpose of China, which intends to hold a conference for peace and development in the region?
What is the story of the Horn of Africa and the parties to the competition?
Several parties are competing for the Horn of Africa, but we are discussing here the major powers that have had the most influence on the stability of the region: the United States, Russia and China.
What many do not realize is that the three countries became involved in the Horn of Africa at a close time between 1955 and 1962, and provided military support to the countries of the region, so that the revolutionaries in Eritrea and Djibouti, and before the independence of the two countries, were party to military and political relations with Washington, Moscow and Beijing.
Although China and Russia intervened cautiously in this region, they had a prominent role in fueling the revolutionary situation there, while the United States was stationed in Ethiopia until the period of communist rule.
What are the current positions of the allies in the Horn of Africa?
As for the United States and its allies, their influence remained solid and mostly acting by proxy, but it came back with an unprecedented attack after the events of September 11, 2001. The American base was established in Djibouti, followed by no less than 6 bases for its allies, and a representation of about 5 other armies without bases.
As for China and Russia, their return to the Horn of Africa varies. Beijing was earlier than Moscow, as it has been involved in the region since the early decades of the 21st century, while the Russian presence came after 2014.
It can be said that the response and interaction with the inflamed issues of the region was strong, as the Chinese slogans that focus on infrastructure development found an echo among the leaders of the region, and Russia found acceptance by virtue of the continuation of the zero-sum wars taking place in the African region, and the need of its leaders for weapons.
The United States and its allies are imposing sanctions on the parties to the conflict in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and stressing the peaceful solutions rejected by the federal government in Addis Ababa and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who is fishing in the waters of the Ethiopian civil war.
And necessarily, China and Russia take advantage of the sanctions opportunity to present themselves as the equivalent and savior alternative, and offer their support as a haven that eases sanctions and facilitates various aid, which they have succeeded in to a large extent so far.
How did the Ethiopian war shaped the positions of the competing countries?
It is no secret that both China and the United States were present with their agendas in the Horn of Africa. While Washington was preoccupied with the political, security and military aspects and was involved in confronting the armed groups opposed to it in Somalia in particular, China was interested in the economic aspect and the infrastructure sectors related to the strategic “Belt and Road” project. Meanwhile, Russia was looking for an opportunity to enter the region.
The outbreak of war in the Tigray region, northern Ethiopia, constituted an important turning point for the competing parties. The United States almost lost its historical ally, Addis Ababa, due to its pursuit of balance between the parties to the Ethiopian conflict, while China’s large projects were greatly damaged, and the fear was great if the scope of the war expanded and descended into a comprehensive civil war. .
While the Ethiopian war was the opportunity that Russia was looking for, it signed a military and security agreement with Addis Ababa in July 2021, which increased the American tension in this file.
In the end, the United States had to change the staff, starting with the special envoy to the region, its ambassador, and members of its mission in Addis Ababa, as a gesture to change its policy towards Ethiopia. While China consolidated its feet further by appointing a special envoy to the region, raising the level of relations with Eritrea to the level of strategic partnership, and Russia created new spaces on the path of its return to Africa.
What is the impact of the Russian war on Ukraine with these alignments?
Perhaps the war between Russia and Ukraine came as a surprise to Africans, and this was evident in the lack of expression of positions in international institutions when discussing this crisis. A deviation from the rule was Eritrea, which voted in favor of Russia among 5 countries that said “no” to condemn it, while official Ethiopia was silent and the general public expressed its opinion by raising Russian flags in celebration of the “Battle of Adwa” in which the Ethiopians defeated Italy.
The Eritrean situation can be understood as follows:
- It is a response to Western sanctions on the Eritrean security apparatus and some of its key leaders and on the ruling party (People’s Front for Justice and Democracy).
- It is a tendency to search for an ally that bypasses sanctions and provides the support it needs, as well as political, military and economic requirements. Eritrea has experience with this. In the first sanctions, which began in 2009 to 2018, it resorted to Iran and North Korea and obtained support.
- It is also a preemption to any larger sanctions and siege by finding alternatives for protection and support. This is attested to by the Eritrean President’s agreement with China on a strategic partnership that worried the West greatly, in addition to what was revealed about Eritrea’s willingness to grant Russia a base on the Red Sea.
What are the implications of China’s initiative to hold a peace and development summit for the countries of the Horn of Africa?
China presents a historic opportunity to consolidate its influence after overcoming the danger of destroying its interests in the Horn of Africa due to repeated wars. It takes another step towards the initiative of convening a summit of the countries of the Horn of Africa for peace and development, after it appointed a special envoy for the region who summarized the Chinese initiative in the following:
- Consider the summit as a key platform for coordinating actions on handling disputes and resolving internal disputes through consultation.
- Accelerate the revitalization of the region to overcome development challenges. The initiative proposes for this 3 pavilions: the Mombasa-Nairobi railway in Kenya, and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, as well as accelerating development along the Red Sea coast and East Africa in order to promote development.
- Exploring effective ways to overcome governance challenges by adopting development paths appropriate to the country’s circumstances.
- Supporting the countries of the region in properly dealing with regional, ethnic and religious conflicts in African ways, and building a unified, stable and harmonious structure.
What is the shape of the future of the region in light of conflicts and overlapping agendas?
China and Russia work in concert in a number of areas that achieve the interests of both parties, sometimes at the expense of the interests of the West, and offer acceptable alternative approaches that take advantage of the decline in the acceptance of the United States and its allies due to what the countries describe as interference in their affairs.
Will we witness understandings in achieving the interests of the competing forces? Or are we witnessing a new cold war in which the countries of the region and the interests of their people will be the victims?