How Horn of Africa Tripartite Summit further threatens Kenya’s influence in the region

 

Presidents Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea), Mohammed Farmaajo (Somalia), Ethiopia Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed and their delegations in Asmara for trilateral talks/ COURTESY

Presidents Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea), Mohammed Farmaajo (Somalia) and Ethiopia Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed are in Asmara for another round of trilateral talks.

Notably, while Kenya was invited to the March 2019 meeting, it has been excluded in the Asmara meeting.

Prime Minister Abiy said they “will discuss on a wide range of issues”. Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Meskel on Monday said the Tripartite Summit is a follow-up to previous Summits in Asmara and Bahri Dar in September and November 2018 respectively.

The agreement seeks to build close political, economic, social, cultural and security ties among the three states, promote regional peace and security and foster comprehensive cooperation that advances the goals of their peoples.

The three governments established a joint high-level committee to coordinate their efforts in the framework of the joint declaration.

Already, there are political and diplomatic developments in the region that had been characterised by conflicts for years, with Ethiopia opening its first embassy in 20 years in Eritrea, less than two months after Eritrea reopened its embassy in Addis Ababa. The presidents of Somalia and Eritrea in July 2018 signed an agreement to establish diplomatic ties after over 10 years of animosity.

There was also the opening of Eritrea’s ports to Ethiopian trade.

These rapprochements, credited to PM Abiy, are changing the landscape of politics in the region, with trade being the biggest beneficiary.

There have been talks of these talks leading to political integration of the Horn, which Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, an expert on the region’s politics, however, downplays.

Alexander Rondos, the European Union Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, notes that the region is of strategic importance for Europe, the Gulf States and beyond.

“The Horn of Africa straddles a geographical space of such strategic importance that those who treat it with indifference will one day pay a price for their neglect, whilst those who try to manipulate it will get their fingers burnt. The core of this region, comprising the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia—with Kenya and Uganda very closely associated—has attracted once again in its history the attention of greater powers,” Rondos says.

He also notes that trying to hold together the fragile unity of the region has been the primary goal of Ethiopia.

“Gulf states have developed specific new relationships with Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. This has generated a reaction in countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, which see behind this new tilt towards the Gulf a loss of their relative influence as well as a growing threat of Wahhabi-driven radicalization in the region,” he says.

 

IMPACT ON KENYA AND ETHIOPIA

The impact on Ethiopia, which is rebuilding its domestic and international politics, and Kenya, which has been a key player in the peace process in Somalia is further complicated by Saudi Arabia.

Early January, Saudi Arabia, for instance, led the formation of a new council aimed at securing the waterways of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The council includes Egypt, Jordan, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, and seeks to tackle piracy, smuggling and other threats in the seas that are key international shipping routes.

The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are two of the world’s busiest shipping routes connecting Europe to Asia and the Middle East. This is a strategic area key to global shipping and increasingly an arena of contention with regional rivals such as Iran, Turkey and Qatar, which is likely to hit Kenya’s Mombasa port.

Between Massawa in Eritrea and Mombasa in Kenya, the other sizeable port is in Djibouti.

Already, there is rebellion — against Kenya — by Somalia and Djibouti. Nairobi is grappling with the Somalia maritime dispute and Djibouti’s defiance of the African Union’s endorsement of Kenya as the continent’s sole candidate for the UN Security Council non-permanent seat.

Other than Eritrea, the council members are also members of the Arab Parliament, which in June last year said Kenya was drawing up an illegal map that includes taking away Somalia’s territory.

Ethiopia’s highlands potentially contain a hydropower base that can provide electricity for the entire region and beyond, further alienating Kenya and bringing the two states closer to Addis Ababa, which is pushing re rapprochement in the region.

A At Kenya’s expense, the implementation of a Special Status Agreement with Ethiopia, which the two countries signed in 2012 to enhance economic partnership, has delayed. The agreement focuses on trade, investment, infrastructure and food security.

In this deal, Kenya was essentially wooing Ethiopia into joining the East African Community to extend integration to the Horn of African countries, among them Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti.

A Kenya delegation led by then Trade CS Peter Munya, his then Foreign Affairs counterpart Monica Juma and Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge reached out to PM Abiy, who later met President Afwerki over the same issue.

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