Observers of the situation on the Horn of Africa were little surprised when the renowned lobby group International Rescue Committee, founded by Albert Einstein in 1933, sounded the alarm at the end of the year: In 2023, Ukraine, Syria and Yemen will not be the crisis countries to be observed “with the greatest concern”. – but Somalia and Ethiopia. How could it possibly come this far?
A drought that has been going on for two years, coupled with the never-ending war of attrition between a demoralized army and the Islamist Stone Age warriors of the al-Qaeda offshoot Al Shabaab: it is not surprising that Somalia, the proverbial “failed state” on the Horn of Africa , breaks all negative records. While people and cattle starve, the president, prime minister and clan-elected MPs become entangled in a vicious circle of corruption, nepotism and state failure.
The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine makes matters worse: Before the attack, Somalia got 90 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The few auxiliary ships that are now arriving with grain are nothing more than the proverbial drop in the ocean. Half a million children in Somalia are at risk of starvation as a result of drought, fighting and food shortages – more than any other country in this century.
The long-term crisis in the once prosperous country with its rich fishing grounds threatens to drag even neighboring, comparatively well-governed Somaliland into the abyss, which has so far served the West as a kind of blueprint for a functioning Somalia.
Anyone who reflexively seeks the blame “in the West” should be told that the US government, despite a deep “Somalia fatigue”, pays 90 percent of all aid deliveries to the chaos state. No, ultimately it is only the affected countries (read: governments) themselves that can turn the tide. Unfortunately, the prospects are bleak.
Desperately poor Ethiopia fought a two-year civil war with the People’s Liberation Front of Tigray (TPLF) until November 2022 with an estimated 600,000 victims – it was the most costly war in recent history. And an expensive one at that: A Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone, which the Ethiopian government in Ankara ordered for it, costs between two and five million euros – depending on the equipment – per unit.
According to its own statements, the country now needs 3.6 billion US dollars (3.4 billion euros) for reconstruction – the actual costs are likely to be considerably higher. During the same period, food inflation rose to a staggering 40 percent.
While in Somalia and Ethiopia the dynamics that will decide weal or woe in the coming years are relatively well illuminated, tiny Eritrea, alternately dubbed the “hermetic police state” or “North Korea of Africa”, remains an unknown. Neither hunger nor COVID statistics are available, the geostrategically important Red Sea country is a black box. Only one thing seems certain: long-term dictator Isaias Afwerki will continue to ignite in 2023 – his reason of state is the greatest possible chaos in the region.
In the costly Ethiopian war, neighboring Eritrea, whose leadership the TPLF regards as an archenemy, plays a role that should not be underestimated: since the country is not part of the Pretoria peace agreement, hostilities could break out again in the contested Tigray region in the coming year with the participation of Eritrea – this would further increase the number of fatalities.
And someone else is also playing the horn: The fact that the rebel group FRUD is also active again in tiny but strategically important Djibouti with its French, American and Chinese military bases does not make the mixed situation any easier.
“African solutions to African problems” has become the mantra of many politicians between the Cape and Cairo – and who in Europe would not want to subscribe to this political approach.
Because the alternative is devastating: According to the World Bank, Africa will soon be spending an incredible 100 billion euros on food imports – per year! That doesn’t even include the exorbitant costs of rebuilding entire parts of the country and caring for millions of internally displaced people.
Despite their understandable commitment to Ukraine, Germans and Europeans should not give up the horn – for geopolitical reasons, but also out of self-interest: A wave of refugees across the Mediterranean, triggered by war and hunger, could lead to renewed social upheaval in this country.
In 2023, Ethiopia and Somalia can teach the apologists of Afro-pessimism a lesson – if the government just wants it.
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The original of this post “Opinion: Bleak prospects for the Horn of Africa” comes from Deutsche Welle.