U.S. Defense Secretary Visit of the Horn of Africa and its Possible Outcomes

As part of President Donald Trump’s Africa policy, U.S.’s Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Tillerson has visited the Horn of Africa. The visit aims to “reaffirm key U.S. military alliances and engage with strategic partners.” Nevertheless, however, Tillerson’s visit of only Djibouti among countries of the Horn of Africa has attracted the attention of many foreign policy analysts. Especially, the absence of Ethiopia from the “strategic partner” lineup has become a point of argument among both regional as well as international commentators.

As to Prof. Alemayehu, for instance, this action of the Trump government clearly indicates a shift on Ethiopia’s role in the U.S. war on terror in the Horn of Africa. A glimpse on former U.S. president Barack Obama’s assertion on Ethiopia’s role in the U.S. war on terrorism can be noted as a good illustration of this shift. In one of his speech, Obama noted that the “partnerships that we have formed with countries like Ethiopia are going to be critical to our overall efforts to defeat terrorism.” Furthermore, during his state visit, July 2015, Obama highlighted Ethiopia as an “outstanding partner” in the fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa region. He also honored Ethiopia for its special role as “a major contributor to U.N. peace keeping efforts” and for providing more troops than any other country in Africa.

On the other hand, however, there has been no any public remark by the Trump administration regarding the role of Ethiopia in the U.S. war on terrorism. There has been also no comment on Ethiopia’s contribution to maintain peace and security in the region. Hence, this shift in Ethiopia’s role on the U.S. war on terrorism leads analysts to argue that “U.S. doesn’t need Ethiopia in its war on terror in the Horn of Africa.”

Although this argument has its own insight on future Ethiopia – U.S. relation, it has also its own valuable inferences in analyzing the former’s role in maintaining regional stability in the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that Ethiopia has been playing an active role in promoting peace and stability in the troubled Horn of Africa, the outcome is not as expected. In 2007, for instance, Ethiopia sent its troops to Somalia. This operation aimed to wipeout the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which was regarded as ‘threat’ to regional security, from power. Although the Ethiopian army stayed in Somalia until 2009, no sustainable peace and security attained. Periodically, similar military interventions have been undertaking both by regional as well as non-regional powers, though the result is still far from conveying lasting peace to the Horn.

Together with other factors, the nature of formulating policies to address regional unrests is worth to mention for the aforementioned failures in assuring peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, as analysts argue. In many of the policy recommendations (including military interventions), the role of regional actors was extremely limited. Many of these recommendations, including the war on terror in the Horn of Africa, were and/or are suffered from the top-down approaches. Such policy recommendations often lack the socio-economic and political contexts on the ground. Hence, they are unlikely to address regional problems in an effective manner. Instead, these ill-prepared strategies severely limited regional powers bilateral and multilateral relations.

Since recent times, however, regional actors have been endeavoring to assist the course of maintaining peace and stability in the Horn. In this regard, the pioneering role of Ethiopia in many IGAD’s (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) peace and security initiatives is worth to mention. Contrary to those approaches which mainly target military intervention, IGAD’s initiatives mainly focused on building the institutional capacity of regional powers that enable them to prevent conflicts before its occurrence.

In fact, the task of building institutions and raising its capacity demands genuine and persistent efforts. However, once these institutions attained the desired capacity, they will have long-term contribution in maintaining regional peace and security. As some regional analysts have noted, IGAD’s effort to maintain sustainable peace and security in the Horn is benefitted from the African agency.  Many of its policy recommendations are on the basis of regional actor’s active participation. This made IGAD’s strategies more responsive to the prevailing problems which often affect the region’s stability. Hence, both as a founding and principal member of IGAD, Ethiopia’s role in further crystalizing these initiatives and enhancing the effort to maintain sustainable peace and stability in the region is considerable.

During the past times, however, ill-advised military intervention strategies of non-regional powers negatively affected Ethiopia’s and other Horn country’s role in IGAD’s peace and security initiatives. In some cases, for instance, the aforementioned military intervention advices of non-regional powers obliged Horn countries such as Ethiopia to intervene on the internal affairs of its neighbors. This severely constrained Ethiopia’s relation with countries of the Horn in the one hand and its exemplary role in IGAD’s peace and security initiatives on the other.

To conclude, therefore, it is time for both Ethiopia as well as other Horn country’s foreign policy analysts to critically evaluate past military interventions (which were mainly engineered by non-regional powers) and its contribution in attaining sustainable peace and security in the region. In addition, it is also time to assess how regional power’s bilateral and multilateral relations were and/or are influenced by the above-noted military interventions. Together with these, it is also equally important to capitalize the lesson obtained from IGAD’s peace and security initiatives of the Horn.

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Dr. Muzeyen Hawas SEBSEBE
Muzeyen Hawas Sebsebe was born in 1977, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He attended his primary, junior and highschool education at Addis Ababa. In 1999 he has joined Bahir Dar University, History Department. In July 2002 he has defended his thesis entitled the Biography of Aklilu Habtewold and grduated İn BED degree. In 2008 he has obtained his MA degree in Social Anthropology from Addis Ababa University. He wrote His MA thesis on the Provision of Household Food Security and Womens Pivotal Role. From 2009-2011 he has worked as lecturer at Dilla University, School of Social Science and Humanities, Department of Anthropology. During his stay at Dilla University, he has provided various Anthropological courses. Currently, he is writing his PhD dissertation entitled Diversification of Ethiopia’s Foreign Policy: Post-Cold War era Ethio-Turkish Relation as a case Analysis. His research interest areas includes foreign policy, regional integration, regional and international organizations. Together with his academic activities, he is also active on various Ethiopian students activities in Turkey. He actively engages in founding organizations such as Habeshistan Development and Cooperation Association and Horn of Africa Strategic Study Center