Gulf Cooperation Council’s geopolitical ambitions in Horn of Africa
By Berhane Kahsay
Ethiopian News, Tigrai Online, February 1, 2015
The precursor to the current conflict in Yemen is the dethronement of President Al Abdullah Saleh in February 2012. Ever since his departure, the country seems to have plunged into a stubborn turmoil and at this stage Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran have been battling out for the complete control of Yemen resulting in the demise of 6000 civilians according to the United Nations’ recent estimates. Iran already has a foot-hold in Iraq, Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Syria. And Saudi Arabia is now going all out, after its failure to dislodge Bashir al-Assad, to prevent Yemen from becoming the fourth domain of the Islamic Republic. To complete the encirclement of Saudi Arabia, Iran would also continue with its efforts to bring Bahrain, which is almost 70% Shia but ruled by Sunni monarchy, into its sphere.
Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen has the support of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Europe and America. It also has secured the participation Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Senegal and Eritrea. These African countries have condemned in the strongest possible manner the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran in protest at the execution of a dissident Saudi Shia cleric, Namir Baqr al-Nimr. The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea has stated that 400 Eritrean mercenaries have been embedded with UAE contingents, and the West African nation, Senegal, has also despatched 2100 legionnaires to fight alongside the Saudi-led coalition.
According to the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Monitor, Saudi Arabia’s investment in Sudan has reached $13 billion and in November last year $1.7 billion was authorised for the construction of dams in the Kajbar, Dal and Al-Shiraik which are expected to be completed in five years to serve the agricultural needs of the Kingdom. Egyptian authorities are claiming that Sudan would consume her entire allocation of 18.5 billion cubic meters for this purpose and they are fearful that further Saudi agricultural projects would lead to the reduction of their share violating the Nile Agreement of 1959. By Egyptians standards, this was a muted reaction but when Ethiopia, source of the Nile, announced the construction of the Renaissance Dam, the uproar that reverberated throughout the Arab Republic shattered the Richter scale.
Eritrea, Senegal, Djibouti and Somalia can also expect monetary rewards for being used as cannon fodders for the Saudi-led involvement in Yemen. According to Herman Cohen, the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, UAE warships have been utilising the port of Assab and this has been leased to Saudi Arabia for five decades. UAE is also seeking to lease the former naval base in Barbera, Somaliland, as reported by South Front Analysis & Intelligence which is an independent body specialising in international relations and conflicts. It appears that the largest oil producer in the world has full control of the Red Sea corridor and this has enabled her not only to monitor cargo ships sailing in and out of the Suez Canal, but to also curtail Iranian arms shipments to Yemeni Houthis.
Eritrea which was Iran’s ally until very recently changed sides as it believed that its strategic interest would be best served by joining the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen. The obvious motive for this move is to generate the desperately needed hard currency by leasing its port and sending its troops to fight against the Iran backed Houthis. But the primary and overriding factor must have been to take advantage of this great opportunity to restore its relationship with the US by being on the side of its strong oil supplying ally in the Middle East. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia will very soon lobby the US to help lift the punitive UN sanctions ( Resolution 1907) imposed on Eritrea for training, arming and financing the ISIS affiliated Al-Shebab of Somalia. The US alongside EU may also exert pressure on Ethiopia to accept and implement the recommendations of the Ethio-Eritrea Border Commission.
After all the US is benefiting from the current crisis in Yemen as its ally is massively pumping oil pushing the price to go down below $30 a barrel and the US is certain to reciprocate by being receptive to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to bring Eritrea ,its newly acquired lackey ,in from the ‘‘cold.’’ And a further reduction in the price of the liquid gold is expected due to Iran’s entry into the market after the lifting of US sponsored sanctions imposed on the Persian state for refusing to desist from its efforts to enrich weapon grade Uranium. For sure the US would like the conflict to persist as this would create additional opportunities for American arms manufacturing industries to sell their state of the art weaponry to Saudi Arabia and UAE whose annual defence expenditures presently stand at $49.7 and $15. 7 billion respectively. Ethiopia’s entire budget for 2015/2016 fiscal year was $11 billion.
Saudi Arabia’s next move would certainly be to resolve border and political issues that exist between Eritrea on the one hand and Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia on the other in order to protect and maintain it’s newly created sphere of influence in Eastern Africa. In the not too distant future, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in conjunction with the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would be in pole position to hurt Ethiopia by using its satellite states in the Horn coupled with the unrestricted use of the Red Sea and its surroundings giving her the opportunity to control Ethiopia’s import and export commodities. And this would very much gratify the Eritrean dictator who has left no stone unturned to make this a reality but nothing to show for his incessant and futile efforts that he started after his conclusive defeat in the border war that he initiated in 1998. At present Ethiopia has excellent relations with Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia but this could abruptly change at the flick of the Saudi’s petro-dollar fingers.
Up until the second half of April 2015, Eritrea was on the side of the Iranians and it allowed the Persian state to use its Red Sea islands to transfer arms to the Yemeni Houthis but the Eritrean leader switched his allegiance after his visit to Saudi Arabia at the end of April 2015. The Iranians must have been outraged to read the statement realised by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information on 5 January 2016 which stated that ’’ The government of Eritrea reaffirms its strategic neighbourly ties with Saudi Arabia and condemns the violation perpetrated against the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Tehran.’’ The Eritrean tyrant must have been plotting to pull the Saudi’s to his side by using Iran and this is not a mean achievement by any standards.
Eritrea has greatly enhanced her position by allowing GCC member states on its soil. Its efforts to destabilise Ethiopia would now be intensified with the tacit approval of her sponsors and any retaliatory measures by Ethiopia would be viewed as a threat to their interest in the Horn region. Qatar has always been financing Eritrea and Al-Shebab to subvert Ethiopia and no doubt the other GCC members would now join in with a view to making Ethiopia a client state. Previously Islamic-inspired unrest was fomented from afar but now it would be organised and conducted from very close quarters. Chaos in Ethiopia would seriously affect the economic progress of the last twenty four years and this would indirectly adversely affect Chinese investments in Ethiopia which would greatly please the Americans who may be encouraging the Gulf States to proceed with their calamitous and short sighted geopolitical objectives behind the scenes.
The presence of GCC States in Eritrea is a serious threat to the security of Ethiopia which is still technically at war with its neighbour. Saudi Arabia launched an offensive against the Houthis because it claimed that its safety and security had been jeopardised by hostile Shia rebels armed and financed by its arch religious rival Iran. Yemen has now been reduced to rubbles and there seems to be no end in sight. These two opponents have also been involved in supporting various factions in Syria for regional hegemony and 250,000 people have been killed and 11 million citizens displaced from their homes since the conflict they have been part of began nearly five years ago.
The dynamics of the Horn region has been altered by the arrival of Saudi Arabia and UAE. Tiny Qatar, an ardent exponent of Muslim Brotherhood was already in the area as a ‘’mediator’’ in the border conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea. Ethiopia was hoping the no war, no peace status would finish off the Eritrean dictator and usher a friendly government in his place. This has not materialised and it appears that his stay in power is likely to be extended as a result of the presence and support of the GCC members. Ethiopia has now been left with no option but to re-evaluate its position on Eritrea as recent developments in the region have made the current status quo untenable. The country shouldn’t have been in such a serious quandary if its leaders had utilised numerous palpable breaks to eject the tyrant without resorting to an all-out war. So what should Ethiopia’s next strategy be to forestall GCC’s menacing geo-political goals?
To prevent one of the globe’s emerging economies from being thrown into chaos, the prevailing political situation in the country has to be made much more inclusive and freer for loyal opposition parties to operate in any part of the nation without any hindrances. Its susceptibility to foreign interferences could also be substantially minimized by dealing with corruption and bad governance in a systematic and sustained manner before they precipitate serious and widespread unrests as happened in many countries over the years. Equally essential is ensuring that challengers of the ruling party have regular and fair access to state radio and television not just immediately before general elections which has been the case since the establishment of the federal state. This would enable them to express their political views and opinions on government policies without the need to rely on alternative media outlets such as VOA Amharic service, ESAT, Deutsche Welle and other sources which have been used by diaspora extremist couriers to instigate uprisings on several occasions. Focusing on bigger geopolitical picture is far more preferable than squandering valuable time and resources on minnow political opponents led by Merara Gudena and Beyene Petros who are coming to the end of their shelf lives.
Addressing issues that affect the Muslim community in general and the youth in particular, and identifying and resolving potential ethnic conflict areas before they turn into bloody clashes would also deny external enemies the opportunity to initiate disarray that could scupper the socio-economic developments which have been in motion since 1991. Stability and harmony coupled with fair distribution of wealth would guarantee a lasting peace which is needed to take the economic prosperity to a higher level by attracting foreign investors. Once our house is in order, we can then move on to take a decisive action to remove the Eritrean despot by inducing internal rebellion that has to be seen through to the end. At present the dictator is not facing stiff challenges from his own people and elsewhere giving him ample time to organise and despatch his surrogate organisations to Ethiopia to create chaos and instability. Forcing him to focus on his own survival would leave him with no opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of a nation with nearly 100,000,000 people.
The measures taken by the Ethiopian government so far have caused the Eritrean economy to plunge into abyss in addition to the irreparable rift created between the tyrant and his people. But the bottom line is that the isolated and despised dictator is still in power orchestrating his destructive strategies against Ethiopia, and lately, he seems to have manoeuvred himself into a position where he would certainly receive financial and military support from GCC states enabling him to extend his brutal regime.
As Saudi Arabia appears to have become the lease holder of the port of Assab, the Ethiopian government has to convene an urgent meeting with the Arab nation to give assure that the current status would not be affected in the event of the dissolution of the dictator. The Saudis are very likely to acquiesce to this proposition as they have not fully settled in their new domain. Equally important factors that would compel them to grab this proposal include the military stalemates they have encountered in Yemen and Syria costing them huge amount of money as well as the dire state of their economy due to the substantial reduction in oil revenues. IMF is predicting that Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit is set to exceed US $107 billion this year and the kingdom’s officials and civil servants have been told to tighten their belts. The self-inflicted economic down turn was caused as a result of the overproduction of oil which was intended to hurt Iran that came out of a long period of US sponsored UN sanctions in January 2016. Saudi’s geopolitical ambitions can also be checkmated by escalating Chinese economic involvements in Ethiopia as the second largest economy in the world would take whatever is necessary to deter foreign threats to her investments in the second most populous Horn nation.