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Our January 2019 Edition [New African Magazine] is now out and our cover story hinges on The Horn of Africa “A Deadly Game Of Chess” – comprising Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and Somaliland – and analyses how the sub-region has now become the focus of what is being termed a ‘Middle East Cold War’.

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The old bastions of power in the region, the US, UK, and France, are being increasingly displaced by a new generation of Middle Eastern powers, with everyone racing to gain a foothold in what is becoming one of the world’s most militarized regions. The leaders in The Horn are playing a deadly game of chess against the new forces shaping the region. Analysis by James Jeffrey.

The Horn: A Deadly Game Of Chess
Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki (2nd r), Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (3rd r), Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (5th r) and Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Makonnen (r) during their visit to the University of Gondar in Ethiopia in early November. They met to cement regional ties

A new scramble is underway in the Horn of Africa. Once written off as one of Africa’s most volatile and treacherous regions for foreign involvement, a host of countries are now vying to gain a foothold. e Horn is becoming one of the world’s most militarised regions, besides one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.

As usual, US policy is playing a role, especially when it comes to its long-term ally Ethiopia. As the Horn’s most powerful and influential country, what happens to Ethiopia is likely to in influence the rest of the region.

Since the 1991 revolution that brought Ethiopia’s present ruling party to power, the US and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) have forged a strong bilateral relationship, based primarily on Ethiopia’s role in the Global War on Terror, with its large, professional and effective army and its formidable state security apparatus.

But now the US is shifting its focus away from terrorism toward political and economic threats, just as numerous squabbling Middle Eastern potentates jockeying for power in the region – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) versus their bitter adversaries, Qatar and Turkey – are looking at forging closer connections with the region’s countries to help them achieve their goals.

“In the last few years, the Horn of Africa has become a battleground on which Middle Eastern rivalries are played out,” says Awol Allo, a UK-based law professor and frequent commentator on Ethiopia and the Horn region.

“Different groupings have engaged with the region in pursuit of their own interests. Some have been more successful than others, but the question for many is whether African countries are able to make these relationships work for them.”

The latest incarnation of power-play in the Horn is motivated by the same forces that once had the old imperial powers of Britain, France, and Italy tussling over the region: plain old-fashioned rivalry and a desire to control the approaches to the vital shipping avenue of the Suez Canal.

But whereas before, Horn countries tended to show a healthy disregard for outsiders, now they are welcoming them with enthusiasm. It’s not hard to see why given how the financial benefits involved could bolster if not transform the region’s benighted economies.

Added to which, it can’t be denied how the emerging realpolitik has achieved some notable gains in terms of peace and stability, primarily the opening of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border after 20 years of animosity and conflict.

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On the other hand, the geopolitical sparring and spider’s web of alliances and rivalries also has the potential to unleash dangerous forces in a long-volatile region.

“The peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea will have a significant dividend for the Horn of Africa,” says Hallelujah Lulie at Amani Africa, Africa-based policy research, advisory and consulting think-tank. “But at the same time, US policy is shifting; new powers are emerging; there are rivalries over the Red Sea and Yemen; economic influence is being used as a proxy; and in the background you have Iran, which is an enemy of Saudi, who is an ally of the US: it’s a complex battleground.”

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