The Gulf States are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbors, who should recognize the risks their policies pose to regional security.

Middle East Report N°206 | 19 September 2019 By International Crisis Group (ICG)


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What’s new? Middle Eastern states are accelerating their competition for allies, influence and physical presence in the Red Sea corridor, including in the Horn of Africa. Rival Gulf powers, in particular, are jockeying to set the terms of a new regional power balance and benefit from future economic growth.

Why did it happen? Regional instability, a relative power vacuum and competition among rising Middle East states have prompted Gulf countries to seek to project their power outward into the neighborhood. They are looking at the Horn of Africa to consolidate alliances and influence.

Why does it matter? Many new Gulf-Horn relationships are highly asymmetrical, driven more by Gulf than African interests. The Gulf States are injecting resources and exporting rivalries in ways that could further destabilize fragile local politics. Yet they also carry the potential to resolve conflict and fuel economic growth.

What should be done?  Horn and Western policymakers should seek to limit intra-Gulf sparring in Africa, notably by expanding the role of regional multilateral organizations to boost Horn states’ bargaining power. Gulf rivals must become convinced – by their allies or their own experience – that their actions are undermining long-term security across the Red Sea basin.

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