Towards the end of 1985, at the height of the worst famine in modern Ethiopian history, Margaret Thatcher contemplated helping to topple the Ethiopian government. The documents – marked Top Secret and Personal – have now been placed in the National Archive:
The British prime minister had long made no bones about how much she disliked the military regime led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The British government was among the most generous donors to the Ethiopian famine appeal, but the regime itself – Marxist and pro-Soviet – was exactly the kind of authority Thatcher loathed.
By late 1985 the prime minister’s patience was wearing thin. Charles Powell, her private secretary, wrote to the Foreign Office asking what steps might be taken. The FCO, taking is normal, cautious approach wrote back on 27 November saying that: “Barring an assassin’s bullet, Mengistu looks secure, and the opposition movements inside and outside Ethiopia remain deeply divided. The choice is between seeking to influence the present regime, and a policy of containment.”
This did not satisfy Thatcher at all.
“The Prime Minister continues to believe that it is not enough just to jog along in our relations with the distasteful regime in Ethiopia,” came the reply from her private office, just two days later. “If the conclusion is that our present relations offer no serious scope for exercising beneficial and positive influence, she would like serious thought given to ways in which we could make life harder for the Ethiopian regime. These might, as examples, include:”
The letter then lists four options – the first two of which were explosive.
“i) support for the rebels in Eritrea and Tigray;
ii) a more active effort in conjunction with the Americans to identify and perhaps encourage opponents of Mengistu within Ethiopia”
The other two options were more conventional: asking other western powers to criticise the Ethiopian government and taking a “more robust line” when examples emerge of the abuse of aid.
The Foreign Office – and Geoffrey Howe as foreign secretary – must have found these suggestions very hard to digest. Certainly it took some more than a month for a suitable response to be drafted. “The Foreign Secretary agrees that jogging along with the Ethiopian regime would not be right,” came the reply on 10 January 1986.
But, noting that some progress was being made, the Foreign Office urged caution. Backing the rebels would – Sir Geoffrey believed – not work, driving Mengistu further into the arms of the Soviets and (a killer argument with Mrs T) it was also noted that the Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel leaders were “…as extreme in their broadly Marxist political attitudes as the Derg [the Ethiopian government].”
The letter concludes: “We do not believe that support for the rebels would work to our advantage.”
What is interesting to note is that the British government was – if this correspondence is to be believed – unaware that aid that international charities were providing through the Sudan based rebel movements was already being diverted to purchase weapons. A programme I produced for the BBC in 2010 detailed this evidence.
Bob Geldof objected – saying that none of Band Aid’s money had gone astray (a suggestion the programme never made). The BBC Trust apologised to Geldof for the apparent mistake.
I was subsequently contacted by the head of a major British aid agency who substantiated the claims that aid had gone astray, without commenting on which agency’s resources had been used to buy arms and ammunition.
Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?
Ethiopia has seen a massive cut in its fertility rate, from an average of seven children per woman in the 1990s to 4.6 currently. But how has it managed this?
Experts say the country has made this turnaround because of a combination of factors.
"Women stay longer in school, the standard of living is increasing so people don't want to have too many children and more importantly, family planning is becoming more popular," explains Faustin Yao, the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) representative to Ethiopia.
The country's economy is among the fastest growing in the world, and as the quality of life improves, people tend to have fewer children.
Muluwork Tesfaye, a nurse in Addis Ababa, says she could not afford to support a large family in the capital.
The mother of two grew up in a family of eight and her parents struggled to provide for them.
"My husband is the one who took me to college," she says. "I wanted a better life for my children."
In the capital, Addis Ababa, the fertility rate is estimated to be 1.7 - lower than the rate needed to keep the population steady.
More educated women and a higher cost of living often mean fertility rates are lower in urban areas.
In Ethiopia, the availability of contraceptives has also played a big role.
"The increase in contraceptive use during 2000-2011 emerged as the single most important source for the recorded decline in TFR (Total Fertility Rate)," said a UNFPA report.
However, a quarter of all women who need contraceptives are still not able to get them.
Rural areas have also recorded a decline in the number of children per woman, albeit slower.
Ayenalem Daw, a mother of six living in Weyo Rafu Hargisa village about a four-hour-drive out of Addis Ababa, is in her late thirties.
She says if she had heard about family planning earlier, she would have had four children.
Women in her village hold regular meetings called "shene" to discuss contraception and other health issues.
"Things are changing now. I think my children will have only two babies each," says Mrs Ayenalem.
Health extension workers also regularly provide health education in the villages, including information about contraception to those who need it.
The programme entails home visits by government-employed community workers who engage families on a one-on-one basis.
The big leap in contraception use between 2000 and 2011 is largely attributed to health extension workers.
This was also helped by an increase in the number of girls going to school over the same period.
"We go to the churches and mosques to talk to people about family planning," said one of the women in the village of Hunta, in the Oromiya region.
While it is known that the major religions in Ethiopia - Orthodox and Muslims - do not openly approve of family planning, the health workers said religious leaders were generally supportive of their work.
Ethiopia is among nine African countries whose rate of population growth is declining.
Others are Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.
But many other African countries whose fertility decline was on course have now stalled, while others are yet to begin the transition.
Most dangerous place to give birth:
Mandera - a vast, arid county on the north-eastern Kenyan tip bordering Somalia and Ethiopia - has one of the world's highest fertility rates. On average, a woman there gives birth to eight children.
But it is also one of the world's most dangerous places for a woman to give birth.
The UN Population Fund estimates that 3,795 women die giving birth out of every 100,000 live births. The national average is more than 10 times smaller.
Early marriage, female genital mutilation, low education levels especially for women, underdeveloped healthcare infrastructure contribute to the dire situation.
Local leaders are now keen on changing this trend by inviting foreign partners to invest in healthcare.
"Resources are everything," said Mandera governor Ali Roba.
"We have a lot of competing interests; virtually every sector in Mandera is in dire need of attention."
They are optimistic the rate will come down and when it does, so will the fertility rate.
Experts say reducing poverty rates also leads to a decline in fertility.
"It's not the population growth that is the problem - it's the extreme poverty that is the underlying reason," says Hans Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
"If you continue to have extreme poverty areas where women give birth to six children and the population doubles in one generation, then you'll have problems."
A case in point is Niger, the country with the highest fertility rate in the world - 7.6. It is also one of the poorest.
The West African country is projected to nearly quadruple its population from about 17 million to 66 million between now and 2050.
Experts warn that this trend could only spell more trouble for Nigeriens, half of whom are already without adequate food and who are often hit by drought.
For Africa to effectively eradicate poverty, countries will have to take deliberate steps to manage the rate of their population growth.
Some, like Ethiopia, are leading the way and reaping the benefits of having smaller families.
THE UK Government has been urged to provide assurances of “strict scrutiny” over the export of material which can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons to a country with defence links to North Korea.
Data shows that in January this year, the UK approved the export of £1,193 of deuterium compounds to Ethiopia under a licence granted by the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The material has uses ranging from the construction of nuclear reactors and the manufacture of medicinal drugs, to the production of nuclear weapons.
The information, collected by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), also shows the deuterium has been exported to Ethiopia under a “dual-use” licence as goods for both military and civilian purposes.
But SNP MP Stephen Gethins, a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has raised concerns over the transaction, pointing out there is no record of any nuclear power reactor in Ethiopia.
The country has also signed up to treaties banning the use and spread of nuclear weapons.
Gethins has written to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond pointing out Ethiopia’s “longstanding” defence relationship with North Korea, which has a “predilection for nuclear armament”.
He told the Sunday Herald: “I want reassurances from the UK Government that it is applying the strictest scrutiny on the sale of materials overseas that have potential to be used in any kind of nuclear proliferation.
“When it comes to these kinds of transactions, security and safety must be paramount and any Government activity must be absolutely transparent.”
The letter to Hammond, sent by Gethins last week, notes that two major uses of deuterium are in the construction of nuclear reactors and “in the creation of the fusion fuel needed to achieve thermonuclear capabilities”.
However, it states a worldwide database on nuclear power plants in operation or under construction, which is held by the International Atomic Energy Agency, has no record of a power reactor in Ethiopia. It goes on to highlight reports that Ethiopia has bought large quantities of North Korean arms and munitions since the 1980s.
The letter said: “Given Ethiopia has signed and ratified the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, what purpose could be had for acquiring nuclear material that has military
“With North Korea’s predilection for nuclear armament, Ethiopia having been found to have onsold deuterium would constitute a serious violation of international law.”
According to data collected by CAAT, around 86 licences for export of deuterium compounds have been issued over the past five years to countries including Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Angola, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Brazil, Norway and Ghana.
The material has also been exported to the United Arab Emirates, although some licences were refused in 2014 due to a “risk of diversion or re-export to undesirable users”.
Andrew Smith, spokesman for CAAT, said: “A lot of the components and equipment that the government licences for civilian purposes can also be used in the production of arms. If there is reason to suspect that equipment being sold to Ethiopia is reaching North Korea then it must be investigated straight away.”
A FCO spokesman said: “The UK has one of the most transparent and rigorous export control systems in the world. Each export licence application is carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU
and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”
The London Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was asked to comment but did not respond.
Historical trends are combining once again to make the Mediterranean-Red Sea-Indian Ocean linkage the nexus in a dynamic phase of the evolving global strategic architecture. The relationships of states within the region, and the relationships of the regional states to the rest of the world is changing, and will evolve significantly over the coming few years.
This Mediterranean-Red Sea-Indian Ocean region is an indissolubly-linked set of subzones, a reality which has often been inadequately understood from a strategic perspective.
The great societies and the historical and modern states at the linkage between Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, are rarely considered in a holistic fashion. Focus on the region has been mainly about crises and superpower competition. The prospect now exists, however, for the region to gradually emerge as a major, integrated economic trading zone; perhaps the next major global marketplace, linking Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.
So if I can make one point today it is that all of the elements of this greater strategic theater are intercon-nected, interactive, and collectively are critical to the emerging global balance. What happens around the Eastern Mediterranean littoral and around the Indian Ocean theater impacts the Persian Gulf, Arabia, and the Red Sea/Horn; and vice-versa. If we look just at the littoral states of the Suez-Red Sea-Horn, we see a population base of some 316-million people, and a combined 2014 GDP estimate of at least $1.5-trillion. And this grouping interacts, of course, with its neighbors in Africa, Europe, and the Indian Ocean basin.
Stepping back for an even broader perspective, we saw in the 20th Century the creation of some 100 new Westphalian-style nation-states in the process of cratogenesis: the birth of nations. We witnessed the demise (the cratocide, or murder), or cratometamorphosis (total restructuring), of others. Major structural change in human society began with the end of the Cold War. As a result, and particularly in the Middle East and Africa, we are often seeing a reversion to more historical and basic human groups: clans; lin-guistic, cultural, or religious groupings; some ancient groups, such as Persia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and so on. These emerging, or reviving, divisions demonstrate that there are durable strands in human identity which survive thousands of years.
In the past two decades or so, in either the heart or the peripheries of the Suez / Red Sea / Horn of Africa region — the nub of the Mediterranean-to-Indian Ocean linkage — we have already witnessed, for exam-ple:
• The break-up of Ethiopia with the separation of Eritrea;
• The break-up of Sudan to create a separate South Sudan;
• The de facto break-up of Yemen;
• The de facto break-up of Iraq;
• The breaking-up of Syria;
• The de facto break-up of Libya; and
• The return to separate status of what had been the Italian and British Somalilands into Somalia and Somaliland, and the concurrent fracturing of the rump Somalian state.
• And there is now speculation as to the possible break-up, or breakdown, in the coming decade or so of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two of the most significant economies in the region.
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg; the start of a dynamic century. Neighboring Europe is, for example, undergoing massive transformation, and at least two European Union member states still face significant separatist tendencies: the United Kingdom and Spain. The EU as a geopolitical entity is also, itself, undergoing unplanned transformation.
Strategic transformation is now occurring on a global scale. This will largely be as a result of what seems to be a gradual return to a bipolar world, but that may or may not occur as anticipated, and it almost cer-tainly will not mirror the bipolar world of the last half of the 20th Century.
The transformation of human society over the coming few decades will also see the peaking and antici-pated decline of global population levels, accompanied by mass population movement, particularly the dislocation of people and the migratory flood across borders and into cities. This was discussed at length in 2012 in my book, UnCivilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos, and is now becoming evident statistically and in media reporting. Clearly, the transformation of the Western European population base will affect the Mediterranean basin framework, and this, in turn, impacts or interacts with the Suez/Red Sea/Horn region. Indeed, much of the European population frenzy has been fed from Eritrea (and not just from Syria), as we will discuss.
But it is within that framework — and before the delineation of the new global strategic architecture be-comes clear — that we are witnessing a dramatic transformation in the band of geography which runs from the Atlantic, across the Mediterranean littorals, and then across the Arabian heartland and Horn of Africa to the Indian Ocean.
This may be the great and urgent dynamic which plays out over the coming one or two decades. It is probably even be more critical, more complex, and less stable — in positive as well as negative terms — than the concurrent transformation of the South China Sea waterways. These strategic scenarios are very much interlinked, because the Indian Ocean is, for much of global trade, the transit space, not the desti-nation. But that, too, is changing. In other words, much of the trade which enters or leaves the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea/Suez sea lane or the Strait of Hormuz, also enters or leaves it through the ASEAN waterways and the South China Sea. The recent expansion of the Suez Canal also means that the Red Sea/Suez SLOC will become even more significant because its preferred status over the Cape of Good Hope sea route will continue to be compounded.
The nexus within this “Gibraltar to Socotra strategic space,” then, is the Suez/ Red Sea/Horn of Africa region. This is the pivotal junction of global trade and energy, a key component in the question of refugee flows to Europe, and a new determining area of competition between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China. But for the first time in centuries, the regional powers in this region hold considerable power over their own fortunes.
History has, since the emergence of humanity from the Rift Valley and across into Arabia and the Levant, some 60,000 years ago, given a centrality to this region. Rarely has the area been less than central, his-torically facilitating the civilizational links between East and West, a situation which was compounded by the opening of the modern Suez Canal in 1869.
Today, the region is re-shaping as the nexus of the new global strategic framework, and not merely be-cause it facilitates trade and provides energy resources to the world market.
Even if we look back at the 20th Century pattern, we have yet to calculate the true cost to the global econ-omy of the closures of the Suez Canal in 1956-57, and between 1967 and 1975, or even during the brief interruption to shipping caused by the mining of the Red Sea by the Libyan minelayer, Ghat, in July 1984. Today, the Red Sea/Suez Sea Lane is of substantially more importance, a situation which clearly will con-tinue in the near future. We will discuss that in more detail in later sessions.
Apart from anything else, the growing importance of the Red Sea/Suez sea lane makes the stability, prosperity, and security of the region — the Suez, the Red Sea, and its littorals on the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa — of concern to every society in the world. But there is much more to consider than the region’s effect on the world. We must also consider the world’s effect on the region. Global transformations and fluctuations affect the fortunes of the region, as we saw with the decline in Suez Canal revenues in 2008-09 with the global economic crisis. First, we need to consider the outlook for stability and instability in the region itself, and what that might portend for the world.
To start with an overview of the threats to the region, and some of the internal, dysfunctional factors, we need to consider the reality that several established states in the region are in that process of cratometa-morphosis: total restructuring.
Several key states may not exist in their present or 20th Century form or relative power within a decade: Libya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. There are varying de-grees and forms to this change, or restructuring. If Saudi Arabia, for example, was to fracture, the pro-spect is that Qatar, and possibly the UAE, or even Jordan and Oman, could expand to reclaim some of their former clan areas. And what happens in the Arabian Peninsula affects what happens on the Horn of Africa, and vice-versa, as we recall from the cross-Red Sea Kingdom of Queen Makeda of Saba, some three millennia ago.
On the other hand, if Saudi Arabia was to survive its present downward economic spiral due to finite re-sources, it would be because of a strong alliance and trading structure with, for example, Egypt and possibly Israel, and potentially Ethiopia. And it would be because the Saudi Arabian economic model transformed from its present dependence on oil and gas, through new water desalination and distribution means, into a more balanced economy, and one which was able to limit, rather than grow, its population.
Of pivotal importance because of its regional reach would be the possible break-up over the coming decade of Turkey, which has historically and currently been active in the Maghreb, Red Sea, and Horn. This, along with possible changes on the Arabian Peninsula, would substantially alter the way in which out-of-region powers (such as Russia, the PRC, and the U.S.) are channeled in their engagement in the area. It would probably lead to the return of Egypt, Iran, and Ethiopia as the anchoring poles of the greater Middle East, because they represent actual historical civilizations. Iran and Egypt each have substantial, but not overwhelming, economies; indeed, their economies are not substantially larger than that of Israel, and Israel’s per capita economic wealth dramatically exceeds that of either Egypt or Iran. Ethiopia’s economy, however, is nascent, but growing, and could grow even more rapidly.
What is critical about the revival of Egypt, Iran, and Ethiopia is that they represent cohesive civilizational structures which can command a sense of national unity and productivity, but, most importantly, they all function — for the first time in generations — as fully sovereign entities, making strategic decisions based on their own perceptions of national requirements. Both Egypt and Iran are making strategic decisions today largely without reference to other powers. Ethiopia is once again re-emerging in this context after four decades of difficult internal preoccupation, much of it governed by Cold War politics. That does not mean that these civilizations have no allies; nor that they disregard external influences. But they have determined their own strategic goals and are moving toward them. Within this framework, while we are already seeing the significant restructuring of Egypt, it is worth noting that we should start to see the restructuring of Iran begin to become visible within a few years. And similarly with Ethiopia.
What is emerging, then, in this broad arena from the Maghreb to the Indian Ocean is a bloc of states which share many vital and direct interests: Egypt, Israel, Jordan as a core, and, because of their shared direct or indirect interest in the new, great Eastern Mediterranean energy resources offshore, linking with Cyprus and Greece. These represent the Western end of a the framework, with absolutely vital interests in protecting the Eastern Mediterranean and by default the entrance to the Suez Canal/Red Sea, quite apart from their secondary interest in supporting the global trade links which utilize the Canal and Red Sea. It is conceivable that Lebanon and Syria, and possibly even Turkey, could have shared interests with this core bloc of Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece, but for a variety of reasons they are at present peripheral to the bloc.
Egypt, Israel, and Jordan — all Red Sea (and therefore Indian Ocean) littoral states — are engaged as well in the Eastern end of the equation through shared vital interests with Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Dji-bouti. There are other regional states which have interests: Sudan and South Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Somaliland, and Somalia. Oman, although outside the Red Sea, nonetheless also has a significant stake in the stability of the Red Sea littoral.
Yemen, the Sudans, Eritrea, Yemen, Somaliland, and Somalia have short- and long-term preoccupations at present which keep them partially or wholly marginalized from the core Red Sea bloc of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. And even Saudi Arabia is itself gravely distracted at present, because of eco-nomic issues and its debilitating involvement in the conflict which threatens to break up Yemen.
Some key states just outside the region are also involved in either helping or destabilizing the Red Sea region: Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kenya.
And a number of major external powers — the U.S., France (and the EU generally), the People’s Republic of China, Turkey, India, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, and Russia — are also engaged in the protection or projection of their own interests into the Red Sea / Horn of Africa region. Indeed, the 30-nation Combined Maritime Force (CMF), based in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, has enabled a significant number of maritime states to express their involvement in the security of the region, through participation in the combined task forces, particularly CTF-150 on counter-terrorism and maritime security, and CTF-151 on counter-piracy. These have been particularly helpful, for example, in reducing Somalia-based piracy against commercial shipping. Engagement in the anti-piracy work enabled Japan and the PRC — neither of which is in the CMF — to significantly expand their long-term maritime presence in the north-western Indian Ocean.
Indeed, it is the question of Djibouti which is a key pivot point in international engagement in the region. The US, France, and Japan already hold secure basing in Djibouti, and the PRC has been negotiating — for a reported $100-million a year in basic rental — a long-term agreement to base naval and other forces in Obock, on the northern shore of Djibouti’s Gulf of Tadjoura, across the Gulf from the capital, Djibouti, which is closer to the French, U.S., and Japanese basing.
The Djibouti-PRC negotiations have, as I said in a report in August 2015, put Djibouti strategically “in play.” It is “in play” because the U.S. Government, if it wishes to sustain any dominance in the region, must attempt to constrain, contain, or balance the PRC projection. The PRC relationship with Djibouti and Ethiopia is already well-established, and the PRC recently completed the new Djibouti-Dire Dawa-Addis Ababa rail link which is of profound strategic significance to Ethiopia and Djibouti, but also to the PRC in its hope to dominate logistical lines for resources leaving Africa and Chinese products entering the Continent. It is not insignificant, when thinking about the potential for economic development of the region, as well as for the PRC’s resource transportation, that the plan exists for the rail link to be extended from Addis Ababa to Juba, the South Sudan capital, and then on to Lamu Port, in northern Kenya.
[The signing of an agreement in October 2015 to build a 550km long, $1.4-billion, 20-inch fuel pipeline from Djibouti to Awash, in Central Ethiopia, is also a significant sign of the new infrastructure emerging. That project will be complete by 2018.]
But as we look at the southward reach of the infrastructure, it is clear that resolution of the civil war in South Sudan is critical for the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor pro-ject, and to the economy of Ethiopia and Djibouti. Significantly, the August 2015 “peace accord” between the factions of South Sudan may not have resolved the civil war or the threat of ongoing hostility toward South Sudan from Sudan.
We will discuss the overall PRC projection into the north-western Indian Ocean shortly. But on the imme-diate question of Djibouti, we are seeing that the Djibouti-PRC negotiations on the Obock basing have finally set off alarm bells in Washington. In a report on October 2, 2015, I noted that Djibouti was in a dynamic state; that is, in a state of flux, and suggested that we should expect it to come under massive U.S. pressure soon. It is likely that the U.S. would attempt to pressure incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh either not to seek re-election in April 2016, or to empower the Djibouti opposition, in order to en-sure that Djibouti does not offer military or strategic basing to the PRC.
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What, then, would be Beijing’s options, knowing that the PRC must have a stake in the control of the Red Sea? Perhaps to move toward the use of Berbera, the great naval basing option in Somaliland? That would imply some additional steps by Beijing to stabilize and transform the Republic of Somaliland, and to upgrade the Berbera to Ethiopia transportation links. At this stage, if anything, the People’s Republic of China is as committed as the U.S. — perhaps even more so — to securing a naval presence which would help facilitate its transportation of vital resources out of Africa and the Middle East.
And if not Berbera, then Beijing’s options would have to include the Eritrean ports of Assab or Massawa, even though the stabilization of Eritrea and the mending of Ethiopian-Eritrean links would be far more difficult and expensive than mending the problems of the now dysfunctional Administration of Somaliland in Hargeisa. So it is not insignificant that, in January 2015, a PRC company contracted to undertake a $400-million expansion of the port of Massawa, to include a 70,000 ton bulk cargo terminal and a 50,000 ton multi-purpose terminal. This was the biggest commercial undertaking in Eritrea since independence. This also indicated the strength of the mineral projects starting to get underway in Eritrea. But what was also significant was that the Chinese firm, CHEC (China Harbor Engineering Company) was also engaged in building new port infrastructure in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and in Venezuela: both ports which are integral to the PRC’s emerging global naval strategy, which is tied closely to its trade ambitions and actualities.
[It is not coincidental that Landbridge Group, an energy and infrastructure company from the People’s Republic of China, on October 13, 2015, bought control of a 99-year lease on the strategic Australian port of Darwin, at the Eastern end of the Indian Ocean, and at the southern end of the ASEAN straits up into the South China Sea, just as the PRC some years ago acquired control of the Panama Canal Company. There is little doubt that Beijing sees the vital nature of acquiring the key maritime assets at the choke-points, and has moved through economic means to acquire them, rather than starting through military projection. For Beijing, the flag will follow the trade, rather than the other way around.]
In the cases of Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, it is already apparent that Beijing has interests in maintain-ing the stability and prosperity of the Red Sea region, without even yet addressing its interests in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Egypt.
The bottom line is that the PRC is not going to leave the region: not the north-western Indian Ocean nor the north-eastern end of it. Its massive and vital commitments to building and dominating the port infra-structures — and transportation links — at Lamu, in northern Kenya, and Gwadar, in Pakistani Baluchi-stan, absolutely require that centerpiece which the Djibouti port facilities would represent. But it does, with Massawa, have a fallback position already underway.
[As an aside, India is also making moves into the Western Indian Ocean choke-points. From October 26 to 29, 2015, the Indian Government was to host more than 40 African heads-of-state at the third India-Africa Forum Summit, this time being the first that all members of the African Union were invited to at-tend.]
So whatever steps the U.S. takes in Djibouti — and it is already taking steps there — will need to consid-er the downstream impact on Beijing’s decision-making. The U.S. is heavily invested in Djibouti. The U.S. combined military presence at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, which hosts some 4,200 U.S. service person-nel, serves as a vital support for the U.S. and allied maritime presence on the Bab el-Mandeb, but also links with the U.S. intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, mostly represented in the form of RQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations of the U.S. 17th Air Force, based at the 2,800 meter Ethiopian airfield at Arba Minch, in the country’s south. It is understood that the Reaper missions link with those operating from Mahé, in the Seychelles. These operations, of course, linking with the U.S. facilities at Diego Garcia, in the British Indian Ocean Territories, and the U.S. air and naval support facilities in Bahrain, and al-Udeid Air Force base, which hosts the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Air Force Central Command headquarters near Doha, Qatar.
We discussed earlier the reality that all segments of this greater region were interactive. In the lower Red Sea region, actions on one side of the Red Sea affect conditions on the other side.
For a number of years, young Eritrean men fled their country to escape military service. Those who could not find safe-haven in Ethiopia, or Sudan, or Djibouti, took the short sea-voyage to Yemen. Now, the war in Yemen has forced the exodus of military-age men from Eritrea to find their way across to North Africa, and thence to Europe. This is no small surge of people. Eritrea is breaking down, particularly with the decline in support from Egypt, Israel, Libya, and other former supporters. Egypt no longer wishes to pursue the Mubarak- and Morsi-era confrontation against Ethiopia; Cairo now prefers diplomatic solutions in its discussions with Ethiopia, and no longer supports Eritrea’s covert war against Ethiopia.
Libya, without Qadhafi, also no longer funds Eritrean-run guerilla operations into Ethiopia, which it had run through Somalia and Somaliland, as well as directly across the Ethiopian borders.
The aggressive opportunism of Eritrean Pres. Isayas Afewerke seems close to an implosion, but the pro-spect exists that the 69-year-old former revolutionary will lash out in a final attempt to reassert some re-gional relevance and to preserve his Government. Certainly, he had, until the recent mineral and port deals, done little to build an economic base in his state.
Despite these recent steps, the crisis for Isayas can be seen in the upsurge of Eritreans fleeing across North Africa and into Western Europe, adding to the swelling tide of illegal immigrants there. The situation is far worse than is seen in international media and intelligence reporting. The outpouring of Eritreans comes at a time when Eritrea is ostensibly at peace, unlike Syria, where conflict has driven the population outflow.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in November 2014 that, during the first 10 months of that year, the number of Eritrean asylum-seekers in Europe from Eritrea had nearly tripled: to nearly 37,000. Some 22 percent of “boat people” arriving in Italy during that period were from Eritrea, the second largest number of asylum-seekers after Syrians. The numbers of Eritreans crossing into Ethiopia swelled to 5,000 in October 2014. More than 216,000 Eritreans were already in Ethiopia and Sudan. But 2015 saw these already serious figures skyrocket. Many, until late 2015, were also fleeing across the Red Sea to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Isayas’ primary bid for survival has been based on conflict with Ethiopia, to destroy the Government there in order to force a compromise which would restore trade from Ethiopia to the Red Sea via Eritrean ports. To achieve this objective, apart from the direct state-to-state conflict which Isayas instigated against Ethiopia in 1998, Eritrea backed numerous armed opposition groups inside Ethiopia. One was the Tigré People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), which the Isayas Government created, funded, trained, armed, and supported for the past 12 years. On September 11, 2015, however, the TPDM had tired of Isayas and the failure of his endeavors, and fled, en masse, into Sudan and thence into Ethiopia.
Eritrean Army units were rushed to the border area, across the border from the Sudanese town of Omhajer and close to the Ethiopian border, and engaged the battalion-sized TPDM force (est. at around 700 men). The TPDM forces, led by Molla Asgedom, completely destroyed the Eritrean Army force near Omhajer and later at Seq al-Ketir, before heading to Hamdait (all in the Sudan). The TPDM force also suffered heavy casualties, but crossed into northern Ethiopia to be greeted by Ethiopian Government forces at Humera and Dima towns. However, some TPDM groups were still in Sudan, and in the hands of Sudanese security forces.
What is significant is that the TPDM was one of Isayas’ most trusted military units, and part of the key to his security. The Eritrean Army is overwhelmingly dependent on forced conscription, for indefinite periods, of unwilling Eritreans, one of the major causes of the outflow of Eritrean men as refugees. Significantly, Eritrean State media has mentioned nothing of the defection of the TPDM.
The ongoing collapse of Eritrea parallels the decline in support from some of its foreign sponsors, particularly Egypt and Libya, which were anxious — during earlier governments — to dominate the Red Sea and to ensure that Ethiopia, a former Red Sea power, was unable to dominate the mouth of the Red Sea. Now, Libya is in disarray, and the Egyptian Government of Pres. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi is committed to a strong working relationship with Ethiopia on a range of issues, particularly the Nile water usage. Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros II said on August 25, 2015, that he was willing to mediate a “convergence” of views between the Ethiopian and Egyptian peoples on Nile water use. The linkages between the Egyptian and Ethiopian societies — as well as their governments — are building, despite clear differences on the modalities of such things as Nile water use. The reality is that the case for cooperation is now seen as more appealing than the case for confrontation.
Thus Eritrea has lost its sponsors, other than Qatar — which supports the Muslim Brotherhood and is therefore seeking ways to maneuver against Egypt — and possibly Iran and Turkey, which are seeking leverage in the Red Sea/Horn region. Iran and Turkey, however, are rivals for influence in the region.
Pres. Isayas, in poor health in recent years, has, as part of his posture, hinted at a reunion or confedera-tion with Ethiopia, of which Eritrea was historically a significant part. Ethiopia could not consider this while Isayas remained at Eritrea’s helm.
But if the collapse of Eritrea is of concern, equally, too, is the war in Yemen, now underway as an international conflict for nine months, spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of states. What is of concern in the Yemen war is that a complete success by Saudi Arabia, aimed at restoring the Government of Pres. Abd al-Rab Mansour al-Hadi and Prime Minister Prime Minister Khaled Bahah might be difficult, given that the war has now re-opened sectarian as well as geopolitical divides in the country.
An early success in the war against the so-called Houthi forces, which still control much of the north, in-cluding the capital, Sana’a, is critical to Saudi Arabia if the Kingdom is not to suffer significant economic consequences at a time when its economy is challenged. The question is whether the Saudi coalition can, indeed, succeed in being able to restore a sustainable government of the entire Yemen, or whether any patchwork solution would require such “deals with the devil” as to render any follow-on government either paralyzed or weak. Extensive areas in southern Yemen, extending over toward the Hadhramaut, are al-ready under the control or influence of radical jihadist groups which are part of, or allied with, al-Qaida. It has been argued that the Houthi Zaidi forces were, as a Shi’a sect, always allied with and dependent on Iranian support, but this was an overstatement of the position. It is more likely that the conflict which ex-panded out of control, and brought in Saudi support for Pres. Hadi, may have opened up an opportunity for Iran to inject itself into the conflict.
And Iran’s long-term engagement in the Red Sea and Horn region is something which pre-dates the cleri-cal Government which took office in 1979. But even now, before Iran has recovered economically from the effects of years of sanctions, and while its government is in many respects dysfunctional, it still manages to control much of the strategic dynamic in the region. It has been able to achieve this with a defense budget, in 2014, of around $8-billion. Saudi Arabia, before it ramped up defense spending to deal with the Yemen crisis, had a 2014 defense budget of around $80-billion.
I have not, in this brief overview, had the opportunity to discuss in depth the other littoral states of the Suez/Red Sea/Horn, namely Sudan, Israel, and Jordan. It is clear, however, that they have key roles to play, particularly given Israel’s rapid resolution of its water and energy challenges. What is clear is that the two significant regional naval powers, Egypt and Israel, will increase their capability, of necessity, into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Egypt’s very significant contracting for new French warships — the two Mistral-class helicopter assault ships, the two FREMM-type, NATO-standard frigates, and the four Godwind-class corvettes — gives it world-class naval platforms, coupled with its modern and capable Air Force, for the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Israel’s expanding submarine fleet — which will comprise six Dolphin-class, or modified Type 212 boats, built by HDW in Germany — will give that navy an expanded capability in the Red Sea, possibly supported in the future more visibly by new Israeli surface combatant ships.
In all of this it is conceivable to see a positive, but challenging period ahead for the players in this global nexus. The biggest negatives, of course, are the conflicts and competitions of the region. Those include:
• Between Egypt and Ethiopia on the resolution of Nile and Red Sea issues because, de-spite significant differences in negotiating styles, both states have far more to gain from cooperation than confrontation;
• Between South Sudan and Sudan, which is less stable and predictable, but where coop-eration could be the link which integrates the economies of East and Central Africa with Egypt and the Horn. On the other hand, the growing radicalization of Sudan has marked it has a major resource of jihadist support for fighters targeting such diverse targets as Egypt and Nigeria;
• Between Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni Zaidis, where there is enormous long-term poten-tial for damage unless a resolution could be achieved within, say, a year, and even then there will be serious legacy problems and almost certainly polarized societies;
• Between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which may only be resolved when Eritrean Pres. Isayas Afewerke departs the scene; and
• Between the warring factions in Somalia, which shows no sign of an early resolution, alt-hough, as with the Puntland region, the combatants have been showing signs of fatigue, despite being one of the fountainheads of jihadist support for African militant groups.
The biggest positives are based around the prospect of a substantially and rapidly growing Egyptian economy, linked with the regional energy basin in the Eastern Mediterranean. That alone brings Egypt and Israel into a common economic framework with Cyprus and Greece, and gives the ability to help alle-viate economic challenges in Jordan, for example.
Within this, too, is the fact that out-of-region powers are competing for influence in the region. While this poses some dangers, it also has already demonstrated that investment into the region has increased and shows signs of increasing still further.
It is unlikely that the region will become less militarized. On the contrary, it will be a region in which, for the first time, local players will be increasingly capable and dynamic. The trade patterns are already changing, too, The Indian Ocean basin, and particularly the East African region, is beginning to show signs of activity, because of China’s demand for resources, and the PRC’s need for sea lane security is pushing it to direct trade up the East African coast and across to Gwadar, for carriage across the land bridge of the Karakoram Highway into China.
In all of this, then, the security of the Suez Canal becomes increasingly of concern, to an even greater degree than historically. But all that assumes that Europe and the People’s Republic of China remain as substantial markets for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the real concern is not that the Suez/Red Sea/Horn region is a source of instability affecting the world, but the reverse: The prospect that flattened economies and political stagnation and flat energy and resource demand in Europe and China, and perhaps in the U.S., could be the factors which adversely affect the Suez, Red Sea, and Horn. But at least, for the first time, there is the prospect of a growing regional marketplace which could grow significantly apart from the old worlds of Europe, the Americas, and Asia.
By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs