Middle East and U.S. Relations with the Greater Horn of Africa

Africa in recent years has attracted the attention of new global actors such as Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states, due to its growing markets, vast natural resources, and geostrategic importance. Non-state actors from the Middle East have also taken an interest in Africa by establishing religious and ideological education projects and by providing humanitarian aid to areas affected by civil and interstate conflicts.  Investors from the Middle East have increased their investments in the region in the areas of agriculture, banking, infrastructure, retail, and telecommunications.

The Hollings Center convened a group of academics, businesspeople, journalists, and civil society representatives from Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, and the United States to understand the strategic objectives of these relationships, to assess the impact of the economic, business, political, military, and religious relations outside actors are cultivating in the Greater Horn, and to explore what this increased involvement means for the US and other actors who have historically strong ties with Africa.

The main takeaways from the dialogue include:

  • The Greater Horn has many problems – security and lack of development being at the forefront – but also offers opportunities especially in the realm of e-commerce, infrastructure development, and agriculture. The African Union is trying to push forward increased infrastructure. The GCC can seize the opportunity and be part of this growth. The potential for agriculture in Africa is significant, and it can be realized at a fraction of the cost of what is paid for imports, and is largely a question of good governance and enabling the conditions for availability of capital and technology.
  • Countries in the Greater Horn of Africa do not necessarily need to follow the traditional industrialization model of ‘agriculture – manufacturing – services.’ A port country like Djibouti with much geopolitical potential is most probably not going to transform itself via manufacturing – like Dubai, it will probably skip that stage. Efforts need to revolve around tapping into each country’s unique potential.
  • Geopolitics and transfer of disagreements will continue in the Greater Horn. In this sense, the so-called ‘new actors’ like Turkey and the GCC are not different from traditional powers like the US and China in their approach to the region as a theater where they can gain the upper hand via proxies.
  • Development and humanitarian aid have helped Greater Horn countries through difficult food and health crises in the past, but have created dependencies, entrenched corrupt systems, and in some cases weakened state authority.

[1] For purposes of this dialogue, the Greater Horn of Africa is defined as the region comprising Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan.

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