Most discussions about US foreign policy in the post-Trump era do not concern the Horn of Africa.
Nonetheless, President Joe Biden may have no choice but to make difficult decisions in this volatile region against the backdrop ofthe Nile Dam dispute, as well as Sudan’s fragile political transition.
The first and most pressing issue is going to be Ethiopia. What began as a military showdown between the central government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has rapidly escalated into
With the Ethiopian army carrying out military operations in the northern region of Tigray, the TPLF and Eritrean forces have reportedly engaged in combat, while at least 20,000 refugees have already fled to Sudan. The current situation is untenable and is a symptom of a deeper crisis threatening Ethiopia’s territorial integrity.
Washington is the only actor capable of bringing the parties to the table and preventing this dramatic crisis from tearing Ethiopia apart. Another issue that will rank high on the agenda is the. Here again tension is critically high, with Addis Ababa ready to start filling the dam basin without an agreement on water distribution with Cairo. Egypt, in turn, has threatened to use force to destroy the dam, a scenario that Trump had astonishingly justified in a phone call on 24 October 2020 with the Sudanese prime minister.
But while the Trump administration was seemingly supportive of Egypt’s demands, a Biden presidency, which should be more concerned about human rights violations, might be less accommodating of while taking a more balanced position over the dispute.
If met with substantial diplomatic pressure, this new posture could facilitate an agreement between Addis Ababa and Cairo. It will be crucial for the Biden administration to seize this window of opportunity before Egypt acts unilaterally.
Besides immediate emergencies, the main underlying issue that the Horn of Africa has in store for Washington is China. The is one of the regions experiencing the deepest penetration of China in terms of trade and investment, as well as a military presence since the construction in 2017 of its first military base abroad in Djibouti. In broad geostrategic terms, the region is crucial because of its position along the strait of Bab El-Mandab and the Red Sea, where 10 per cent of international trade and a large portion of the world oil pass every year.
The actions of the in this domain are difficult to foresee and will generally depend on the global strategy which it adopts to engage and/or confront China. However, the lack of a strategy for the Horn of Africa and the pivot to tackling China on trade matters and in the Asia-Pacific makes any confrontation on geopolitical and geoeconomic grounds in the Horn of Africa quite unlikely.
With Biden seeking to counter Russia more aggressively, there could be implications for the Horn of Africa’s geopolitical order. While the Kremlin pursues an approach to the region, in which the Russian leadership seeks to land more arms contracts and secure a greater role as a “vital investor” in defence industries, all while turning to its Biden will have to contend with the realities of Russian efforts to play “spoiler” to Washington’s agenda in East Africa.
The Horn of Africa will present the Biden administration with immediate and long-term challenges. Immediate crises in Ethiopia will demand particular attention and strong US commitment to their resolution. These issues will clash with the priority given to the pandemic and its economic fallout but will require attention, nonetheless.
While the approach that Biden adopts for dealing with these issues is not clear yet, the emphasis that Trump’s successor puts on multilateralism indicates that he might address these crises in coordination with the African Union and IGAD, hence fostering the endogenous regional order.
But besides emergencies, Africa does not seem to rank high on Biden’s agenda, meaning that the narrowing focus of previous administrations to economic relations and counterterrorism is likely to stay. In sum, whether there will be a coherent strategy or not, the Horn of Africa will remain a matter of concern for Washington in the post-Trump era.( The New Arab )