The great game in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa appears to be gearing towards a new order set off by a global competition of strategic interest by great powers in Africa. In addition to internal political upheavals, the competition is precipitated by a struggle for influence in the region by the US and China.

There is also a realignment taking place by European and Middle Eastern powers who have strategic economic, political and military interests in the region.

The US has been a vocal critic of China’s incursions in the Horn of Africa, especially in Djibouti, long perceived as an American zone of influence.

In a recent policy briefing at the Heritage Foundation, US National Security Advisor John Bolton said:

“And soon, Djibouti may hand over control of the Doraleh Container Terminal, a strategically located shipping port on the Red Sea, to Chinese state-owned enterprises. Should this occur, the balance of power in the Horn of Africa —astride major arteries of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia — would shift in favour of China. And, our US military personnel at Camp Lemonnier, could face even further challenges in their efforts to protect the American people.”

He announced that thwarting Chinese and Russian influence is the anchor on which the US would like to partner with Africa. He added, “China and Russia are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States. In Africa, we are already seeing the disturbing effects of China’s quest to obtain more political, economic and military power.”

Supporting Bolton’s position and echoing the current US administration’s Africa policy, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, in his testimony to Congressional Committee offered a more precise way forward for America. He said, “China is asserting itself on the continent economically, militarily and politically. We must remain a positive alternative and make clear that engaging with the United States will mean greater prosperity and security for Africa.”

The undercurrent for these changes is mainly an outcome of what could be characterised as a shift of focus from the ‘War on Terror’ to strategic competition between global powers.

Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly the rise of terrorism since 9/11, the ‘War on Terror’ has driven US alliances, including those in the Horn of Africa. But at present, the US is forging alliances with Middle Eastern players and African nations to support its antagonistic competition with China and Russia.