New EU strategy targets Horn of Africa instability

The European Commission unveiled on Friday a new strategy to encourage peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, as two European Union diplomats were expelled from Ethiopia, inside the conflict-prone region.

The strategy, more of a diagnosis of the region’s problems than a cure, aims to improve economic and political integration between Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and the transitional government in Somalia.

It aims to target the root causes of the region’s instability, which the EU’s executive body says are illegal migration, arms trafficking, drugs and heavy refugee movements.

“The potential danger arising from what is happening in the Horn is that we could be projected into one of the most serious of all conflicts that we could possibly imagine,” warned EU humanitarian aid commissioner Louis Michel.

He said the seven countries, part of one of the world’s most poverty-stricken regions and which form the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), are riven by social, economic and political divisions.

He expressed concern that the region, home to about 195-million people, is becoming polarised between a “pro-Western Christian secularism” on one hand and an “Arabo-Islamist” tendency on the other.

“I am extremely concerned about these lines of fracture,” he told journalists in Brussels when he presented the strategy paper. “They were not there a few years ago and we did not notice them forming. I think there is still time but we must apply ourselves.”

The nine-page document warns that the problem, if not addressed, could spread to the rest of Africa but also flame tensions in the Middle East, “and could even reach the EU”.

At stake

In an unfortunate coincidence, the release of the document, part of a wider EU-Africa strategy endorsed by EU leaders last year, came as two EU diplomats were expelled from Ethiopia accused of trying to smuggle criminals into Kenya.

The 25-nation EU is one of Ethiopia’s largest donors but has been highly critical of Addis Ababa for its crackdown on opposition leaders and journalists since violence rocked the country after a disputed general election last year.

Further examples of what is at stake surfaced this week.

Eritrea sent 1 500 troops and 15 tanks into the UN-monitored demilitarised buffer zone with Ethiopia in what UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called a “major breach” of the 2000 peace deal and ceasefire.

In Sudan, the military declared UN special envoy Jan Pronk persona non grata on Friday for “waging war against the armed forces”.

Pronk was accused of abusing his position by attempting to force Sudan to accept a UN Security Council resolution authorising the dispatch of 20 000 UN peacekeepers to strife-torn Darfur to replace an African Union force.

Michel insisted that a regional approach, through Igad, hitting several problems in a number of countries at once would be the only way to make real progress.

“When you think you have resolved a problem in a region, wham!, another one pops up somewhere else and you realise that this new problem is already undoing what you achieved in the first place.
It is absolutely atrocious,” he said.

The meat on the bones of the EU plan is contained in the commission’s development fund for the 2008-2013 period.

Under the budget’s “incentive envelope”—about €3-billion—money can be used to compensate countries that make progress in good governance.

But ultimately, Michel said, the strategy will fail if the seven do not support it.

“If these states don’t pick it up, if they don’t enter into a dynamic and proactive logic to resolve several common and interacting problems at once, we have no chance of succeeding in this endeavour,” he said.—Sapa-AFP

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