Gulf crisis destabilizing the Horn of Africa

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After Saudi Arabia and its allies started accusing Qatar of providing support for terrorist groups, and consequently severing all ties with the small Persian Gulf state, Ethiopia and other horn of African nations are being reluctantly dragged to the power play. These countries are forced to align themselves with either Saudi block or Qatar, in an allegiance that help them gain financial assistance from those oil-rich nations. Eritrea and Djibouti were quick to toute their allegiance to the Saudis. Ethiopia looked undecided, despite the reportedly important sum forwarded to it by Qatar and a cordial visit by its foreign minister. The standoff no doubt poses a great diplomatic challenge to Ethiopian authorities as they enjoy close economic and geopolitical ties with both Riyadh and Doha.
Yet indications are Ethiopia’s promise to maintain neutrality will not last long. The notorious Isaias Afewerki’s move in making armed incursion into Djibouti, just after the 400 Qatar forces pulled out is making the position untenable. The concern for Ethiopia is understandable as Djibouti is its outlet to the sea and also where thousands of trucks with bulk of import and export merchandise pass through every day. So there is no surprise the Eritrean incursion is greeted with derision from Ethiopia, a country, according to some reports, has already started moving heavy military equipment and troops towards its border with Djibouti.
The impasses between Eritrea and Djibouti goes all the way to 1996 when Isaias prepared a map that incorporated a triangular portion of Djibouti along the coast near Ras Dumera and Dar-Elwa and attacking those positions. Djibouti’s former colonial power, France stepped in to rescue the tiny nation. A mediation effort led by Qatar in 2010 led to a Qatari peacekeeping force being stationed in the Eritrea-Djibouti border.
Eritrea has also the history of invading Ethiopia, the Yemeni-held Hanish islands and parts of Sudan. The new development may not come as surprise to Djibouti, a country that in the meantime lodged its complaint with the African Union (AU) and the United Nations. If common sense prevails- and it may not- Saudi would make efforts to prevent Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia from fighting each other. Otherwise, if Ethiopia and Eritrea go ahead with military confrontation, it would be tragic on an unbelievable scale.

Arefayné Fantahun
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