When Eritrea’s president last month hosted the leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia to discuss “regional cooperation,” that initiative drew few global headlines. Still, Eritrea’s move should be noted by policymakers and others working for stability in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region. For years, President Isaias Afwerki’s disdain for multilateral forums such as the African Union, and his strained relations with many governments in the region, have contributed to caricatures of Eritrea as the “North Korea of Africa.” But his invitation for two neighbors to discuss a new regional bloc reflects an important factor in Eritrea’s foreign policy: its efforts to preserve its independence in a fast-evolving geopolitical environment.
Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement just over a year ago to end two decades of a “frozen war.” The accord, which resolved a seemingly intractable border dispute after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office and accepted an independent commission’s 2002 boundary decision, was greeted with tremendous optimism in both countries and by international observers.
David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, examines how great and regional power competition is impacting political and security dynamics in the Horn of Africa and complicating U.S. interests in the region.
The states on the western side of the Red Sea to the south of Egypt and the Arab states from the east of Egypt through the Arabian Gulf have long been considered distinct regions. This is increasingly a distinction without a difference, however, as these states now operate more as a common political, security, and economic zone.