- The Horn of Africa (HoA), also known as the Somali Peninsula, is a large peninsula and geopolitical region in East Africa. Located on the easternmost part of the African mainland, it is the fourth largest peninsula in the world. It is composed of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti.
- Horn of Africa since the group of countries form a horn-like landmass over the peninsula. A good way to remember the group is as S-E-E-D.
Geography of Horn of Africa
- The Horn of Africa is almost equidistant from the equator and the Tropic of Cancer.
- The HOA juts into the Arabian Sea for hundreds of kilometres and is located along the south of the Gulf of Aden. This region is the easternmost projection of Africa.
- It consists chiefly of mountains uplifted through the formation of the Great Rift Valley, a fissure in the Earth’s crust extending from Turkey to Mozambique and marking the separation of the African and Arabian tectonic plates. Mostly mountainous, the region arose through faults resulting from the Rift Valley.
- In ancient and medieval periods, the area was called Bilad al Barbar meaning land of the Berbers.
- HOA covers an approximate area of 2 million square kilometres and is populated by about 115 million people.
- Ethiopia has a population of 96.6 million, Eritrea has 6.4 million, Somalia has 10.4 million and Djibouti has roughly 0.81 million people.
- The lowlands of the Horn are generally arid in spite of their proximity to the equator. This is because the winds of the tropical monsoons that give seasonal rains to the Sahel and the Sudan blow from the west. Consequently, they lose their moisture before reaching Djibouti and northern part of Somalia, with the result that most of the Horn receives little rainfall during the monsoon season.
- The Danakil Desert stretches across 100,000 km2 of arid terrain in northeast Ethiopia, southern Eritrea, and northwestern Djibouti.
- The area is known for its volcanoes and extreme heat, with daily temperatures over 45 °C and often surpassing 50 °C.
- About 220 mammals are found in the Horn of Africa. Among threatened species of the region, there are several antelopes such as the beira, the dibatag, the silver dikdik and the Speke’s gazelle.
- Some important bird species of the Horn are the black boubou, the golden-winged grosbeak, the Warsangli linnet, and the Djibouti spurfowl.
- Due to the Horn of Africa’s semi-arid and arid climate, droughts are not uncommon. They are complicated by climate change and changes in agricultural practices.
Significance of Horn of Africa
- Africa is critical to India’s security, especially the Horn of Africa region, because of its proximity with India. The Indian Ocean Region and Africa are central to the foreign policy of India.
- India has traditionally engaged with African nations through its soft power initiatives. In 2008, India organized the first India-Africa Forum Summit with the aim of recasting its ties with the continent.
- New Delhi has followed up its initiative with two more such summits—in 2011 in Addis Ababa and in New Delhi in 2015.
- Ethiopia continues to be the largest recipient of India’s concessional Lines of Credit in Africa. India is amongst the top trade, investment, and development partners of Ethiopia.
- Djibouti supported during Operation Rahat for evacuating Indians from war-torn Yemen in 2015.
India’s relations with the Horn of Africa
India and the African countries are in the news, however, the ties between the two regions date back to ancient civilizations.
- Trading between Indian traders and the Horn of Africa has existed since ancient times.
- In 1940-50s many Indians were recruited by Italians to work on their plantations in Somalia, mainly around Qoryoley.
- Other Indians established businesses in Somalia. Approximately 200 Indian families were there in Somalia, mainly engaged in cloth dying in Mogadishu and Merka.
- In the pre-independence era, Britain saw the protection of sea lines of communication and controlling the choke points, and maintaining access to major islands of the Indian Ocean as central to India’s security and economic prosperity.
- Indian families in Kismayo had to leave for Mogadishu in the early 1980s.
- Independent India adopted military isolationism and replaced its inherited regional security role with non-alignment. This resulted in diminishing India’s influence on the ground.
- However, in the 1990s things began to change as India turned to economic globalisation.
- After 1991 many Indians relocated to Mombasa in Kenya from Somalia.
Issues related to the Horn and the International borders
- Somali pirates, operating in the waters off the Somali coast and the Gulf of Aden through which passes a massive quantum of the world’s goods and energy supplies, pose a grave danger.
- They plan to take their operations far out on the high seas in the Indian Ocean. The number of attacks in 2008 was 111 and 217 in 2009.
- By the end of 2016, the problem grew. When assessed, the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria stressed that piracy has been growing “in frequency, range, aggression and severity at an alarming rate.”
- Widespread worry caused by the pirates keep trying to harm international shipping, in order to extract ransom, by their continuing operations and the potential of building links with international terrorist organisations.
- The region has the world’s highest maternal and child mortality rates due to local conflicts over access to and share of natural resources forcing people to migrate and leads to internally displaced persons and refugees
- In 2018-19, India has already opened 5 new diplomatic missions in Africa which includes – Rwanda, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Guinea and Burkina Faso.
China’s involvement in the Horn
- President of China initiated the launch of the One Belt One Road which led to Beijing’s infrastructure development in the Horn.
- The 750 km-long rail link between Ethiopia and Djibouti is one of the more visible infrastructure projects in the region.
- China’s geopolitical interest in the Horn is growing over the last decade with the regular deployment of naval units to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Although piracy has now come down significantly, China is raising its strategic profile in the region.
- With an accord signed, Beijing has secured the rights to a base in Djibouti that can host up to 10,000 soldiers until 2026 which will be the first-ever foreign military base for China
- But Beijing is not the only one that has bases in the region. France has the largest concentration of its foreign troops in the country as it ruled Djibouti during the colonial era.
How India is affected by the relationship between China and the Horn
- Djibouti could become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
- China has stepped up activity in the Indian Ocean, which New Delhi considers within its sphere of influence citing anti-piracy patrols and freedom of navigation forcing the Indian Navy to tighten surveillance of the strategic waters.
- 80% of the world’s oil and a third of the global bulk cargo is carried through the Indian Ocean. By securing its energy and trade transportation links along the vital shipping route, China is looking to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean. It is also investing in projects such as ports, roads and railways. By building ports and other infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- The Indian Ocean is also emerging as the playground for countries eyeing a bigger role in world affairs.
- The Indian Ocean figures prominently in President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative to build a new Silk Route.
Way Forward with the Horn of Africa
- India have an embassy in Djibouti. Now it’s time to re-engage the region strategically. There is a need to engage both India and Djibouti on regional and international issues of mutual concern.
- Defense diplomacy is an important imperative for India all across the Indian Ocean littoral. It should join hands with the international community in eradicating the menace of terrorism.
- There is a need for early ratification of Djibouti’s membership of the ISA to tap its solar energy potential.
- It is required to work closely to intensify the cooperation in the United Nations and other multilateral fora in order to address current global challenges.
- Need for promoting greater cultural exchanges.