Q: Who is David Shinn and what is his relationship with the Horn of Africa?
A: David Shinn, who has a BA, MA, and PhD from George Washington University, served from1964 through 2000 as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State. Nearly all of his assignments dealt with Africa either on the continent or in Washington. His postings at U.S. embassies included Lebanon, Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritania, Cameroon, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and briefly Chad. He has been teaching African affairs as an adjunct professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University since retiring from the Foreign Service in 2000.
His involvement with East Africa and the Horn began in 1963 when he wrote his MA thesis at George Washington University on the Pan-Somali movement. He served as a political officer at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi from 1967 to 1968. He was the State Department desk officer for Somalia and Djibouti and assistant for Ethiopia from 1969 to 1971 and then desk officer for Uganda and Tanzania from 1971 to 1972. He served as the political officer at the embassy in Tanzania from 1972 to 1974. Following assignments in Washington and other parts of Africa, he was the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Sudan from 1983 to 1986. From 1992 until 1993, he served as the deputy coordinator of the State Department’s Somali task force during the international intervention in Somalia. From 1993 until 1996 he was the director of the office that covered East Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Africa’s Indian Ocean island countries. His last assignment in Africa was as ambassador to Ethiopia from 1996 to 1999. Following retirement from the State Department, he has made periodic visits to the region, written extensively about East Africa and the Horn in policy and academic journals, coauthored a Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia, commented on the region for international media outlets and congressional testimony, and provided analysis for U.S. government agencies.
Q: Can you talk about the current political situation in the Horn of Africa?
A: This question merits a book, but let me try to summarize.
Since the end of World War II, the Horn of Africa (now consisting of Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia/Somaliland, and Djibouti) has been one of the most conflicted parts of the world. While the level of violence today is less than it has been on some occasions in the past seventy years, it remains serious in South Sudan and Somalia and has the potential to worsen throughout the region. Countries in the Horn also score poorly on governance. The Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance covering 54 countries has just come out. All of the countries in the Horn of Africa ranked below the African average in 2015. Ethiopia received the best score at number 31. Djibouti ranked 36 while the remaining four countries in the Horn were among the bottom six: Sudan (49), Eritrea (50), South Sudan (53), and Somalia (54).
South Sudan, at the moment, is the most troubled of the countries in the Horn. Its economy, which depends almost entirely on oil revenue, is in shambles. Oil production is down to 130,000 barrels per day (bpd) compared to 400,000 bpd at peak production. The price of oil now is between $47 and $49 per barrel. South Sudan must pay about $24 per barrel for transport, fees, and its contractual arrangement with Sudan. While this still leaves some money for government expenses, much of it seems to disappear into corruption. South Sudan’s civil war, which is essentially an ethnic conflict, never really ended, it just slowed down due to the rainy season. The dry season is about to return and so are predictions of more conflict, especially since former First Vice President Riek Machar is now in exile in Khartoum.
Sudan’s economy is in poor condition. When South Sudan became independent, Sudan lost 75 percent of its oil production. While it continues to export some crude, the amount has fallen sharply and Sudan is running a trade deficit of about $4 billion annually. The country is also heavily in debt. President Omar al-Bashir remains firmly in power as a result of tight security control and lack of an effective opposition, but Sudan’s problems are not going away. Darfur remains unresolved; Amnesty International charged recently that Khartoum used chemical weapons in the Jebel Marra area. While Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court has not stopped all international travel, it has severely circumscribed his ability to leave Sudan.
Ethiopia’s economy continues to perform well, although its GDP has slipped to 6.5 percent as a result of the drought and the weak global economy. Inflation is holding at about 8 percent. Ethiopia continues to focus on improving infrastructure; it is inaugurating a new standard gauge railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. It has plans for additional railways. Construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile is about three-quarters complete. The political situation is a different story. Protests for various reasons continue to occur in Oromia and Amhara regions. They have usually resulted in deaths and arrests as Ethiopia relies on force to end the protests. There has not yet been any opening of the political system or relaxation of control over the ability to express dissent. Ethiopia’s Western partners are increasingly worried about the country’s future.
Eritrea is experiencing a modest improvement in its GDP growth rate due in part to the extraction of gold. The government maintains strong control over the economy, although small businesses have some flexibility. The World Bank forecasts a GDP growth rate of about 4 percent for 2015 to 2017, although the African Development Bank projects the growth rate at about half that level. The inflation rate is about 12 percent. Eritrea has suffered from chronic fiscal deficits that have led to an unsustainable public debt burden. The ruling party is firmly in control in Eritrea. There have never been national elections and opposition political parties are illegal. There is no free press and civil society is exceedingly weak. An estimated 5,000 Eritreans flee the country each month. Eritrea recently aligned itself with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the war against the Houthis in Yemen.
The Djiboutian economy is performing well driven by transport and port-related activity coming from Ethiopia. The GDP grew at 6.7 percent in 2015 and is projected to reach 7.4 percent in 2016. Inflation remains muted at about 3 percent. While there has been improvement in the budget deficit, the level of debt remains critical. Unemployment is also high. Ismail Omar Guelleh easily won a third term this year after the National Assembly amended the constitution so he could avoid term limits. There are growing accusations of human rights abuses. The government has mitigated international criticism by allowing almost anyone willing to pay rent to establish a military base in Djibouti.
The World Bank reports that Somalia’s economy has shown remarkable resilience despite weak and ineffective central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Most of the progress has been driven by the private sector; the government does not yet provide public services. Remittances from the Somali diaspora and international aid contribute significantly to the economy. Continuing security threats posed by al-Shabaab make economic progress led by the government impossible in some areas of Somalia. One person, one vote elections have taken place only in 1964 and 1969. A democratic election scheduled for this year has been pushed back to 2020 and will be replaced by indirect parliamentary elections based on the 4.5 clan formula. Tension continues to exist between the Somali federal government and the four regional governments. The Somali National Army (SNA) is one among many and perceived as favoring one clan. The SNA is more accurately a local and regional militia.
Somaliland has held regular elections, maintained relative peace, and performed better than Somalia economically with minimal international assistance. At the same time, there have been frequent postponements of elections, no country has officially recognized Somaliland, and its political future remains unclear.
Q: Can you shed light on the geopolitical importance of the port of Djibouti?
A: Djibouti has a good harbor and is located close to the strategic Bab el Mandeb, the narrow passage which controls ship traffic between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and Suez Canal. France has a military facility in Djibouti that dates back to the colonial period. The United States established Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa in 2002 to combat terrorism in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. It now has about 4,500 personnel at the base. Somali piracy brought naval vessels from many nations to the Gulf of Aden and several of these countries decided to use the piracy threat, which has essentially ended, as a reason to establish a base at Djibouti. Japan opened a base in 2011. China is constructing what it calls a military support facility, its first ever outside China, while others call it a military base. Spanish, Italian, and German soldiers regularly billet in Djibouti, although these countries do not have a base there. There are reports that other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, intend to establish some kind of military facility in Djibouti.
Djibouti has demonstrated a willingness to allow almost any country willing to pay the rent to open a military facility there. That willingness combined with the strategic location of Djibouti explains why so many countries have done so and others are giving consideration to a facility in Djibouti. This large international military presence probably serves to discourge any external threat to the Guelleh government.
Q: What will be the impact of the agreement signed by DP World of Dubai with Somaliland for a 30 year concession at the port of Berbera?
A: DP World of Dubai signed an agreement with Somaliland in September 2016 to manage and develop the port of Berbera. It agreed to invest up to $442 million to provide the first phase of a 400 meter quay and 250,000 square meter yard extension with gantry cranes and reach stackers to handle containers and cargo. The project will focus on containers. The project complements DP World’s network in East Africa by creating a new deep-water port. Reaction from Somalia was negative; Somalia’s auditor general said the agreement was “illegal.”
This announcement is a nonbinding agreement that serves as a precursor to a more formal deal. If DP World fulfills its commitment, the completed project should attract more ships to the region and improve Somaliland’s economy. It could increase the amount of traffic to/from landlocked Ethiopia if the road infrastructure is improved in Somaliland and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. It is the single largest investment agreement with Somaliland and should have the impact of strengthening ties between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Somaliland. DP World also has a similar agreement with Djibouti; the new agreement with Somaliland may give the UAE additional leverage as it negotiates with Djibouti.
Q: If elected, what would be the policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump towards Africa?
A: Having served as secretary of state for four years, Hillary Clinton has a track record on Africa and has visited the continent a number of times. Donald Trump, to the best of my knowledge, has never visited Africa and has publicly said almost nothing about it. Except for Libya and the general issue of terrorism, Africa has not been an issue in the presidential campaign. Surrogates for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump did discuss Africa at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on 13 September 2016.
Speaking for Hillary Clinton, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said a Clinton administration is likely to build upon and expand the current focus on African economic policy initiatives and issues. He said she has in interest in Africa and participated in all the annual Africa Growth and Opportunity Act conferences.
Speaking for Donald Trump, former Inspector General at the Department of Defense Joseph Schmitz cited the need to build civil society and strengthen the rule of law; promote democratic governance and institutions; support market economies; bolster education and health systems; promote electrification; and curb corruption. He did not say these were Trump’s priorities.