The Gulf Crisis Is Spilling Over Into The Horn Of Africa

The Gulf Crisis Is Spilling Over Into The Horn Of Africa

Grigoriy Trofimchuk Grigoriy Trofimchuk

01.05.2017-Moscow / Hiding underneath the Mainstream Media headlines is a simmering story about how the Gulf Crisis is inadvertently reigniting tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti.

Both of these Red Sea states chose to side with Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Qatar, which prompted Doha to immediately withdraw its peacekeepers from their disputed border.

 Qatar originally deployed a few hundred troops to the hotspot following brief but intense clashes in 2008 over an island and a small strip of territory, and while this did successfully keep the peace between both of them in the years since, the conflict has come back to the surface almost immediately after the soldiers’ sudden withdrawal earlier this month.

  For some background into what’s going on, Eritrea has had terrible relations with all of its neighbors since becoming independent of Ethiopia in 1993, and it even has territorial claims against a few of them as well, including Djibouti. Up until Asmara sided with the Saudis in the War on Yemen a few years ago – as confirmed by a late-2015 UN investigation – it was totally isolated because it had been under UNSC sanctions due to its support of Al Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab in Somalia. As for Djibouti, it functions as the irreplaceably critical maritime outlet for landlocked Ethiopia, which lost all of its ports following Eritrea’s independence. Eritrea, correctly identifying Djibouti as the weakest of its neighbors and the ultimate weak spot to indirectly cripple its hated Ethiopian rival, clandestinely crossed the border into the disputed territory in 2008 and sparked the brief crisis.  

  Horn of Africa geopolitics, especially since the end of the Cold War, are a bit tangled of a web, and I don’t have the time to get into it as much as I would like, but any interested listeners can read my Hybrid War series on this region at if want to learn more. About the recent threat of a return to hostilities, this could have profound implications on the regional order. Djibouti houses American, French, Japanese, Chinese, and soon even Saudi bases, while Eritrea reportedly allows the UAE to use its facilities for the War on Yemen. I doubt that a possible continuation war would drag on for long, but it would have two immediate consequences – the first is that it would raise shipping costs because two Red Sea and Bab el Mandeb countries are fighting, and the second is that it might spook Ethiopian investors who know that almost all of their trade depends on transit through Djibouti.  Both of these are directly relevant to China because of its reliance on those two waterways per the maritime portion of its One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity with Europe, and also because Beijing recently built the Djibouti-Addis Ababa railroad to facilitate trade to its top African ally. Bearing in mind that China is opening up a base in Djibouti too, and also has very cordial relations with Eritrea in spite of the UNSC sanctions, it’s possible that Chinese peacekeepers might eventually replace the recently departed Qatari ones and give a powerful boost to Beijing’s strategic standing in this globally crucial region.

Andrew Korybko - Political analyst 

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.  

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