Geopolitical affairs in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East…

Geopolitical affairs in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East are unravelling in a way that changes the dynamics of relationships between nations. Past friends are now foes and rivals have become friends, while global powerhouses are slowly distancing themselves from their historical allegiances. It is a story of fluid affairs between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, with enormous repercussion to the countries of the Horn of Africa, mainly Ethiopia.

The proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia has turned Yemen into a battleground for settling historical rivalry, if not the desperate urge to control key trade routes. Iran has been effective in harassing Saudi in its export of oil from its northern oilfields when vessels pass through the Strait of Hormuz, near the Gulf of Oman. The influence of Iran on Houthi rebels waging a ferocious war in control of Aden, is a nightmare to the Saudis, whose nemesis is to choke them on Bab al Mandab, a key passage between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Hence, Saudi’s bombing of Yemen, with a heavy toll, including the killing of 176 civilians in just a day, a couple of months ago.

Politically, Saudi has won not only the alliance of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but also countries to its west, such as Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea. But it has come with a price tag, gossip notes. None, however, parallels the loss of the United States’ unwavering support, particularly after the Obama Administration lifted sanctions imposed on Iran.

While the Iranians begin to enjoy life after global sanctions, Eritrea and Sudan, and to a certain extent Egypt, continue to suffer from sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and other major global powers. Widely criticized as “sanction without a purpose,” successive editions of sanctions against Sudan in particular, have remained in force since the days of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. His successors have only reinforced sanctions against Khartoum – acts of hostility that stop short of declaring a fully-fledged war.

Even non-American companies which dared to exercise non-compliance in doing business with Sudan have paid dearly for their “transgressions.” The French Bank, BNP Paribas, has paid 8.9 billion dollars in a settlement with the US Treasury, while Scotland’s RBS suffered a penalty of 100 million dollars.

Not even a poor country such as Ethiopia is immune from facing the consequence when it comes to transgressing America’s preferred instrument of coercion, claims gossip. A couple of years ago, Ethiopia’s 2.5 million dollars paid in attempted settlement of an oil bill, through HSBC, was frozen, and has never been released, gossip disclosed. Ethiopia later paid Sudan in Euro, through an intermediary bank based in Europe, gossip disclosed.

Under the hostile watch of the US Treasury, Sudan continues to suffer from lack of access to international financial services. Many foreign banks, particularly of those in the west, are very reluctant to have their presence inside Sudan, although the country welcomes them. There are now 13 or so banks operating there largely from the Middle East.

Sudanese authorities are keen to see Ethiopian leaders urge the largest state-owned bank, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), open a branch in Khartoum, gossip revealed. Nonetheless, CBE has its lone international branch down south, in Juba, South Sudan.

Ethiopia appears to be sending a positive signal, judging by the recent visit to Khartoum of a high level delegation, gossip disclosed. Led by Teklewold Atnafu, governor of the central bank, the team comprising Sufian Ahmed, advisor on finance to the Prime Minister; Abdulaziz Mohammed, minister of Finance & Economic Cooperation; and Bekalu Zeleke, president of the CBE, spent three days in Khartoum last week, gossip disclosed.

Having the crucial support of Khartoum in Ethiopia’s debacle with Egypt over the construction on the Nile of Africa’s largest dam, Ethiopia may feel it is important to support Sudan, even when that means upsetting its strongest ally, the United States, claims gossip.


Published on Feb 15,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 824]



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