As the situation in the Horn of Africa becomes more fraught, with different foreign interests locking horns in a deadly battle for dominance, Japan finds itself in an uncomfortable position as it seeks to safeguard its access to African waters, vital for its trade flow. Anver Versi and Joseph Hammond unravel the complex dynamics of the region.
Japan sucked into
As New African magazine has reported (January and May 2019 issues), the Horn of Africa is becoming an increasingly dangerous flash-point. Geopolitical dynamics have sucked in the US, China and Russia as well as several non-traditional players – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Yemen and Iran – into an increasingly fractious confrontation.
The recent attack on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery in global oil supply – the second in the space of a few weeks – has upped the ante considerably, with the US blaming it on Iran as a counter-measure to the draconian sanctions imposed on the country’s oil exports.
While the Strait of Hormuz is separated from the Horn by the width of the Arabian Peninsula, the geopolitical dynamics governing both are similar. Tensions are high and at this point, it seems that most of the world is sleepwalking into what might trigger off a conflict that could prove devastating both to the Gulf and Horn regions as well as global economics.
Europe, especially the UK, is locked into its own navel-gazing and incestuous struggles for power; US foreign policy flip-flops according to Donald Trump’s tweets while Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, seems to be totally out of his depth.
For Africa, what has been termed the ‘Cold War in the Horn’ has taken an even more insidious turn as the situation in Sudan – culturally and geographically linked to the Horn and the Islamic states to its north – turns ugly, with the army going on a murderous rampage against a protesting population.
The Sudanese military (see Cover Story, p. 18) seemed willing to reach accommodation with civil forces before making a vicious about-turn following moral and material support from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt – all allies of the West.
This puts the Sudanese military – which is providing a large contingent of troops for Saudi Arabia’s devastation of Yemen – on a collision course with Iran, Turkey, Qatar and significantly, Russia and perhaps China.
Above: Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe (l) with Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani. Japan is strongly committed to fighting maritime piracy in the Horn. Its good relations with Iran were tested when two vessels, including a Japanese tanker, were attacked off the Iranian coast in June. Iran denied involvement
The implications for Africa as an independent entity are enormous. Yet so far, there has been little highlevel discussion on this topic at AU level – although in private, many African observers have been ringing warning bells.
The potential that a chance spark in this region could set off a massive explosion seems to be worrying only two leaders – Ethiopia’s PM, Abiy Ahmed (see New African, May) and Japan’s PM, Shinzo Abe. Abe was recently in Tehran in an effort to calm US-Iran tensions.
While Japan’s pacific constitution and its distaste for both sabre-rattling as well as actual combat makes it a strange actor in the Horn, it is nevertheless engaged in the region to a surprising extent, thus adding to an already crowded space. Japanese maritime defence on alert In mid-April, after violently storming a Yemeni vessel in the middle of the Indian Ocean, determined Somali pirates attempted to use the dhow as a mothership by launching two attacks on Spanish fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean.
The seizing of the dhow on 19 April marked the first major incident of Somali piracy for some time. Not since 2017 had a vessel been taken by Somali pirates for use as a ‘mothership’ from which to launch additional attacks. When
24 new african july 2019