us foreign policy in east africa

09 March 2021

Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation for Peace and Knowledge held a webinar on "American policy toward East Africa" last Tuesday to discuss the current situation in East Africa, which has witnessed a series of conflicts and multidimensional problems over the past decades. Experts analyzed the latest American Administration's policy and identified its possible orientations in East Africa.


In her welcoming address, Ambassador Laila Bahaa El Din, Executive Director of the Foundation, raised many questions that the webinar seeks to answer. Among them was the question of the changes the new Administration would bring to American policy toward East Africa and how said changes would, in turn, impact Egypt's strategic interests and development opportunities in the region.


Mr. Mamdouh Abbas, Chairman of the Foundation, stressed the need to develop a strategic vision for Egypt in the Horn of Africa region. He also suggested working on practical proposals for the new United States administration. Mr. Abbas also emphasized that a focus on foreign policy management characterized Washington's new Administration through the concept of international multilateralism. He added that today's "American-Chinese" conflict is creating clear developments and polarizations at the international level in US national security in particular and the West in general and is no longer spearheaded by the military threat but by 5G technology.


Amid these developments, the Horn of Africa has emerged as a region with many problems since independence. In this context, Eastern Africa has emerged as a region of great tension since it acquired its independence. Mr. Abbas pointed to the instability of its so-called "failed States" and the crisis between Ethiopia, Egypt, and  Sudan.


In his intervention, Mr. Mohamed Fayek, President of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights and former Minister of Information, stressed the strategic importance of East Africa to Egypt. He explained that the East African region is crucial to Egypt regarding securing the Nile waters, which Egypt depends exclusively on. The Minister also emphasized the importance of securing navigation in the Red Sea. "The Red Sea, overlooked by seven Arab countries, hosts 20% of the world's trade and 30% of liquefied gas, and a huge amount of goods from India, Japan, and China are exported through this sea daily," he claimed.


The presence of a large number of foreign military bases, especially in Djibouti, as well as in Somaliland, Eritrea, Kenya, and Somalia, has, in his view, led to many problems, especially in the absence of a strong State. The latest United States foreign policy report emphasized the need to strengthen the partnership between Egypt and America, mandating the fight against terrorism and ensuring security and trade.


For his part, Mr. Amre Moussa, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, stressed the need to separate Egypt's interest in the water crisis from American policy in Eastern Africa. He added that the strategic priority of the United States of America in the Horn of Africa region is to confront China in strategic and development areas, which will affect us all in the Middle East. Moreover, the setting of unprecedented military bases will certainly affect Egypt's national security data, especially with Turkey's and Iran's extensive presence in the Horn of Africa. According to him, this calls for a bilateral dialogue between Egypt and the Horn States within the framework of the African Peace Council, based on Arab-African-Egyptian regional understandings.


Mr. Moussa concluded his intervention by drawing an alarming parallel between the American presence in East Africa and its previous interventions in the Middle East, most of which occurred during its conflict with the former Soviet Union. "I hope that African states will distance themselves from this conflict between America and China, and I hope this strategic competition will be in the direction of stability rather than conflict in the region."


Dr. Amani Abou Zeid,  African Union Commissioner in charge of Infrastructure, Energy & Digitalization, confirmed the return of the United States to Africa. Washington sought to work with the African Union on supporting peacekeeping institutions, economic cooperation, women's empowerment, food security, cybersecurity, and the digital economy. The United States stressed the importance of cybersecurity, especially in the African Union's relationship with China and on the issues of "Big Data."


Dr. Abou Zeid noted that the development rates, albeit remarkable, varied in the Horn of Africa region and were hindered by internal and inter-State conflicts. She added that this region is a strategic point regarding underground marine cables and potential harnessable energy thanks to its volcanic activity. She concluded with the necessity of reviewing Egyptian legislation on cybersecurity for the future benefit of Egyptian-East African cooperation.