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International interest in the Horn of Africa region rising - diplomat

By Tesfa-alem Tekle

March 16, 2009 (ADDIS ABABA) — International interest in the Horn of Africa region is rising but the role of these foreign nations in solving political and economic challenges the region faces remains at large.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn at a March 12 hearing before a House of Representatives subcommittee said that a number of countries now are interested in the Horn of Africa region, including "Egypt and some of the Arab Gulf states, which have a direct interest in developments in the Horn."

In Sudan, China has become "the principal non-African influence, and has a growing presence in Ethiopia and Eritrea," he said. "China will not always agree with Western donors on the best approach to the region, but it has cooperated in Sudan and Somalia and should increasingly be brought into discussions concerning the Horn."

Shinn said Russia should be part of the consultative process "if for no other reason than to try to minimize the potential negative impact of its arms sales and because it has expressed a growing interest in investing in countries like Ethiopia."

The former diplomat said India is "a major player" in the Horn, especially in Ethiopia, which is its principal African recipient of economic assistance. Recently, Turkey has also made an effort to increase its relations in the Horn, especially with Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Shinn said.

South America also has interests in the region, Shinn told the House panel. "Although Brazil’s main African focus is West Africa and the Portuguese-speaking countries, it is expanding ties with Sudan and Ethiopia."

Shinn stressed that all the countries mentioned should be part of efforts to solve problems in the region. In addition, the United Nations and agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, African Development Bank, Arab Development Bank and Arab League (Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti are members) also "have the ability to influence developments in the Horn."

Foreign policy specialists believe it is important that solutions to economic and political challenges in the Horn of Africa — Ethiopia, Eritrea , Djibouti and Somalia — be African "owned," international entities will continue to have an impact on the region.