Thursday, 26 January 2017 05:51

IOO Western Indian Ocean Perspectives 2017

In our second installment we examine Somalia, Djibouti, Seychelles and Madagascar. While politics takes centre stage in most of these countries economic development is gathering steam and donning on a new sheen in the western Indian Ocean region. Mega infrastructure projects, redefinition of geo-diplomacy and the fervor of national interests placated by people-friendly initiatives are emerging as newer paradigms of change in the region. Next week we pan  our coverage to bring in Mauritius, Iran, India, Oman, Yemen, Australia, Eritrea, Maldives, Singapore and Sri Lanka to connect the commerce  and cultural dots that intrinsically bond this uniquely positioned region. We will also release our IOO Western Indian Ocean Environmental Perspectives 2017 which is the region’s annual eco-barometer 

Somalia: President Mohamud becomes a politician

When he was elected in September 2012 as Somalia’s eighth President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was a straight jacket civil society playbook man. He caused a major upset in Somalia’s power politics long a preserve of domineering personalities. Indeed no one expected President Mohamud to defeat hardliner President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed . Four years later and President Mohamud is no longer the soft ever smiling NGO bureaucrat.

He is a toughened Somalia politician far from the “NGO bureaucrat” he was. Indeed his soft outlook and body mien are a complete opposite of a tougher veneer and will of steel on matters he holds dear. His opponents who have ceaselessly underestimated him have had to pay a steep price of defeat and alienation. 

President Mohamud has puzzled analysts by leaving politicians and diplomats guessing at his moves. Adept at reading the Somalia and international moods he has mastered the art of survival and on numerous occasions he has not only literally survived direct assassination attempts and bomb attacks but has walked away unscathed from numerous political minefields. 

Surprising foes. President Hassan Mohamud of Somalia [Image:CC-IOO]

2017 is an election year for both Somalia and Somaliland (which is one of the autonomous states of Somalia). On three different occasions the four-year Somali Presidential election which had been slated for 2016 has been postponed favouring President Mohamud. 

The elections will now be conducted later this January. A new feature in the elections is the emergence of an upper house of parliament. This was absent in 2012. Some 20 candidates have already declared their interests in unseating President Mohamud. Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmake is one of the leading contenders in the federal presidential race.

The one area that President Mohamud has tried unsuccessfully to wangle and claim as his leadership prized possession and legacy hallmark is his pursuit for a federal Somalia ideal. The autonomous states of Puntland, Jubaland and Somaliland have been a major headache to Mohamud’s plans.  Add to these the various dynamics involved in these autonomous states stratified.  Regional geopolitical interests propounded by Somali’s neighbours have grown into a cipher that President Mohamud is still trying hard to decode.

The feel of the Federal government is only being felt in Mogadishu and plans to increase the circle of control by government and routing out al Shabaab extremists seems to be vested in the African Union’s peacekeeping mission to Somali (AMISOM) troops who heavily rely on European Union, United Nations and United States funds. 

A homegrown Somali plan to reclaim its territory from the al Shabaab militants is still far off. And with President Mohamud’s federalism stance and interpretation at variance with that of the three main autonomous states a united Somali remains clogged and an ever present danger to the Somali nation. 2017 may be a year of unlocking Somali’s untapped potential. A smooth election and continual reevaluation of the federal government’s commitment to service delivery with the winning of hearts and minds remains a challenge. In the likelihood that President Mohamud loses in the forthcoming polls, the new leader will need to refocus their energies on making Mogadishu’s authority resonate in all of Somalia and quell all talk of secession through robust interventions.

Djibouti: Still banking on infrastructure

As Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and Mozambique dragged their feet in establishing modern port and railway infrastructure facilities; the Horn of African nation of Djibouti has made good its deal with Ethiopia. The unveiling of the 756km-electric Djibouti-Ethiopia Railway by President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn now replaces the metre-gauge century old railway connecting the two countries with a 1435mm gauge line electrified at 25kV50Hz.

The $3.4bn railway line is a major boost for both Ethiopia and Djibouti over their southern neighbours who have dragged their feet in completing mega infrastructure projects.  It is also a coincidental fitting marking the centennial anniversary of the old rail line laid in 1917.

And Djibouti is not resting on that major victory. A second railway line running from Ethiopia’s Hara Gebeya to Djibouti’s second port of Tadjourah is also in the works. A 763km railway line was commissioned linking Tadjoura Port in Djibouti to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

Railway infrastructure modernized connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti [Image CC-IOO]

As if that is not enough mileage by Djibouti it has been on a major lobbying spree over the last five years seeking to win over Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Chad to consider using Djibouti’s efficient port facilities. Taking full advantage of its geographic strategic positioning right at the Gulf of Aden which is a major global maritime lane Djibouti has attracted all the major militaries to its shores. It currently hosts EU, French, Japanese and US garrisons with Saudis and Chinese militaries fast tracking their forward operating bases. 

Nestled in a prime position and diversifying its infrastructure modernization portfolio whilst enjoying relative stability Djibouti is ready to reap out mega bucks opportunities from the Indian Ocean neighbours and users of the Red Sea.  Even though Djibouti will hold elections for the regional assemblies and communes this year, their implications won’t affect the general economy and political stability. In the long run Djibouti is likely to upstage its neighbours who may end up relying on its infrastructure.

Seychelles: President Faure settles with olive branches

President Danny Faure is settling down and has made major domestic changes aimed at building nationalistic bridges and striking a reconciliatory cord stemming from past experiences. So far he has avoided strict party allegiances in favour of broad nationwide consensus. 

His latest move was all too evident when he steered a state funeral complete with full military rites honouring Seychelles Founding President Sir James Mancham who passed away in early January.  President Faure followed this up by appointing a national committee to explore “actions that could be taken nationally to honour the memory of the late Former President James Mancham, and in particular to promote national unity and reconciliation, of which President Mancham was an ardent advocate.”

Seychelles President Danny Faure strikes a reconciliatory path in his first 100-days in office [Image: UNGA]

The first honour granted to the late President Mancham was the full state funeral and the burial at State House, Seychelles. President Mancham’s passing has given the Indian Ocean island nation an opportunity for self-introspection given his nationalistic fervor and global peace-building work. Observers anticipate a national statue and the renaming of the Seychelles Airport to rank high in the recommendations seeking to honour their first leader President Mancham.

Indeed all the moves so far pursued by President Faure seem to be a continuity of his predecessor President James Michel’s policy which was seen as geared towards accommodation rather than confrontation and containment of the buoyed Seychelles opposition coalition the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS). In last September’s Seychelles’ National Assembly elections the LDS (which brings together all of Seychelles’ opposition parties) won a historic victory. Out of the 25 contested Member of National Assembly (MNAs) seats, LDS won 15 and the Parti Lepep which has continuously won all elections over the years took the remaining 10 districts. 

This being the first time the opposition has garnered a majority in the national assembly it is not surprising that President Faure is on a reconciliatory track with the mosaic of nationalism high on the agenda. So far all indications point towards a domestic policy geared towards recalibrating Seychelles domestic architecture to achieve a stronger national fibre.

Internationally Seychelles trailblazing role as the world’s bastion and proponent of the blue economy will gain more ground. So far President Faure has given clear indications that he will give more impetus to the traction that oceanic affairs have gained globally since President Michel set the sails.

Madagascar: Will natural resources lift the economy

Madagascar is a paradox. 

For starters this is what Madagascar possesses.

It boasts of  industrial and metallic minerals such as ilmenite, graphite, limestone, gypsum, dolomite, silica, mica, titanium, quartz, gold, platinum group, silver, iron, copper, zinc, nickel, cobalt and chromite among others. As far as precious and semi precious stones are concerned  ruby, sapphire, emerald, aquamarine, beryl, tourmaline, topaz, garnet, cordierite, rose quartz, amethyst and citrine come to mind.

On energy resources oil, coal, hydrocarbon and uranium together with vast opportunities for renewable energies make this island sub-continent a rich investment destination. Ornamental stones such marble, silicified wood and jasper are in plenty not to mention abundant room for the creative industry sector, tourism and fisheries to bloom. 

Endowed with massive natural resources deposits and plenty of other investment opportunities it is still a puzzle how Antananarivo has been unable to exploit all these wealth for its own development. 

 Like all of former French colonies Madagascar has had its fair share of a tumultous past. From independence in 1960 Madagascar has experienced six military coups and a presidential assassination. This troubled history which has seen a dozen different Presidents torments this country to this day.

With a population of 22.9million Madagascar is still classified as a poor nation.

The picturesque Indian Ocean metropolis of Antananarivo is yet to claim its right of place in African cities [Image: CC-IOO]

President Hary Rajaonarimampianina who was elected in late 2013 and took office in January 2014 knows too well what ails his country and the exorcism that it needs to enable it claim its rightful place in the community of nations. 

Madagascar’s top trading nations include France, US, Netherlands, China, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Belgium and South Africa in that order.

Unemployment, health provision, energy sufficiency, education infrastructural development,  agricultural modernisation, streamlining of the mining sector and political cohesion together with communal tolerance are some of the key pillars that President Rajaonarimampianina must devote enormous efforts to stabilize a restive nation used to military strongmen.

[Next week in IOO Western Indian Ocean Perspectives 2017: Mauritius, Iran, India, Oman, Yemen, Australia, Eritrea, Maldives, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Also don’t miss our illuminating IOO Western Indian Ocean Environmental Perspectives 2017 coming out next week]

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