Security Challenges of Eastern Africa Indian Ocean Realm (EAIOR)


Securing peace and prosperity in the Eastern Africa Indian Ocean Realm (EAIOR) states is linked to the centrality of the Indian Ocean to the world. This realm is framed by land and seaward states along the western Red Sea and the East Coast of Africa. Three clusters of states can be discerned.


Securing peace and prosperity in the Eastern Africa Indian Ocean Realm (EAIOR) states is linked to the centrality of the Indian Ocean to the world. This realm is framed by land and seaward states along the western Red Sea and the East Coast of Africa. Three clusters of states can be discerned.

Cluster 1: Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique make up the landward component.

Cluster 2: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda Ethiopia, Sudan, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zambia whose survival is the consequence of geo-strategic seaboard infrastructure.

Cluster 3: This consists of the island states of Madagascar, Seychelles, and the Comoros.

These geographical spaces also played host to classical coastal city states that maintained strategic and trade relations with Asia.  The strategic salience of the EAIOR is linked to evolving survival and interests of these states and other global actors.

East African Indian Ocean Realm states currently attract predatory attention for their strategic resources, and existing and envisioned infrastructure by the USA, China, Russia, European and Arab Gulf states. Notably, EAIOR states must balance their diplomacy around security interests overflows from the Pacific Realm. These include the Taiwan issue, sovereignty, governance questions, and the maritime border issues that frame superpower relations. These issues are played out in strategies and alliances like China’s One Belt – One Road (OBOR) and the ‘Quad’ that seek access or denial of this strategic interface ocean space.

In addition, the EAIOR states continue to grapple with a wide range of security challenges. This paper identifies various challenges facing the region, and, in each case, possible policies and strategies to address them.

1. Emerging Geo-Political, Economic and Strategic Challenges

The international relations of other states in the international system have the capacity to influence the survival of other states.  This affects Africa in different political, economic, and social ways. Their foreign policies and the pursuit of national interests by the major powers dictate their engagement with each other, and with other states e.g., the EAIOR states. This can in turn affect the pursuit of the security interests of the EAIOR states. International power rivalries destabilise African states and their international relations. This is true especially of the Eastern Africa and Horn of Africa zone. The rivalries affect the African strategic space (maritime, outer space, land, and air), strategic minerals (uranium, lithium), strategic partnerships (seeking Africa as an ally), and the strategic issues of the geo-stationary orbit.

Another example of this is the One-China policy that involves debates on the sovereignty and governance of Taiwan. This issue forces EAIOR states to analyse their own foreign policies and national interests. EAIOR states will constantly evaluate their foreign policies and strategies and prefer alignments that will support their own survival in the international system.

Policies and Strategies to address Geo-political, Economic and Strategic Challenges.

  • Re-enforcing regional and national institutional strategic negotiation culture especially in addressing strategic natural resources.
  • Promoting development of regional approaches in sub-regional organizations such as the East African Community (EAC), Inter- Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The aim of this would be to embed protection of regional strategic interests.
  • Developing policies that enhance capacity to create regional strategic advantage over external actors e.g., those that move beyond Europe to focus on the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

2. Infrastructure Challenges

There exist infrastructural challenges within and among EAIOR states. This affects the movement of goods across the EAIOR states and other Continents. The challenge is for the EAIOR states to move beyond national to regional approaches which now inform the strategic thrust of Africa. Challenges surrounding infrastructure include:

  • Skewed development policies and strategies that give preference to certain national groups at the expense of others leading to unbalanced infrastructure development.
  • Absence of strategic linkages to various types of infrastructure (air, road and maritime) within and among EAIOR states that are important for national security and survival of the states.
  • There is lack of mutually beneficial value addition between the economy, government, and society. This is especially the case for mining where infrastructure ensures resource movement from extraction to processing points and export. In such cases, local areas and communities are denied substantial development or benefit from the minerals.

Policies and Strategies to Address Infrastructure Challenges

  • Development of strategic linkages that serve the best domestic and regional interests of the states in the region.
  • Development of mechanisms for analysing these interests to enhance appreciation of the political, economic, and social benefits a country will derive from such strategic linkages.
  • Development of a strategic map and common strategies of EAIOR states’ natural resources that will enhance identification of areas of collaboration of their various national interests.
  • Development of value addition policies to identify the relationship between communities and natural resources, and the benefits that can emerge from them (electricity, schools, hospitals, irrigations schemes etc.), and there must be tangible benefits emerging from the resources.

3. Insurgency Related Security challenges

Insurgencies involving guerrilla warfare and terrorism , and the military engagement of both destabilise the normal functioning of the state and the affected populations at large. They also affect inter-state relations especially when one country serves as a rear base for an insurgent group e.g., Somalia and Eastern Congo for Al Shabaab and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) respectively. In the case of Al- Shabaab in their rear base, the Kenya Defence forces intervened in Somalia to fight Al- Shabaab which had and continues to perpetrate terror attacks in Kenya.

The sustenance of insurgencies also brings in other issues like money laundering and trafficking. Insurgencies and their engagement fracture domestic institutions requiring virtually all ministries to be engaged in the war on terror, and this requires budget allocations or re-structuring their establishing mandate.

Insurgent groups also tend to popularise their beliefs among citizens.  This is especially so in cases where there are feelings of exclusion and marginalization of certain groups and communities. This affects government-citizen-society relations in which the population develops sympathies for insurgent groups and supports them on the basis that government has failed in addressing vital needs of the community. As a result, there emerges disengagement of communities from policy making, which gives insurgents the upper hand.

All these issues are compounded by challenges of information, communication and transportation and are also sustained by mega and meta corruption amongst state elites.

Policies and Strategies to Address Insurgency Related Challenges

Counter-insurgence policies on common themes like ‘war on terror’ are closely linked to foreign policies and diplomatic strategies. This also applies to strategies engaging citizens in the war on terror. Ideally, policies should create unfavourable conditions for insurgents while allowing citizens to integrate and maximise material resources, thus crowding out insurgents. Policies relating to insurgencies include:

  • Policies transforming the conditions sustaining insurgencies e.g., social-economic, and political.
  • Policies to address social and economic issues encouraging citizens to support insurgent groups.
  • Policies that address information, communication and transport infrastructure that promote mobility and integration of citizens and thus weaken insurgents.

4. Natural Resource Security Challenges

Although natural resource issues cover a broad spectrum of themes, this section is concerned with knowledge and capacity in the natural resource arena of EAIOR states. Specifically, this targets strategic minerals and metals like cobalt, rare earth elements, titanium, and lithium. There is a crisis of knowledge and capacity regarding natural resource exploration and exploitation for benefitting EAIOR states.

Addressing this crisis of knowledge is critical because it encompasses issues of extraction, processing, and usage of various natural resources. The issue of capacity in this regard relates to the infrastructure and machinery needed to operationalize the knowledge obtained.

This crisis of knowledge in the EAIOR states encompasses different shapes and forms:

  • Some states lack the necessary knowledge and insight about the type, quantity, and quality of the natural resources they possess.
  • It affects the mining and transformation of the relevant natural resources especially minerals and metals.
  • It affects knowledge about how to utilise natural resources in individual states. Such knowledge is important because it informs decisions about external markets, processing and utilising the natural resources and integrating their benefits in national economies.

Policies and Strategies to Address Natural Resource Challenges

EAIOR states urgently need to develop the following policies and strategies:

  • EAIOR states that possess these resources must develop their own manufacturing processes.
  • They also require strategies to increase their revenue streams from those natural resources that command international trade in these natural resources and finished products derived from them.
  • These states must develop policies addressing critical processes in the production chain of the finished products.
  • Although EAIOR states do not currently have the capacity to house the entire manufacturing plant, they must develop long-range strategies to do so since it would be a vital actor in the production process.
  • EAIOR states must develop policies and strategies for acquiring strategic mineral technology and training the requisite manpower.
  • EAIOR states should harmonize sub-regional polices and strategies regarding exploration, extraction, and exploitation of natural resources to enhance their bargaining power in the international market. To do so, EAIOR states should identify their strategic weaknesses and develop strategies for joint utilisation of the requisite knowledge and capacity.

5. Governance Security challenges

Many EAIOR states lack indigenous policies for addressing various domestic and national issues. Indigenous policies mean those that are derived, practised, and protected through knowledge and skills constituted in community belief systems that distinguish these states from others across the globe. This then informs their epistemology and ontology as Eastern Africa Indian Ocean Realm states.

The existing governance policies in EAIOR states have been accused of being merely extractive in nature i.e., tending to take away from citizens while providing little in return. There are many instances of political leaders pursing their own interests through state resources, and to some extent policies, eventually leading to instability and severe crises of governance.

Policies and Strategies to Respond to Governance Security

EAIOR states must have supportive foundations of indigenous knowledge and practice encompassing their values, norms, and principles. These indigenous polices must then become the basis of policy and decision making across EAIOR states.

6. Security Challenges Relating to Resource Governance

These resource governance issues encompass actors, policies and decision-making mechanisms that determine how power and responsibilities over natural resources are exercised among the EAIOR states. There is also limited capacity to secure these states against both old and emerging security threats e.g. piracy and maritime terrorism. Piracy has been a recurring issue especially off the coast of Somalia. This affects international shipping lanes that transverse through the Gulf of Aden raising economic concerns. Terrorists use the Ocean as a medium for their terrorist activities and operations like attacking vessels of high economic value like oil ships or even large luxury cruise ships.  Also, the presence of networks that link maritime terrorism across the Indian Ocean facilitates terror attacks on ships, coastal towns and port raising various security concerns in these areas.

Policies and Strategies to Address Resource Governance Challenges

  • Establishing an EAIOR states’ navy to provide for joint defence policies and strategies to various security issues affecting these states.
  • EAIOR states need to step up collaboration in addressing counter-piracy and terrorism strategies e.g., through collaborative naval operations to patrol or launch pre-emptive attacks on pirate ships could help secure the Eastern Africa Indian Ocean.
  • Provide opportunities of engagements to landlocked countries that are also affected by the resource governance security issues. This will increase participation and capacity in addressing issues concerning the region.

7. Security Challenges Related to Climate Change Challenges

The rise of sea levels is a huge threat to i) the survival of those living in coastal towns and ii) the existence of centuries old architectures. These have been part of forming the local historical development and hold great social-cultural value and significance to the people of these regions. They include World Heritage sites like Fort Jesus in Mombasa- Kenya, which runs the risk of being submerged.

The submersion of coastal areas is a serious concern for some of these EAIOR states. For these, it is not just a section of the population and structures at risk, but the existence of the island itself and the whole ecosystem it supports. The climate change challenge raises the issue of climate refugees as people living in these areas will have to be relocated for their safety and survival. Many have great physical, cultural, emotional, and spiritual connection and historical ties to these areas hence relocation (if an option) will not just be a challenge for various governments and organizations but on the affected people as well, both in psychological and logistic terms.

Policies to Address Climate Change Issues

  • New challenges fuelled by climate change demand new thinking and fresh responses that require collaboration of both internal and regional knowledge and capacity amongst EAIOR states.
  • States require sufficient capital to sustain the operationalization of solutions such as reforestation, ecosystem protection and shifting to renewable energy sources.
  • Strategies need to be formulated on education on climate change issues, adaptation, and mitigation. This will help to direct populations as they engage with various mitigation and adaptation efforts proposed in government policies.

8. Other Security Challenges for EAIOR States

Hydro politics in this region affects some states in terms of access to, and the utilisation of the [Indian] ocean and rivers.  Also, some EAIOR states have limited access to, and usage of their own natural resources. These have been highlighted in some of the international and customary laws that have governed their international relations throughout history. For example, River Nile is shared by various EAIOR states and flows all the way to Egypt cutting across eleven African states. The 1959 Nile Water Agreement provided that only Sudan and Egypt can utilise River Nile (e.g., building dams); and by that Agreement, Sudan has limited access while Egypt has complete control over River Nile during the dry season when water is needed the most.

Policies and Strategies to Address Other Security Challenges for EAIOR states.

  • Review some of the international agreements and treaties governing interactions regarding the use of River Nile.
  • The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework has altered the water sharing arrangements for River Nile. Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya have signed it and now need to increase their efforts in persuading Egypt and Sudan to sign and ratify this new agreement.
  • The River Nile issue is a serious challenge for the Nile basin states, and it is always on the edge of war. Such a war would be very complex because while Nile-wide, it would have bilateral and dimensions which are often intractable. And yet, its outcome would require the involvement and participation of all states in the basin. Such wars are easy to begin, but have the tendency to become protracted. This is clearly a major security challenge for EAIOR states.

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