In a move that would further weaken Kenya’s influence in the Horn of Africa, Saudi Arabia on Monday led the formation of a new council aimed at securing the waterways of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
The African Littoral States of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden convened in Riyadh and signed a document that will deepen economic and political cooperation in the region.
The Foreign Affairs Ministers attending the Riyadh meeting signed the Charter for the Establishment of the Council of Arab and African Littoral States of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and the document will be presented to the Heads of State of the eight littoral states.
The council includes Egypt, Jordan, Eritrea, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, and seeks to tackle piracy, smuggling and other threats in the seas that are key international shipping routes.
The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are two of the world’s busiest shipping routes connecting Europe to Asia and the Middle East. This is a strategic area key to global shipping and increasingly an arena of contention with regional rivals such as Iran, Turkey and Qatar.
Among the countries building commercial and military ports include Turkey, UAE, Japan, Qatar, France, the US, Italy and China.
This comes at a time when Nairobi is grappling with the Somalia maritime dispute and Djibouti’s defiance of the African Union’s endorsement of Kenya as the continent’s sole candidate for the UN Security Council non-permanent seat.
Somalia’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Issa Awad and his Djibouti counterpart Mahmoud Yusuf were among the participants.
Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches history and international relations at USIU told Business Daily in December last year that the US, a Saudi Arabia allay in the Middle East, could be among those quietly backing Djibouti’s UNSC bid.
Other than Eritrea, the council members are also members of the Arab Parliament, which in June last year said Kenya was drawing up an illegal map that includes taking away Somalia’s territory.
“The Arab Parliament calls on Kenya to stop its hands on Somali territorial waters, which are an integral part of the Arab waters, and rejects its false pretensions to draw up a new, unfounded map while rejecting its threats to interfere in Somalia’s internal affairs,” Somalia said in a translation of the communique from the Parliament.Eritrea delegation composed of Foreign Affairs Minister Osman Saleh, presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab and, People’s Front for Democracy and Justice’s Head of Economic Affairs Hagos Hiwet.
Eritrea has been pushing for stronger relations among the states.
“Saleh reiterated Eritrea’s position that these littoral States shoulder primary responsibility for the security and development of the Red Sea. He further stressed that the objective must be to build an effective regional organisation with requisite competence and capability,” Yemane Meskel, the country’s Information Minister said.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia organised a summit seeking an alliance with the six countries bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Notably, Riyadh hosted the signing ceremony for Eritrea and Ethiopia’s peace agreement.