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Conflict and Fragility

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Ports & Power: the securitisation of port politics

23 May 2018 - 16:27
Source: Port of Doraleh/Djibouti-United Nations Photo/flickr

This article is published in 'Maritime Insecurity Dilemmas amidst a new scramble for the Horn?', Horn of Africa Bulletin, Life & Peace Institute, issue March-April 2018.

During the past decade, foreign countries have invested heavily into various ports in the Horn of Africa, often following their commercial deals with the opening of military bases next to those ports (for example China in Djibouti, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Berbera and Turkey in Mogadishu).

This article looks at how the Horn’s coastline has been transformed into an important strategic area – not only for maritime trade routes, but also due to its proximity to regional conflicts – and consequently has attracted a range of foreign powers. The influx of foreign actors, mixing commercial incentives with military deals, has led to the securitisation of the Horn’s ports, the importing of foreign political cleavages, and has influenced intra-Horn politics. 

Authors Willem van den Berg and Jos Meester offer a panoramic overview of what they refer to as the ‘securitisation of port politics’ in the Horn of Africa. They emphasise the close and mutually reinforcing linkages between the commercial-economic drivers of the external/nonAfrican interest in the ports in the Horn and the rush to establish a military-naval presence in the region, underlining how the current scramble between non African states to establish a military-naval presence in the Horn is also reflexively determined by a ‘strategy of extraversion’ being pursued by the governments of coastal states in the region. More importantly, they also draw attention to how the same process is bringing about political shifts at both the regional (inter-state relations) and national levels.