Africa, for quite a long, has been the most unexplored or under-explored place on the planet and it is largely believed that Africa is a mineral and natural resource-rich continent. It is said that the next super growth in the world economy will be driven by Africa, and the most important reason for the African growth story will be the availability of enormous natural and human resources in the region. When it comes to natural resources, the latest site in Africa that attracts the world is the Nubian Shield and Bab Al Mandab Strait located along the red sea.
Nubian Shield is an exposure of Precambrian crystalline rocks on the flanks of the red sea. The countries of Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia constitute the landmass of the Nubian Shield. It is exposed as part of the Ethiopian highlands, Asir province of Arabia, and Yemen highlands. And there is Bab Al Mandab Strait which has witnessed several conflicts, disputes, and wars of influence relevant to politics on the surface but deep inside, they are about oil and global trade. The location is also strategically important as it is surrounded by the counties like Saudi Arabia and Eritrea and houses military bases of several world powers like China, the US, Russia, France, UAE, and others. Also, the area mainly constitutes of or is surrounded by war-torn and unstable countries like Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and others.
In the past decade, this region has seen its strategic importance skyrocket among the world’s most influential players. Foreign parties’ attention was turned towards the Nubian Shield and Bab Al Mandab at the end of the century’s first decade in response to the explosion of piracy taking place off of the Somali coast. This resulted in the commencement of various naval missions to thwart that threat and ensure freedom of navigation through those seas. The past half-decade, however, has been marked by intensified competition between some of these same players in order to entrench their influence in this geostrategic space.
Why it is so important?
The Nubian Shield is unexplored or under-explored and is believed to contain tens of millions of tons of minerals and natural resources which include Gold, Copper, Zinc, Tin, Iron, Sulphur, Uranium, Platinum, Nickle, Cobalt, Chromite, Tantalum, Niobium and many more. Many of these minerals are in huge quantities. It is also the geographical location of this place that makes it important. It is located between the horn of Africa and the Gulf of Suez, that is, Suez Canal. The landmass resides along the red sea which is one of the busiest and most important trade routes because of the Suez Canal. It is also one of the most critical choke points in the world as any disruption in this region can cause the world trade and economy to suffer huge losses.
Many of the minerals that are found in the region are extremely valuable and useful in military tech, consumer tech, electronics, automobiles, and many more areas. For example, Chromite is a mineral necessary for the production of chromium superalloys, which is a material that forms the bases of jet turbine engines. Tantalum, another mineral, is a component vital to household electronics. Also, Niobium is a mineral that is used to strengthen alloys at low temperatures, making it sought after for use in rockets and missiles. Also, don’t forget Gold. It is not just a metal, mineral, or a natural resource but in today’s world, it is more of a precious, valuable, and tradable commodity that has extreme durability & Malleability. It is not just used as ornaments & jewelry by households, but it also drives the economy with many of its different industrial uses and most importantly, its use by governments and financial institutions as reserves, as a store of liquidity & value, and for many other uses.
On the other hand, we have Bab Al Mandab Strait, the world’s most strategic region located in the Gulf Of Aden-Red Sea. According to Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare, the Bab Al Mandab Strait’s significance is that it’s the shortest year-round maritime transit route between Western and Eastern Eurasia. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) through the Arctic is gradually becoming operational but isn’t reliable during the winter months. Additionally, the Bab Al Mandab Strait countries sit in the center of the tri-continental pivot space between Afro-Eurasia. This highly prized position can be utilized for economic and military purposes. The Bab Al Mandab Strait countries can function as transshipment points for facilitating East-West trade as well as conveniently host-related production facilities. They’re also prime outposts for monitoring regional non-state threats.
Bordering Djibouti from the African side, Bab Al Mandab Strait has shared bordered with Yemen from the continent of Asia side. It is located in the middle of the five continents to form a vital strategic link in the maritime trade route between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal at the north and the Gulf of Aden at the south. The percentage of the annual international trade volume passing through the 30m-width Strait equals 700 Billion dollars which represents about 13-14% of the total volume. The Perim Island divides it in South Yemen into 2 canals, including the Eastern one with 3km width and 30m depth, and the Western one with a width of about 25km and a depth of 310m.
As a result, the Bab Al Mandab Strait’s significance is that it’s the shortest year-round maritime transit route between Western and Eastern Eurasia. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) through the Arctic is gradually becoming operational but isn’t reliable during the winter months. Additionally, the GARS countries sit in the center of the tri-continental pivot space between Afro-Eurasia. This highly prized position can be utilized for economic and military purposes. The GARS countries can function as transshipment points for facilitating East-West trade as well as conveniently host-related production facilities. They’re also prime outposts for monitoring regional non-state threats.
The beginning of a geopolitical war
As the countries around the Nubian shield and Bab Al Mandab Strait struggle and suffer due to wars, conflicts, and instability, the world powers like China, US & Russia will continue to show interest, interfere, grasp influence, opportunity, and control. The world powers will continue to look at the region from the point of view of their national, military, strategic and economic interests. In fact, this has already started.
During a recent visit to Kenya, the Foreign minister of China, Wang Yi, said that soon Beijing will appoint a Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. He said that his country wants to lead the peace process in the Horn of Africa by appointing a Special Envoy. This step by China in a war-torn and unstable region can easily be seen as a step towards establishing the Chinese power, influence & control over the region, so to fulfill its ambitious plan of playing a role in the region’s politics and security. Also, China has long been supplying military hardware to the Ethiopian government.
Soon after Beijing says, it will appoint the Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman was fired from his post after less than a year in the job, and David Satterfield, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Turkey, will take up the role this month. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Mr. Feltman’s departure and Mr. Satterfield’s appointment. Recently, the new US special envoy for the region of Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, will be in Ethiopia in a renewed effort to end the war & conflicts. This could be seen as the US’s efforts to spread its influence, power, and control over the country of Ethiopia and the region. The region has also seen setbacks from a coup in Sudan and an election stand-off in Somalia. These instabilities, conflicts, wars, and the high-profile visits of the officials from the world powers clearly point to a future geopolitical war.
On the other hand, Russia is in talks to set up a naval base in Sudan while Turkey already has a land base in Somalia. In between, them lies Djibouti, which already hosts five foreign bases, including American and Chinese ones. That tiny country is considered to be the lifeline for landlocked Ethiopia, which is the continent’s second-most populous country and is presently in the midst of a serious internal conflict over the rogue Tigray Region. Ethiopia’s troubles have attracted widespread international concern because of their potential humanitarian consequences. Addis Ababa also accuses the Arab League, Egypt, and the West of meddling.
The Military presence and engineering interests internationally
This narrow spot has not been limited to attempts to extend regional influence but enlarged by an influence race involving several international forces such as China which established its first military base in Djibouti in addition to injecting development investments in the region’s countries, deemed as a target for the Belt and Road Initiatives, only 6 miles away from the only American military base in Africa. This pushed the US Defence establishment to show high interest, whether in the Pentagon or the command headquarters of the American forces in Africa and the Middle East.
Due to the importance of this maritime stronghold for the trade route, the free navigation across the world, and the vital regional impact in international policies, the Biden administration appointed David Satterfield as President’s new Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa to ensure the US follow-up and involvement in the course of events and the development of issues, especially the Yemeni War. and the necessity to manage the Iranian influence which is hostile to the stability of the Gulf states.
The following map was issued by the “Stockholm International Peace Research Institute” shows to what extent the major powers jostled for military stationing in the countries adjacent to the Gulf of Aden and Bab Al Mandab. It shows the intense spread points for the military bases for countries such as the US, China, France, and Japan in Djibouti, Britain in Kenya, Turkey in Somalia, India in Madagascar, and Seychelles as well as Israel in Eritrea.
In May 2021, the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen announced its presence in the Perim Island, at the entrance to the Red Sea to face the perceived maritime trade threats by the Iran-affiliated Houthis. This statement was a response to an Associated Press report which claimed that the UAE seeks to build an airbase in the Island known also as Mayyun in the Bab Al Mandab Strait. The statement pointed out that “all types of equipment in the Island are under the control of the Coalition command to confront the Houthis, secure the maritime navigation and support the Western Coast Forces” stressing that there are no Emirati troops in the islands of Perim and Socotra. the UAE’s current efforts are based on providing air support for the Coalition operations in the city of Marib which the Houthi Forces are trying to control.
The international community at large has several interests with respect to the Gulf Of Aden-Red Sea. They most importantly want to ensure freedom of navigation through its waterways in order to not disrupt East-West trade. Secondly, while they officially hope for peace to prevail in the Yemeni and Ethiopian contexts, only a few of them are directly involved in those conflicts, some of whom are suspected of having ulterior motives that contradict their formally peaceful ones. Thirdly, the EU is especially concerned about those conflicts’ potential intensification leading to large-scale refugee flows into the bloc.