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Ambassador Alex Rondos on Challenges in the Horn of Africa

Baroness Catherine Ashton and Ambassador Alex Rondos, EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa discuss the challenges facing Europe in the Horn of Africa.

Date & Time

Nov. 26, 2019
10:30am – 11:30am ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Baroness Catherine Ashton and Ambassador Alex Rondos, EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa, discuss the challenges facing Europe in the Horn of Africa. 

Selected Quotes

The Right Honourable Catherine Ashton

“When Somalia got to the point of having some kind of government, I remember flying in on a cargo plane, with you, to the airport in Mogadishu, when the control the government had was about one square mile. And we had a tin hut and a flag and a bed and a bedside table, and that was the embassy. And we put you in it. And I have a photograph of you lying on the bed in the tin hut. And then we raised the flag of the European Union as a means of showing that, although we could hear there was a lot going on a mile away, that we were committed to trying to support the people of Somalia, and, through them, the people of the Horn of Africa.”

Ambassador Alex Rondos, EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa

“The EU’s range is in such a way that the remit was to be sort of all things to all people. As the EU does. It sort of has clauses and subclauses to every text and order that it gives. But, at the time, the real hot issue was Somalia eight years ago … So, the remit really became one where I was the only person who had such a role, which was unusual. Secondly, that a lot of the people, the leaders in region, I think, were surprised – and pleased – that there was an attention being given on a political level.”

“I think this is where, from a European perspective, we could play to one comparative advantage that we have, which is that, in the EU, we are dealing daily with squabbles among member states. The question is we created a framework within which, at the very least, you don’t pull guns out. On the whole, we haven’t for a while. And, therefore, trying to get a whole region which was, despite its geographical name of “The Horn of Africa,” is a pretty disaggregated place. It’s not integrated in the way that other regions are, And, therefore, getting the countries among themselves to get used to finding ways of communicating with each other, preventing crises. And a lot of the work I’ve ended up doing is stuff that just doesn’t appear in the public eye.”

“As things have developed, it’s really become about how this region called “The Horn” begins to resolve its internal national disputes… of which there are a number, and we’ll go into that… [as well as] the relations among the countries. The most recent challenge is situating and helping a region navigate its way into a completely changed geographical landscape.”

“Are we, in this changed global setting, and given what is going on in the region right now, going to become spectators, or how do we engage and how do we define our interests as Europe in this changed setting? So, there’s a lot of firefighting and occasional attempts to be prophetic and translate that into some kind of longer-term policy.”

“We all need to wake up and understand that this generation is now gone politically operational. And we will be making a serious mistake if we think this generation should simply be treated as numbers in a development project… To have the umpteenth youth project, lovely, but they’re going in another direction, which is to say, ‘We intend to have a say in what we think we belong to.’’

“It’s a demographic tidal wave breaking over the politics of the region, and that’s just mathematical. You don’t have to be a political crystal ball gazer to understand that. But do we know enough—do the leaders in these countries even know enough—about what is going on, what are these aspirations, what are their loyalties? So, that is the fundamental change.”

“We westerners, and the former colonialists, are kind of bystanders and watching this. And this assumption that we were the players in this region, I think, is changing. Now, where that will go is huge in terms of its implications.”

“We have a view of stability which includes acknowledging that the popular will has a role—if it is acknowledged. Many of the other players who have chimed in do not represent what I would call an illiberal, as opposed to liberal, approach to politics. And that is where we have to work out. Whether stability from the barrel of a gun could be replaced by stability created by a more participatory politics, which is what is being forced on some of these countries.”

“If the international community is not coherent, it will merely reinforce any incipient incoherence in the region. We will mirror each other, and then we’ll be sitting here in a few years’ time wondering what went wrong. And the answer would’ve been we ironed the wrinkles into the shirt, instead of ironing them out. That is the core question of the moment, and I think we’ve got to have the self-confidence to say that certain things we believe in and we’re ready to invest in, and bring others on board—and I mean anyone. The object is put some coherence into the international system at the moment. In that, I have a lot of faith in an emerging generation which is totally wired and connected.”

Hosted By

Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program addresses vital issues affecting the European continent, U.S.-European relations, and Europe’s ties with the rest of the world. It does this through scholars-in-residence, seminars, policy study groups, media commentary, international conferences and publications. Activities cover a wide range of topics, from the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE to European energy security, trade disputes, challenges to democracy, and counter-terrorism. The program investigates European approaches to policy issues of importance to the United States, including globalization, digital transformation, climate, migration, global governance, and relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.  Read more

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