This map shows a tragedy in the making – a point where the future is about to crash into the present. The causal chain is quite simple, but the implications are very complicated. If we accept the case of climate change and the desertification of the Horn of Africa, then we can expect to see an increase in the years in which the rains fail. It is likely to induce a negative feedback loop – less rain means crop failures, which induce greater soil erosion, which act to lower crop yields per acre, which serve to reduce familial incomes in the Horn of Africa. We have the prospect of hunger today and hunger tomorrow as well. However, from the safety of the West, we need to consider the geopolitical implications of this.
The drought is being experienced in two very fragile states – Somalia and Ethiopia – and one state that, though not fragile, could well become fragile if it experiences too much economic stress – namely Kenya. This, perhaps, is the more worrying development. Kenya is a viable state. However, it does suffer from the legacy by being a political entity that stitches together a complex patchwork of tribal relationships. In periods of fragility, those relationships can boil over into inter-tribal violence. If that happens, then we could possibly see the de-stabilisation of East Africa.
This ought to be concern to us for two reasons. The first is that those likely to benefit from this de-stabilisation are likely to be hostile to Western interests. The second is that the area occupies an important point in the global supply chain upon which the West relies. The impact of piracy and disorder emanating from Somalia is currently interrupting trade flows from the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal. A potential ds-stabilisation of East Africa would give the pirates a greater operational area in the Indian Ocean, which could disrupt global trade flows even further. It would certainly increase the cost of the naval policing of these waters at a time when budgetary constraints are limiting the abilities of Western navies to respond to this challenge.
This is why the alleviation of global poverty ought to be fairly high on our list of things to do. Strangely enough, spending public money on overseas aid and poverty relief may actually save us a greater sum of money not to be spent in dealing with the disorder coming from failing states.
© The European Futures Observatory 2011