The international army wants to protect the sea routes between Europe and Asia. A restoration of the states of Somaliland and South Yemen should follow.

Heavily armed Houthi militias on a street

What the current Houthi militias have to do with the colonial era Photo: Osamah Abdulrahman/AP/dpa

In 1869, the Red Sea went from being a maritime dead end to being the main artery of globalization. The opening of the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean created a direct sea route between Europe and Asia, fulfilling an old dream of European merchants and conquerors. The Arab region became a focus of imperial geopolitics and the construction of the canal mainly benefited the British Empire. The route from London to British India was halved and the neighboring coasts became British areas of interest.

The British port of Aden on the southern coast of Yemen, acquired in 1839 and administered from India, grew to become the most important coaling station for steam transport between Suez and Bombay. To ensure this, the “Aden Protectorate” was created, and on the opposite southern coast, the Somali trading port of Berbera became the departure point for British Somaliland, guaranteeing food supplies to Aden, until the day today's Horn of Africa. where famine continues to rage, cattle are exported to the Arabian Peninsula, which swims in oil money.

Meanwhile, next door, French Somaliland, now Djibouti, emerged from the French coal station of Obock. All of these colonial territories existed more on maps than in reality, where the imperial presence was largely limited to ports. The nomadic populations of the interior were neither important nor controllable.

150 years later, that may be history, but geographic conditions have not changed. Once again, the focus is on securing global trade in the Red Sea. The United States and Britain launch air and missile strikes against Yemeni rebels, the EU prepares a naval mission and a German warship is on the way.

And who controls the coastal zones is as open as in the 19th century or the 1960s, when Britain withdrew first from Somaliland and then Aden, abruptly and hastily, as part of the retreat of imperial responsibility “east of Suez”. The failed states of Somalia and Yemen are prime examples of what happens when an empire simply pitches its tents, decolonization without a concept.

Yemen and Somalia are fictitious states

The state of Yemen is a fiction. The former colony of Aden became independent in 1967 as South Yemen and soon after became a socialist “people's republic” which, after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1990, merged with the neighboring state of North Yemen around the ancient royal city of Sanaa. in the mountains to form a unified Yemen, but it has long since collapsed again. Houthi rebels are now in power in Sanaa and bombing ships in the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. In Aden, Yemen's internationally recognized government is part of a fragile alliance with forces that want to regain South Yemen's independence.

The state of Somalia is also a fiction. The former colony of Somaliland became independent in 1960 and after just a week merged with the neighboring Italian colony of Somalia further south around Mogadishu, which had also become independent. In 1991, Somaliland rebels overthrew the then Somali dictator in Mogadishu, who had brutally fought his Soviet-aided uprising, and re-proclaimed his homeland as an independent state. Since then, the Republic of Somaliland has remained relatively stable, while the rest of Somalia has been mired in war.

Without clarification on statehood in the areas formally called Yemen and Somalia, stability will not be achieved.

But internationally, Yemen and Somalia are recognized as the United States. The gap between map and reality has simultaneously promoted statelessness on both sides of the Gulf of Aden. Havens emerged for Islamist terrorist groups: Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in Yemen. International naval missions have already been launched against Somali pirates. The combination of the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen with the Middle East conflict is forcing a new military intervention today, but only to protect sea routes. Without clarification on statehood in the areas formally called Yemen and Somalia, stability will not be achieved.

Imperial and democratic era

It is time to finally recognize the Republic of Somaliland as the sovereign state it has been for more than 30 years and therefore as a partner in stabilization, while the rulers of Somalia further south in Mogadishu focus on rebuild their State, without doing so with an irredeemable solution. claim power over Somaliland. It would also make sense to reestablish South Yemen as a separate state with the capital Aden, which could be rebuilt and turned into a thriving port, while the Houthi rebels in Sana'a, further north, maintain their own state and, if necessary, be removed. fights internationally without anyone asserting a claim to power over all of Yemen that would be inapplicable anyway.

The imperial era is over and no foreign power can simply proclaim new states. But the democratic era that should have followed the imperial one should actually offer populations the opportunity to reorganize their own concerns. An independent Somaliland and an independent South Yemen would reflect the will of the majority population in their respective territories. By restoring colonial borders, their reestablishment would not constitute a violation of the UN's unwritten rule that colonially drawn borders must be respected.

The forces that understand this are increasing. They range from Ethiopia to powerful voices in Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Now they have to promote it internationally and follow words with actions. Even more than sending warships, this would be a step toward stabilizing one of the most important regions in the world.