Call for expressions of interest: Research on Middle East-Horn of Africa Relation

18 July, 2023

The Red Sea region is experiencing a major transformation as political, economic, and social cooperation between states and societies in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East is reshaping the geopolitical landscape. Investment in infrastructure, peace and security collaboration, and labor migration are amongst the most visible manifestations of the current dynamics of interaction. Policy makers and scholars are closely monitoring these developments as the region takes its place as a key geopolitical site in the global arena. However, the discussion has been dominated by geopolitical and geo-economic perspectives that identify national security and economic interests as key determinants in the evolution of the myriad interactions. These conventional geopolitical explanations see a new scramble for Africa emerging, in which powers in the Middle East project their divides into the Horn of Africa. In this story African states and societies remain spectators of the scramble and the regional space is viewed as medium and container of the political, economic and socio- cultural engagements.

While a transactional lens certainly goes some way towards explaining the unprecedented dynamics in the region—for economic investments in this context usually go one way—it is rather limited in making us comprehend interests, aspirations, and ideas that African actors pursue in these manifold economic, political and socio-cultural relations. Additionally, traditional geopolitical and geo-economic arguments do not attribute much significance to historical, ideational and cultural factors that shape the collaboration between states, and hence founder given that references to shared pasts or joint cultural symbols and practices are regularly invoked in those forms of interaction in the region. In this context, we heed the argument that a foundation of shared ideas and historical narratives is essential for enduring transnational collaboration. Seen this way, African actors are co-designers of the emergent relations to Middle East countries. We take inspiration from discussions about the power of ideas in global politics, in particular from concepts such as soft power, heritage diplomacy and geocultural power, which aim at examining how geostrategic claims are made through reference to history and culture, and how the past may serve as a pivot to great power diplomacy (Nye 1990, Winter 2015 Winter 2020). These ideas help examining how historical and cultural narratives inform political, economic, and social interactions across the Red Sea and how they are formed, negotiated, established, and justified.

In the context of this research project, the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden in collaboration with the Institute for Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University, invites expressions of interest to become a temporary research associate in the project.

We welcome expressions of interests by early or mid-career researchers based in and/or having research expertise on the Horn of Africa. Ideally, scholars have a background in political science, development studies, international relations, peace and security studies, history, sociology or social anthropology. We are seeking a diverse group of scholars to contribute to data collection, analysis and writing to advance our understanding of historical and cultural narratives in negotiating political, economic, and social interactions across the Red Sea. The research on contemporary collaboration between Middle East/Gulf actors and Horn of Africa actors will be focused on these three policy areas:

  • Peace and security
  • Infrastructure/logistics
  • Labor & migration

Please submit a one-page summary of how your expertise fits into the project as well as your CV (with major publications) no later than 31 August 2023 to:

Dr. Yohannes Tekalign and Bizusew Ashagrie: