Red Sea rivalries: The Gulf, the Horn of Africa & the new geopolitics of the Red Sea

UAE navy soldier patrols at Al-Mokha port in Yemen

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“The following interactive map displays the acquisition of seaports and establishment of new military installations along the Red Sea coast. The mad dash for real estate by Gulf states and other foreign actors is altering dynamics in the Horn of Africa and re-shaping the geopolitics of the Red Sea region. Click on the flags in the map to learn more about individual sites and find accompanying analysis from Zach Vertin in the Foreign Affairs article below. (*All interactive map data reflects information available as of January 2019.)

Port, base, or other presence
Approximate location
Terms / Location to be determined


Red Sea rivalries

(This article was published in Foreign Affairs on January 15, 2019)

Gulf states with deep pockets and big appetites are asserting themselves in the Horn of Africa as never before. The flurry of new economic and military investments is reshaping geopolitical dynamics on both sides of the Red Sea, as two formerly distinct regions are fast becoming one. The emergence of a common political and economic arena—astride one of the world’s most valuable trade routes—offers opportunities for development and integration. But it also poses considerable risks. For the fragile African states on the western shores of the Red Sea, new engagement from outside powers has proved both tonic and toxin.

As the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey seek to expand their influence in the Horn of Africa, they are exporting Middle Eastern rivalries to a region that has plenty of its own. And they aren’t the only outside powers now paying attention to this once sleepy neighborhood. China recently established its first-ever overseas military installation in Djibouti—just six miles from the only U.S. base in Africa—making the Red Sea an emerging theater for great-power competition. At its center is the Bab el Mandeb strait, a narrow shipping corridor through which hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and other exports pass between Europe, Asia, and the Gulf. Immediately across the strait are the shores of Yemen, where one of the world’s most devastating wars—and most fervent proxy battles—continues to rage.

To read the full Foreign Affairs article, click here: Red Sea Rivalries