A crane unloads containers from a ship at the port city of Massawa, Eritrea, July 2018.
Tiksa Negeri / REUTERS

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

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