Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Horn of Africa: A Peace and Conflict Perspective

Alemayehu Fentaw

29 June 2008

Stadtschlaining, Austria

The Horn of Africa: A Peace and Conflict Perspective

Diagnosis: The term ‘the Horn of Arica’ refers to the region containing the countries of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia. As such, it covers approximately 2,000,000 square kilometers and is inhabited by about 90.2 million people (Ethiopia: 80 million, Somalia: 10 million, Eritrea: 4.5 million, and Djibouti: 0.7 million). The Horn of Africa is a region continuously in crisis. Ethiopia occupies a predominant position in the Horn because of its demographic importance: about 85% of the area's population lives in this country. Yet Ethiopia's history is largely marked by conflicts between ethnonational groups for resources, as well as between center and periphery in the country’s recent past for political power. The rest of the region also faces continuous wars: a civil war erupted in Somalia in 1986, resulting in the country having had no functioning national government since 1991.

The political conditions are not conducive to the non-violent resolution of the region’s conflicts, and indeed that the progress made in some countries is extremely fragile. The year 2006-08 has seen a succession of crises in the Horn, beginning with the Islamist takeover of Mogadishu and the subsequent Ethio-American invasion. Somalia’s Mbgathi peace process produced a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that was supposed to establish a transitional government and administration based in Mogadishu. The TFG still exists and is recognized as the government of Somalia in the region. But it has proved quite unable to establish its authority inside Somalia. When the Islamic Courts took control of Mogadishu in 2006, Ethiopia decided to install the TFG by force for two legitimate reasons: on the one hand she was invited by the TFG and on the other hand, she had security reasons as long the UIC forces and the ONLF have been supported by Eritrean government. Since then Mogadishu has been in the grip of a powerful insurgency, part anti-Ethiopian, part Islamist, directed against the TFG and its Ethiopian sponsors. An undersized African Union peacekeeping force is helplessly caught in the middle. Moreover, the Eritrean military invaded the Ras Doumeira region in northern Djibouti on June 10,2008 and fighting broke out afterwards. The move seemed to fit with Eritrea's less-than-neighborly relations with just about all of its neighbors. In the 1990s, Eritrea clashed with Yemen over the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea; battled Sudan-backed rebels on its western frontier; and fought Ethiopia, the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, over a little border town called Badme. That conflict killed 100,000 people and is still not resolved. There are renewed threats of war, as both Ethiopia and Eritrea are mobilizing their armies between their borders after the UNMEE was forced to leave out of Eritrea, despite the Algiers Agreement of December 2000. In sum, the prevalence of identity politics, and processes of state formation, and undelimited borders, are identified as common structural features of conflict in the region.

Prognosis: Wishing the problem away does not pay. Since the horn is one of the most fragile regions in the world, the relative in/stability will deteriorate through time and brutal inter-state conflicts and civil wars will occur. The situation will be regrettably hopeless if left alone.

Therapy: First and foremost, Ethiopia must withdraw its forces from Somalia consequent on its replacement by the AMISOL. Then, she and the US must undertake a reconciliation process as well as help in the reconstruction and rebuilding process. With respect to the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict, the Eritrean government should be encouraged by the international community to break the stalemate and begin to negotiate with Ethiopia, given that Ethiopia respects the Border Commission’s decision, to be followed by normalization of relationships between the two fraternal States. Besides, Eritrea must withdraw its forces from Djiboutian territory and be willing to settle their border dispute amicably. Second, a framework must be put in place with a view to bringing about regional integration that could permit the relaxation of strict boundary demarcations, allowing freedom of movement and interaction between peoples. This could reduce the pressure for the creation of new independent states by disaffected groups, since there would be a new regional forum to redress their grievances or address their interests and rights without their being forced to resort to secession. In this regard, the Coal and Steel approach of the EU is commendable. The fact that the Sudan is an oil exporting country is beginning to transform its relations with its neighbours, esp. Ethiopia. Thus, the presumption here is that economic cooperation leads to regional integration. One political arrangement that allows regional integration and freedom of movement is confederation and another is federation. Therefore, I recommend that the various states of the region come together, transcend their obstacles and competitions beyond economic cooperation to form one political community, viz., a confederation initially and, eventually, a federation. Finally, it has to be borne in mind that there is a need for a two-track approach: democratization and economic cooperation. The assumption here is that democratic institutions leave room for non-violent conflict resolution.

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