A Week in the Horn
07 November 2008
A conference on regional security policy in the Greater Horn of Africa was held in Cairo last week. It was the fourth such conference organized by a German NGO, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung foundation. Participants included representatives from the African Union, the League of Arab States, the German, Ethiopian and Somali Foreign Ministries, Southern Sudan's Ministry of Irrigation, and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Bonn, Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung offices in Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sudan, UNECA, the European Union, Transparency International, the International Crisis Group, the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat, and various think tanks and institutes including the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, the Center for Policy Research and Dialogue in Addis Ababa and Kenya's National Commission on Human Rights. Six panels dealt with Western Sudan, the Horn of Africa, State building and social inclusion, the Nile water and resource management, South Sudan and Northern Uganda; Secession and trans-border issues.
The root problem in Western Sudan, as in the conflicts in Chad and the Central African Republic, was identified as the way the political culture of these countries focus only on development for the benefit of the group in power. The solution suggested was a need to find an institutional political system to allow an effective sharing of resources. In Darfur, participants felt the need for coherence and coordination between all international actors who should get beyond their own organizational interests and create a space for the Sudanese to find their own solutions. The ICC issue should be separated from the issue of peace in the Sudan. State-building and social inclusion, and Secession and trans-border issues were discussed in detail. Ethiopia's ethnic federal structure was identified as ‘the best conflict management device with its promise of shared power and space for multiple identities/loyalties’. The representative of the ICG did not agree, characterizing it as a continuation of narrow ethnic group domination, and calling Ethiopia “the most unstable country in Africa”. No one else agreed and other participants cited evidence of stability and development in all the regional components of Ethiopia's federal structure. Indeed, Somalia and Kenya, and even other countries in the region and beyond, were recommended to follow such a federal structure as the recipe for successful state building and resource sharing as a way out of current predicaments. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) attracted considerable discussion. There was agreement on the need to build confidence among riparian states, particularly between Ethiopia and Egypt, to make the NBI an effective organization, to discontinue unilateral development, and on the necessity to deal with the unmet development programs of NBI member states. In conclusion a number of actions were recommended as ways forward to help achieve regional security. These included the need to practice good governance characterized by a responsible and participatory approach; for governments to engage their populations in a dialogue; increase the role of civil society; establish a system of conflict management; create cross-border cooperation; and expand regional trade.
The most hotly discussed issues were the conflicts in the Horn, the Ethio-Eritrean border, the Eritrean invasion of Djibouti, and conflicts in Somalia. Dr. Annette Weber, from the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, presented a provocative paper which minimized the threat of terrorism in the Horn of Africa and anticipated much of what the ICG representative was to say. In the extensive discussion it generated the most outspoken comments came from the representative of the Brussels based International Crisis Group. He surprised other participants by taking an identical line to that of the Eritrean Government, arguing the need for Ethiopia to withdraw from “occupied Eritrean territories”, and claiming the 'virtual' demarcation decision of the Boundary Commission was final and legal and, ignoring the numerous anomalies acknowledged by the Boundary Commission, claimed it should be endorsed by the UN Security Council. He also claimed Ethiopia’s ‘invasion’ of Somalia was intended to balkanize Somalia, that any claim of a terrorist threat to Ethiopia’s security was a fabrication in collaboration with the US, and that there was no border conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti and claims of this were no more than a US invention. Participants and organizers were surprised by the complete association of the International Crisis Group with the position of the Eritrean government and the ICG representative's comments were strongly challenged, indeed refuted, by participants from Ethiopia and by other discussants. Surprisingly, the ICG continues to be unconcerned by its credibility in the region.