April 2010

Greetings Your Excellencies, Clergy, Organizations and Beloved Afrikan Peoples on this good day,

It is with great pleasure that Afrikan Unity of Harlem, Inc have this privilege to make reports on the “Horn of Africa in Crises and Future Prospects”,  conference, which was held with great success. Co partnered with The Department of African American Studies York College CUNY, The Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), Inc and The Department of International and African Studies Lehman College CUNY. The conference was able to host leading African scholars to present their work for scholarly discourse.

At this moment we like to thank the Horn of Africa Embassies and Missions here in the Diaspora for your support and  recognition of the conference. Truly it is a blessing to have guidance from our African Leadership for without a head or vision the people will perish. The gathering was pleased to know that our office received direct calls from the office of the Ambassador to the African Union in New York, congratulating the conference and giving  moral support to its success. Also from the Ethiopian Missions office of Political Affairs, who were sending  representatives but they where to no avail. Regardless of your  present or not, we are confident that our shared  responsibly to the African Nation will always be maintained. 

The conference was called to order with February 27th 2010 at the P.S.  76 Phillip Randolph School auditorium at  approximately 2:15 pm Eastern Standard Time.  The conference commenced with a prayer of Unity from a           representative from the  Israelite Board of Rabbis of Saint Albans, New York Brother George Brown (Yousf Meier), who agreed with the gathering that there is only but one God Almightily, and all African Black people are to live         accordingly to that divine unity. As tradition for Africans born in the West to do, for the remembering and horning of the spirits of our African ancestors, special pouring of  Libation was offered By Candace Queen Mother Abbess Bishop Shirley Pitts, Queen Mother of Harlem. 

This conference was the fourth of its kind presented by AUH, Inc’s with scholars coming from Holland,               Connecticut, and New York, with audience participation from Washington D.C. and from various NYC boroughs concluding the following objectives:

      To establish forums concerning the Horn of Africa’s past, present and future developments.

      To strengthen the mind set in ethics among East African communities now living in the Diaspora

      To encourage these communities to work together to set a model for the Horn of Africa

      To understand the issues of pre/post colonization and the changing of the African civil structure

     To identify gaps in knowledge and understanding of the Horn and create an ethic in those areas

     To promote collaboration between East African communities and their Embassies in the Diaspora.

The panel of African scholars showed resilience in their various fields of knowledge concerning the ancient,  present and past standing of the Horn. It was found by Teaching Fellow Abdi Latif Ega of Columbia University topic: Text as Technology: Counter Moves with in the Metro, that there is a need for the Pan African moment to include Somalia and other Horn of Africa countries less focused on in its dynamics.  Historically the movements included areas like Marcus Garveyism and fighting for Africa like that of the invasion of Italy into Ethiopia. It was expressed that the Horn of Africa needs to have the same drive and more representation from its scholars in programs such as this. Human civilization and development in the Horn needs to be reconstructed to achieve a clearer per  colonial picture of civilization. It was express by ¨ Dr. Booker T. Coleman (Kaba Hiawatha Kamene)   lecture, researcher and historian Topic: The Geography and History of  the Ancient Cushite  Kingdom that      indeed Egypt (Kemit) had a rich culture and tradition however when you look at the geographic and history of  the ancient Cushit Kingdom, you will find that Kemit was a daughter of pervious civilizations spring form the Horn of  Africa out. The original peoples of the world, those who spring out of the earth and completely indigenous are those who are found in Tanzania and Uganda. He also presented a serious of pictures of antiquity to show the African world and how we as a people can learn from our ancestors to build a even better future.

Each scholar presenting their work for discourse also addressed the audience inquires concerning various prospects of the Horn and Africa’s people. Professors Aregawe  and Ghelawdewos both presented the cultural conflicts between neighboring groups living in the Horn and outside forces over land resources, which proved that a collective system of governance needs to be in place. As of now sub groups have used political systems to organize their separate interest which keeps their shared  country divided. But in most cases they shaer the same language and traditions.  These old systems due to ethnic personalities and colonial occupation has caused the people to not move forward as a collective because there is not in place a centralized people interest government. Professor Mesfin on his topic The State in the Horn of Africa, showed how the Horn like other parts of Africa are still utilizing post colonial land boundaries from which its people have been forced to live in made shift territories that are leading at lot of the     current conflicts. The need to  examine the States in the Horn and to usher  in an African way of cohesive governance he expressed, will alleviate tension and unrest in many areas.  After a 2 hour discourse it was removed by Dr.     Ghelawdewos  Araia, President of African Idea and professor at  Lehman College and seconded by the gathering, that there should be an African Unity Coordinating Committee to be established to   implement the following agenda: To organize a mini conference to discuss the format of a Task Force with the following missions and       objectives.

Self reliance and sustainable development harmonious with our natural environment.

Banking systems and Taxation, currency, and investments in natural resources (export/imports to and from      Africa to the Diaspora).

Developments  of Africa centered Education / Spirituality

Claims/ Recording of our History( Our Story)

Condemn Africa Military Command organized by the Western Hemisphere.

This committee was established with the following participants:

Candace Queen Mother Abbess Pitts Founder of the Essie Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund Committee, Queen Imani Johari Julia Peterson, Tyrone Newton community volunteer and activist, Juanita Gore-Thomas Founder of Kathleen’s and Catherine’s Children, Inc, Mokonnen Mokonnen, Dr. Mesfin Araya, Professor and Chairman of    African American Studies, York College CUNY, Dr.  Aregawe Berhe Author, Founder and Chairman of the Tigray Alliance for National Democracy (TAND),  Ato Kassayi Hailu President and Founder of AUH, Inc and Sister Ivory Ann Black II Woletta Sellassie, Executive Secretary of AUH, Inc. and Dr. Ghelawdewos  Araia  President of  African Idea and professor at Lehman College.

Following the conference a meeting was held March 1st 2010, where it was farther expressed that the African Union has called for the establishment of a United States of Africa and the development of the African Union 6th Region in the Diaspora to be a part of Africa. It was agreed that the only way Afrikan Unity of Harlem, Inc and the Community to  properly function, there must be an issuing of a Charter to the organization from the African Union to assist in efforts of  uniting African Diaspora peoples with “The Center of African Unity of Harlem”, as its base.

The meeting also called for a physical meeting with the Ambassador’s office of the AU to discuss these items in the nearing future. It was recognized that in organizing with various organization, AUH, Inc must continue to express that there is no need to stop or halt their current works, but rather organizations must continue to carry out their own missions but no longer in stagnated pockets.  Now as a collective we all make up the various departments of the 6th Region. Talks will need to happen to structure how each organization would operate as the governing body for the African Diaspora. It was also expressed that various African scholars must hold a conference solely to put together the collective story of the African experience from past to present, to issue it as the collective history of the African 6th Region Diaspora.

Along with this the development of the Diaspora needs to reflect the highest levels of moral and ethics towards the African peoples in the field of governance which all recognized as a concern concerning the current situation of the African continent. It was discussed that when the scramble for Africa took place after the Berlin conference of 1884-5, foreign systems of governance were institutionalized that were not conducive  to the African peoples’ culture and traditions. By this unfamiliar systems were established to feed the need of occupation and the exploration of African resources.

As Africa gained its independence, these systems where left in place and have maintained to carry out the pervious agenda of occupation which are a part of today’s corruption in areas like church and state. It is believed that if we as a people are using these foreign ways of government, then it can only be corrupt because the leadership are not in true mental or physical control of its nation and resources, but are serving in various offices and departments caring out the works of occupation.

The clear example used was that of South Africa. When the country finally ended apartheid and the release of Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment, the country not knowing how to maintain an order after so many years now of occupation, decided to keep the governing bodies and systems in place to ensure stability.  However this showed only to continue the systems of apartheid, as African people who once were fighting oppression, now have to fight the same system in the hands of its own African leadership. This situation is being felt not only in Africa but globally where ever her peoples live. This is why it is imperative for African heads of State alongside with local and national leaders to conduct talks on what does an African governing system look like, while recognizing our cultures and traditions which historical has already laid the foundation of such a governing system.

We must recall the times prior to the scramble for Africa, as a people we live in our respective Kingdoms or Empires who internally spoke various of languages,  held many traditions and customs. By which as a people we had to know several languages and ways of life of our surrounding brothers and sister in order to trade, barter and in cases marry. But never acting as a one solid nation with the same collective governance or a recognized collective order of leadership. Now in this 21st century here in the Diaspora we have the first opportunity to make collective governance possible which can serve as a model for the African continent.  The uniqueness of the Diaspora with its 567 year history of fighting all areas of colonization is that we are all here regardless of what side of the paradigm we come from. Regardless if we were born on the continent or Diaspora, we all have contributed to the collective freedoms from the first beginnings as a totally free people fighting on the continent as was seen by the Ashanti, Zulus, and the Abyssinians who by the grace  and spirit of God, defeated all areas of colonization. The revolts on the ships of captivity leading to the Haitian, Jamaican and other Islands in the West and continent revolutions, to the abandonment of the plantations in the South of the Americas, to the freedom fighters for civil liberties in the North. As a people sharing in this common experience, it is only forth coming that a collective union and governance be upheld.

Most Respect

Sister Ivory Ann Black II Woletta Sellassie

Executive Secretary

Afrikan Unity of Harlem, Inc

Office Phone: 212 531-0384 / Fax: 212-531-0382

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The Horn of Africa

Deconstructing Ideologies & Reconstructing Political Systems

Ghelawdewos Araia, Ph.D.


March 1 2010

(Paper presented  at the Horn of Africa Conference sponsored by Afrikan Unity of Harlem, February 27, 2010)

This paper will have three component parts: 1) A brief history of the Horn of Africa; 2) contemporary politics and deconstructing ideologies; 3) reconstructing political systems to overcome the seemingly endless crisis of the Horn of Africa.

A brief history of the Horn of Africa: the Horn of Africa comprising of Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia is an embattled arena since time immemorial. In ancient times, the Ptolemic dynasty in Egypt, the Aksumites of Ethiopia, and the Persians were contending powers on the Red Sea. Romans also emerged as competing power in this vital and strategic geopolitical theater. There were times (4th to 6th centuries AD) when Ezana of Aksum took over Kush or Nubia (now in northern Sudan) and Kaleb conquered Arabia; the Aksumites were so powerful especially after the 4th century AD and had controlled virtually all parts of the southern Red Sea including the land of the Punt (for Somalia; now a newly declared detachment of Somalia).

In the 16th century, almost eight centuries after the decline of Aksum (this was compounded by the rise of Islam after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 AD) the contending superpowers in and around the Horn of Africa were the Ottoman Turks and the Portuguese and both were involved in the local Horn of Africa politics. In the 1540s, for instance, King Libne Dingil of Christian Ethiopia was routed by an Adal or a Somali, Ahmed Grañ (Imam Ahmed Ibrahim al-Ghazi) who had a distinct advantage of obtaining Turkish muskets. Likewise, the Portuguese made armed assistance to Gelawdewos, son of Libne Dingil and ultimately Ahmed Grañ was defeated.

A century before Ahmed Grañ, however, Somali migrations and the assertion of mini states surrounding the fledgling Abyssinian kingdom had already precipitated the crisis in the Horn. I. M. Lewis succinctly puts the crisis of the Horn at the turn of the 15th century as follows: “We must refer briefly to the prolonged struggle further inland between the expanding Abyssinian Kingdom and the loose congeries of Islamic states including Ifat, Dawaro, Bale and Hadiya, lying to the south of the Christian Amhara highlands. Here our reconstruction of events from oral tradition is supplemented by written records from both Muslim and Christian sources. These show that by the thirteenth century the Muslim state of Ifat which included Adal and the port of Zeila was ruled by the Walashma’, a dynasty then claiming Arab origins. Early in the Fourteenth century, Haq ad-Din, Sultan of Ifat, turned the sporadic and disjointed forays of his predecessors into a full-scale war of aggression, and apparently for the first time, couched his call to arms in the form of religious war against the Abyssinian ‘infidels’. At first the Muslims were successful. Christian territory was invaded, churches razed, and Christians were forced to apostasize [apostatize] at the point of the sword. In 1415, however, the Muslims were routed and the ruler of Ifat, Sa’d ad-Din’, pursued and eventually killed in his last stronghold on the island off the coast of Zeila which to this day bears his name. From this period the Arab chronicles refer to Adal as the ‘Land of Sa’d ad-Din’. This crushing defeat, and Sa’d ad-Dins martyrdom, for his death soon came to be regarded in this light, took place in the reign of the Abyssinian Negus Yeshaq (1414 – 29) and it is in the songs celebrating his victories over the Muslims that the name ‘Somali’ is first recorded.”    

In the 19th century, Emperor Yohannes IV of Ethiopia (1871-1889) fought Ismail Pasha’s Egyptian forces in 1875 and 1876. On both battles, the invading Egyptian forces were defeated. The encroaching Italian forces were also kept at bay and indeed defeated twice by Ras Alula Abba Nega, first at Saáti in 1885 and then at Dogali in 1887. In March 1889, the Emperor led his forces against Mahdi (Sudanese Dervish) forces at the Battle of Metema, and although the Ethiopians won the day, Yohannes IV was mortally wounded and beheaded by the Mahdists. For the latter, the Battle of Metema was both a patriotic and Jihad war.

Yohannes, however, was not only involved in Horn of Africa wars but also in fighting the newly emerging European powers. During this period, the contending powers were essentially France, Italy and Great Britain who had also plans to partition Africa. Russia for the most part was on the Ethiopian side in terms of arming Emperor Yohannes and his successor Menelik II. But soon after the entire continent of Africa, with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia, will fall under European hegemony, and, Italy, the latest comer in the scramble for Africa will acquire three colonial possessions, namely Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia. Apparently, the Somalis will fall under three hegemonic powers of France, Italy, and Britain and the Sudan will initially become Anglo-Egyptian Condominium and later British colony.   

Ethiopia escaped European colonial onslaught after the Ethiopians had scored a resounding victory over Italians at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. Following the Ethiopian victory, the colonial powers had no choice but to recognize Ethiopia’s sovereignty and moreover, “it did make necessary a redefinition of the interior boundaries between the European held territories and Ethiopia.”  In fact, “arrangements for delimitation began in 1897 when the British negotiator, Rennell Rodd, led a special mission to Menelik, the main purpose of which was to ensure Ethiopian neutrality in the British campaign against the Mahdists in Sudan…Furthermore Ethiopia had recently obtained territorial concessions from Britain’s colonial rivals, the Italians in Eritrea and the French in Djibouti, the latter having voluntarily withdrawn their claimed boundaries by 100 kilometers.”2

However, the tripartite treaty that recognized Ethiopia’s sovereignty and the pretense of delimitation of boundaries between Ethiopia and the colonial territories would not be realized. The agreed upon 1908 convention between Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland, for instance, was far from being implemented and on the contrary Italy had plans to invade Ethiopia again. “Since 1930 Somali troops of the Corpo Zaptiė had occupied territory to a depth of more than 150 kilometers inside Ethiopia, a fact that was evidently known but tacitly accepted by the Ethiopian government. In November 1934 the Italians provoked an armed confrontation with Ethiopian troops at Wal Wal, the site of wells regularly used by Somalis traversing the Ogaden in an area clearly inside Ethiopia.”   

In October 1935, thus, Italy invaded Ethiopia from both the Eritrean side in the north and the Somali frontier in the south and by May 1936 its forces captured Addis Ababa and the country will remain under the Italians for only five years. In 1940 Italy entered World War II by declaring war on France and Britain and by default the latter came to the assistance of Ethiopia and by 1941 Italy was defeated and lost its colonial territories. Following WW II the political landscape of the Horn of Africa once again changed dramatically. As noted above, Ethiopia regained its independence in 1941; the British would administer Ertirea for a decade and then by UN resolution of 1950 federated with Ethiopia, and ultimately fully united with Ethiopia in 1962. Sudan became independent in 1956 and following Italian trusteeship Somalia gained independence in 1960. Soon after, however, civil wars broke out throughout the Horn and the first border clash between Ethiopia and Somalia in 1964. The latter conflict was instigated by the Greater Somalia ideology and the irredentism of Somalia and its plan to take over Ogaden.

By the time I wrote an article entitled The Horn of Africa: Conflict and Conflict Resolution in 1997, the long Ethiopian – Eritrean war had subsided and Eritrea had enjoyed six years of independent statehood, but soon a border conflict that claimed at least ninety thousand people will erupt between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Somalia was immersed in six years of fratricidal clan infightings and the Sudanese conflict between the central government and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) was already four decades old.

The Horn conflict is complex and complicated because it is compounded by separatist movements, ethnic politics, border conflicts, and clashing ideologies. In most instances, ideology served either as a guiding principle, a vogue, a cover up, or as political expediency. In the case of the Mengistu-led Derg government of Ethiopia and the Said Barre-led Somali government, socialism or Marxism-Leninism served as political expediency because both of them desperately sought assistance from the Soviet Union. In regards to the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Party (EPRP) that fought the Mengistu regime, socialism was guiding principle although it was dogmatically entertained by the Party and was altogether irrelevant to the Ethiopian reality. As far as the other nationality forces like the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) are concerned the Marxist-Leninist ideology was essentially a vogue at best and a cover up at worst. Either way, the M-L ideology both at the center with the Derg and the nationality fronts at the periphery added fuel and exacerbated the civil war and caused great damage and havoc to the larger society.

With respect to the Somali conflict, as some observers argue the impetus behind is not necessarily ideology but rather colonial legacy and the Somali clan-based social structure. “A new political elite, young and western educated,” says Marc Michaelson, “was nurtured by the colonial administration until the formal transfer of power at independence in 1960…. the combination of the modern and traditional proved a lethal mixture, effectively thrusting Somalia into sociopolitical purgatory. The old structures of order and governance had been compromised and the new systems were fragile and insufficiently institutionalized.” 

The present conflict in Somalia (now entered its 19th year), however, cannot be completely attributed to colonial legacy and western influence only. It is mainly precipitated by clan conflict and self-destructive behavior of the leaders of the various clans. In order to further understand the conflict in Somalia, thus, one must first address the Somali clan structure:

                                                The Somali Clan Structure




!                                                                               !

SAB                                                                        SAMAALE

!                                                                               !

                        ______!______                                   ______!_______________

Digil                        Rahenweyn                          Darod     Hawiye  Isaq                          Dir

                                                            !                                                                   !

                                                            !                                                                   !

            ________________________!_________________                 !

Marehan               Ogadeeni               Dulbahante           Warsangeli            Majertain !


                                                                        ____________________ !__

                                                                        Cisse                       Gadabuursi

Maria Bongartz writing on clanship and conflict in Somalia contends, “The clan is the highest level of political segmentation and operates within the national political context. In modern Somalia, clans pledge their support to specific political parties which were founded in the 1960s, as well as in the case of the present opposition groups such as the Isaq dominated the Somali National Movement (SNM) and the Hawiye dominated United Somali Congress (USC). An exception is the Darod clan which divides its support among several opposition groups and political orientations. For instance the Marehan section of the Darod is the patrilineal clan of Siyad Barre and the Ogadeeni is his matrilineal clan but the latter partially supports the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM). The Dulbahante clan takes side with the government represented by the President’s son-in-law (Ahmed Suleiman Abudulle), former national security service (NSS)…The Majertain clan dominates the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SNDF)” 

The conflict in Southern Sudan actually began in 1955, a year before independence and continued until 1972 when the Addis Ababa agreement brought both parties for a peaceful resolution. The peace accord and agreement that granted the South some autonomy, however, did not last long. The cause for the violation and ultimate demise of the Addis Ababa agreement was the imposition of Islamic Sharia laws on the Southern people first by the Nimeri regime in 1983 and later by Omar al Beshir. But more than religion, it was the inequality that prevailed between the North and South that ignited the Sudanese conflict. In fact as Raphael Koba Badal discusses, “it was precisely in colonial times that the foundations were laid of regional disparities, of educational and socio-economic imbalances, of a dominant-core area as against the peripheries. The north-central areas were obviously the most privileged. There, the first roads, other basic infrastructures, educational institutions, communication networks, but especially vital socioeconomic development projects were started. In marked contrast to this picture was the colonial neglect of the Western and Southern parts of the country. In the independence period, and as a result of Sudanization, the inheritors of political and administrative power also emerged from this same region.”6  

It is with the above backdrop and historical background that I now discuss contemporary politics and deconstructing ideologies in the context of the Horn of Africa, the second part of my paper:

Contemporary Politics and Deconstructing Ideologies: Currently the Ethiopian-Eritrean wars have subsided and there is indeed relative peace on the border of the two countries, but there is considerable tension between the two States and we cannot for sure guarantee lasting peace. The clan wars in Somalia continue unabated and it is exacerbated by the involvement of Ethiopia in the conflict. In December 2002, in an effort to carefully diagnose the conflict in Somalia, I wrote an article entitled “The Enigma of the Ethiopia-Somalia Relations and the Islamic Factor” and a sequel to this title, “Understanding the Ethiopian-Somalia Relations and Seeking Permanent Solutions to the Conflict in the Horn of Africa” in August 2006. In the latter article, I have argued as follows: “I did not mind reading the various points of view entertained by many discussants on the ‘Somalia Online’. However, due to lack of knowledge of history and their fixation on the differences, rather than similarities, of the Ethiopian and Somali people, their analysis of the conflict was for the most part flawed. At the very beginning of the article (The Enigma…) I stated the following: ‘the peoples of Ethiopia and Somalia have a lot in common when it comes to physiognomy, culture, social organization, and thousands of years of interaction, although this contiguous network was at times uneasy and many times turned into violent clashes.”7     

It is this kind of ideologically bent attitude that we really need to deconstruct. In the same vain but different context, one scholar writes as if there is no connection or commonality among the Ethiopian and Eritrean people, and he argues, “the average Eritrean instinctively feels that he has nothing in common with Ethiopians. He may look toward Addis Ababa for work; he looks toward Asmara for identity and emotional satisfaction.” He further argues, “A national identity, which is the basis and mainstay of amalgamation, it follows, does not exist outside the individual or group and can only be forged by the existence of a common will. Any aspired association between the two countries must, therefore, take these differences into account. No useful purpose would be served by any effort that will not accept these conditions.”8  

It is for this apparent reason that I say we need to deconstruct such divisive ideologies. On the contrary, we must emphasize on the commonality of the peoples of the Horn of Africa. This proposal is not a wishful thinking; it is rather rooted in a historically constituted reality of the Horn. For instance, on either side of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border we find same nationalities or linguistic groups such as the Afar, Saho, Tigray, and Kunama. There is also genetic linguistic connection between the Tigre of Eritrea and the Tigrigna-speaking of both Ethiopia and Eritrea, not to mention the Bilen of Bogos in central Eritrea who are the descendants of the Agaw in Lasta, north-central Ethiopia. These people also share same cultures and religions, Christianity and Islam for the most part.

Same logic applies to other Horn of Africa countries. The Somalis are found in Somalia proper, Ethiopia, and Djibouti; the Nuer and Annuak are found in Ethiopia and Sudan; the Beja or Beni Amir are found in Eritrea and Sudan; the bulk of the Oromo are in Ethiopia and their kin are also found in Kenya. If this is not commonality, what is it? If we focus on the common denominator, the possibility of attaining a lasting peace is great, but if we underscore our differences by ignoring our common heritage, cause, and aspirations, we must acknowledge that we have wittingly or unwittingly embraced permanent conflicts.  I personally do not oppose the celebration of ones ethnic identity in the context of self-determination and the flourishing of local cultures but promoting ethnic politics without due regard to the common interest undermines the peace and stability of the Horn. “The emotional dynamics of ethno-nationalism could breed particular mode of self-orientation that, in turn, sustains generic psychological predisposition, and it could be dangerous if it is permitted to evolve from insipid and innocuous manifestations to the most venomous practices.”9  

The venomous practices that I have alluded to above have happened in Darfur in its grotesque form. John Prendergast writing in the Washington Post says, “During my visits to Darfur in the past few months, I have heard testimony from Darfurians that villages are still burned to the ground, women are still gang-raped by Janjaweed militias and civilians are still terrorized by the Sudanese air force’s bombings.”10

At present the two troubled spots that need urgent and significant attention are Darfur and Somalia. On November 30, 2006 Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the immediate, unconditional cessation of hostilities in Darfur in his message to the Summit Meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council in Abuja: “Few crises have demanded the attention and energy of the United Nations more than the one that continues to unfold in Darfur. While progress has been made in efforts to alleviate the suffering and resolve the political situation, far more remains to be done if this brutal and tragic conflict is to be brought to an end…The high level meeting two weeks ago in Addis Ababa gave AU (African Union) member states – including, of course, Sudan – as well as Permanent Members of the Security Council, the League of Arab States and the European Union, an opportunity to engage in frank and detailed discussions on the way forward…AU troops in Darfur have performed very well given the demanding conditions, the limitations of their mandate, weak logistical support, and funding difficulties. AU representatives have also provided crucial help in mediating peace talks. We must all do our utmost to build on these significant contributions.”11    

As Kofi Annan has pointed out, African Union’s contribution in the Darfur peace initiative was significant. The Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was established and in the Abuja Summit, the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation (DDDC)12 were suggested as complementary component of the peace process. On top of this, the United Nations provided what is known as the African Union Mission in Sudan or AMIS in short. Now, it is renamed African Union and UN Peacekeeping Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

In the spirit of the peace initiative for Darfur, thus, the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) editorial of August 6, 2007 entitled Darfur Should Exemplify the End of all Violence in Africa reads as follows:

“Admittedly, the title of this editorial manifest an ingenious attempt to blend the best of all wishes, but also reflects the saturation of Africa with violence and hence the end of it. A good place to start for conflict resolution is in Arusha, Tanzania, as has been the case previously. Beginning August 6, the eight Sudanese factions agreed to end the four-year conflict in Darfur; and the government of Sudan, this time, seems to have responded positively to the demand of the rebels, world public opinion, and the UN initiative.

The talks in Arusha, of course, could not be imagined without the UN Security Council resolution to dispatch 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur. In point of fact, the Security Council resolution, although long overdue when viewed in light of the last four years cry by progressive forces all over the world, it is still a significant initiative and never too late. Indeed as the world knows, under the watchful eyes of the Beshir Government 200, 000 people were massacred and some 2 million of them displaced in Darfur. But we should bear in mind that semantics with respect to the definition of genocide is immaterial as long as the conflict in Darfur ends once and for all and underscores a new ethical underpinning to end violence in Africa.

We are hoping that Darfur, after all, will exemplify the end of all conflicts in Africa. This time, it is highly possible that at least the beginning of the end of violence in Darfur will take place because the main actors in the conflict, on either side, are involved in the Arusha talks. In the past, the government of Sudan miserably failed to recognize and include rebel forces such as the South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF), the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). By excluding these forces, the Beshir Government entered negotiations with the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), and on the contrary it had unleashed its militias (the Janjaweed) to massacre the people of Darfur. Most observers had the misconception that the Janjaweed were acting alone in the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, but the fact of the matter is that the Janjaweed were fully backed by the Government of Sudan and the latter’s air force employed earth-scorched tactics against Darfur.

Now, we have high hope that the 26,000 UN troops will effectively monitor the activities of the Janjaweed and the mood and unpredictable behavior of the Beshir regime. First thing is first: the UN peacekeeping forces must end all violence in Darfur by fully involving the spokesmen and representatives of the people of Darfur in their own affair. Whatever actions and resolutions are taken without the involvement of the people of Darfur would become meaningless and ineffective. Beyond the people of Darfur, the involvement of other Africans via the African Union (AU) is also crucially important. The involvement of Salim Ahmed Salim as envoy of AU to Darfur, for instance, is a good sign of a noble initiative. Dr. Salim, with his good leadership, will score a lasting peace for Darfur. Ultimately, the peace in Darfur should serve as peaceful conflict resolution for the entire continent of Africa.”13          

That of Somalia, of course, is more complicated. It is not just the civil war that devastated the country for nearly two decades that we must address. The dismemberment of the Somali nation into Somalia, Somaliland, and Puntland is another major blow to peace initiatives in that country. While fighting now goes on between the al-Shebab militia and the African Union Peacekeepers (especially after February 2, 2010), Somaliland and Puntland are also engaged in territorial dispute. It looks that the Somali internal conflict is going to drag on with no end in sight unless the Somalis come to their senses and initiate dialogue with the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The AU peacekeepers and the Six-Nation East African Regional bloc also must rethink the war strategy against the al-Shebab and other groups like Hezb al-Islam and initiate a new strategy of constructive engagement. In order for the Somali opposition to participate in peaceful resolution of the conflict and contribute in the reconstruction of Somalia, however, they need to engage in more civil political agenda and abandon harassing their own people. For instance, the Shebab sponsored Jaysh al-Usra (Army of Suffering) and its branch Jaysh al-Hisbah (Army of Morality) that is engaged in planting bombs and imposing Shariá on the people must refrain from such practices.

Reconstructing Political Systems to Overcome the Horn Crisis:  This part of the paper addresses the necessity of reconstructing political systems that are inherently democratic and that, in turn, encourage democratic dialogue and culture and establish democratic institutions. Given the fragile nature of the Horn States and the dictatorial regimes prevalent throughout the region, we cannot expect to witness vibrant democracies under these regimes. When I say reconstructing political systems I am assuming that it is incumbent upon activist intellectuals and scholars as well as professionals to shoulder historical responsibility and practically engage themselves in the construction of new and viable democracies throughout the Horn. We cannot simply brash aside this historical mission and expect the respective governments to do it for us 

Understandably, it is not going to be easy to dislodge the dictators and replace them with democratic regimes overnight but with vision and commitment the mission of establishing democratic systems can be accomplished. Before the Horn of Africa ventures into reconstructing political systems, however, it must learn from other countries experiences including the European democracies, the United States, and even Botswana. In this spirit and solely for this purpose, I wrote an article entitled, What Africa Can Learn from American Democracy and Election 2006 and I stated the following: “The development of democratic tradition in the United States featured historical and social engineering. It evolved historically along capitalist and democratic ideals, but it was also deliberately fashioned and engineered by enlightened statesmen in respective states, and later by the founding fathers at a national level. Though the democratic process in the US was not inclusive (African slaves during the antebellum and women till 1920) and, by and large, had a checkered history, the impetus behind its realization owes to great awakening that seldom appears on the stage of history. Factors that contributed to this historical package are the many visions of enlightened men, citizen and state initiatives, and certainly a heavy dosage of the Age of Enlightenment with its attendant democratic principles and institutions.”14     

More specifically, however, it is the building of institutions that matters. “Democratization is then understood as the building of political institutions, common interests, and new forms of legitimation. Consolidating a democracy requires building political parties and alliances capable of establishing credible national agendas and control of the military, making the security forces accountable to electoral representatives, and crafting a constitutional arrangement (voting rules, distribution of powers, checks on arbitrary action) that will seem fair, open, and in the interests of all major social sectors, including old and new elites.  Democratization emerges from a political process of clash and compromise and consensus building.”15     

The foundation of democratic governance (after Lawrence S. Graham et al) can be emulated from the following six principles tried by the United States and that have endured for centuries: 

1.     Limited Government, or Constitutionalism. Government is created to preserve and enhance basic rights and liberties. It must, therefore, govern under the rule of law, not the rule of personal interest or individual will and it must be limited so as not to violate individual rights and liberties.

2.     Republican Government. What is republican government, or a republican form of government? Basically, it is what today we call representative democracy or constitutional democracy, characterized by popularly elected legislatures in either a separation-of-powers system or a parliamentary system.

3.     Federalism. Federalism divides sovereignty between two levels of government – national and state – so that representation and accountability are divided across these levels.

4.     Separation of Powers (and its corollary checks and balances). Separation of powers is a functional division of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government. It is operational thanks to the corollary principle of checks and balances, a principle that also pervades national and state relations under federalism. Congress is checked by the existence of two houses, by presidential veto, and by judicial review. The president is checked by the requirement for Senate approval of treaties and certain appointments, by congressional policymaking and appropriation of revenues (or refusal to appropriate) for programs, and by judicial review. The judiciary is checked by presidential appointment of judges and by the powers of Congress to impeach and try judges, determine federal court jurisdiction, and fund the courts. Theoretically, the result is a balance of contending claims to power, with no branch gaining excessive power. The different institutions have shared and overlapping functions and responsibilities. The president has significant legislative powers and the ability to be engaged in the legislative process, and the Congress can intervene in executive functions, review executive policy implementations, and withhold approval of executive branch appointments. Such shared and overlapping activities provide both the means and incentives for balancing power.

5.     Constitutional Supremacy. The principle of constitutional supremacy is the ultimate grounding for the rule of law. It provides a basis for resolving disputes of a federal nature or among the separated branches of government (see Article VI).

6. The Independent Judiciary. An independent judiciary is a corollary of constitutionalism and the rule of law. Although the constitution is the supreme law of the land, that statement is not sufficient to prevent Congress and the president from enacting federal laws that violate the Constitution or to prevent states from enacting their own laws that violate the Constitution. Consequently, the Supreme Court exercises its “judicial power” (granted in Article III) to determine whether such acts are constitutional or unconstitutional.16

 It is this kind of political system that the Horn of Africa, for that matter the entire continent of Africa, needs if peace, stability, and development are going to be meaningfully realized. This, of course, is not going to take place in a short period of time. It will indeed take some time to implement. In the meantime, the committed African leaders must consider short-term and long-term strategies. The short-term strategy entails preconditions such as peace brokered by the African Union, the United Nations, or other international powers. This should be supplemented by cultural and diplomatic exchanges among the Horn of Africa States. The long-term strategy obviously is the reconstruction of political systems that I have discussed above, i.e. establishing democratic systems and joint regional development programs.

      Some scholars have suggested the implementation of federal and/or confederal systems for some states or even for the entire Horn of Africa. While this is a noble idea, at this juncture it is not feasible given the hot-headedness, fanaticism, and narrow national or even clan interests prevalent in the Horn. Before we conceptualize and implement federal or confederal structures, we must initiate peaceful dialogue among the people. The peoples of the Horn must find venue to talk to one another in a brotherly and sisterly manner and then it will become much easier to lay the cornerstone for reconstructing viable political systems.

      Scholars, analysts, and policy makers must carefully diagnose the complex socio-economic and political parameters of the Horn countries individually and/or collectively. Then, they must come up with prognosis (permanent solutions to the problems) of respective countries or the Horn of Africa as a whole. For effective and meaningful investigation of the Horn crisis and suggested solutions, thus, it is proposed that the new leaders incorporate deconstructing ideologies and reconstructing political systems into the corpus of their policies.  


1.     I. M. Lewis, A Modern History of Somalia, Westview Press, 1988, p. 25 

2.     Harold D. Nelson, ed., Somalia: A Country Study, Foreign Area Studies, The American University, October 1981, pp. 14 –15

3.     Harold D. Nelson, Ibid

4.     March Michaelson, “Somalia: The Painful Road to Reconciliation,” Africa Today, Vol. 40, No. 2, 1993

5.     Maria Bongartz, The Civil War in Somalia: Its Genesis and Dynamics, current African Issues II, The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala, Sweden, 1991, pp. 9 – 10

6.     Raphael Koba Badal, “Sudan: The Role of Religion in Conflict Situations,” Horn Review, vol. 1, No. 1, 1991, p. 30

7.     Ghelawdewos Araia, “Understanding the Ethiopian –Somalia Relations & Seeking Solutions to the Conflict in the Horn of Africa,” Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), August 2006. To view the entire article click on this link: www.africanidea.org/ethiopian_somallia.html

8.     Amare Tekle, Another Ethiopian-Eritrean Federation? An Eritrean Perspective, Morris Brown College, August 1990, pp. 5 & 6

9.     Ghelawdewos Araia, “Ethno-Centric Politics and Reinforcing Psychology in the Ethiopian Context,” Ethiomedia, February 25, 2004. To view the Article click on this link: http://www.ethiomedia.com/release/ethnocentric_politics.html

10.  Jon Pendergast, “So How Come We Haven’t Stopped It?” The Washington Post, 19 November, 2006

11.  See www.africanidea.org/Bush_act_Darfur.html 2006

12.  Ibid

13.  www.africanidea.org/Darfur_African_Violence.html August 6, 2007

14.  Ghelawdewos Araia, “What Africa Can Learn from American Democracy and 2006 Election,” www.africanidea.org/what_africa.html

15.  Edward Friedman, The Politics of Democratization: Generalizing East Asian Experiences, Westview Press, 1994, p. 5

16.  Lawrence S. Graham, The Politics of Governing: A Comparative Introduction, CQ Press, 2007, pp. 10 – 11

 All Rights Reserved. Copyright © IDEA, Inc. 2010. Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted via dr.garaia@africanidea.org


Paper presented at the Conference organized by the African Unity of Harlem, in partnership with York College CUNY, IDEA and Lehman College:

“The Horn of African in Crises and Future Prospects”,

 27 February 2010

Conflicts in the Horn: Socio-economic and Political Dimensions

Aregawi Berhe


It is widely noted that prevalence of conflicts, mal-governance, poverty, marginalization of indigenous peoples, exclusion of women and gross violation of human rights characterize today’s Horn of Africa. The root cause of these socio-economic and political predicaments goes back to the days when the transformation of the African indigenous state to the so-called modern state had to be designed by colonial powers. For decades now, since the advent of decolonization, these problems have been used to be put in different boxes separate from each other. This paper, however, contends that these issues are inter-related and should be treated as one package when analyzed. The particular features of the process of formation of the “modern state” in Africa bred many civil wars and conflicts than civil societies[1], thereupon paving the way for the vicious poverty-conflict-poverty nexus. The ramifications of conflict include its social dimensions that affected almost every member of the society, but women, children and elderly in the main. Conflicts in the Horn have their political dimensions as well through which the role of regional and international forces must also be examined.





  1. Background to the problem

Africa in general and the Horn countries in particular are the scene of multi-façade conflicts that incapacitated the social, economic and political development dreams of the people. Conflicts in the Horn are rampant, destructive and often deadly. The conflicts may take the form of ethnic, religious or regional currents, yet at the center of the conflict is the state that failed to secure the management of the causes of conflicts. The state in the Horn and more so in Africa, as an instrument of governance and an “institution by which authority in a country is exercised for the common good”[2], by-and-large, has failed to accomplish the aspirations of the common people. More mind boggling, one can as well observe a collapsed state in the Horn, as in Somalia.

Why are many African states, most notably these in the Horn, continuously overtaken by conflicts and characterized by failure? Despite remedies prescribed by internationally renowned experts and institutions for the last five decades in this regard, isn’t it a fact that the problem of the Horn counties is growing from bad to worse? Shouldn’t one look deeply into what constitutes as a systemic problem of the nature of the African state in general and the Horn in particular? To examine the issues raised by these questions, one needs to look into, not just to the symptoms or immediate causes of the conflicts, but rather go back in history and investigate the root causes of the retardation of the African state that had once evolved and made empowering headway for centuries, at least until the 15th century which is the beginning of the disruption of hitherto uninterrupted evolution of the African state.    

Historical relics of early civilization and existing realities demonstrate that the kingdoms of Mali, Ghana, Songhai, Benin, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Aksum to mention but a few, the origin of whose empires ranging from the 1st to the 5th century AD, had remarkable civilizations in trade, agriculture, architecture, art, music and literature that paralleled any advanced empire at the time. The Persian prophet Mani (216-276 AD) wrote: “There are four great kingdoms on earth: the first is the kingdom of Babylon and Persia; the second is the kingdom of Rome; the third is the kingdom of Axumites; the fourth is the kingdom of the Chinese”[3].

The African civilizations reach their peaks in between the 9th and 14th centuries when, for instance, “the Ibo were manufacturing brass and bronze items ever since the 9th century A.D., if not earlier.”[4] Take the Aksumite Empire that lies at the heart of the Horn of Africa which is widely known as Ethiopia: its founding goes back to the 1st century AD, though other studies suggest much earlier than that.[5] During this times it has developed literary works using the Geez alphabet which is still in use in the churches, the calendar known as Awde Awarh (also still in use), trade across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean through the ports Adulis and Zeila, magnificent architect of giant obelisks and long tunnels still standing erect (yet not easy to comprehend for contemporary historians how they were built and erected at that early time of human development). “The architectural achievements attest to the level of skill reached by Ethiopians as well as the capacity of the state to mobilize labor on a huge scale.”[6] In the food production sector as well, Rodney elaborates:

“Centuries before the contact with Europeans, the overwhelming dominant activity in Africa was agriculture … advanced methods were used in some areas, such as terracing, crop rotation, green manuring, mixed farming and regulated swamp farming… It was on the basis of the iron tools that new skills were elaborated in agriculture as well as in other spheres of economic activities”[7].

The Kibra Nagast, Ethiopia’s national epic and the Fetha Nagast (justice of the sovereign), which were composed by Nubride Yesak of Aksum in the 14th century during the reign of Amde Tsion depict the nature of system of governance of the Ethiopian state.[8]

The assault of the Islamic forces backed by the Ottoman Empire in 1527-1543, followed by the British attack in mid 1880s and finally the intermittent invasion of colonial Italy beginning in the 1890s not only weakened but also crippled typical evolution of the Ethiopian state. The other African kingdoms were also condemned to face the onslaught of other colonial invaders, the French, the Germans, the Portuguese and the Spaniards. The indigenous states were uprooted to perish and in some cases reformed to reflect the colonial hegemonic order which is prevalent in today’s Africa. The traditional power structure which was based on people who paid allegiance to the sovereign state had also to be supplanted by a power structure that was based on territory, carved out by the ‘geometric ruler’ that was sharpened in the November 1884 Berlin conference and the gun, thereby permanently dividing societies that constituted one homogenous community. As Ungar rightly put it “…it created new entities out of unrelated territories and tribes – a convenience for the colonists, a source of future trouble for the Africans themselves”.[9]  A state alien to the society in every sense of (cultural, social, economic and political) interaction, basically to satisfy the allurement of colonialism, was imposed and societies, civil or political, could not have the slightest say on what was to follow. This is why now in many parts of Africa we are left with deformed and disabled states that could not formulate policies based on the aspiration of their people and could only survive at the mercy of the neocolonial entrepreneurs. The clash of values, cultures and system of governances have divided the African elite into two broad categories: the traditionalist who maintained the indigenous values and system of governance and on the other hand the so-called ‘modernist’ who is keen to emulate the intruders. This dichotomy has continued to persist to this day and is one source of contradiction that has racked the African state from within.        

  1. Disabled State

Conflicts in Africa are largely related to the process of the formation of the principal institution of governance that created what is conventionally known as a “modern state” but which is basically authoritarian in its dispensation of power and functions. In the wake of ‘independence’, the African ‘state’ stepped in the shoes of the colonial state trying to imitate the functions of its predecessor. That has however created a huge mismatch between what is historically imperative as a form of state and conversely what was introduced as the ‘state’ in the modern setting. In this sense, the new African ‘state’ as a continuum to its colonial counterpart, is a complete negation of the prevailing tradition of governance. Prior to colonization, as was referred earlier, there had been numerous traditional systems and institutions of governance in the continent with varying degree of social and political organization. From Aksum in the east to Mali in the west and from Egypt in the north to Zimbabwe and Zulu in the south, Africa has well established systems of governance. As Rodney expounded:

These described above should be sufficient to establish that Africa in the 15th century was not just a jumble of different ‘tribes’. There was a pattern and there was a historical movement. Societies such as feudal Ethiopia and Egypt were at the furthest point of the process of evolutionary development. Zimbabwe and Bachwezi states were also clearly on the ascendant …[10].

It is worth noting at this juncture that there were rare contacts with the outside world, the exception being few systems of governance that were, at one time or another and for various ulterior motives, in contact with Arab traders and the Ottoman Empire such as Timbuktu (Mali), Ethiopia, and so on. The rest seem to be indigenous states and predominantly traditional with little or no contact with the rest of the world.

The very function of the modern state (without going into the essence of the modern state at this stage) was introduced by the colonial state. The colonial state imposed a form of state that is not only new and discontinuous in character but also alien to the predominantly traditional society which was non-territorial with demarcated boundaries in the colonial order. That is to say where ever people consented to an authority, the state would stretch its influence – matching medieval Europe of roughly 1100-1500. (By the time the colonial state was introduced initially, there most probably were no workers/proletarians as there were no factories, mines, and so on.) In essence, the colonial state constitutes a mismatch to what was viable and well-disposed to African societies.

The African ‘modern state’ as a continuum of the colonial state also constitutes a mismatch to the predominantly traditional society.  Colonization had not transferred the majority of the population into modern social classes such as bourgeois, middle class and workers although colonization reigned for an average period of 70 years.[11]  Ethiopia, which resisted invasions vehemently, was not colonized in the strict sense of term and had been traditional through and through even when Mussolini’s Italy invaded it in 1935. “The essence of the resistance was to safeguard the independence, religious values and cultural identity of Ethiopia, all taking inspiration from the domain of the past as heritage.”[12]   This discontinuity has also impacted on conflict resolution mechanisms and methods as the ‘modern state’ replaced the traditional institutions of conflict resolution.

The other level of mismatch is the one between the aspirations of the people and the un-freedom that prevailed. African governance that came in the wake of independence from colonization needed to be a negation of the colonization that dehumanized the African person and denigrated its social organizations. That by definition required the African state to uphold freedom and democracy to salvage the human person. On the contrary, the African ‘state’ without exception turned out to be a continuity of the colonial state respectively and became as authoritarian as its predecessor. In this respect, the African ‘state’ took off with what Rene Dumont called “a false start”[13]. As we shall see below, authoritarian rule caused many of the conflicts in the continent.

The third level of mismatch is prosperity and well-being as the aspirations of the populace in the wake of the end of colonization and the continued prevalence of poverty and ‘under-development’ as a result of official government policy. Colonization not only dehumanized the African population, it also brought massive poverty as a result of inhuman exploitation (as in the case of King Leopold’s rubber plantations in Congo (see Adam Hochschild’ King Leopold’s Ghosts, 1988), through forced and unpaid labor. The raison d’être of the new African state should have been the undoing of poverty. On the contrary, the Africa elite miserably failed to end poverty and ‘under-development’. It resorted to amassing wealth for itself, massive corruption and self-aggrandizement. It used the institutions of governance as the principal vehicle for accumulating wealth for its own sake. As a result, it turned the sphere of political power into a sphere of intense competition enticing the envious top brass of the military to resort to incessant coups d’état.

It goes without saying that, the African ‘state’ has so far ruled without a civil society as symbiotic to it. That cost the continent a great deal since the authoritarian ‘state’ ruled without being accountable to anyone internally. On the contrary, it has been more accountable to the ex-colonial powers and donors who also dictate its policies, and thus unable to serve its society. (We will return to this when we discuss the role of international forces.)

  1. Conflict, Poverty and Exclusion  

In Africa in general and the Horn in particular, poverty and exclusion bred conflict, and conflict in turn exacerbated and expanded the dimensions of conflict and poverty. Poverty as a function of mal-governance, un-freedom and exclusion reigned in the sub-continent as these factors simultaneously prevented the emergence of civil society. Absence of civil society closed the avenue for policy advocacy and social reforms and gave way to violent conflicts. In some countries such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, the political power that “grew out of the barrel of the gun” after overthrowing a military dictatorship reinstituted another form of dictatorship, the political society turning its gun against the nascent “civil society”. The result is more poverty and famine; hence, prevalence of the poverty-conflict-poverty nexus.

We can construct an axiom here; the more the prevalence of poverty, the more the propensity to conflict. More poverty indicates the multifarious need for enhancing the capabilities of communities to mitigate social, economic and political exclusion. In such cases, there exist “layers of poverty”, so to speak. As the need to mitigate these problems is enormous, the capability to do so constitutes a big dilemma. In Africa, only a handful few resorted to let communities participate relatively freely. The overwhelming majority opted for considering the ‘state’ as the only guide and vanguard and consequently sidelined society as to be led by the nose. Some, such as the current government in Ethiopia, went even further to ‘rationalize’ this exclusion in ill-conceived political clichés that pass by the name of “revolutionary democracy”[14] of a vanguard party. At the end of the day however, the regime that came to power in 1991 promising to do away with poverty and famine once and for all ended up in 2009 in presiding over a situation where 6.2 million are affected by famine and around 20 million are exposed to starvation if massive food relief is not arriving soon. This disaster is a consequence of severe political exclusion (lack of freedom for communities to represent their views and desires, lack of freedom for ‘civil society’ actors to conduct policy advocacy work and pressurize the government to change its inapt policies, lack of freedom for political organizations to popularize their policies and even win elections to advance them, etc…)  economic exclusion (rigid government policy on land ownership that doesn’t warrant security of tenure and that doesn’t consider the livestock wealth of the pastoral community as national wealth) and social exclusion. When such exclusionary policy persists (for two decades as in the case of Ethiopia), they breed violence as communities see no light at the end of the tunnel and have to act to change the dismal circumstances.

  1. Conflicts and Social Consequences        

The social dimension of conflict as regards impact on women, children and the elderly should assume importance as they also constitute a key link in human development. When conflicts occur in Africa, the first and immediate casualties are women who are subjected to rape and other forms of violence against them as “punishment for the rebels”. Rebels also do the same (DR Congo, Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, etc…). The tear-jerking impact of this violence is enormous in terms of poverty eradication and social development. Conflict-related violence against women incapacitates women and deprives their capabilities a great deal and in many ways. Absence of the rule of law, disruption of the family, the imminent threat to the safety of their children, the general violence against society disorient women and turn them helpless. And that is the worst thing to happen to women as it indicates the near total deprivation of their capabilities. If half of the population is in such a state and while a great many of their male counterparts are in active combat, one can easily see the state of disruption at various levels that particular society faces.[15]

Since a few decades now, conflicts in Africa have been particularly affecting children as they have been targeted by rebel groups to be used as combatants. This happened in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and is still happening in Uganda, Somalia and DR Congo and possibly among the Tuareg armed movements in the Sahel (Mali, Niger, etc…). The involvement of children in conflicts as combatants and sex slaves has enormous impact on the process of social development. Children and youth constitute the generational domain of sustainable development as sustainable development is not just for the existing generation but more for the future one. Cultivating and nurturing children and youth as inheritors and responsible citizens of the future constitute a crucial component of sustainable development. Wars and conflicts disrupt this process – a process whose bearing determines the future setting. Secondly, the involvement of children and youth in conflicts disorients them as they are largely badly educated by the movement they are absorbed. Experience has shown that, a great many of these children have difficulties of one type or another in their post-conflict lives which in turn has a negative impact on the community they live with.

Another immediate casualty of any conflict is what has hitherto been the modicum of space for expression. News blackout on what exactly happens in conflict areas follows. As a result, little is known about what the consequences of the conflict are and what exactly is happening on the ground in terms of destruction to human lives, livelihoods and property. Both governments and rebels do not want the “wrong” side to de depicted by the media. Media blackout creates the propensity to resort to more indiscriminate killings and destruction on the part of both the army and rebels.

  1. Conflict and Ethics

Conflict also has ethical dimensions. Conflict involves destruction of lives and property mainly affecting the poor, and one has always to ask whether or not such destruction is warranted. Should it really happen? In the history of nations, there have always been conflicts and wars of all kinds and some serving as vehicles of political and social changes and galvanizing the evolution at the economic level; while others constituted setbacks as they rolled back the “wheels of history”, so to speak. The Horn countries that for most of the past centuries had been enjoying stability and self-sufficient economies are now in an unbearably miserable walk of life because of cyclical conflict situation. The proliferation of ethnic conflicts in today’s Ethiopia is as a result of the prevailing system of governance and as Abbink rightly put it “often an ethnic revival is primarily a result of failing state policy…”[16]  Below, the magnitude of the ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia over the years 2000-2008 is shown in a sample study extracted from repots of IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network of the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs) and EHRCO (Ethiopian Human Rights Council).[17]

IRIN goes on, “the continuing impasse over the border demarcation between Eritrea and Ethiopia presents an ongoing risk of an escalation that could have serious political and humanitarian consequences.”[18] And all this is the making of the political elites at the helm of the states on both sides of the colonial demarcation.

In the case of Africa in general, conflicts are in the first place manufactured by the political elite who controlled political power and practicing mal-governance. The conflicts are not just between neighboring countries but also among various social groups within each country as cited above – ethnic, sub-ethnic, religious, or regional. Such conflicts erupt mainly as a result of ill-thought government policies that are related with the people’s self-existence. According to the functions of the mal-governance prevalent, a viable and articulate opposition did not emerge as a result of the suppression of political space for participation as well as for expression. In other words, by depriving society of the freedom for expression and participation, the political elite is actually depriving the emergence of a viable opposition that may eventually resort to violent means to assert ones legitimate rights, thereby sowing the seeds of its own destruction and the seeds of conflict. It is quite evident that the form of the regime and its link to society is a crucial factor, for it in turn influences both the dynamics of the domestic political conflicts and coalitions (Skocpol 1994; Goodwin 1994).

The irony of all these, however, is the fact that the Horn of African elite in most of the countries are not elected by the people in the first place. Therefore, at the root of it all, there is the question of legality as well as having the moral high ground to resort to military offensives against rebel movements. By the same token, rebel movements are not elected either and the same question of legality and of morality goes to them as well. Instead, the government claims to be legitimate because it is in power and declares the rebel movement illegal. Hence, it is absolutely legal in the eyes of the government to quell the rebels militarily. The rebel movement, on its part, traces its legitimacy through historical reconstructions as it happened in the case of the rebel movements in Ethiopia and Eritrea, or prevalence of repressive rule in general. In these claims and counter-claims of legitimacy, society plays no role as both rebels and governments discount them by totally monopolizing the space upon which civil societies could have strived to make constructive impacts.

  1. Conflict and External Forces

External/international forces also play decisive role in manufacturing and managing conflicts that destabilize or unseat states. The history of conflicts in Africa in general and the Horn in particular amply testifies to the fact that no conflict has been sustained without the involvement of a neighboring ‘state’ and/or an international force who stood either on the side of a government or rebel movement. Ethiopia during the successive reigns of Emperor Haile Selassie and Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was bolstering the Southern Sudan rebel movement led by SPLM against the Khartoum government, while the Sudan was reciprocating by supporting rebel groups like the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF),and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) which were fighting against the Ethiopian government. On the other hand, in their drive for resources such as the untapped oil reserves lying in the Ogaden region and sphere of influence, the former Eastern Block and the West had been involved in the conflicts between Somalia and Ethiopia for long devastating years, at times by switching sides. “And it was ironic to observe the so-called ‘Stalinist TPLF’ – seen at the height of the Cold War as terrorist by the ‘free democratic Western alliance’ – being supported by the USA and Western European countries as it ascended to power”[19] sidelining all democratic forces and emerging civil society organizations that could have at least neutralized the monopoly of power by the TPLF. This USA and Western European ill thought policy in itself had immense contribution in deepening the crisis of the Ethiopian state.

International forces involve themselves in African conflicts out of a number of interests. During the Cold War, the major factor was the ideological divide and sphere of interest intertwined with economic interests mainly access to natural resources such as minerals. In the post-Cold War situation, the economic interest became the dominant one. Neighboring governments followed similar pattern as their globally hegemonic counterparts though some government are still bogged down in mutual destruction as it is the case in the Chad-Sudan and Ethio-Eritrea conflicts. The case of the conflict in DR Congo a few years ago poses a unique picture when four neighboring governments such as Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Namibia were involved militarily. Ostensibly political, the motive at least of Ugandan and Rwanda involvement was economic as the top brass of the two armies’ looted Congo’s minerals as was later verified by a UN report.[20] This entails war and destruction of nerve-racking magnitude. The same UN report also accuses Western companies of looting Democratic Republic of the Congo. An extract of the report shown below illustrates the involvement of the Western Companies.[21]  

Sample of companies importing minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo via Rwanda

Company Country of destination Merchandise
Cogem Belgium Cassiterites
Muka-Enterprise Belgium Cassiterites
Issa Germany Cassiterites
Chpistopa Floss Germany cassiterites
Veen Netherlands coltan
Banro-Resources Corp. Malaysia cassiterites, coltan
  Canada cassiterites
Bharat United Republic of Tanzania cassiterites

                     Rwasibo-Butera                  Switzerland                      coltan

                     Afrimex                               United Kingdom               coltan

                     Finconcorde                       Russian Federation         cassiterites, coltan[22]

As Chris Talbot wrote in 26 October 2006, the UN report concludes, despite vain hopes that the West will halt the looting of the Congo, that “the necessary networks have already become deeply embedded to ensure that the illegal exploitation continues, independent of the physical presence of the foreign armies.”[23]

International involvement and particularly of France and the US in the post-Cold War setting as well as the current policies of Western donor states on conflict-breeding undemocratic governments in Africa needs to be a subject of analysis. The post-Cold War period heralded a “new era” of peace and social development. Eruption and creation of conflicts in Africa and particularly in the Horn, however, seem to be unabated. The Cold War has ended; but not the dictatorial policies of governments in Africa that as we have seen above, bred conflicts. In view of such a situation, Western powers keep their eyes closed in face of brutally repressive governments and kept on supporting them. When President Barak Obama warned such repressive governments in Africa and elsewhere by stating that “they are on the wrong side of history”, millions and millions of poor people in these countries pinned their hope on him that he would do something about these repressive governments. One year on, there is no sign that Obama will ever lift his finger to do anything about them. On the contrary, as events turned out to reveal, he continued his support to repressive governments such as that in Ethiopia, a nation that has always been in tears of repression, famine and want. Yet, the paradox is that Western donors keep on telling us that democratization is important for development and so on, while on the other hand they keep financing dictatorial regimes.

  1. Ending Conflicts in Africa

Africa, Horn of Africa in particular has been ridden with several forms of violent conflict for most part of the post-independence period. Though, every part of the continent has not been affected with conflicts, the countries and sub-regions affected by conflict for most part are still suffering from chronic conflict situations. The Horn countries are cases in point. These conflicts can be categorized as ethnic and political. Social conflicts, though latent still, are also raging practically throughout the continent. In most cases, violent conflicts in Africa were and still are made possible with intervention of at least one neighboring country that harbors insurgencies and an international force that supplies aid directly or indirectly. Thus, African conflicts have multiple characteristics.

So many attempts have been made both by multi-lateral institutions such as the UN and AU as well as individual countries to bring peace to the various violent conflicts raging in the continent but with little or no success. For one thing, in most of the conflicts, neighboring states and global powers have been involved that needed the involvement of many of these actors when peace is sought. Secondly, the contradiction between political imperatives and political perspectives has prolonged the conflicts. And thirdly, the disparity between the generation of the conflicts and their management also contributed to the prolongation of the conflict. It is crucial to take these categories into consideration when conflict is analyzed in a new light.

Undoubtedly, those areas of Africa affected by conflicts are the ones that lag behind in terms of social development and economic growth. This is mainly because conflict impacts heavily on economic categories such as poverty, production, market, capital investment, accumulation, wealth creation, rural development and environment. This is not to speak of the social consequences of conflict on the position of women, children, the elderly, status of education and health. These consequences compel us to examine conflicts in a new light.

The various factors that lead to conflicts may have different forms and propensity, but they are all interrelated and could be categorized as internal and external factors. The internal factors comprise the lack of a system of governance that is based on people’s consent and the authoritarian elite that run the state and disempowered the society, while the external factors encompass powerful states who put their national interest at the cost of weaker nations and NGOs who are dependent either on the powerful states or the elite of the host nations that have already been an impediment to the growth of civil society.[24]  

The resolution of conflicts at the political level between the warring factions must be weighed therefore against the background of the consequences mentioned above, as well as the intervention of regional and international forces, which undeniably come-over with their own interests. The feasible remedy for such package of problems lies in an organized society that could manage to institute a worthy and accountable state. This may require an uphill struggle but it appears to be the only plausible path.

So far, we have observed that the state that was duty-bound to over-see the collective interest of people under its jurisdiction failed to perform its declared functions. In this regard, the situation calls for the formation of an accountable state i.e. a system of governance that operates by the rule of law and harness the infinite potentials of its people. The formation of such a state is a difficult task but not impossible. A conscious and united endeavor of democratic political forces together with the emerging civil societies with the clout to enforce process of peaceful change could turn this dream into a reality. This way, the prevailing tradition of resolving conflicts by means of war can end and the negative influence of external agents can be checked. No matter how difficult it may appear, the establishment of the institution of an independent and accountable state is therefore a decisive bridge to cross the enormous hurdles posed by conflicts.


Abbink, J. 1997, Ethnicity and Constitutionalism in Contemporary Ethiopia, Journal of African Law, 41(1): 159-174.

Aregawi Berhe, 2003, Revisiting Resistance in Italian-occupied Ethiopia: The Patriots’ Movement (1936-1941) and the Redefinition of Post-war Ethiopia, in Jon Abbink, et al., eds. Rethinking Resistance: Revolt and Violence in African History, pp. 87-113, Leiden: Brill.

Aregawi Berhe, 2001, Crisis of the African States, in Supporting Africa’s Efforts to Achieve Sustainable Development, Dialogue at the Economic and Social Council, United Nations, pp. 32-34.

Aregawi Berhe, 2000, Ethiopia: Success Story or State of Chaos? in Post-modern Insurgencies: Political Violence, Identity Formation and Peace Making in Comparative Perspective, eds. R. Munck and P.L. de Silva, London and New York, Macmillan and St. Martin’s Press, pp. 96-124.

Belai Giday, 1983 E.C., Ye’Ethiopia Siletanie (Ethiopia’s Civilization), Addis Ababa: Birhanena Selam

Comaroff, L., Comaroff, J., 1999, Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa, Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press.

Goodwin, J., 1994, ‘Old Regimes and Revolutions in the Second and Third Worlds: a Comparative Perspective’, Social Science History 18: 575-604.

Dumont, R., 1966, False Start in Africa, London: Andre Deutsch.

Hansberry, W.L., 1981, Pillars in Ethiopian History, ed. J.E. Harris, Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press.

Henze, P.B., 2001, Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia, London: Hurst.

Hochschild, A., 1998, King Leopold’s Ghosts, London: Panmacmillan.

Kaufmann, D., Kraay, A. and Zoido-Lobaton, P., 1999, ‘Aggregating Governance Indicators’ (no. 2195) and ‘Governance Matters’ (no. 2196), World Bank Policy Research Working Papers.

Kobishchanov, Y.M., 1979, Axum, University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Rodney, W., 1989, How Europe Under-developed Africa, Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers.

Skocpol, T., 1994, Social Revolutions in the Modern World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 Ungar, S.J., 1989, Africa: The People and Politics of an Emerging Continent, New York: Simon &Schuster.

[1] Comaroff and Comaroff, 1999: ix

[2] Kaufmann, Kraay and Zoido-Lobaton, no. 2195 and no. 2196

[3] In Kobishchanov, 1979: 59

[4] Rodney, 1989: 56

[5] Belai Giday, 1983 Ethiopian Calendar (E.C.), a Julian one that is 7 years and 4months ‘behind’ the Gregorian, Hansberry, 1981, Henze, 2001

[6] Ibid: 59

[7] Ibid: 48

[8] Belai Giday, 1983, Hansberry, 1981, Henze, 2001

[9] Ungar, 1989: 43

[10] Ibid: 80

[11] Ibid: 224

[12] Aregawi Berhe, 2003: 112-113

[13] Rene Dumont, 1966

[14] For details of the ideological stance see EPRDF, ‘The Development Lines of Revolutionary Democracy’, Addis Ababa, 1992 E. C. [2000]. 

[15]  In the case of the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, fighting the Ugandan army for more than two decades now, girl children are abducted and are held as sex slaves for the commanders and fighters of LRA.

[16] Abbink, 1997: 160.

[17] For details of the reports of IRIN and EHRCO refer www.irinnews.org and www.ehrco.org respectively.

[18] IRIN report of 17 February 2009

[19] Aregawi Berhe, 2000: 97.

[20] “Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic Congo” to the President of the UN Security Council from General Secretary Kofi A. Annan, 12 April 2001.

[21] For further details see Annex I of the Report.

[22] Cassiterite is a precious brilliant gem and a principal ore of tin, while refined coltan is a vital element in creating capacitors, which are used in a vast array of small electronic devices, especially in mobile phones, laptop computers, pagers, and other electronic devices. Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics products such as cell phones, DVD players, video game systems and computers. Export of coltan from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to European and American markets has been cited by experts as helping to finance the present-day conflict in the Congo, with the DanChurchAid agency asserting that “much of the finance sustaining the civil wars in Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is directly connected to coltan profits.” An estimated 6.9 million people have died since 1998 in the war in the Congo (ref. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia).

[23]Ref.  http://www.wsws.org

[24] Aregawi Berhe, 2001: 33