The State, Ethnicity, and Conflicts in the Horn of AfricaThe
(*) By: Mubarak Ali Osman

The Horn of Africa borrows its name from its geographical position. This position has, now and in the past, a great influence upon survival strategies of the populations of the Horn. It also rendered the Horn geostrategically important for different global powers. Historically, it had played an important role in influencing the living patterns of the populations of the Horn, the intervention of international powers in
the Horn, perpetuating of conflicts and creating new opportunities for the future.


In addition, the states in the Horn played an instrumental role in the creation and/or perpetuating of the problems that face the Horn. The states were instrumental in suppressing their own populations, impoverishing them and impeding any progress. States were also instrumental in facilitating international intervention in the Horn. Buildings of international alliance were necessitated by the sheer preservation of the elites in power. The consequences were political and economic exclusion of the vast majorities of the population.

In this chapter, I will focus on the Horn region. First, I shall tackle its geographical and geostrategic position and its impact on the state and conflict. I will discuss, in regional perspective, the politics of the state, the state and ethnicity and Complex Political Emergencies (CPEs). Then concluding remarks will follow

3.1. The Geographical and Geostrategic Position
The Horn of Africa borrows its name from its geographical position. It is a vast area that stretch from the Red Sea to the Nile Basin and from the Indian Ocean to the East African High lands. It is a sub-region that belongs to sub-Saharan African Countries (SSAC). 

In the literature we encounter two classifications for the Horn. Prendergast and American researchers in general, tend to depict the countries of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda as the Greater Horn. Other researchers confine the Horn to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan and called it the Horn of Africa. However, the broad classification includes the Greater Lakes Region and Eastern countries. This classification is based mainly on geostrategic policy options and did not take into consideration climatic conditions in the Smaller Horn. This is totally different from the one in the Greater Lakes Region. Moreover, I think the later classification reflects the realities of this sub-region: in terms of natural and physical environment, peoples living in this sub-region as will be highlighted later. In this research I confine myself to the Smaller Horn (the Horn) to which Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan belong

The countries of the Horn, which lie between co-ordinates 15 North and 50 East, stretch over an area of 4.415 million square kilometers. The Sahel belt runs cross them from western Sudan to Somalia in the far east. The climate varies from desert, dry, hot, in the Northern parts of Sudan, Coastal strip of Eritrea, the whole of Somalia and Dijbouti, to the tropical climate in Ethiopia, and Southern Sudan. The Eritrean central highlands remain cooler and wetter, while western hills and lowlands are semi-arid.(1)Tropical Ethiopia has a high variation in rain fall

The Horn shows variety in physical environments. It consists topographically of different terrains. From Sudan’s flat, featureless plain, with mountains in the east and west, to Ethiopia’s high plateau with central mountains range divided by the Great Rift Valley. Djibouti is a flat to undulating plateau rising to hills in the north. While Eritrea is dominated by highlands, descending on the east to a coastal desert plain, on the northwest to hilly terrain and on the southwest to flat-to-rolling plains.

The Northern arid areas of the Horn have an annual rainfall of 300 mm on average, with a rainy season of three months. In the Southerner semi-arid area the annual rainfall averages between 300 to 600 mm with a rainy season of three to four months. In the far North of the Horn dominate a Sahara climate. While in the far Southern areas dominates an equatorial climate with a rain fall average of 800 to 1600 mm per annum and the rainy season is longer between six to seven months. There is a great variability in the rainfall in the region which has had influenced the peoples patterns of living. Topography and climate cause different environmental and natural hazards that face the countries of the Horn. From earthquakes in Djibouti and Ethiopia, to the common enemy of the people in all coutries i.e. frequent drought. The countries generally face high levels of deforestation; desertification; soil erosion; overgrazing; famine; and inadequate supplies of potable water

The Horn’s unique geographical position had been strategically important during and even before the Cold war. After the initiation of the Suez Channel, the Horn occupied an important position for international trade routes between the West and the East and South East Asia. The discovery of the petroleum resources in the Arab peninsula had increased the importance of this region. A third element that increased the importance of the Horn region is the role it plays in connecting the Arabic and African cultures, where migrations between the two regions was as old as the old kingdoms in the Horn. After World War Two, the two super powers had more motivations to create alliances with regimes in the Horn, that bequeathed the colonial powers, a matter that happened in all the countries of the Horn. Djibouti remains a French protectorate till now.

The former two super powers used these countries as battlefield for latent and open confrontation. Their interventions had found a fertile soil in ethnic divide and suppressive political regimes. As the dominant strata pursued its own political and economic agendas, it resorted to repressive measures against groups and communities that seek access to the state power and resources. In their endeavour to preserve their dominant position over the state power, elites in different countries resorted to international coalitions to cement their hold on the state apparatus. The results are well documented; the US and the Soviet Union used different regimes to fight out their hostilities.(2)

While conflicts were part of the history of the groups in the Horn, international involvement had intensified and prolonged them. Although the conflicts had colonial roots but, as Sorenson has expressed it, was encouraged by bipolar rivalries through the pouring of weapons to support proxies.(3)However, countries did have a shifting relationship with the bipolar, depending upon the interests of the ruling elites in each country of the region. For example, the US armed Ethiopia until 1978 while the Soviet Union supported Somalia; after the Ogaden war, the alliances reversed. Also the conflict in the Sudan was, and is, influenced by different regional neighboring African states, the US, the international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Middle Eastern countries.(4)These external interests had exacerbated the internal conflicts in different countries of the Horn; through providing arms to fighting parties and international political support, which had a devastating influence on the development of the region.

When the Cold War ended, with the crowning of the USA as the sole hegemonic power in international affairs, the Horn importance swiftly declined from international agendas. However, the relic of the Cold War, the hostilities among different groups, suppressed during that period, combined with waning external support for states’ elites, led to violent conflicts in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. Different ethnic actors began as early as the nineties, some of them since the middle eighties, to fight for their rights of self-determination, secessions or to control state power.

The position of the Horn, albeit marginalized, is not totally forgotten; the geostrategic position, the wave of petroleum discoveries and the interests of different international monopolies to open market for products and/or relocation of some industries to underdeveloped countries

3.2. The Economies of the Horn
The economies of the countries of the Horn were plagued by competition for scarce resources and erratic states policies over a long period of time.(5) The harsh nature of the Horn combined with historical factors, as alluded to above, had greatly influenced the survival strategies and means for earning a footing. The inhabitants of the Horn had, over the years, adapted to their environmental situations. They can be divided into pastoralists and cultivators. Most of the peoples are dependent on traditional rain fed agriculture and animals rearing.(6) Their survival is jeopardised by drought, famine and violent conflict. 

The countries in the Horn count among the 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world, of which 33 are African.(7) As Table (3-1) below reflects, the Horn’ has an average Human Development Index of less than 0.5, which means that the majority of the populations are steadily living in abject poverty. Basic needs such as health care, housing, education and food were not guaranteed. Life expectancy is 51 years which is very low compared to other regions such as latin America 70, Europe 69, Middle East 68 and South Asia 62. Also infant mortality reach 162, with variation among the different countries of the Horn.

Table (3-1) The Horn of Africa: Social Indicators
. . . . . .
Item The Horn Middle East Latin America Europe South Asia
Population 2001 (million)* 118.037 295 516 474 1355
Population density/km2(e) 26.8
Life expectancy (years) 51.6 68 70 69 62
Infant Mortality/1000 162 54 37 25 96
Primary school enrolment 42 83 97 .. ..

Source: World Bank, CIA Fact Book and UNDP Development Reports (various years)

Furthermore the primary school enrollment for children of school age is low compared to other regions. Compared to other regions, the average of the five countries of 42 girls is very low. Table (3-2) gives even more insights into the variations between the five countries of the Horn.. The countries rank between 139 for the best developed Sudan and 168 for Ethiopia. The Unctad estimates that the countries of the Horn may need between 50 to 100 years to reach a per capita income of U$ 900.  

Table (3-2) Countries of the Horn Indicators
Item Djibouti Eritrea Ethiopia Somalia Sudan
Area (000’s km²)* 23.2 121.3 1227.1 638 2505.8
Population 2001 (million)* 0.472 4.465 67.0 9.0 37.1
Population density/km² (2) 2 0 36 52 14 12
Life expectancy (years) 51.6 56.57 44.21 46.96 57.33
Infant Mortality/1000 99.7 73.62 98.63 122.15 67.14
Primary school enrolment
Rank HDI (a) 149 157 168 139

Source: World Bank, CIA Fact Book and UNDP Development Reports (various years)

In the economies of the Horn, the agricultural sector plays a dominant role except for Djibouti where the service sector has a leading role. As Table (3-3) reflects, the agricultural sector contribution in GDP is 65% in Somalia, 53% in Ethiopia, 43% in the Sudan, 17% in Eritrea. The industrial sector, which is mainly specialized in processing industries, contributes on average 15%, compared with a swelling service sector, which assumed the leading role in different countries in the last decade of the previous century. Taking into consideration that the service sector does not contribute to absorption of the high unemployment rate in these countries, nor it contributes in boosting material production or the distribution thereof. Limited as the case in Sudan and Ethiopia to speculative activities, it plays a harmful role to poverty alleviation strategies.  

Table (3-3) GDP Composition and Labour Force by Sector

GDP Composition by sector (2001) Labour Force by Occupation (2001)
Agr. Ind. Ser. Agr. Ind. Ser. T. La.For Unemployment Rate
Djibouti 3 10 87 0.282 m 50
Eritrea 17 29 54 80 20 n.a. n.a.
Ethiopia 52.3 11.1 36.6 80 8 12 n.a. n.a.
Somalia 65 10 25 71 29 3.7 m n.a.
Sudan 43 17 40 80 7 13 11 m 18.7 (2002)

Source: World Bank, CIA Fact Book and UNDP Human Development Reports (various years) Key: Agr. Agriculture; Ind.: Industry; Ser.: Service Sector; T.La.Force: Total Labour Force

As table (3-3) shows that the unemployment rate ranges between 50% in Djibouti to 18% in the Sudan. Combined with a high inflation rate of 15% in Eritrea, 6.8% for Ethiopia, 10% in the Sudan, and over the 100% for Somalia, the future seem bleak. It is evident that the peoples of the Horn will have hard times to suffer from mal-economic and financial policies pursued in the last two decades. 

Moreover, the agricultural sector provides the majority with food and employment activities and income. About 60 to 80% of the economically active population are engaged in agricultural activities in these countries, with the exception of Djibouti. Despite its contribution in the economies, the sector in all the countries of the Horn is underdeveloped, depending on rainfall, which is highly variable. It contains some pockets of irrigated and mechanized farming, as the case in Sudan and Ethiopia. Mechanized farming depends upon rainfed cultivation. As the Horn is specialized in primary agricultural products, within an international division of labour, and all the countries have a mono-crop system. This exposed the export earnings, the main foreign exchange earnings means, to international market fluctuations and to internal price distortions leading to more poverty. Such socio-economic and political environment is conducive to conflicts. As will be demonstrated in each country’s chapter, the Horn conflicts show economic and political exclusion as among their root causes.

Table (3-4) GDP, Debt and ODA (2001)
Item Djibouti Eritrea Ethiopia Somalia Sudan
GDP (Billion US$) 0.600 0.681 6.366 4.100 12.560
GDP per capita US$ 1400 837 668 550 1797
External Debt (billion)(b) 0.366 0.281 5.3 2.6 24.9
Per Capita debt US$(c) 775 63 80 288 671
ODA received (million US$)% of GDP 71.4 176 693.0 60 225.4
1990 2000 1990 2000 1990 2000 1990 2000 1990 2000
46.4 12.9 29 14.8 10.8 6.2 2.6
ODA per capita US$(C) 112.9 48.1 11 7.2

Sources: UNDP, “Human Development Report”, various years, and the World Bank, “World Development Report”, various years. CIA World Fact Book, 2002. – Rounded figure; (a) UNDP, World Development Report, 2002; (b) CIA Fact Book, 2002; (c) WB, Development Report, various years.

Since the late seventies there had been a widespread decline in economic performance. Agricultural and the processing industry production declined sharply after the first and second petroleum shocks. Lack of foreign exchange to meet the import bill for inputs, for both the agricultural and industrial sectors had adversely affected the balance of payment. This resulted in external imbalances and an increase the money supply to finance activities and riding inflation. However, the state attempted to achieve growth albeit erratically i.e. borrowing from the international financial markets. This is reflected in a mounting bill of external debt for all countries. The Sudan is the heaviest indebted country. Over the 70s external borrowing increased leading further distortion in these economies. 

To counter the decline in foreign exchange earnings, the states in the Horn undertook two routes. Increased borrowing from international capital markets and intensification of production of primary goods, including food.(8) Table (3-4) shows some economic and financial indicators for the Horn countries. This data indicates plainly that the countries are heavily indebted. Sudan rank first with 25 billion dollars, Ethiopia ended with 6 billions, Somalia had a debt of 3 billions and Djibouti with 366 millions. Compared to their GDP, it comprises 200% that of Sudan, 50% of Somalia, 11% of Ethiopia, 61% of Djibouti and 11% of Eritrea. Per capita debt is high in all countries. It can easily absorb ODA per capita in all countries.

In the Sudan, when the regime, in early 1970s, had deserted its socialist orientation and pursued a capitalist path of development, it embarked upon extensive mechanized farming schemes, where private capital played a central role. In addition, it established irrigated projects. While in planned economies such as Ethiopia, the regime began its villagization, cooperativization and forced resettlement of pasturalist and provision of basic tools and seeds.

The economic decline continued over the past three decades. Combined with recurring drought, environmental degradation, and the subsistence survival strategies pursued by the majority of the populations, pasturalist and sedentary agriculturist, resulted in famines. The policies of the state based upon suppression politically resulted in more sufferings. Famine stories in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia are well documented.(9)

The integration of the Horn in the world market as producer of primary products should not be forgotten, nor her dependency on imported technologies should be underestimated. This aspect of the relation between the Horn and the international market makes international interests in the Horn hold. Although, the Horn occupies a peripheral role in the international division of labour, however, it has a highly absorptive consumer market for food, arms and technologies. The Horn marginal position in the international economy and division of labour resulted in small economies, state financial crisis, and lack of diversification. Ethiopia depends on coffee as a major export crop, Sudan upon cotton and Somalia upon cattle. Imports for production and consumption were financed by unreliable sources of foreign exchanges such as exports earnings and aid.

3.3. Cultural Diversity, Politics of the State, Ethnicity and CPEs
Like most other African sub-regions, the societies of the Horn are characterized by diversity in culture, religion and tradition. Different social groups have different cultures, religions and traditions. This diversity led in some areas to conflicts, especially where there is scarcity of resources. Pursuance of conflicting survival strategies, such as agriculture and nomadic animal husbandry had fuelled these conflicts. Liability to conflict is made easier by availability of arms, via illegal trade and weak state apparatus. Despite this fact, the social groups were united under the social and political society at the country level.  

Historically, Christianity had dominated the region for centuries and had been the official religion of Kingdoms in both current Sudan and Ethiopia. Islam had entered later, in waves that began in the seventh century, and spread peacefully, among different social and ethnic groups, mainly through trade and intermarriage. According To Trimingham, the real spread of Islam came during the tenth and the twelfth centuries, when the Muslims established Kingdoms in the area.(10)

Religions such as Christianity, Islam, in addition to traditional African beliefs, coexist in the Horn. In the Sudan, Sunni Muslim comprises 70%, indigenous beliefs about 25%, and Christianity 5%. Islam dominates the North, Christianity exists in the South and Khartoum, while traditional African beliefs are to be found in different parts of the country. In Ethiopia Islam is the religion of 40-50% of the population, the Orthodox church is followed by 35%, animism by 12% and other beliefs are followed by 3-8%. Somalis are mostly Moslems. In Eritrea Muslims, Coptic Christians, Roman Catholics, and Protestants are to be found side by side. In Djibouti, Muslims comprise 94%, and Christian 6%. For long periods, Muslims, Christians and African believers lived side by side. The people had enjoyed a high level of religious and belief freedom and tolerance. However, in the sixteenth century the Portuguese entered the Abysisnia and supported Christian Kings in Ethiopia. At the state level both religions were used as an ideological cover. However, at the popular level, the peoples created a culture of non-militant religions in the Horn. Popular Islam in the Sudan is a case in point. Sudanese Muslims who adhere to Islam adapted it to the social organizations, customs and mixed it with their African customs and cultures. This had created a culture of non-militant Islam. Militant Islam was a late comer to the region. In Sudan with the Mahadist State in the last two decades of nineteenth century and revived in the sixties in the last century. The first wave of this type of Islam was a response to Turko-Egyptian colonization. While its revival in the sixties and seventies, when the Cold War was at its peak. It made use of its coalition with the USA in its fight against Communism. This type of Islam had also benefited from the support of Rich Arab Countries, a support that came also as part of Islamic solidarity, with far reaching unintended consequences.

The traditions of different social and ethnic groups are heterogeneous. Most of the groups adhere to their ancestors’ traditions in marriage, customary justice and in defending their territories and assets. They also define themselves as different from other groups. The environment, survival strategies and religions had effectively played important role in creating different identities. Table (3-5) shows the broad division between different groups in different countries. The table reflects only the broader division, such as black etc., which is not a precise means to reflect the reality of live in the countries concerned. Within each country there are many hundred ethnic and social groups. Sudan has more 550 ethnic groups and also Ethiopia has around 76 officially declared groups. However, these different groups hold to certain customs and traditions that distinguish them from others. While the Baggara Arabs in Western and Southwestern Sudan adheres to certain Arabized customs,(11) their Nilotic neighbors the Dinka of Bahr al Ghazal adhere to African traditions. Diversity in culture, traditions and religions did not stimulate the development process in the Horn region.

Table (3-5) Ethnic Politics and Conflicts in the Horn 1990-2002
Country No. of major ethnic groups No of major ethnic conflict No. of ethno-political organizations
Djibouti 6 2 n.a.
Eritrea 6 2 n.a.
Ethiopia 76 (1) 7 67
Somalia 5 clans + 30 lineage per clan (2) 9 10
Sudan 57 10 12

Source: Different sources including: Prendergast, “Crisis Response: Humanitarian Band-Aids in Sudan and Somalia”, Op., Cit., pp. Vii-ix. And Harir and Tvedt, “Short-cut”, Op., Cit., pp. 18-21.

(1) The CIA Fact book puts the figure to nine, while the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington web site puts it at 76. I take the later estimate. (2) The major clan families are Hawiye, Darod, Isaq, Dir, Digil-Mirifle. Each of these is sub-divided into six or more subclans and to lineages and extended families. 

According to Fukui & Markakis, conflict has been endemic in the region.(12) Drought and famine exacerbated the fighting between different tribal groups during the seventies. While in the 1980s the region experience was even worse. Table (3-6) shows that there were 22 violent conflicts in four countries of the Horn. These conflicts involve more than seventy different partners, ranging from the government to ethnic groups. The significance of these conflicts can be measured by their geographical spread as well as by their intensity and violence. The ensuing results were the disruption of economic performance, halting the democratization process if any and resort to exclusionary and suppressive measures from the side of different governments.

Table (3-6) Violent Conflicts in the Horn 2001
Country Region in country Fighting Parties
Eritrea North West EIS
Ethiopia Oromia OLF
Ethiopia Various parts Al-Itthihad
Ethiopia Awash National park Ethnic
Ethiopia Addis Ababa Student uprising
Ethiopia/Eritrea Boundary Ethiopia/Eritrea
Ethiopia/Somalia Ogaden ONLF
Ethiopia/Somalia Mugud Region
Somalia MIVA versus SRRC
Somalia Bay Region Between Clans
Somalia Beletwein Between Clans
Somalia Jubaland Between Clans
Somalia Puntland Between Clans
Somalia Shebelle Between Clans
Somalia Somaliland Between Clans
Somalia Bulo Falay RPS versus RAS, DSA
Somalia Qoryoley Garre versus Jiddo
Sudan South, Blue Nile, Upper Nile, Nuba Mountains & Bahr al Ghazal SPLA, SSIM/A, UDSF, NDA, BC, SSUA, SSDF-U, PDF
Sudan West Upper Nile SPLA versus SPDF
Sudan Omdurman THG versus Soennieten
Sudan West Darfur
Sudan/Eritrea Boundary

Source: PIOOM, 2001, and SIPRI Yearbook, 2001. As quoted in, MiBuZ, “Gewelddadige Conflicten in 2001”.

Due to ethnicity, ethnic diversity, and the fight of different groups for recognition there is a high degree of ethnization in the Horn. That means that different groups, and political leaders resort to ethnicity as a means of support for their political programmes. Different ethnic groups were and are organised into ethnic political parties. Table (3-5) above shows this fact. This is clearly outspoken in Ethiopia, where political parties were and are organised along ethnic lines. Another aspect of this phenomenon is that even for countries which seems to have no such politics, most of the major political parties depend on ethnic support. Sudan is a good case in point. Both Northern political parties such as the Umma, the Nubians, the Southerners base their parties upon ethnic grounds. It is as if a fact of live that is eternal and can not be changed. In Sudan also different groups resort to ethnic bases for political support, the SPLA/SPLM, SSIMA, SPDF, UMMA, UDP, are but a few cases. 

A striking feature that that increased the probability of conflict is the politics of the state. Its symbolic presence in the communities in its peripheries had ever since its inception created more problems than solved them.(13) Till recently, with the exception of major cities or towns, the state has no significant presence in its peripheries. Small military or police posts in remote peripheries of the countries represent the central authority after independence. The central authority, the government, seeks by this symbolic presence to secure its territorial integrity, political security and to control the process of exploiting the rural/periphery areas. According Markikas, the state in the Horn has, ever since its inception in the colonial era and even after independence, an expansionist trend.(14) It had incorporated regions and groups that never fully integrated into the state structure. Therefore, social and ethnic groups lack meaningful ties with the state and they attempted to regain their autonomy.

The state with its tendency to expand, to control and extract resources from its peripheries, had entered conflict with its alleged citizens. In addition, few ethnic or tribal groups monopolized the state’s power. Whether in the past or nowadays, we discern that excluded ethnic, and social groups were alienated from the state, and they took arms against it. The cases of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia substantiate this analysis.

Moreover, hegemonic ethnic groups, holding the state power, attempt to promote their own identity and culture as the national identity and culture. The case of current Ethiopia and Sudan are still alive. This process is counterproductive and led in many instances to confrontation and, national disintegration. The results of this process is a violent reaction from targeted groups who also resort to their own cultural traits. Many ethnic groups were, are, excluded from the state power which means exclusion from material and social resources controlled by the state. We should bear in mind that, the state plays a crucial role in production and distribution of material and social goods and resources, exclusion from state power means extinction. So wage different ethnic groups their struggle against the state. Due to its role in production and distribution, the sate is a focal point for different actors who want to win or dominate it.

Different ethnic groups, in the Horn, are fighting for recognition of their rights of existence, such as the Nuba in the Sudan, Eritrean before independence, the Somalis in the Ogaden, the Tigre before they assume power in Ethiopia in 1991. In this respect, I think that, ethnicity plays an ideological role for the struggle between different groups in the Horn. Many groups lived side by side without serious consequences for the existence of other groups. That does not mean that there was no conflict between the different groups, but conflict was always under control of the groups in question i.e. finding solution through the traditional systems. Political leaders of different groups used and invoked it when they need to strengthen their political position against a central authority that monopolize power and resources. The Oromo in Ethiopia is a case in point, where the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) fought, and continues to fight, against all the regimes in Ethiopia including the last one. As many researchers have shown, the Oromo intelligentsia has constructed an Oromo culture and distinct characteristics depending on the language. The regional movements in the Sudan are also another case where different groups attempted to create alliances between different groups to the extent that they resemble a political confederation.(15)

Material reproduction, monopolization of the means of productions, cultural suppression, in some cases, and monopolization of the state power have tended, over the last three decades, to reproduce ethnicity in these countries. Looking to the size of the population of the Horn and their division according to their means of subsistence, they are mostly pastoralists. Compared to other region in the World the Horn is the most densely populate region with pastoralists: Sudan comes first; Ethiopia ranks number third, and Somalia fifth. It is well known that pastoralists pattern of living and survival strategies necessitate their movement in search of grazing areas and water. This created some conflicts. With the incidence of recurring drought over the decades, the pastoralist movement became necessary. On the other side, the state had penetrated the grazing regions and imposed mechanized farming as the case of the Sudan, pushed the pastoralist to marginal areas. Mobility for the pastoralists is an economic imperative; they tend to press for, as in Sudan and Ethiopia, water and grazing areas with conflicts as consequences.

According to Markakis, the state in the Horn has strong expansionist tendencies.(16)After independence, the state did not cease its expansionist tendencies. In many parts of the Horn, the goals were control and integration of different ethnic and social groups. Available evidence from Ethiopia shows that the state annexed Eritrea and invaded Somalia, while Somalia after independence laid claims against all her neighbours. The pastoralists were not fully integrated in the state domain and they were used to resist its hegemony. The Ogaden, Bale and Southern Sidamo in 1960s illustrate this case. In addition, when the Ethiopian state annexed Eritrea, this caused one of the longest wars in Africa. The case of the civil war in the Sudan is also illuminating. In 1955, one year before independence, some of the Southerners began resistance against the nationalist regime. Somalia also gives a similar example. The Northern region had entered confederation with the South and after a while wish to regain its autonomy, leading to more fighting.

One of the remarkable, even devastating results, of the expansionist lust of the state is bringing of different social and ethnic groups together. Having different cultural, traditions and religious backgrounds, the groups had to live together and share the available resources. The cultural and religious differences became a symbol ready for exploitation by leaders in time of conflict. Moreover, the relationship that ties the state elites and their subjects were unequal. Suppression and exploitation were the only programmes and policies implemented by the state. The vast majority of the populations, ethnic, tribal or religious groups, were totally alienated from the state and her symbolic representatives i.e. the police and army posts.

3.5 Concluding Remarks

In what stated above I showed how different factors contribute in causing conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Some of these factors are general conditions, such as the scarcity of resources and climatic conditions, which may be a cause to conflict anywhere, and may not be Horn-specific factors. Different groups fight for survival in a withering state where the policies of the government did not exceed the boundaries of the capital city such as Khartoum or Addis Ababa, or limited to the clan such as in Somalia under Barrie’s regime. Geographical position, environmental hazards and the topographies of the countries play an objective role in facilitating conflicts and increasing the likelihood of their occurrence. 

Horn-specific factors include among others the geographical location of the Horn and its importance in international strategies since the Cold War and till now. I also have shown how international involvement in the Horn had contributed to ethnic conflicts. I think that the geographical location of the Horn has a great influence on the politics of the state, and living strategies of the populations of the Horn. Another Horn-specific factor, is the states in the Horn which are not nation-states, but rather national states in the sense that different groups are not yet integrated in the state society and are leading their own autonomous live away and against the state wish.

External factors had facilitated the occurrence of conflicts in the Horn. First of all the colonialization in all countries of the Horn except for Ethiopia had been instrumental in this respect. The arbitrary borders where in each country different and distinct groups were united forcefully under a political rule and entity they did not have chosen. This had increased the propensity to of groups to enter into conflict against their neighbour or even against the “unknown” state power. Although the state structure was externally imposed by colonial powers, in all countries except Ethiopia, however, this state has its own specificity and historicity. The state structure, after independence, had changed in form only. It remains the manufacture of anti-popular and anti-people policies in economics, politics and social control. It remains driven by the interests of groups elite that had an international connections and alliances. Moreover, external intervention had exerted support to corrupt regimes in all the countries which increased the likelihood of conflict as many groups feel excluded from the state power and resources.

A further factor which have facilitated the occurrence of conflicts in many countries of the Horn, is the general political situation. African states had developed their own means to govern and control after independence. In the Horn we can see the top down imposition of political control. The populations had never had the chance to govern or to develop a bottom up regional hierarchies. I think this find its root causes in the fact that the economy of these countries was precapitalist, and did not develop structures and capital to play the unifying role. Nor was there, historically, a central authority that could use coercion to control the populations. The case of the Ethiopian dynasty did not fully evolve, as it must deal with a flourishing capitalist market system at the international level which incorporate the Ethiopian state through unequal exchange.

A striking aspect of the state in the Horn is that it has never, till recently, extended any non-military activities beyond the hegemonic elites. Even the few urban centre, where protest of the urban wretched could not be overlooked, the state did not respond adequately. Nor had the state declined from the Ivory Tower to ask or carry dialogue with her alleged citizens. There was, is, no welfare, and the services were delivered only to preserve the ruling elites in power. This has created a patron-client relations, which led in many cases to corrupt practices. Whenever, the hegemonic elites entered into crisis they resort to this relation and request or even command ethnic support.

To what extent can we talk about a weak state apparatus in the Horn? I think the state in the Horn is very soft in the sense that it has only symbolic representation in its peripheries. But simultaneously, it is an historical state and has its own specificity. If we took the question of justice and fairness and the role of the state in this process, we should analyse the class structure of the elites in power.

Till now there is no state, nor government, in the Horn without an element of dictatorial tendency, even if it is democratic in form and procedures to assume power. However, the state continue its expansionist zeal unheeded and continues to exert control over a fragmented populations without falling. When it collapsed, as the case in Ethiopia 1991 and the Sudan 1985, it had easily and swiftly recomposed. However, we should note here that political instability is one aspect of the politics of the state. Succession, by governments, has never been carried out peacefully in most of the countries. Even the case of Ethiopia, the most old and now democratic, has three types of governments in 50 years and the succession occurred by force.


CIA, “World Fact Book, 2002”, at:
Pateman, R., “Intelligence Operations in the Horn of African”, in Sorenson, Op., Cit., pp. 49-71.
Sorenson, op. Cit., p 2.
For Sudan see Wohlmuth, K., “Alternative Strategies for the Sudan”, in Harir, S., and Tvedt, T., (eds.), “Short-cut to Decay: The Case of Sudan”, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, pp. 204-247. De Waal, “Famine Crimes: Politics and disaster relief industries in Africa”, op. Cit., Chapter 3, pp. 49-64..
Harts-Broekhuis en Klaver, “De milieuproblematitiek in semi-aride gebieden: het voorbeeld van de Sahel”, in Kleinpenning, J.M.G., (ed.), “Milieuproblemen in ontwikkelingslanden”, Van Gorcum, Assen, 1993. Pp. 58-87.
Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, “De Lelijke eendjes”, DVL, Zalsman Kampen BV, April 2001.
Duffield, M., in Doornbos, M., et al, Op., Cit., p. 50
Webb, P. And von Braun, J., 1994. Keen, K., 1994..
Trimingham, J., S., 1952, p. 60.
By Arabized customs is meant that customs and traditions alleged to be from Arabic descent, while they are a mix of African customs with an Arabic ideological cover.
Fukui, K. and Markakis, J., Op., Cit., pp. 1-11.
Fukui, K. and Markakis, J., p. 8..
Kurita, Y., in Fukui, K., and Markakis, J., 1994, Op., Cit., pp. 202-216.
Op., Cit., pp. 220-224.


*) Sudanese Economist – Neitherland.