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African Conflicts and American Diplomacy

African Conflicts and American Diplomacy

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Published by David Shinn

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Published by: David Shinn on Nov 18, 2009
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African Conflicts and American Diplomacy: Roles and ChoicesConference Hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and theAmerican Academy of Diplomacy29 October 2009Washington, D.C.Remarks on the Horn of Africa by David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor, Elliott School of International AffairsGeorge Washington UniversityI will begin with a provocative statement. Since the end of World War II, the fivecountries of the Horn of Africa (Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti) haveconstituted the most conflicted corner of the world—not necessarily in terms of the mostdeaths and destruction but in terms of the number of conflicts and their complexity.There are some other good candidates for this unfortunate distinction. Theyinclude Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in an earlier era; the nexus of Lebanon, Israel,Syria, Palestine and Jordan; more recently the combination of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistanand Iran; the Great Lakes region of Africa; and even possibly the former Yugoslavia. Butover the past sixty plus years, I would argue that the Horn of Africa holds the record forthe sheer number of separate conflicts. There is not time during this panel to discuss allof the conflicts that have occurred in the Horn since the end of World War II. I will onlyaddress those that exist today or those that occurred in the past couple of years and havethe potential to return.Sudan is warily implementing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement thatended the war between northern and southern Sudan that resumed in 1983. There areserious concerns whether a resumption of conflict can be avoided. The crisis in Darfur,which began in 2003, remains unresolved although the level of violence is mercifullyreduced. The eastern Sudan is free of conflict at the moment but there is little confidencethat there has been a permanent solution to the discord there. The Lord’s ResistanceArmy has recently resumed attacks in southern Sudan and ethnic conflict in the south hasprobably resulted this year in more violent deaths than have occurred in Darfur. Even thedisputed Halaib Triangle on Sudan’s border with Egypt remains unresolved and thesource of potential conflict. Finally, there is sporadic conflict along the Sudan-Chadborder driven in part by the situation in Darfur and in part by long-standing support fromSudan and Chad for rebel groups across the border. I have four countries to go.Somalia holds the distinction as the world’s most failed state. The weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia is militarily opposed by al-Shabaab,an extremist organization allied with al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab, in turn, has a loose alliancewith another extremist organization known as Hizbul Islam, which claims not to have tieswith al-Qaeda. Significant numbers of Ethiopian troops entered Somalia late in 2006 insupport of the TFG. Although Ethiopian forces left in early 2009, they continue toconduct periodic cross-border operations. Eritrea supports al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islamas a way to create problems for Ethiopia. As if this is not enough, Somali pirates havebeen tying up about twenty-five international naval vessels in the Gulf of Aden andwestern Indian Ocean as a result of attacks that expanded exponentially starting in 2007on commercial shipping and unsuspecting yacht owners.
 2Ethiopia has a long history of internal armed dissident movements. One of themost important organizations today is the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which recentlyexperienced a split in its leadership and has not decided if it wants an independentOromia or greater political power and autonomy within a united Ethiopia. Somalis insoutheastern Ethiopia constitute the other principal threat. The Ogaden NationalLiberation Front (ONLF) wants a new independent country known as the Ogaden and hasscaled up attacks in recent months. A much less active group, the Western SomaliLiberation Front, seems to prefer amalgamation with neighboring Somalia should itovercome its failed state status. Eritrea supports both the OLF and ONLF while Ethiopiaprovides refuge to Eritrean dissidents. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that thereis no prospect for resolving the Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute, which led to the ruptureof relations in 1998 and a major conventional war from 1998 to 2000.Until recently, tiny Djibouti has been a relative haven of peace. Eritreainexplicably sent troops to the Djiboutian border in 2008. This resulted in a militaryclash. There has been a standoff along the border ever since. Even the dormant armedrebel group, the Afar Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, experienced anattack by the Djiboutian armed forces in September, raising the question whether therewill be a resumption of conflict between government forces and this organization.The United States can not possibly solve all of these problems nor should it try.The Horn offers such panoply of conflicts that it is necessary to engage in the triage thatwe talked about earlier today. During the Bush administration, the United States focusedits energy on pushing for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan. Theresult was the administration’s principal political success in Africa during its eight yearsin office. At the same time, it largely ignored the deteriorating situation in Somalia.When the United States did engage in 2006, it ill-advisedly supported Somali warlords inMogadishu against the rising Islamic Courts. The discredited war lords lost and theIslamic Courts won. The Courts remained in power for half a year until overwhelmingEthiopian military power forced them out of Mogadishu. One of the two most importantleaders of the Islamic Courts, Sheikh Sherif, is now the President of the TFG and stronglysupported by the United States. On several occasions, the United States used cruisemissiles to take out suspected terrorists in Somalia. While these blunt instrumentsremoved several bad guys, they also resulted in excessive collateral damage and led toanti-Americanism among many Somalis.From the standpoint of triage and American interests in the Horn, ending theconflict between northern and southern Sudan and efforts aimed at resolving Somalia’sfailed state status were the right choices. The CPA was a huge success; policy in Somaliawas a failure. The United States also found itself deeply engaged in trying to resolve theconflict in Darfur and to end Somali piracy. It was largely pressured into these conflictsby domestic political interests. A combination of evangelical groups, human rightsorganizations, the Jewish community and the Save Darfur Coalition put pressure on theadministration to do something about Darfur. The media and American shipping interestsled the charge on combating Somali piracy. The atrocities in Darfur deserved USattention on the merits of the crisis although not to the extent that Darfur almost totallydistracted Washington from doing more in places like the Democratic Republic of theCongo, where many more people have died. When it comes to triage and Americaninterests, the Somali piracy issue received more attention than it deserved.

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