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Challenges to Peace and Stability in the Horn of Africa

Challenges to Peace and Stability in the Horn of Africa

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Published by David Shinn
A transcript of a speech by Amb. David Shinn at the World Affairs Council of Northern California on 3/12/2010.
A transcript of a speech by Amb. David Shinn at the World Affairs Council of Northern California on 3/12/2010.

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Published by: David Shinn on Mar 15, 2010
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Challenges to Peace and Stability in the Horn of AfricaWorld Affairs Council of Northern CaliforniaWestin St. Francis HotelSan Francisco12 March 2010David H. ShinnElliott School of International AffairsGeorge Washington UniversityI am pleased to have this opportunity to address the World Affairs Council of  Northern California. I will discuss “Challenges to Peace and Stability in the Horn of Africa,” which I define as Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. Dr. CharlesKupchan provided a macro analysis of emerging threats and strategic challenges. I willoffer a micro approach. While my opening remarks focus on the Horn, I would be pleased to take questions on Africa generally.The Most Conflicted Corner of the WorldIn the post-World War II era, the Horn of Africa has consistently been the mostconflicted corner of the world. That is a bold assertion, but hear me out and then tell meif there is another region of the world that has consistently been more conflicted.Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea recovered from wartime Italian military occupationonly to confront soon thereafter a series of internal and inter-state conflicts. In the caseof Ethiopia, this included a rebellion in Eritrea province, the violent overthrow of theHaile Selassie government by a military junta followed by an expanded internal war thatin 1991 removed the military government that had deposed Haile Selassie. This eventcoincided with the hard fought independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia.A bloody border war then broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998.Although it ended two years later, it did not resolve the border disagreement and theleadership in the two countries remain implacably at odds. The government of Ethiopiafaces opposition from elements of several armed ethnic groups clamoring for more political power or even independence. There is also a growing Eritrean exile communityopposed to the government in Asmara.Somalia engaged in periodic conflict with Ethiopia and occupied nearly a quarter of the country in the late 1970s before Somalia collapsed and became a failed state in1991. Somalia has been in constant turmoil ever since; the northwest part of the country —Somaliland—declared independence but no country has recognized its status. Theweak Somali Transitional Federal Government faces a severe threat from an extremistorganization allied with al-Qaeda. The government’s lack of control over most of thecountry has resulted in the worst outbreak of high seas piracy in the Gulf of Aden andIndian Ocean since the days of the Barbary Coast pirates.The north-south civil war began in Sudan in the mid-1950s and continued until1972. It resumed in 1983 and did not end until 20 years later. As soon as northern and
 
southern Sudan achieved a cease fire, conflict stemming from political marginalizationand scarce resources broke out in Darfur that continues to the present day. There has also been conflict in eastern Sudan as a result of political marginalization, which could flareup again at any time.Tiny Djibouti has experienced the least amount of conflict, but even it facesopposition from elements of an ethnic minority that periodically attacks the centralgovernment.All of these countries, except Djibouti, have a long history of supporting dissidentgroups in neighboring countries for their own perceived advantage. This tit-for-tatactivity poses an additional challenge to stability and security. Today, support for theseopposition groups is especially troublesome in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Aselections in Sudan take place next month and a referendum on an independent southernSudan takes place early next year, Sudan may once again find itself either confrontingdissident groups supported from neighboring countries or even supporting dissidentgroups in neighboring countries.Add to this situation a more recent overlay of international terrorist activitycentered in Somalia. Al Shabaab, an organization linked to al-Qaeda, has become wellestablished in Somalia. Several non-Somalis involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S.embassies in Kenya and Tanzania took refuge in Somalia. One of them may be leadingal-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab’s tactics include political assassinations and suicide bombings.Al-Shabaab has even recruited for its campaign in Somalia a couple dozen youngSomalis from the diaspora in the United States.I should mention an additional potential challenge to stability in the region.Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea are among the 10 Nile Basin riparian states that contributewater to the Nile or rely on it for water. Egypt derives 95 percent of its fresh water fromthe Nile. Ethiopian tributaries provide 86 percent of the water that reaches the Aswandam. All Nile water flows through Sudan en route to Egypt. And there is not yet anunderstanding among all 10 riparian states on future use of the water.I rest my case; the Horn of Africa has been the most conflicted corner of theworld since the end of World War II and this situation is not likely to change any timesoon.Reasons for the InstabilityYou may be wondering why has there been so much conflict and instability in theHorn of Africa over the past sixty years or so. There are many reasons. While most of the causes of conflict in the Horn exist in many other parts of the world, I doubt that asmany of them occur elsewhere with such frequency or persistency.The officials, both colonial and local rulers, who delineated the borders in theHorn generally did so in an arbitrary fashion, often dividing ethnic groups. The bordersare not only arbitrary but they are porous; one can easily cross them undetected. Theyinvite conflict. Small arms are readily available throughout the Horn, especially inSomalia, and they move from one country to another with ease. Easy access to theseweapons increases the lethality of conflict when it breaks out.The Horn is located on a religious fault line. Sudan is about 70 percent Muslim,up to 10 percent Christian while the remaining Sudanese follow traditional African2
 
religions. Ethiopia is about 44 percent Ethiopian Orthodox, 34 percent Muslim, 19 percent Protestant and 3 percent who follow traditional religions. Eritrea is almostequally divided between Muslims and Christians. Somalia is entirely Muslim. Djiboutiis 94 percent Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Among the Muslims, there has been agrowing influence from Wahhabi and Salafi fundamentalists that has challenged the morenumerous followers of moderate Sufism. The big surprise with this complex mix of religions is that it has not contributed to more instability than it has.The borders cut across ethnic groups throughout the region; this has led toincreased ethnic conflict. This is the case, for example, with Somalis, Afars and Nuers.But ethnic differences have also contributed to conflict when they exist almost entirelywithin the borders of a country as we have seen in southern Sudan and Ethiopia.All five countries suffer from high levels of poverty. Even Sudan’s oil wealth hasfailed to improve the well being of most Sudanese, especially those who live on the periphery of the country. The annual UN Human Development Index constitutes a global poverty ranking. The 2009 index evaluated 183 countries. The best performer among inthe Horn was Sudan in position number 150. Djibouti was number 155 while Eritrearanked 165 and Ethiopia 171. The index did not even include Somalia.High population growth rates add pressure on governments that are trying toresolve long-standing social and economic problems. The annual growth rates rangefrom a low of 2.3 percent for Sudan to a high of 3 percent for Somalia.Scarce resources, especially good pasturage and adequate quantities of potablewater, add to the potential for local conflict in much of the region. These local conflictshave the potential to exacerbate national conflict.Deforestation, environmental degradation, political conflict, bad government policies and the vicissitudes of weather add to the misery. The entire region periodicallyfaces serious food shortages. On less frequent occasion, severe famine has ravaged partsof the Horn as happened in Ethiopia and Sudan in the mid-1980s and in Somalia in theearly 1990s. The impact of global warming on the region is not yet clear, but there is agood chance it will accelerate environmental degradation. These countries should notexpect anything good to come out of global warming.There are leadership deficiencies in all five countries. Only Djibouti has aconstitution with term limits (two 6 year terms) for the principal national leader. The president of Sudan has been in power continuously since 1989 and is also under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The primeminister of Ethiopia has been in power since 1991 through elections that were heavilycriticized by the political opposition. The president of Eritrea has held power since 1991without holding national elections. First elected to office in 1999, the president of Djibouti was reelected in 2005 without opposition and won 100 percent of the vote. The president is now considering amendment of the constitution so he can serve a third term.While the president of Somalia has only been in power for just over a year, hisgovernment controls very little of the country.Only Somaliland, the region that separated from Somalia, has regularly changedleadership by elections generally considered to be democratic, and even it has postponedon several occasions the last scheduled election. Since independence, none of the fivecountries has consistently pursued democracy as we understand it in the West.3

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