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A Proposed US Regional Strategy towards the Horn of Africa: Conflict Resolution at Local and Regional Levels

A Proposed US Regional Strategy towards the Horn of Africa: Conflict Resolution at Local and Regional Levels

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Published by David Shinn
Remarks by David H. Shinn, adjunct professor at George Washington University and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., 7 September 2011
Remarks by David H. Shinn, adjunct professor at George Washington University and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., 7 September 2011

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04/14/2012

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1Webs of Conflict and Pathways to Peace in the Horn of AfricaA Proposed US Regional Strategy towards the Horn of Africa:Conflict Resolution at Local and Regional LevelsWoodrow Wilson International Center for ScholarsWashington, D.C.7 September 2011Remarks by David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor, George Washington UniversityPaul Williams
’ paper 
has accurately and thoroughly pulled together the webs of conflictin the Horn of Africa. It is not a pretty picture. I would even suggest that the Horn of Africa hasbeen the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. Other regions havehad more death and
conflict over briefer periods of time. I don’t know of any region
that has hadthe number and variety of conflicts comparable to those in the Horn. The problem for the UnitedStates is what it can do to help mitigate conflict in the region.
The Historical Backdrop
Historically, the vast majority of U.S. efforts to resolve or mitigate conflict in the Hornhave involved intervention in or attention to individual, discrete disputes, in pursuit of U.S.policy goals prevailing at the time. Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S.policy in the Horn. Emperor
Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia served as the center piece
in the region forU.S. economic and military support. Ethiopia was a reliable ally of the United States. WhenEthiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States backedthe Haile Selassie government. Even after the left-wing Mengistu Haile Mariam junta seizedpower in 1974, the United States tried briefly to maintain close economic and military relationswith Ethiopia. When it became evident that Ethiopia had slipped into the Soviet camp, theUnited States switched its support to Somalia, then led by dictator Siad Barre.Although the United States was not providing military assistance to Somalia when itinvaded Ethiopia in 1977, it began military support not long thereafter. It was not until the late1980s as the Cold War was coming to an end that the United States concluded Siad Barre was nolonger a satisfactory ally.By the early 1980s, Sudanese President Nimeiri had become a Cold War ally of theUnited States. By the mid-1980s, the largest American economic and military assistanceprogram in all of Africa was
in Sudan. Chevron was developing Sudan’s oil reserves. These
relationships resulted in reluctance
 by the United States to support John Garang’s SudanPeople’s Liberation Movement
(SPLM). The 1985 overthrow of Nimeiri, as he was en route tothe United States for a meeting with President Reagan, led to erosion in relations with Sudan and
 
2deep concern following the military takeover in 1989 and the installation of an Islamicgovernment led by President Bashir.The end of the Cold War coincided with dramatic political developments in the Horn: thenew Islamic government in Sudan, the collapse in 1991 of the left-wing Mengistu government in
Ethiopia and Siad Barre’s dictatorship in Somalia, the 199
1 unilateral declaration of independence by Somaliland and the de facto independence of Eritrea in 1991. Cold Warpolitics no longer dictated U.S. policy in the region; the 1990s witnessed ad hoc decision makingin Washington for the Horn of Africa.The United States resumed support for Ethiopia, now under Meles Zenawi, and backedsoon to be independent Eritrea under Isaias Afewerki.
Relations with Sudan’s Islamic
government continued to deteriorate as the United States gave rhetorical and humanitariansupport to the SPLM. At the end of the George H.W. Bush administration, the United States senta major military mission to end a horrific famine in the failed state of Somalia. While thisinternational effort ended the famine, it became by 1993 a hunt for the warlord MohammedAideed and ended as a failed political mission. The U.S. response was to pull out of Somalia and
minimize engagement in Somalia’s continuing
crises throughout the 1990s.U.S. policy towards Khartoum became increasingly hostile as the Bashir governmentsupported terrorist groups and U.S. domestic interests pushed Washington into the arms of theSPLM. The 1990s also saw a personalization of U.S. policy in the region with the anointment of Meles, Isaias, and Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda as key new African leaders. Tosome extent, this policy
was designed to create a “front line states” coalition against Bashir 
inSudan. The outbreak in 1998 of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea took the wind out of thesails of U.S. policy. At the beginning of the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, the Clinton administrationtried to follow a balanced approach towards both countries, angering both in the process. TheUnited States struggled to regain its own balance in the region. A period of retrenchment in theHorn was underway at the end of the Clinton administration and beginning of the George W.Bush administration.After 9/11, the war on terrorism drove U.S. policy in the region. Somalia returned as aconcern because of growing activities by al-Qaeda and subsequently by al-
Qaeda’s affiliate, al
-Shabaab, in the country. In fact, counterterrorism was just about the only U.S. policy in Somaliaunder the Bush administration. The United States established a military base in Djibouti that hadand still has as its primary objective countering terrorism in the region.
Relations with Sudan began to improve modestly because of Khartoum’s cooperation
with the United States on counterterrorism. However, the conflict in Darfur and continuingmissteps by Khartoum in South Sudan prevented a normalization of U.S.-Sudan relations. TheUnited States was a strong proponent of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led this yearto the independence of South Sudan. The United States continues to be
critical of Khartoum’s
 
 
3policies in the region but has been less willing to criticize missteps by South Sudan. In themeantime, there was a sharp deterioration in U.S. relations with Eritrea that can be attributed to
Asmara’s support for extremist elements
in Somalia and its threats against neighboring Djibouti.Counterterrorism continues to be a major part of U.S. policy in the region, but it has becomemore nuanced under the Obama administration.
A Regional Approach to U.S. Policy in the Horn
There has rarely been an occasion since the end of World War II when the United Statespursued a regional approach to conflict mitigation in the Horn of Africa. One effort to engage inregional conflict resolution in the Horn occurred during the Clinton administration with theGreater Horn of Africa Initiative (GHAI). It had as its focus regional conflict mitigation anddonor support for improving regional food security infrastructure. An ambitious initiative, itincluded the then seven members of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD)in addition to Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Its principal African partner was IGAD.Although GHAI had some success in improving food security in the region, it ultimatelyfailed to achieve its goal of mitigating conflict for the following reasons:
 
First, new conflicts in the region, particularly the completely unexpected war betweenEthiopia and Eritrea, overwhelmed the ability of the United States to make any progresson existing conflicts.
 
Second, some U.S. personnel, including a number of key individuals in the field, werenot committed to a regional approach to conflict mitigation; their focus was the bilateralrelationship.
 
Third, although there were regular consultations with other donors, there was not enoughinvolvement by them in the initiative.
 
Fourth, IGAD was (and still is) a weak organization with internal divisions.IGAD is only as strong as the unity of its members. The United States contributed to thedisunity within the organization. For a number of years in the mid and late 1990s, Ethiopia,Eritrea and Uganda, with encouragement from the United States,
opposed Omar Bashir’s policies
in the region generally and South Sudan particularly. The outbreak of conflict in 1998 betweenEthiopia and Eritrea ended opposition to Sudan by these countries on the grounds that the enemyof enemy is my friend.
It also ended the U.S. “front line states” policy against Sudan. T
he warterminated the bilateral relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea and strained their ability tocooperate within IGAD.In 2007, Eritrea suspended its IGAD membership following Ethiopia
’s
military interventionin Somalia. IGAD eventually imposed sanctions on Eritrea. Eritrea officially asked in July 2011to rejoin IGAD. The request is under consideration but has already resulted in one kerfufflewhen in August the Eritrean representative showed up uninvited at the 40
th
ordinary session of 

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