Cover page

Table of Contents

Series page

Title page

Copyright page


Map of the Horn of Africa


1: The Greater Horn of Africa: Hot Spot in the Global System

Conceptual Framework

Overview of the Book

2: Conflicts in the Greater Horn


Socioeconomic Conditions

Food Shortages and Famines

Major Post-Independence Conflicts in the Region

Human and Material Costs of the Wars

3: The Legacy of Empires


Legacies of Pre-Colonial Empires and Kingdoms

Legacy of Colonialism

4: The State as a Source of Conflict


What is the State?

Genesis and Nature of the State

Characteristics of a Democracy-Fostering State

The Nature of the State in the Greater Horn of Africa

The State as a Factor in Conflicts

5: Failures of Governance and Nation-Building


Conceptualizing Nation-Building

Theories of Civil Wars and Their Relevance to the Greater Horn

Implications of Failure in Nation-Building

6: Regional Instability and External Intervention


Global Factors for External Intervention

Regional and Domestic Factors

Why the Region Has Failed to Curtail External Intervention

7: Poor Resource Management and Environmental Degradation


Factors for Environmental Degradation

Socioeconomic Dislocations and Conflicts Related to Environmental Degradation

Future Potential Implications of Unmitigated Environmental Degradation

Can the Region Control the Degradation and its Impacts?

8: Prospects for Democracy, Integration and Stability


Limitations of the Existing Approach to Democratization

A Contextualized and Comprehensive Approach to Democratization

Regional Integration and its Potential Contributions

Prospects for Implementation of Contextualized Democracy and Effective Regional Integration



Hot Spots in Global Politics

Christoph Bluth, Korea

Alan Dowty, Israel/Palestine

Amalendu Misra, Afghanistan

Gareth Stansfield, Iraq

Jonathan Tonge, Northern Ireland

Thomas Turner, Congo

Title page


ADF Allied Democratic Forces
AFRICOM Africa Command
AIAI Al-Itihad al-Islamiya
ALF Afar Liberation Front
AMISOM African Union Mission in Somalia
APRM African Peer Review Mechanism
ARDUF Afar Revolutionary Democratic Union/Front
ARLS Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia
ARPCT Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism
ASEAN/ARF Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN Regional Forum)
AU African Union
CEWARN Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism
CFCs Chlorofluorocarbons
CIA Central Intelligence Agency
CJTF-HOA Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa
COW Correlates of War
CUD Coalition for Unity and Democracy
DMLEK Democratic Movement for the Liberation of the Eritrean Kunama
DRC Democratic Republic of the Congo
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States
EIJM Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement
ELF Eritrean Liberation Front
EPLF Eritrean People's Liberation Front
EPPLF Ethiopian People's Patriotic Liberation Front
EPRDF Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
EPRP Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party
ESF Eritrean Salvation Front
FAO Food and Agricultural Organization
FRUD Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy
GDP Gross Domestic Product
HDI Human Development Index
ICC International Criminal Court
IGAD Intergovernmental Authority for Development
IGAD-ICPAT IGAD Capacity Programme against Terrorism
IGASOM IGAD Peace Support Mission to Somalia
ILRI International Livestock Research Institute (Nairobi)
IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
IUU Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (fishing)
JEM Justice and Equality Movement
LRA Lord's Resistance Army
MAAG Military Assistance Advisory Group
MIO Maritime Intercept Operation
MRC Mombasa Republican Council
NALU National Army for the Liberation of Uganda
NIF National Islamic Front
NRM/A National Resistance Movement/Army
OAU Organization of African Unity
OEF One Earth Future Foundation
OLF Oromo Liberation Front
ONLF Ogaden National Liberation Front
PAIC Popular Arab and Islamic Congress
PPP Purchasing power parity
RPP People's Rally for Progress (Rassemblement Populaire pour Le Progrès)
RRA Rahanwein Resistance Army
RSADO Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization
SLM/A Sudan Liberation Movement/Army
SNM Somali National Movement
SPLM/A Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army
SPM Somali Patriotic Movement
SNA Somali National Alliance
SSDF Somali Salvation Democratic Front
SSDM/A South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army
SSF Somali Salvation Front
SSLA South Sudan Liberation Army
TFG Transitional Federal Government
TLF Tigray Liberation Front
TPLF Tigray People's Liberation Front
UCDP Uppsala Conflict Data Programme
UIC Union of Islamic Courts
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme
UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNLA Ugandan National Liberation Army
UNRF Ugandan National Rescue Front
UPA Uganda People's Army
UPDA Uganda People's Democratic Army
USAID United States Agency for International Development
USC/SNA United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance
USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
WNBF West Nile Bank Front
WSLF Western Somali Liberation Front

Map of the Horn of Africa



I am grateful to the two anonymous reviewers of an earlier draft of the book. I benefited considerably from their insightful comments. I am responsible for all remaining shortcomings. This book is dedicated to all the victims of wars waged by brutal or irresponsible governments in the Greater Horn of Africa. How much it hurts when you realize how needless these devastating conflicts are and how thoughtlessly leaders drag their populations into them.

DKM, Semoo and Banci, this one is for you too.

Kidane Mengisteab


The Greater Horn of Africa: Hot Spot in the Global System

The Greater Horn of Africa is a region that contains one of the deadliest clusters of conflicts in the global system. It is also a region facing an alarming rate of environmental degradation, which has made it prone to humanitarian disasters, including sporadic droughts and famines. Moreover, without substantive changes in the political structures and institutional systems, the region is likely to remain one of the hottest spots in the global system for decades to come. Given this prognosis, this book grapples with two crucial tasks. One is to provide a comprehensive and yet concise analysis of the key factors which have engendered various levels of conflicts in the Greater Horn over the last sixty or so years and are likely to render the region prone to conflicts for some time to come. While key developments of the nineteenth century, which still impinge on contemporary conflicts, are examined briefly, the focus of this study is the post-decolonization era, which refers to the time period from the mid-1950s to the present.1 Ethiopia, the largest country in the region, was not a colony and the concept of decolonization does not apply to it directly. However, decolonization has indirect relevance to Ethiopia since decolonization of neighbouring countries signified a new era in its regional as well as its internal relations. The second task is to explore rather briefly new political and institutional arrangements that may enable the region to transform the conflict factors and extricate itself from the devastations that have become its trade mark.

The conflicts that ravage the Greater Horn occur at multiple levels. Some of them are inter-state conflicts. Some are between the state and domestic armed entities that challenge it for various reasons, while others are among communities within the same country as well as across international boundaries. There are also one-sided conflicts where the state or rebel groups commit brutalities against civilian populations. The region has also seen some violent conflicts among armed groups, who, while fighting the state, also fight one another. Given such a variance in the nature of the region's conflicts, it is rather challenging to formulate a conceptual anchor that ties neatly together the factors that contribute to all the conflicts. One of the aims of this introductory chapter is to map out a workable conceptual framework that would help us in comprehending the complex set of factors that generate the region's various types of conflicts. A second task is to sketch the main objectives and tasks of each chapter in order to assist the reader in weaving though the various chapters and relate each one of them to the above identified two principal objectives of the book.

Conceptual Framework

The region's various types of conflicts are caused by a complex mix of interrelated factors. While difficult to capture all the factors in a single coherent framework, it is nevertheless, plausible to contend that most of the conflicts emanate from two core conditions that characterize the region. One is the failure of the internal political and institutional systems to accommodate and advance the interests of the disparate identity groups and to facilitate peaceful management of conflicts that arise between the state and identity groups and among identities and communities. The second is the failure of the existing institutions of regional governance to promote peaceful relations among the countries of the region by a timely management of boundary and territorial disputes and also by creating socioeconomic arrangements that advance mutual well-being and reduce the burden of ethnic groups that are partitioned by national boundaries. In other words, the factors for most of the region's conflicts are rooted in the failure of structures and institutions of domestic and regional governance. The failures in the two core areas identified, however, are to a large extent influenced by some contextual factors. One is the historical context, which left legacies that perpetuate the conflict-engendering conditions. Another is the existing global context, which often impinges on the region's ability to address the conflict-engendering conditions without external intervention. The environmental degradation the region has faced over the last several decades is another contextual factor that complicates governance and is exacerbated by poor governance.

Under this broad conceptual framework at least six categories of conflict-generating factors can be identified:

The last two categories of factors may appear to be external to the identified conceptual framework since they do not entirely originate from the political and institutional systems in the region. On careful examination, however, it is clear that they are integral to the region's political and institutional systems as well as the conceptual framework. Competent domestic and regional governance systems do not allow destructive external intervention. The occurrence of self-serving external intervention is, thus, a clear indication of problems of domestic and regional governance. Similarly, environmental degradation becomes as destructive as it has been in the Greater Horn when the existing political and institutional arrangements are incapable of controlling its occurrence or in managing its impacts. Environmental degradation factors such as inappropriate land tenure systems, poor conservation measures and rapid demographic growth are largely problems of management, although the global factors of degradation, such as global warming, set the context within which the countries of the region have to operate.

Overview of the Book

The rest of the book consists of seven chapters. After briefly introducing the reader to the region's general socioeconomic characteristics, chapter 2 attempts to sort out the region's various conflicts into typologies and to provide a brief assessment of the socioeconomic costs of these conflicts. Chapter 3 examines the conflict-engendering contexts left behind by pre-colonial empires and kingdoms and the colonial state. Changes in inter-identity relations, fragmentation of economic and institutional systems and uneven development are some of the inherited contexts given special attention. Chapter 4 examines how and why the post-colonial state in the region continues to contribute to internal and external conflicts. To properly explain the role of the state, the chapter first conceptualizes the state and identifies the characteristics of a properly functioning and democracy-fostering state. The chapter then appraises the structures, institutions and quality of leadership of the Greater Horn's post-colonial state on the basis of the criteria of the properly functioning state. Chapter 5 examines how the state's failure in developing institutions of governance that accommodate the diverse groups of citizens has contributed in politicization of inter-identity relations and to the crisis of nation-building in the region. The sixth chapter examines the role of external intervention in fostering conflicts and instability in the region and in undermining its regional integration efforts. It also explains how lack of strong regional governance has exposed the region to a high level of external meddling. Chapter 7 explores how the environmental degradation that has ravaged the region has contributed to resource-based conflicts and general instability by threatening the viability of the peasant and pastoral economic systems that employ sizeable portions of the region's populations. The chapter also attempts to explain how poor management of resources has contributed to the alarming rate of environmental degradation the region has faced over the last several decades. Chapter 8 serves as a conclusion and explores political and institutional arrangements that can help the region transform the various conflict-engendering factors. One objective of this chapter is to explain how a contextualized and comprehensive democratization can adjust the institutional and political structures in the region so that they advance state-building and diversity management and nation-building. A second objective is to explore a system of institutions for more effective regional governance that (a) demarcates boundaries before they become sources of conflicts, (b) accommodates the social and cultural ties of identity groups split by national boundaries, (c) establishes mechanisms of regional cooperation to control proxy wars and harmful external intervention and (d) fosters regional economic development by taking advantage of the region's unrealized economic complementarities and by cooperating in environmental management.


1. Sudan's independence in 1956 represents the beginning of the era of decolonization of the countries of the region. The post-decolonization era in this study, thus, refers to the time period between the mid-1950s and the present.


Conflicts in the Greater Horn


This chapter attempts to identify and categorize the key conflicts that have ravaged the region during the last half a century or so and to briefly outline some of the socioeconomic costs and implications of the conflicts. Before delving into these tasks, however, a brief description of the basic characteristics and socioeconomic conditions of the Greater Horn is provided in order to familiarize the reader with the region.

The region consists of eight countries with an estimated total population of about 226.9 million in 2012 and a total area of 5,209,975 sq km (see table 2.1 for details). The countries of the region include: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda, and they are all members of a regional integration, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), although Eritrea's membership in the regional body has been suspended since 2007.2 Two of the youngest countries of the region, Eritrea and South Sudan, were formed through secessions from Ethiopia in 1993 and from Sudan in 2011, respectively. Somaliland has also declared its independence from Somalia but it has not yet obtained international recognition as an independent state.

Table 2.1. Area of territory and size of population of the countries of the Horn of Africa


A notable characteristic of the region is that it is a mosaic of cultures with considerable ethnic diversity both regionally and within countries. If language can serve as a proxy for ethnic identity, the region is said to be home to some 340 languages. Sudan (both north and south) is said to have 134 languages, followed by Ethiopia with eighty-nine languages, Kenya with sixty-two, Uganda with forty-three, Eritrea with nine and Djibouti with two local languages (Lewis, 2009). The countries of the region are also characterized by religious diversity with various denominations of Christianity and Islam coexisting, along with various forms of traditional religions. No doubt peaceful governance of the countries of the region requires effective strategies of management of diversity.

Many of the region's ethnic groups are also split across several countries by national boundaries established by colonialism. The Somali people, for example, live in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. The Beja, Tigre and Rashaida live in Sudan and Eritrea. The Tigrigna speakers, the Kunama and Shaho live in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia; the Oromo live in Ethiopia and Kenya, the Afar live in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The Luo are spread over Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Eastern Congo, while the Luhya live in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (see table 2.2 for further examples).

Table 2.2. Selected list of ethnic groups that are split into different countries

Ethnic groupCountries of habitation
Afar*Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia
Somali*Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya
Luo*Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania
LuhyaKenya, Uganda, Tanzania
Beja,* Rashaida, TigreEritrea, Sudan
Tigrigna,* Kunama,* Shaho (Irob)Eritrea, Ethiopia
Oromo*Ethiopia, Kenya
Pokot, TesoKenya, Uganda
Kakwa, Sebei, Lugbwara, Madi, Ancholi,* Kaliko, PojulloUganda, South Sudan
Anuak,* Nuer,* Bertha, Donyiro, Tirma, Shita, Gumuz, Murle, Kichepo, WetawitEthiopia, Sudan
DaasanachEthiopia, Kenya, Sudan

* Identities that have engaged in violent protests or armed struggle against the state.

The partition of ethnic groups into different countries often involves the disruption of social and cultural ties. A number of studies have also shown that partitioned ethnic identities tend to face relatively greater levels of marginalization, ethnic struggles and civil wars (Asiwaju, 1985; Dowden, 2008; Michalopoulos and Papaioannou, 2011; Wesseling, 1996). In the case of pastoral communities partition also implies disruption of economic process as it hinders the movements of groups who rely on regional ecosystems for survival (Samatar and Machaka, 2006). Addressing the challenges facing partitioned ethnic groups requires arrangements that enable such groups to maintain economic, social and cultural ties across national boundaries. While such arrangements would have wider benefits, they are particularly essential for pastoralist communities, whose economic system entails seasonal movements in search of pasture and water. In the absence of such socioeconomic arrangements, the fragmentation of ethnic identities tends to become a source of instability and major conflicts as such groups often react by developing ethno-nationalist movements within their respective countries.

Another characteristic of the Greater Horn countries is the dichotomy of modes of production that govern their economies. The modes of production operating in the region range from a capitalist sector symbolized by emerging stock markets and relatively advanced financial systems to subsistence farming and pastoral economic systems, which are essentially non-capitalist. These parallel modes of production are associated with different economic, political and social institutions. Since institutions govern behaviour and social relations, parallel institutional systems represent different and often conflicting norms of behaviour and social relations. Institutional clashes, such as conflicting land ownership systems between the customary (traditional/informal) and the state-sanctioned (formal) systems, easily become sources of social conflict and instability by creating parallel socioeconomic spaces. The parallel existence of modes of production and the resulting dichotomous institutional systems also create the challenge of crafting economic policy that accommodates the interests of the different segments of the population, who live under different institutional spaces. In the absence of transformation of the modes of production and reconciliation of the fragmented institutions, poor governance and social instability become hard to avoid. Institutions of democratic governance also become difficult to establish, as will be explained in chapter 5.

Socioeconomic Conditions

The Horn of Africa is one of the poorest regions of the world. All the countries of the region fall within the bottom 20 per cent of the UNDP's Human Development Index (HDI) (see table 2.3 for social data). Kenya, which has the highest level on the HDI in the region, with a score of 0.509 in 2011, is ranked 143rd of 187 countries. Ethiopia is ranked 174th while Somalia is no longer ranked.

Table 2.3. Selected indicators of socioeconomic conditions in Greater Horn countries


The economy of the region is dominated by a subsistence sector in terms of employment. In 2011 roughly 80 per cent of the population in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, and 62 per cent and 59 per cent in Somalia and Sudan respectively lived in rural areas (see table 2.4). The region also contains the largest cluster of pastoralists in the world, with roughly 17 per cent of the region's population engaged in pasture-based production systems. Excluding Somalia, livestock make up approximately 15 per cent of the GDP of the IGAD countries (Sandford and Ashley, 2008). The region as a whole contains roughly 68 million livestock units. Ethiopia and Sudan (before the secession of the South) have the highest livestock populations in Sub-Saharan Africa with 28.4 and 22.3 million respectively. Pastoralists also constitute 61 per cent of the region's poor.

Table 2.4. Selected indicators of food insecurity and environmental problems in the Horn of Africa


The Greater Horn has also been highly vulnerable to environmental degradation. Over the last half a century the region's temperature has shown a rising trend while rainfall has become increasingly erratic (Ouma, 2008). The rains have also become more stormy when they come, causing severe soil erosion. During the same time period large parts of the region, which are arid or semi-arid, have faced rapid rates of degradation, in the form of frequent occurrence of droughts, deforestation, loss of vegetation and biodiversity, increased soil erosion, desiccation and desertification. Rampant poverty, along with rapid environmental degradation, has also contributed to the region's instability. The impacts of environmental degradation are discussed in greater detail in chapter 7.

Food Shortages and Famines

Despite the fact that agriculture is the largest employer in all the countries of the region, most of them suffer from chronic food shortages, undernourishment and periodic famines. An IGAD official in 2010 described the region as ‘the most critically food insecure region of the world’. The 2010 Global Hunger Index, for example, rates hunger severity of the countries of the region from ‘extremely alarming’ (Eritrea) to ‘alarming’ (Djibouti, Ethiopia and Sudan) and ‘serious’ (Kenya and Uganda) (Von Grebmer et al., 2010). The Maplecroft Food Security Risk Index of 2013 rates Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan as extreme ( The countries of the Horn are also included in the FAO's 2013 list of low-income Food Deficit Countries. As shown in table 2.4, the region also contains a high ratio of malnourished people.

USAID's analysis of the region's food insecurity suggests that the root cause is unstable social and political environment that has precluded sustainable economic growth ( Others attribute the food crisis to policies that neglect agriculture. Economic liberalization measures, which have been adopted in the continent since the mid-1980s, are said to be among such policies. Declining and erratic rainfall, along with a near total dependence on rain-fed agriculture, are among other contributing factors for the region's chronic food insecurity. As will be seen in chapter 7, with growing population and longer and more frequent droughts, shortages of quality pasture and overgrazing have become serious problems in many parts of the region. Poverty among pastoralists, who witness the depletion of their stock with every drought cycle, is relatively much higher than among other sectors of the population. Famines also generally strike pastoral communities more frequently, although pastoralists are by no means the only victims.

Despite their chronic food insecurity and frequent conflicts over land and water, some of the countries of the region have become major players in granting farmland concessions to foreign investors. A growing food market in the Middle East and Asia, rising food prices and a growing worldwide demand for bio-fuels are some of the factors that have stimulated investments in farmlands in the region, as in many other parts of Africa and the developing world. Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, along with China, India, South Korea and Egypt, are among the newcomers to investing in farmland in the Greater Horn region. Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, in particular, and Kenya to a lesser degree have become major targets.

The benefits and risks of granting land concessions to foreign investors, the magnitude of land concessions given and the institutional mechanisms which allow land-takings by the state from customary holders are discussed in greater detail in chapters 4 and 7. Here it suffices to point out the potential risks to pastoralists and peasant farmers. Some of the land concessions given to foreign investors by the Ethiopian government in the late 1960s resulted in alarming humanitarian crisis. The starvation of thousands of Ethiopia's Afar population in the early 1970s was to a large extent a result of the displacement of Afar pastoralists by land concessions granted to foreign investors. Thousands of Afar nomads in eastern Ethiopia starved following their eviction from the Awash River basin after the government gave their land to multinational corporations for cotton production (Bondestam, 1974; Harbeson, 1978). Pushed to the arid areas, the Afar first faced livestock starvation followed by mass human starvation. The starvation of the Afar, along with evictions of many peasants in several other parts of the country, contributed to conflicts and instability. The fall of the country's imperial regime in 1974 is at least in part attributable to the shock generated by the magnitude of the famine and the regime's attempts to hide it. If continued, the land concessions that are presently underway also have the potential to impose severe hardship upon the region's pastoralists and peasants, who face evictions from land they customarily hold unless careful provisions are put in place to prevent their victimization. Given the rapid population growth of the region, it is also possible that the land concessions, which are long term (usually ninety-nine years), have the potential to create severe land shortages and very high rates of unemployment in the future, unless a parallel transformation of the pastoral and peasant modes of production takes place.