The Horn of Africa is often described as a disaster story, a region of terror and humanitarian crisis.The region is also one of the most conflict prone regions in the continent. Despite changes of regime and international efforts to broker peace agreements, the countries of the region consistently experience high levels of violence, within and across borders.
The region is also known for its ancient civilizations, diverse peoples, and expansive states. It has also experienced massive social, economic, and political transformations, whichsaw military coups, revolutions and complex ethnic, socio-economic and religious conflicts. Despite the fact that the regimes in the region are the responsible actors for an enduring human suffering,the involvement of international actors and different forces has also played a pivotal role in shaping the political, economic and societal realities of the region.
Among diplomats and researchers,there is a growing recognition that the interconnectedness of conflicts in the region, and their causes, renders their resolution particularly complex and challenging. Countries in the Horn:Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Kenya,form a regional system in which conflict within any of the countries, and between any two, has tended to have significant impact among the others.
Eventhough the countries, like most African countries, are characterized by fragmented institutional systems and undemocratic administrations, the countries in the wider region have experienced more inter-state wars than any other region on the continent.
There are many justifications and reasons as to why the region is more prone to enduring conflicts and calamities. In this regard, many saythat despite the fact that the countries in the region are vulnerable to economic fragmentation and cyclical conflicts, the involvement of external actors, mainly the super powers and the oil rich countries, has also played a major role in exacerbating the problems in the region.
This mainly happened due to the proximity of the region to the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf, and the vital commercial routes that transit the Bab al-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden,which reinforce the region as a crucial maritime path and port of call in an increasingly connected global order, according to a study conducted by Institute for Global Dialogue entitled “The Horn of Africa Persian Gulf Nexus: Inter-regional Dynamics and the reshaping of regional order in geopolitical flux”
The Persian Gulf countries’ strategic calculation towards this wider region also gave way to interventionist foreign policies, employing both backing diplomacy and acquisition of military facilities and logistics hubs in the littoral areas along the Red Sea and the Horn. Apart from the Gulf states, the geostrategic significance of the Bab al-Mandeb strait has factored in the foreign policy agenda of geopolitical actors including the US, China, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, who operate a variety of military facilities across the region, the study also revealed.
The result is heightened geopolitical competition and increased militarization, with far reaching implications for regional security and stability. Alongside a number of anti-piracy naval deployments in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, Djibouti hosts the largest number of operational foreign military bases totaling nine.
Another briefing paper by Chatham House entitled “Economic drivers of conflict and cooperation in the Horn of Africa, a regional perspective and over view” also stated that Multilateral military missions in the region havebeen active since 2002 including the US-led Combined Maritime Forces, EU Operation Atalanta, NATO Operation Ocean Shield, and the EU Training Mission in Somalia with various mandates such as counter piracy, vessels protection and strengthening maritime security and naval capacity in the region.
The external security politics of the Horn has several implications for the regional security order. The immediate effect is the overlap of commercial and military interests as a result of increased securitization and militarization following the build-up of foreign military actors in the region. The second is the integration of the Horn into broader geostrategic and geopolitical agendas such as the GCC rivalries and the Indo-Pacific strategic competition involving India, China and the US.
Third, regional security in the Horn has been elevated on the political agenda, moving away from a narrow focus on continental security to a broader emphasis on maritime and transcontinental security dynamics of the global economic and political order.
Due to such interventions and interests of international super powers and the Middle East countries, the nature of conflicts in the regionis totally different than the onesseenin any other parts of the continent. Such variance is both in scope and intensity and many of them are closely linked to inter-state conflicts.In many cases, the groups that fight against the state either serve as proxies for other states or are supported by them.
Governments in the region have intervened in each other’s internal conflicts for a variety of reasons. Some support insurgencies in a neighboring country because of ethnic ties with the rebelling groups. In other cases, regimes have supported rebel groups in a neighboring country as extensions of their foreign policies, including destabilization of regimes they have antagonistic relations with.
Though the conflicts in the region are intricate and endure, there has not been much effort towards structural and institutional transformation in the region, without which the region, sadly, is likely to remain conflict prone for the foreseeable future, a research by Kidane Mengisteab entitled “Critical factors in the horn of Africa’s Raging Conflicts,” advised.
There has also not been much research undertaken into how statesreconcile the fragmented and incoherent institutional systems. States should aim for structural transformation and economic diversification to boost their negotiating positions with external actors, including the Gulf States, and moving away from engagement that only benefits the interests of others. If such measures are not taken swiftly, the region will remain the place of disaster, which in turn will impact countlesslivesin the region.