The Horn of Africa was historically a spirited region of the world, and it remains an intricate and turbulent region today. Geopolitics, political upheaval, and regime change are mirroring and strangling the entire region, including the greater Red Sea coastline. The region is made up of developing countries and fragile states; while some countries have made significant economic progress, others remain underdeveloped and fractured.
The nations that make up the Horn of Africa are susceptible to internal and external shocks, which have the potential to have national and regional repercussions. From a distinct perspective, there is a country in the region that has closed its borders to the outside world to avoid manipulation and intimidation from the global north. Traditionally, the Horn consists of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia; however, the Greater Horn of Africa also comprises Sudan, South Sudan, and Kenya.
The expression of the wider Horn of Africa cycle of war and instability has to be contextualized and adapted to fit the specific circumstances. Over the course of the last five decades, the region has been the scene of a variety of battles, each with its own unique scope and magnitude. And yet, a number of conflict-inciting factors remain in existence, including tribal governance arrangements, chauvinism, maladministration, and favoritism, to name a few.
The continuing violence in Sudan, the battle that just concluded in Ethiopia’s northern corridor, and the fighting that is still going on in western Ethiopia are significant episodes. In addition to the antagonism between distinct factions in South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti also feature prominently among the depictions of regional conflicts. There are a number of internal and external players that are acting as belligerent brewers. To be more explicit, the newly formed geopolitical powers, together with a mix of “traditional superpowers”, made the equation exceedingly complex to fathom.
Conflict in Sudan: Examining the Current Situation
The current conflict between two military factions in Sudan is not only a manifestation of antagonism but also a cyclical absence of democracy and people-centered governance. As of April 15, 2023, violent strife broke out in the Sudanese military administration between competing groups vying for power. Fighting first broke out in the western part of the country but soon spread to the capital, Khartoum, and the Darfur area.
The current political climate in Sudan calls for a more nuanced understanding and a comprehensive investigation of the interplay of historical, political, economic, and social elements. It has been a factor in the frequent outbreaks of violence that have taken place between the civilian population, military institutions, and, in certain instances, the state and its peripheries. Despite this, postcolonial Sudan fell apart at the hands of a restricted ethnic and religious mentality that was once contemporary and civil politics that were relatively democratic in Africa.
The postcolonial history of Sudan, which has been characterized by political and civil strife, is inextricably linked to the ongoing war and cannot be separated from it. Since independence, the Sudanese have been subjected to hardship, and their decades-long military dictatorship has diminished their hopes for a more honorable way of life. Since gaining its independence in 1956, Sudan has primarily been under the control of a military regime, with brief intervals of democratic civilian parliamentary rule and adequate citizen representation.
The current conflict has grown more complicated as it continues. Multiple local grievances, shifting alliances within Sudanese politics, and geopolitical alignments in the region and further afield have spawned numerous reasons for armed conflict. There are multiple external political manipulators, and some have a lengthy history as a traditional alliance, while others are new players.
In this matrix, the roles of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United States (US), the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, Qatar, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are significant, but so is Israel’s, which has a direct or indirect influence. Nonetheless, the devastating conflict has produced a pattern of interlocking power struggles, which are now being waged at various levels.
It is an undeniable fact that Sudan occupies a crucial strategic position along the Red Sea corridor, with the riparian nation playing a significant role in Afro-Arab political dynamics. A considerable draw and push factor exists between geopolitical forces such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, the West, and the Eastern bloc.
The balance of power between General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo will decide where the country and the region go. By extension, it could significantly affect the whole region. There are many specifics, but one thing is certain: with the exception of Egypt, neighboring nations support the balance of military and political power, which is getting stronger. There are a lot of things that could have changed the way the window moved.
There are multiple causes for this barbaric and uncivilized act of war, which exacerbates its severity. Regardless of who participates in this “game of thrones,” the Sudanese people will not benefit; instead, the cycle of violence will persist. And I do not believe that Sudan will not transition to a civilian government in the foreseeable future.
The collateral effects of this conflict will affect the region, including a humanitarian catastrophe. It should come as no surprise that “the quagmire of international political intrigue” will persist, and as a result, the area will endure even more suffering. In addition, we have seen that regional and sub-regional bodies need to be more informed as a consequence of having a limited institutional mandate and inadequate ability. This is something that we have observed. I refer to the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in this instance.
The current situation in Ethiopia
Following the Pretoria Accord, Ethiopia has had a period of relative political stability, which is a somewhat hopeful consequence. There is reason to be optimistic about the negotiation attempts with the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). The wars that have been raging in the country for the last three years have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people, severely damaged the nation’s essential infrastructure, and utterly shredded the social fabric.
From the government’s perspective, they must realize that a singular approach will only contribute to a partial peace solution. While appreciating the dialogue between the government and OLA, the government should make an effort to include other Oromo political actors.
With analogous attempts, the administration needs to think about whether or not it should bring on board silenced voices from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). And other similar organizations with unresolved grievances that are not vocal must also be approached. The point is that the government should not pursue a peaceful resolution with those who are armed; otherwise, a poor precedent will be established, and the cycle of conflict will persist.
Regarding disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), it is common knowledge that Amhara activists in the country and abroad have significant concerns and objections. The concern relates to identity issues, the administrative border, and the development of trust. Whether or not the concern is legitimate, it must be addressed appropriately and resolved peacefully.
The DDR was the outcry of many concerned citizens, including myself; it is long overdue. However, the current governance structure and the political alignment need to be addressed alongside the DDR, at least at the political framework level. Otherwise, Ethiopia needs more farmers than soldiers to address underdevelopment and food insecurity. Our historical enemy is backwardness, poverty, and unemployment, not someone who resides on the other side of the administrative border.
The purpose of this article is not to examine the complacency that existed before the conflict or the leadership shortcomings that were present on both sides. Instead, I want to focus on what we can do to break out of this never-ending cycle of violence. Despite the fact that the progress made towards peace is valuable, it is imperative that a political conversation be held, not only with the parties involved in the armed struggle but also with political opposition groups both within and outside the nation.
The government must engage in a nationwide political dialogue with political parties, the public, and academia in order to establish fully flagged, enduring peace and tranquility. Priority should be given to delivering justice to the conflict fatalities of the past three years. In tandem, the government must increase its efforts and support for a pragmatic and solution-oriented national political dialogue and reconciliation.
I emphasize that the real impact of justice must be administered. This conflict injured a large number of individuals, and the nation still bears the scars. The matter must be treated with extreme severity. The government must recover and appropriately compensate the victims and society. It is possible to implement an Ethiopian traditional justice system involving the elderly and academics rather than having the procedure run or guided by a European Court.
I believe that Ethiopia is the only nation with a “Ministry of Peace.” Since the establishment of this department, however, instability and wartime sorrow have engulfed the entire nation. In the majority of countries with the prefix “Democratic Republic“, there is neither democracy nor a philosophy of republicanism, but not always. In a similar vein, Ethiopia is the only country in the world headed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, with the exception of Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar. In spite of this, the country could not finally find a moment of calm until today.
National political thinking must become more prevalent. Tribal leaders and their allies have created a revisionist and limited narrative to whitewash the insurgency’s high crimes over the last half-century; this must stop. The false story that has strangled the people has no connection to reality and will not tolerate criticism.
Evaluating peace and stability in the Horn
In light of the current situation, the Horn of Africa, a region characterized by its diversity, is awe-inspiring, exhilarating, and yet utterly daunting. The region is at a crossroads not just from an ethnic and historical perspective but also in terms of peace and development. In this context, countries with highly diverse legacies share a close cultural mix, although some have distinct political pasts.
The question that has to be asked is where the Horn is now in the political trajectory towards a more significant consolidation, a greater unity, or a greater disintegration. Internal conflicts within nations continue to have an impact on this area. Hence, the territory is becoming more subject to the exploitation and depredations of anyone who wants to surf from outside and into this region.
One of the challenges is the region’s lack of pragmatic collaboration, which has been replaced by political interference in the internal affairs of other neighbors and widely acknowledged proxy manipulation. During times of political instability and economic uncertainty, it is both inevitable and normal to worry about the people living in close proximity to you. Considering that the collective destination is the same, however, interfering with national interests is fraught with multiple consciences.
Starting in Egypt and extending all the way to Somalia, the Red Sea corner is regarded as a highly protected commercial lifeline for carriers that influences European trade. Peacekeeping is as essential for Europeans as it is for the Horn of Africa. Djibouti plays a crucial function in this regard; however, the question is wide open in favor of whom? In addition, we cannot overlook the fact that Djibouti is home to several international economic actors and superpowers.
Eritrea is shrouded in mystery regarding its internal affairs. It is debatable whether Eritrea chose to remain isolated or whether the rest of the world and/or Africa chose to do so. It is a country that actively seeks freedom from the ideological dominance and demeaning acts of the West. Somalia is still on a long road to restoration and revitalization, but there are so many positive developments that I am hopeful of. In recent years, there have been numerous positive developments on which we rely. In particular, the power transfer took place without violence, more territory was under the central government’s jurisdiction, and attacks on people were minimized. The private sector and the Somali diaspora are also investing heavily in the country.
Sadly, South Sudan has gone through a terrible and regrettable divide along ethnic lines and political leader groups. It still struggles with fragility, economic stalemate, and political instability. War, forced migration, and other external factors all contribute to widespread poverty and make it worse. High inflation, insufficient primary service delivery, high unemployment, high rates of gender-based violence, and rising criminal activity have all contributed to the economy’s near collapse. Cattle raiding and land conflicts between pastoralists and farmers cause conflict in several regions of the nation.
The continent of Africa as a whole and the Horn of Africa, in particular, were ultimately anticipated to reach a point where they could stand on their own in terms of their economies, political systems, and security. It is in the best interests of Africans to achieve true economic independence and genuine decolonization. This is the primary goal: to maintain peace and tranquility across Africa.
The failure of peace and tranquility in postcolonial Africa has many variables. However, the most particular challenge is a dependency on government mercy for political, economic, and sociocultural solutions.
In most undeveloped countries, mainly African nations, the government is the only source of “doer and creator”; other sectors of society have not had much say. Thus, a fundamental shift in the role of society and participation and an active stance will be decisive in resolving the ongoing conflict.
The repercussions of such a participatory governance vacuum have a serious flaw, and we have witnessed the results in the last six decades. Conventional wisdom has demonstrated that in the absence of broad societal participation, there is limited coexistence among different sects of tribes, religions, and language denominations.
The truth is that the ongoing conflict and the cycle of violence will continue until there is concrete action to get all parties involved on board. In order to alter society, the government, the corporate sector, and non-governmental groups would collaborate in an all-encompassing way.
African societies need to understand the theory’s distinctive description of government, the private sector, and non-state actors at face value and in their intrinsic nature. For that matter, the aim of “government is sizing and maintaining political power; the purpose of the private sector is driven by profit maximization; and the non-state actors’ motive is the value proposition.” but this is not always true, or the values may vary from place to place. However, having them all is critical to ensuring peace.
In the peace process, the media, religious institutions, non-state actors, and academia all play crucial roles in advocating peace and establishing conflict resolution agencies. One of the most significant challenges in Africa is maintaining peace and stability in the absence of impartial and independent institutions. Partially due to the fact that the government is the only reliable source of financing, non-state actors and the private sector are primarily fragile and feeble. This is one of the reasons why, in the absence of a comprehensive approach, the cycle of violence continues.
(Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a Senior Research Fellow at the IPATC, University of Johannesburg, and a member of the AISSS Executive Board and the Director of Strategic Research.)
Contributed by Seife Tadelle (PhD)