Horn of Africa (HoA) countries comprises Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia, with an estimated population of 140,683,144 (2020 est.) and an area of 1,882,757 km2. HoA region is important for several reasons, including its strategic location and natural resources, to mention a few.
The Horn of Africa is strategically located at the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden intersection, making it a key location for global trade and commerce. The Red Sea is an important shipping lane for oil and other goods traveling between Europe and Asia, while the Gulf of Aden is a major thoroughfare for trade between Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. In addition, HoA is endowed with a number of important natural resources, including oil, gas, minerals, and agricultural land.
Countries like Ethiopia and Somalia have significant reserves of oil and gas, while Djibouti is a major exporter of minerals like salt among others. In addition, the region has a large agricultural sector, with Ethiopia being one of the world's largest producers of coffee and Somalia having a large livestock industry. These resources have the potential to make HoA an important player in the global economy and provide opportunities for investment and growth. However, the HoA region had, from the 16th century to the present day, repeatedly experienced conflicts with different scales in different areas, which characterized the Horn as an area in which peace and stability are a rare commodity.
In the contemporary history of the HoA region, it was considered mostly militarized and conflict-driven region on the African continent. Armed conflicts have been raging within states, between states, and between communities. The most famous conflicts include the war between the Abyssinians and the Somalis in the 16th century (the conquest of Abyssinia 2013); the 1977 war between Somalia and modern Ethiopia; the Ethiopia-Eritrea war in the 90s; Eritrea – Djibouti in the 90s and most recently, the Tigray war between the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to mention a few. Most of these conflicts originate from pursuing either religious supremacy, such as the war between Abyssinians and Somalis in the 16th century, or colonial-border disputes between countries such as the 1977 war between Somalia and Ethiopia, or clan disputes. However, after 1990, the conflict in the region dramatically increased in between the countries (Ethiopia-Eritrea war and Djibuti-Eritrea war) in the region or between the federal-member-states and inter-communal levels.
The deadly wars between Ethiopian functions and the civil war in Somalia, which broke out in 1991 after the central government collapsed were classical examples of these conflicts within the countries. Hundreds of thousands – if not millions - of innocent people have lost their lives in these wars. Also, illegal activities such as piracy, human smuggling, illegal fishing, and industrial toxic waste dumping in the Indian Ocean added more fuel to the fire when it comes to the instability of the region. Throughout history, the conflict between countries and within the communities in the HoA region has caused immeasurable suffering, destruction, and loss of life. While wars may have brought short-term victories or gains at times to one of the warring sides, ultimately wars fail to bring lasting peace and prosperity. Instead, they perpetuate cycles of violence, mistrust, and instability, and impede progress toward a more peaceful and prosperous region.
It is however clear that none of the wars in the HoA region in the past brought any positive results to the people of the region, instead they deepen the political disagreement between the countries in the region on one hand, and the economic, and social grievances between communities on the other hand. The military endeavors in the region may have been able to suppress grievances, such as territorial disputes, resource allocation, ethnic and religious tensions, and political power struggles temporarily, it is undoubtedly clear that these grievances will resurface in a new form when it is not addressed through peaceful means, hence the perpetuated conflicts in the region throughout the centuries.
Wars that have taken place in the HoA region had, throughout history, caused profound humanitarian consequences to all warring sides, including the displacement of people, destruction of homes and infrastructure, and loss of life, exacerbating the pre-existing social, political, and economic grievances and further fueled the division between the countries and/or communities.
To rebuild and reconstruct a country or community in the aftermath of war takes years or even decades, diverting resources away from other important areas such as education, healthcare, and social welfare. In addition, the psychological trauma of war can linger for generations, creating a legacy of distrust and animosity that can hinder the prospects for lasting peace. Therefore, the countries in the HoA should seek to resolve their disputes through peaceful means such as diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation instead of resorting to wars – both to a neighboring country and locally. Solving disputes through peaceful means can help build trust and understanding between the countries and communities in the region, and can also create the conditions for long-term cooperation and prosperity.
Promoting peace and stability in the region requires a focus on addressing the underlying causes of conflict, such as border disputes at the national and federal-state levels and poverty, inequality, religious tolerance, and clan-related clashes at the communal level. Additionally, investing in economic development, social welfare, and human rights, can create the conditions for sustainable peace and prosperity in the HoA region.
Trying to find a solution for a perpetuated conflict, such as the HoA conflict, which has been around for centuries can be a complex and challenging process. as the saying goes though, “extraordinary situations, require extraordinary measures”, therefore finding lasting peace and thereafter prosperity in the HoA requires employing a combination of traditional and non-traditional conflict resolution mechanisms.
Regarding the conflicts between the states, regional leaders need to recognize and acknowledge the conflict and its history and thereby understand the root causes and the reasons why the conflict has persisted for so long, particularly in those countries where major conflicts occur. Recognizing and acknowledging the conflict and its history will create an inclusive approach to solving the conflict. However, regardless of their involvement in past conflicts, it is also crucial that all countries in the region get involved in the process to understand their perspectives, experiences, and concerns. With patience, understanding, and collaboration among the HoA countries, it is possible to find a home-grown solution that works for all the countries in the region and thereby a long-lasting peace and prosperity.
In conjunction with the country-to-country level conflict resolution mechanisms should be employed. It is also necessary to address the grievances among the local communities. Therefore, each government in the region needs to emphasize and encourage dialogue between its local communities in order to find a common ground that can boost the coexistence of communities. Similarly, each government should engage civil society groups to promote understanding through awareness-raising campaigns in order to reduce prejudice and create empathy and understanding between the different community groups. As communal conflicts often stem from deeper issues such as poverty, inequality, and/or historical grievances, governments in the region should concurrently improve the economic opportunities for their respective local communities, promote rule of law and allow all groups to participate in the local and national political processes in order to reduce marginalization and exclusion of all communities.
With regard to resolving communal conflicts, it is worth noting that there is no one-size-fits-all therefore strategies may need to be tailored to the specific context and needs of the parties involved with each country.
In conclusion, history has shown that no country can achieve its national ambitions through wars, nor that any community can forcefully dominate others, instead, seeking hegemony and domination over other nations/communities can only perpetuate the cycles of violence and suffering, and hinder progress towards a more peaceful and prosperous region. Therefore, by recognizing and acknowledging the conflict and its history and thereby focusing on peaceful means of conflict resolution and addressing the underlying causes of conflict, countries and communities in the HoA region can create long-lasting peace and prosperity for all.
Balal Mohamed Cusman was former State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]