The Horn of Turbulence:

Identifying the Root Causes of Conflict and the Appropriate Instruments for Peace Building as a Precondition for Sustainable Conflict Resolution.

Axel Klein,

Institute for African Alternatives.


"Resource Scarcity and Conflict Management in the Horn of Africa"

A Research Project organised by the Institute For African Alternatives (IFAA), UK

and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada


Report: I


The Horn of Africa has been torn apart by warfare for over thirty years. The propensity for conflict in this region has been the subject of much discussion amongst scholars and policy makers. The research programme represents part of a continuing effort to understand some of the underlying causes and has been undertaken by a multinational team recruited from diverse states of the region, whose governments are periodically locked in antagonism. The making of this work is a telling illustration of the dynamics of conflict itself. Shortly after the project got under way, one of the chosen field sites in Eritrea, became a battlefront in the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian border war. Access to the field, to informants and to official sources suddenly became blocked, and the entire project viewed with suspicion.

.As certain parts of the country became no go areas, researchers in conflict-ridden areas were subjected to harassment by law enforcement officers and attracted the unwelcome attentions of military personnel.

Even in those regions where primary research could be carried out, such research carried considerable risk whilst research in the Sudan was also problematic. Fortunately for the purposes of this project it was possible to side step some of these constraints by carrying out research with displaced populations from conflict areas who had shifted to Khartoum. Yet the very constraints placed on methodology, and the improvisation it evinced from the teams, underlined the tragic dimensions of a country at war with itself.

While the Ethiopian research team was operating under comparatively favourable conditions, they soon came across a different difficulty.

The scale of the initial research plan had confined work to the North Shoa region. Yet, soon it became clear that it would not possible to focus only on a limited geographical area and produce meaningful results. There was an interrelationship between environmental, political and social factors spanning a much wider area, and involving several different ethnic groups. Now the challenge was in widening the dimensions of the research without losing its investigative focus.

The flexibility of the different research teams was complemented by a brief that allowed for a great deal of autonomy. The concern with conflict, and the interest in environmental degradation, was sufficient as a guideline, and to guarantee the thematic unity of the work. Completed in the summer of 2000, the findings, and the constructive results of the process itself, come at a propitious moment. Current events in the Horn hint at the potential for a major transition in this turbulent region.

The Algiers Peace Agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia

As many false dawns have broken over the Horn of Africa, optimism has become a rare commodity in the scholastic community. The memory of the African renaissance, announced by the Afrophile US president Clinton in the early 1990s, broke down in the ignominious border war sponsored by two of his major allies, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi and the Eritrean Issayas Afewerki.

Whilst this outbreak of war, appeared to be a pointless exercise of violence and destruction to onlookers as well as burying some dreams of development, there are grounds for hope in the process that ended the war. It has been pointed out that cease-fires in Africa have a habit of breaking down, but unlike conflicts in Sierra Leone or Angola, the protagonists in the border war were sovereign states, and therefore better integrated into the intentional community, and bound by the protocols that govern international relations.

The first efforts at brokering a peaceful settlement between the two sides after Eritrean troops had marched into the border town of Zalambessa was a joint US-Rwanda initiative. It failed due to Eritrean intransigence, as the withdrawal would have amounted to a loss of face for the leadership. Continuous US efforts did succeed, however, in putting a moratorium on the air raids against civilian targets, which had caused the loss of over 1,000 lives and inflicted considerable damage, especially in Eritrea.

Renewed efforts by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to put an end to the land war failed over what the Ethiopians referred to as 'technical disagreement'. Negotiations continued under OAU auspices, leading to cease-fire agreement on 18 June 2000, signed in Algiers. This was developed into a comprehensive peace agreement on 12 December 2000, which stipulated for a UN enforced buffer zone, while the border is being delineated and demarcated.

By the end of 2001. over 4,200 international peacekeepers will eventually be deployed. This makes it the fourth largest of the fourteen UN forces currently in service. It is testimony to the commitment of the UN Secretary General to this process. While problems over the infringement of the buffer zone, known as Temporary Security Zone (TGZ), by security forces persist, the skilful handling of these problems by the UN Special Representative Joseph Legwaila has ensured that the process is not thrown off course.

The success of the peace-keeping mission and the border demarcation also owes much to the statesmanship of the two opposing heads of state, and their experience in handling international relations. From the outset of the war, it was evident that in terms of diplomatic skill, the two sides were mismatched. The Ethiopian government appeared to all sides to be a willing negotiator, happy to entertain the notion of arbitration, and the possibility of compromise. Such seeming reasonableness ensured continued foreign support. Indeed, throughout the entire war, Ethiopia was in receipt of considerable amounts of food aid, much of which allegedly went to feed the armed forces. However this may be, both the level of engagement of the Ethiopian movement with the international community, and its ability to abide by and to enforce the agreements of Algiers are a reflection of the role and character of the state in Ethiopia.

As the oldest continuous polity in Africa, and something of a colonial power in its own right, Ethiopia has state machinery with a wealth of experience and a long institutional memory. It will be argued later that state penetration has historically been weak in large parts of the country, and mainly confined to military conquests, recruitment and taxation.

Nevertheless, the authority of the government, first in the form of the Emperor, later the Dergue, and now the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), is widely accepted.

In relation to other states, the role of the government and its diplomatic elite is well established. The peacemaking mechanisms developed by such inter governmental organisations as the OAU and the UN, are therefore perfectly appropriate.

The Arte Peace Process leading to a new Somali Government

A very different set of negotiations, by contrast, were taking place between May and August 2000 in the small Djibouti town of Arte. Over 2000 delegates chosen from all political factions and clans, from different walks of life, and all manner of backgrounds were attending the Somali peace conference sponsored by the Djibouti president, Ismail Omar Guelleh.

Deliberating for several months, the delegates succeeded in appointing a 250 member national assembly, and an interim movement led by newly appointed President Salad Hassan. Though the process enjoyed the support of the OAU, the Arab League and the UN, the president elect was given a warm reception at the UN headquarters in New York, it was hardly a conventional conference, either in the form it took, or the scope of its objectives.

First of all, the conference was based on traditional Somali clan gatherings, entailing a low level of differentiation and open forum approach. It was important for a maximum number of delegates to get a hearing, so that each section could participate in the discussion. In the absence of defined positions, or coercive powers, the emphasis falls upon voluntary submission to the collective decisions, which are reached at the end of a long process of consultation.

Previous peace conferences, such as the one held at Sodere in Ethiopia, in 1996, did not work along these principles. Instead, they sought to rush the participants through tight agendas towards a predetermined goal-namely, the selection of a government and the allocation of ministries and posts. While this did appear as imperative, it was impossible to find credible candidates in such a short a period of time. As a result, most of the twelve UN sponsored peace conferences became mainly an opportunity for the attendant warlords to go on holidays and earn per diems.

Yet precisely because of the enormity of the task ahead, time and cultural sensitivity were of the essence if a modicum of legitimacy was to be bestowed upon the outcome. Delegates had, after all, to lay the foundations for a new state. As a result of its collapse in 1991, when the former President Siad Barre fled Mogadishu, the Somali State needs to be recreated. Agreeing the basic principles of government and a constitution are only the first steps, and much work needs to be done before Somalia is once again a fully-fledged member of the Horn's community of nations.

The hostility of well-armed warlords, including the redoubtable Hussein Aideed, remains one major obstacle en route. However the rapturous welcome given to the new government by the people of Mogadishu demonstrates strong grass roots support for it, or perhaps any, national government. Most Somalis are deeply fatigued by the incessant fighting and great insecurity. Influential business leaders are also eager for a return to stability so that normal commercial relations can resume. The main opposition lies in well established interests by warlords and militia men profiting from the rule of the gun, and the deep seated suspicion among different clans and subclans of each other.

The future of the government will depend on two factors: its own skills at negotiating the sharks lying in the political waters ahead and the attitude of external powers. Support from aid partners holds great potential to bridge the revenue gap that the new administration is facing. European Commission aid monies earmarked for Somalia has been accumulating since 1991 has still not been used. Further support is likely to be provided by bilateral aid partners.

At the same time, the opposition from a traditionally antagonistic Ethiopia casts a shadow over the process. There is a strong sense, however, that Addis will soon come around to the benefits of a stable Somalia. For the first time in a decade, therefore, Somalis have reason to be optimistic about the resurrection of statehood, and the formation of a government.

Influence of Traditional Somali Culture

The mechanisms employed by the organisers of the Arte conference are deeply rooted in traditional Somali culture. Somali society has been famously described as a pastoral democracy (A Pastoral Democracy. I. Lewis Oxford: OUP 1959). In Somali culture social differentiation is minimal, political institutions largely dependent upon voluntary participation of its members without a leader.

In this stateless society social integration and political mobilisation takes place within a seminary lineage system. Each lineage traces itself through a series of successive ancestors to its earliest ancestor or lineage founder. As a result of this process, it is possible for all Somalis to claim common origin from one of the three founding fathers of the nation. By bundling several lineages together, the Somalis group themselves into sub-clans, which in turn are aggregated into clans.

With each generation, however, the branches proliferate and new segments appear. Each segment serves as a political and military unit, potentially in opposition to other segments. They all come together, however, when faced with opposition from a different branch of the lineage, which has split off in a preceding generation. We then find that kinship relations, first at nuclear family level, then extended family, then sub-clan, clan and national level, are the key social building blocks.

Religion, and in the 20th century, the state, have provided a new set of integrating institutions to cut across kinship ties. However, when under pressure, their impact and reach has proved superficial, as in the past fifteen years. Even during the heyday of the nationalist Somali state under President Siad Barre, clan loyalties had the tendency to get the better of the nationalist ideal. This became particularly apparent in the aftermath of the Ogaden fiasco in 1978.

Having suffering comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Ethiopian forces, the Somali army disintegrated, and the state soon followed. With resources now severely constrained, allocation became subject to clan membership. The president's Marehan clan was the main beneficiary, while military forces ruthlessly oppressed the demands and protests of other clans.

Even within clans and subclans, however, hierarchies are flat and chains of command short. During the civil war that has been raging for nearly two decades this has meant that followers can only be kept if their, albeit, basic needs are met, and the leader maintains some form of spiritual authority. Once these commodities are on the wane, the followers will disperse.

This is not at all new, as the experience of Mohammed Abdulle Hassan, dubbed the "Mad Mullah" by the English contemporary press goes to show. One of the most charismatic leaders in Somali history, he took it upon himself to repulse the colonial powers in the late 19th and early 20th century. His military efforts were continually hamstrung by the Somali aversion to tight organisational structures.

Operating in 1899 in the vicinity of Burao, against British forces, the Mulla was under constant pressure to keep his force in the field. One historian has commented that, "one should bear in mind that the Mullah was not at the head of a military force with the cohesion and discipline of a regular army but an irregular tribal levy whose ranks could swell or shrink as quickly as the ephemeral streams of the monsoon season" (Abdi Sheik-Abdi, 1993).

Integrating new political structures onto a traditional system

The importance of traditional structures was first recognised in northern Somalia in 1991. This region, inhabited by the Isaqu clan, had suffered some of the worst violence at the hand of government forces, culminating in the bombing of Hargeisha in 1989. In the forefront of national resistance, the Isaq organised themselves politically into the Somali National Front (SNM). By 1991, when the southern part of the country descended into unfettered civil war and a massive famine, they were ready to declare independence. The basis of the unilateral declaration was the former colonial mandate.

The region had been known as the Protectorate of British Somaliland, and had been under a different administration from the South of the country, which had been an Italian colony. Though it was united with the South after a nation-wide referendum three days into independence, a majority of northerners had voted for maintaining the separate nationhood.

Building on the memory of this independent spirit, the SNM turned a political chapter by setting up a traditional clan meeting, known as shir, in the town of Boroma. Clan elders came together to debate the future, sitting for months on end, and listening to an endless stream of delegates. By 1993 they had agreed upon a transitional president, an assembly and a constitution. These in turn prepared the way for elections by which the current President Ibrahim Egal came to be elected. In the meantime Somaliland enjoys a mild prosperity, and has upheld peace and stability within its borders.

So successful has the process been that the neighbouring region in the Northeast of the country, has emulated it. In 1997, 300 senior members of the Majerteen clan elected Col. Abdulahi Yussuf Ahmed as the first president of the federal state of Puntland. Different from their western neighbours in that they have shared a colonial past under Italian rule with the other Somalis, yet have not broken away from Somalia, but have taken local government and administration into their own hands.

It is ironic, though entirely understandable that both countries have objected to the outcome of Arte. They are worried about losing their precious gains under a new, central government with little time for outlying regions. On the other hand, these prosperous provinces may well become valuable constituent parts of a Somali federation. With the peace process just under way, and the wind of peaceful reconstruction wafting through the region, this may well turn out to be one of the most attractive options for the resurrected Somali state.

It is important to recognise the utility and scope of different instruments for conflict resolution. Attempts premised on inappropriate mechanisms are doomed to fail, as demonstrated by the long series of Somalia peace conferences. A diversity of instruments is therefore a precondition for success in the establishment of regional stability.

Multiple Regional Conflicts and their inter-relationships

A number of classifications of different conflict types have emerged over recent years, in a attempt to accurately describe the different character of the diverse conflicts in the Horn. In common with conflicts elsewhere in the world since the end of the Second World War, and particularly since the end of the Cold War, most violent confrontation has taken place within rather than between states. At the same time the Horn has been exceptional in Africa for the rate of occurrence and the scale of inter state conflicts, and the complex relationships of mutual destabilisation practised between neighbouring governments.

Scholars have therefore found it necessary to invest time in the development of conflict typologies. We propose a two-layered model, which distinguishes:

I a inter-state b intra state c inter society

II a society v government b society v society

I a Inter-state conflict

Up until the collapse of the Soviet Union most conflict models developed by political scientists, security analysts and international relations scholars assumed that conflicts would take place between sovereign states. In Africa very few of such conflicts have occurred. In the Horn only two such conflicts have been recorded, both involve Ethiopia.

In 1977 Somali forces, invaded the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which is largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis. In a spectacular diplomatic volte de face, the Soviet Union, which had been the original backer of Somalia, changed sides to support the now overtly Marxist regime in Addis Ababa. In a massive airlift large quantities of weapons were sent to Ethiopia, together with a contingent of Cuban forces. The Somali invasion was stalled, and then reversed. By 1978, all Ethiopian territory was back under Ethiopian control and the Somali army as well as its government, and soon the entire state was in disarray.

The second instance of inter state conflict was the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian border war referred to above. A note of qualification is in order though, as Eritrea had been an integral part of Ethiopia from 1955 until 1991. Among Ethiopian hard-liners the country’s independence remains controversial, and by no means permanent. In Eritrea, certainly, the Ethiopian government is widely suspected of harbouring revisionist plans to annul Eritrea's independence.

I. b Intra-state Conflict

This is the most common form of conflict found in the Horn, and almost each of the core countries is currently embroiled in some form of intra state conflict. There are different variations to this. Some conflicts are of a secessionist nature. The Oromo Liberation Front in Ethiopia, and sections of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) are fighting for self-determination in the form of independent statehood. In the former case for Oromiya, in the latter for a Southern Sudan.

In the main, however, conflict revolves around the control of the state, and its character. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) which ousted the Dergue, for example fought for control of Ethiopia. Its close allies, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) however, fought for independence. In the Sudan the main section of the SPLA under John Garang, and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are fighting for a stake in the government of the country.

In Somalia, the different clan based factions and warlords have been fighting for control of parts of the country, usually their historical clan territories. Control over the resources, particularly the ports of Mogadishu and Kismayo, or the agriculturally rich areas around the Shebele river have also been the object of intense fighting.

Djibouti has been ravaged by internal conflict from 1991-1998. The fighting has been mainly along ethnic lines between the Afar who are organised into the Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD), and the government, dominated by Somali Issa. Backed by, France the government prevailed, and signed a peace accord in 1998.

I c Inter Society

There is often a thin line between conflicts for the government and inter group conflicts. Ethnicity and factionalism are powerful forces in Horn politics, and particular groups often dominate governments. The EPRDF regime in Addis Ababa, for example, evolved out of the TPLF, and has a strong Tigrayan hue. As a result the distribution of resources favours the Tigris, and even the recent border war was partially conducted with such determination because it involved the Tigrayan-Eritrean border.

Equally, in the Sudan, the National Islamic Front (NIF) government consists overwhelmingly of Arabised, Muslim, Northerners. Though a few southerners have been allocated cabinet posts these are widely regarded as token appointments without any clout. The nature of the regime is overtly Islamic, while southern peoples are mainly adherents of Christianity or traditional religion. Due to the limited resources of the government, many military functions have been devolved to groups of militias regarded as loyal to the government, such as the Baggara Arabs. In effect, this becomes an ethnic conflict, with long term repercussions for inter group relations.

II. a Society v Government

The case studies of conflict in Darfur and Kordofan, and the Ethiopian example from the Awash Valley are initially presented as inter-group, or society v society conflicts. In effect, the government has played a critical role in framing external conditions - such as land tenure legislation, state boundaries and appointments to government positions

As the Nuba case shows it can go a lot further, and become a direct causal factor. The government can turn against entire population groups, which it regards as superfluous, and which have no representation at the centre of government. Thus in the Nuba Mountains, villages are being destroyed and tracts of land depopulated to make way for mechanised farms. A similar policy is just beginning to come to light in the south of the country around the Bentiu oilfields.

The implications of inter group conflicts are profound. Wars can escalate and take on a dynamic independent from the original reasons that triggered it. Furthermore, by translating the erstwhile trigger into an ethnicity issue, there is a danger of institutionalising conflict and spreading it way beyond the initial area. Policy makers and external observers have recognized the significance of ethnicity for decades. Conflicts were often explained as tribal, as if the difference of identity were a sufficient reason for conflict itself. Later, more refined approaches have identified ethnicity as a powerful cause around which forces can be mobilized (Fukui and Turton 1979; Fukui and Markakis 1994; Markakis; 1987; 1998; Suliman and Klein 1998).

It is important to remember that there are now areas in the region, which are ethnically homogenous, and that ethnic diversity is usually associated with the occupation of different eco-zones and variant production systems. In most cases symbiotic relationships evolved, marked by trade and exchange, for instance of animal produce for grains and vegetables, cemented by intermarriage and alliances. Once conflict breaks out, however, ethnicity, religion or clan membership can become a significant factor.

II. b Society v Society

A need remains to distinguish between conflicts between different groups within a country and across national borders. The latter would include cattle-rustling among the Kenya-Somalia border, or banditry across the Sudan-Uganda border.

Destabilisation between Neighbouring States

While overt interstate wars have been rare, there are deep-seated rivalries between neighbouring states. There has been considerable tension between Kenya and Sudan, Kenya and Somalia, Kenya and Uganda, Uganda and Sudan, Sudan and Ethiopia and Sudan and Eritrea. In 1999, President Guelleh of Djibouti declared that the country was virtually at war with Eritrea, and since the coup attempt in late 2000, relations have become frosty with Ethiopia, who was allegedly implicated.

Governments are now supporting rebel movements in their neighbouring countries as a matter of course. The SPLA has been operating at various points in time from bases in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. There is strong evidence that SPLA forces operating against government garrisons in Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal were assisted by regular Ethiopian units.

Khartoum, meanwhile, played host to the Ethiopian opposition right up until the collapse of the Mengistu regime in 1991 The TPLF and the EPLF maintained offices and rear bases there. Now the Sudanese government supports Islamic movements operations in both countries. It also provides support for the Lords Resistance Army of Uganda.

During the border war, both the Eritrean and the Ethiopians armed different factions in Somalia to conduct a proxy war. Initially, Asmara attempted to channel arms through Hussain Aideed to the Oromo Liberation Front fighting for Oromo self determination in the Ogaden region. Ethiopia retaliated by building up rival factions including the Rhanwein Resistance Army anode the warlord Muse Sudi Yalahow, as well as Somaliland and Puntland.

The long-term implications of this mutual destabilisation are difficult to underestimate. Already the fallout of an earlier campaign of subversion is becoming manifest in the widespread banditry in northwestern Kenya, where ethnic Somalis once received arms and sanctuary from the Barre government. In southern Sudan commanders of both government and SPLA forces are turning their sections of the front into fiefdoms.

Supporting a neighbouring rebel movement is becoming an indispensable strategy which governments can use as a bargaining chip. It also creates a buffer against incursions by domestic rebel groups, domiciled in adjacent countries. The upshot of this has been the gradual involvement of troops from Horn countries in the Congo. Sudanese troops, for example, have been using bases in northern Congo since the mid 1990s, to attack SPLA bases in Equatoria. In 1995 there were even reports of Zairian artillery supporting a Sudanese offensive against the rebels at Kaya.

The interlocking of the two conflict systems, that of the Horn with that of the Great Lakes/Congo is alarming. As arms and warriors cycle from one flashpoint to another, and rebel groups can circulate around different patrons, new challenges arise for resolution attempts.

Ambiguity of Borders

This destructive interference in the affairs of neighbouring states has to be seen in the light of the following. First, the very length of these international borders and the inadequate policing capacity of the Horn governments’ results in poor regulation and easily penetrated. Furthermore, most of the borders are contested. African intellectuals express frequent regret at the unnaturalness of the borders they inherited from the colonial powers, forgetting, perhaps that all borders are products of history.

At the 1964 meeting in Cairo the OAU adopted the Resolution on the Intangibility of Frontiers and member states pledged to respect the frontiers in existence on the achievement of national independence. However Somalia objected to the resolution, and insisted that it was not bound by it. It upheld its claim against Ethiopia for the Ogaden, against Kenya for the North West Frontier Province, and Djibouti. The dream of a Greater Somalia has been the cause of significant instability, the repercussions of which are felt to this day in the form of rural banditry.

Furthermore, many borders are poorly demarcated and hence disputed between neighbouring countries. The clash between Eritrean and Ethiopian forces in the Badme triangle is only the most recent example. The Elemi triangle in North-western Kenya is claimed by Sudan, and fighting has been reported along the border of Somaliland and Puntland.

Furthermore, internal borders within Horn countries can be equally explosive. The range of ethnic diversity means that groups mobilise around particular identities in order to capture state resources, such as development benefits, or government jobs. The arena where this competition takes place is in the region, state or district. This theme will be discussed in more detail below.

Dispersal and Migration of Populations

A more subtle aspect relates to the dispersal of populations across the region. It has already been argued that ethnically homogenous polities can not be found in the region (if anywhere). National borders are often an imposition on intra group relationships, with tragic consequences as in the expulsion and expropriation of assets from Ethiopians of Eritrean origin during the border war.

The close relationship of ethnic and religious groups between bordering populations, across multiple national borders, inevitably implicates neighbors in one another’s internal affairs. Policies affecting Somali groups in Kenya or Ethiopia for example are of concern to Somalia. The propagation of an expansionary, fundamentalist Islam by the National Islamic Front in Sudan, or the al Ittahad al Islami in Somalia, becomes a direct provocation to the majority of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

A function of the states whose territories they demarcate, the borders dividing the countries of the Horn, are weakly defined, contested and porous. Yet these borders are essential for the self-preservation of the state (Issa-Salwe 2000). Continuously transgressed by people, animals, political movements and ideas, they are wide open lines of communication implicating neighboring states in a web of mutual dependence, wherein nobody can escape the travails of a close neighbor. It also allows conflict to spread readily, with warriors and weapons moving from flashpoint to flashpoint unimpeded.

Home to one of the worlds largest populations of nomadic peoples, the countries of the Horn inherited a political challenge from the colonial authorities, which first fixed and fetishised the delimitation of each state. For many groups such as the Afar (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea), the Ben Amer (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan), and the Somali clans spanning Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, the claims of states interfere with time honoured migration patterns.

Agricultural peoples have also been dispersed, and the rapid rate of urbanization, has spread ethnic groups across regions within each state, and across the different countries of the region. These processes have made ethnic homogeneity and cultural uniformity features of a mythologised past.

One of the consequences of this population mobility has been the feedback loop, whereby the experiences of migrant communities in distant cities impact upon their kinsmen back home. As people travel and disperse, they involve their corporate groups in new sets of relationships.

It may therefore be helpful to distinguish between borders, demarcating states, and frontiers, which describe the contact zone of the people of a state (Mwagiru 2000). These points of contact form a complex web well beyond immediate proximity. With the qualified exception of Somalia, all the Horn countries are characterized by cultural diversity, and shared ethnic, religious and cultural elements.

The Search for Root Causes

The Significance of Culture as a Cause of Conflict

It has already been stated that ethnic diversity may exacerbate conflict subsequent to its eruption, but it is not a direct or proximate trigger. The same holds true of culture.

In a region of stunted development, where the mode of production in which the majority of the population engage in, has remained fundamentally unchanged, it makes sense to look towards the historic sources of inter-group conflict.

It is widely recognized among scholars of nomadic groups (Fukui; Abbinks 2001) that the access to and distribution of rights over pasture and water holes is often determined by force.

The researchers participating in this project have therefore taken note of the culture surrounding this instrumentalist violence. In the Ethiopian case, it can be argued that some people were caught in a cultural matrix that propelled them towards violence.

Among the Afar, the Issa and the Oromo, and to a lesser degree among the Amhara, the use of violence to further group interests was not only sanctioned but encouraged. The ethnographic descriptions of the warriors’ rites of passage, echo, perhaps self consciously, the historic description of the Afar, famed and feared among travelers and neighbouring groups (Lewis 1994; Said 1994). While the notorious practice of penis mutilation is reported to occur rarely today, some field workers report that the killing of an enemy remains important for the achievement of adult status, and marked by fashioning a bronze necklace known as shami or chelie. Bearers of this insignia of status enjoy certain privileges, such as precedence for their animals at waterholes.

Equal privileges accrue to Oromo warriors who have slain an enemy. The watering privileges are extended to their wives, and he wears long hair in a style known as gofere. The left ear is pierced and studded, a practice that continues on the right ear with each consecutive killing. After killing an Afar or Amhara "the youngsters of both sexes gather and dance the whole night in honour of the killer, and if a he asks a particular girl forced to dance with him she must comply." (Seyoum 2001).

In the third of the Sudanese case studies, we also have valuable evidence of the role of Nuer women in conflict. The report of the songs sung in the market, taunting men who have yielded ground to an enemy, the public refusal by a woman to sell goods to a man who had not lived up to gender role expectations, throws interesting light on the role of women in warfare.

Current issues in gender studies rarely stress the importance of female approval and encouragement in provoking or exacerbating conflict. The information from Southern Sudan, however, suggests that the role of women is highly ambiguous. On the one hand, they are victims of male violence and often more inclined towards the peaceful settlement of inter communal disputes. On the other hand, we find that women are driving men into combat through their songs, ridicule, shaming and gossip.

Until further research is undertaken, we cannot assert whether this is truly a case of a martial culture dislocated by invasion, and cultural genocide. One is reminded of the ‘hyper masculinity’ of the Nuer warriors described by (Hutchinson, 1996). Unable to secure a livelihood, these young man throw in their lot with one of the many factions, living a brief life of banditry and loot. Dedicated to the band, and a spurious cause, they celebrate their detachment from traditional ties and roots with a chilling war song: "a bullet for you, wife, a bullet for you, father". The only object worthy of affection and trust is the rifle.

This deliberate de-socialization of combatants reaches extremes with the use of child soldiers, who are at times made to kill their own parents. As Richards documents for Sierra Leone, children are uprooted from their homes and reinserted in the gang. In West Africa a ritual of separation and reintegration mimicking the traditional initiation rite is usually carried out. In Sudan, however, it is not fragmented rebel groups who violate families, and sever children form their parents, but government forces in the Nuba mountains, and government sponsored militias let loose in the South. The war songs of the women, then, may be the product of troubled times and desperate need.

It serves us well to consult studies of conflict among the Dizi and Suri peoples in Southern Ethiopia on the issue of culture (Abbink 2001). In both societies violence as a goal oriented phenomenon has been culturally encoded and ritualized. It was legitimate in stock raiding, in fights over waterholes and pasture, and evident in the ritualized forms of stick dueling, which determined rights to sexual access and therefore a reproductive career. To kill an enemy in a raid, or blood feud, or break an opponent’s bones in a stick fight was a culturally sanctioned forms of violence. They were based on cultural metaphors, and uncontested exercises of force.

Since the 1980s, however, the abandonment of these ritually proscribed and regulated forms of violence has taken place The parity between the two neighbouring groups, which ensured an overall balance remained in the stock raids, has broken down. Consequently herd owners who are raided would rather shoot their beloved cattle than allow it to fall into enemy hands. This type of violence does not reinforce established cultural mores, but undermines and turns an entire value system upside down.

This is most evident in the crises in the age grade system. Traditionally initiation was a precondition to gain elder status, a voice in political decision making processes, and marriage. Young men would strive towards initiation, to gain access to these privileges. Lately however, younger age grades have been purposely delaying their initiation. Significantly, young men did not stress the values of marriage and having children. Instead they preferred casual liaisons with girls, and an extension of their quasi adolescence free from responsibility and social obligation.

A number of factors have influenced this breakdown of cultural values and mores. First the penetration of the money economy. Though this has been comparatively low level and has overturned existing habits of production, consumption and exchange. It has also upset existing ways of reckoning material differentiation. Money in the hands of the young has undermined the authority of the elders, and the system of checks and balances traditionally in place. It has enabled people to free themselves from the web of social ties based on mutual dependence and obligation. Instead, monetary payment can secure the goods and services that had hitherto been conditional upon favourable social relations.

The arrival of modern weaponry has fundamentally altered the nature of raiding and feuding. In the past casualties were limited, and women, children and elders were spared from violence. It was unlikely that bystanders would suffer injury in the crossfire. Moreover, traditional weaponry also maintained a balance of power between groups. Over the past twenty years, however, the odds have been grossly tipped in favour of those groups with access to small arms.

External factors have impacted on the region. The Sudanese civil war and the disturbances in northern Kenya, where groups such as the Turkana and the Nyangaton are in conflict with the state have had an important impact. There has been population movement, creating pressure on resources, and knock on effects. .They also transmit a culture of readiness to use violence, and of course the means to do so.

This comparative material warns us against over determined interpretations of group behaviour, on the basis of culture. In a study into the dynamics of conflict, it is important to hold on to the adaptability of cultures. While production systems may have changed little, the external circumstances are dramatically transformed. To get the measure of existing conditions of regional conflict observers need an understanding not only of past patterns of violence, but how these have changed and adapted to present times.


The Role of Violence in Conflict

Violence, while woven densely into the fabric of everyday life, was also controlled by custom. Conflict could break out suddenly and was difficult to predict, yet the course of such violence remained highly regulated. In Ethiopia, for example, informants from both the Oromo and the Afar confirmed that neither group killed women intentionally, though the Amhara showed no such scruples. Reports from inter-ethnic conflicts in Southern Sudan also report the taboo on the killing of women, elders, and the existence of sanctuaries (Hutchinson 1996).

Furthermore, there are mechanisms of conflict resolution based on the payment of blood money, which show a remarkable degree of similarity across the region. We find it described as ‘joudiyaa’ in western Darfur, and as ‘xeer’ in the Awash valley. What this institution, which sets a fixed penalty for each slaying, suggests is a cultural perceptions of "equality and reciprocity …as natural and specifically human." (Abbink 2001:132). .Among pastoralists and agro-pastoralists, social relations are a balancing act, in which violence is readily resorted to redress any imbalance or infraction.

Relationships between the different ethnic groups, in the North Shoa - Awash Valley region this would mean the Afar, the Amhara, the Issa and the Oromo, are therefore dependent upon a balance of economic and military power. Group relations depend upon equilibrium of power, which increasingly depends on access to external resources the principally, the power of the state, money and arms.

We find then, that while violence is culturally sanctioned, there are prescribed situations, as well as mechanisms for bringing disputes to an end. Culture, therefore is not a satisfactory explanation in the analysis of causes of conflict. Indeed, the material we have documents the dramatic escalation of violence, both in terms of casualty levels, and in the prolonging of inter group conflict and suggests something quite different. .It is not the cultural proclivities for violence, which account for the degeneration of large parts of the Horn into hotbeds of conflict. It is in fact the decline of traditional cultures exposed to the forces of modernization, such as the market, the state, and modern weaponry which accounts for the deep insecurity.

Moreover, many of the conflict situations analysed in the case studies are better explained by recourse to rational choice theory than as normative behaviour. The attack of Rezeigat Arabs on Masalit farmers is a deliberate use of violence in an attempt to wrest control of the land off their erstwhile owners. In the Nuba Mountains, the campaign against the Nuba farmers is once again part of a deliberate, long-term strategy to clear the land of the aboriginal population.

These findings have serious implications for future approaches to conflict resolution and regional development. It must therefore be recognized that traditional structures of social and political organisations are not a factor of instability, but to the contrary, a pillar of peaceful relations and development. The skill in future negotiations will revolve largely around how different institutions can be integrated into the process.

In the light of these considerations, we return to the question of causes of conflict. We have identified culture, ethnicity and religion as secondary causes, which are of low importance in triggering conflict - though they are important in perpetuating it (Suliman and Klein 1999) - the root causes may well be of a material nature. In view of the low level of economic development of the greater part of the Horn, resource conflict is plausibly represented as conflict over renewable natural resources.

Conflict over renewable resources

The argument over resource conflict is an old one in the Horn. The topography of the region has been described as a 'harsh environment', where life-sustaining resources are scarce, and competition for them high. What the above discussion termed the culture of violence, is believed to have evolved in response to these unfavourable conditions.

In the twentieth century, these hostile conditions have been accentuated by a number of factors. Human, and domesticated animals populations have expanded well beyond the carrying capacity of the land. At the same time the material expectations of people have risen tremendously. There are now more mouths to feed than ever with each individual dependent upon the resource base which in turn requires a higher yield. Yet precisely this yield is dropping. Detailed case studies carried out on the ground confirm this models. Among highland farmers in Ethiopia, the fallow periods are contracting. This gives the soil less time to recuperate its fertility, which in turn translates into lower harvests. Equally pastoralists in the Sudan, spend ever-shorter periods in their dry season pastures. Their extended stay in the most abundant wet season pastures places a heavy burden on the eco-system, until its ultimate collapse.

Hence pastoralists are running into increasing conflict with farmers, as both are driven into unsustainable production techniques, and into the marginal lands which had hitherto separated them. In the process, working arrangements, and alliances, which have held for generations now break down and turn to enmity. What adds a particular twist to these processes in the Horn is that the environment is the basis of livelihoods. There are no alternatives, as the development poles have sadly withered. Indeed, urban migration continues, but Khartoum Addis Ababa and Asmara are not expanding centres of indigenous growth. There is little manufacture or industry, and most wealth stems from surplus extracted from the rural areas, or external capital flows. The cities have a parasitical function, contributing little to development.

Nor have development schemes had much positive impact. Some of the large agricultural schemes in the Awash valley employ Afar men to guard the company premises. It is said that this is considered a respectable form of employment as men get to wear guns. The higher echelon positions, however, are out of the reach of local people. Men and women from the Central Highlands take most managerial, technical, and even manual positions.

Given such limitations in the opportunity structure, the importance of traditional forms of production cannot be underestimated. The serious plight of rural producers in developing countries came to the attentions of political scientists in the early 1990s. Up until then most conceptual conflict models stipulated conflict as an inter-state affair, involving two sovereign governments and peoples. With the end of the Cold War, superpower competition faded into insignificance, and new security threats were identified.

The depletion of renewable resources

At this stage political scientists woke up to the fact that most conflicts in the world, persisted even after the demise of the communist system. Whilst this did not defuse the importance of superpower intervention, it put paid to the idea that such conflicts were proxy wars. Commissioned by defence departments in need of a redefined raison d'Ítre, researchers set out to conduct new security assessments. One of the threats identified was the shortage of renewable, natural resources. The added urgency of this threat in developing countries was that scarcity in renewable resources was an existential issue.

"Scarcities of renewable resources are already contributing to violent conflicts in the developing world " Homer Dixon 1993). The model that followed also suggested that most of the conflicts thus triggered would be intra-state rather than inter-state. It does not always need to take on the same form. The literature on renewable resource degradations as a cause of conflict is summarised by Baechler (1999).

Significance of renewable source degradation as a source of conflict

1) View it as a force behind changes in the political and economic forms of resource use.

2) Ecosystem vulnerability independent from social institutions is one factor contributing to environmental scarcity.

3) Environmental scarcity has become irreversible, hence even enlightened political changes could not remove the burden posed by it. "Once irreversible, environmental degradation becomes an exogenous variable."

The debate continues as to the nature of the causal relationship involved between the different factors. Much depends on the definition of 'trigger', which is given with reference to the work of Dessler, as "a factor that increases the probability of conflict". The distinction between proximate and distant triggers is then made by their respective location on the probability curve.

There is an inherent difficulty in attributing the weight of a particular causal variable in this kind of undertaking. Should the social scientist seek to aggregate all the available data and then judge him/herself, as the final authority? Or should the privilege of definition be given to the conflict participants, by way of some kind of view from within?

Both approaches entail methodological dilemmas. Analytical models developed and elaborated by external scientists and then imposed upon the social situation they are studying are often reminiscent of the worst excesses of 'orientalism'. They are a kind of intellectual imperialism, wherein the investigator presumes to know the situation of the object of investigation, better than the human subjects who constitute it. As the history of western engagement with non-western work demonstrates, much has been lost in translation, through misunderstandings and by the inability of scientists to escape their own conceptual prejudices.

In an attempt to avoid these pitfalls, scholars like Homer Dixon are pursuing objectivity by filtering out all features relating to culture, including their own and that of their subjects. Conflict becomes a quasi-natural feature, similar to the environment.

The tension between the two is analysed through a grid of variables, of universal application. The danger of this approach is that in order to safeguard against misinformation and prejudice its analytical statement become commonplace and the general propositions are too abstract as to have any utility as predictors. Moreover, it denies the importance of the particularities of social organisation and culture. Tarring all cultures with the same brush may help to mix the pigments of a multitude of case studies onto a single canvas, but it does little to help plot the likely course of any given situation. To help inform policy, or to provide data for an early warning system, there is once again a need for informed case studies.

If local voices or those of observers close to them are to deliver greater insights and a clearer understanding of the situation, which particular voices are to be recorded? One of the first lessons of fieldwork is that there is no such thing as a common position in any collective group. Instead, researchers are confronted with a whole host of opinions that overlap and contradict, from which a coherent picture can be constructed, imperfect, but an approximation of one or some of the prevailing viewpoints.

Land Rights and Conflict

Take the position on the question of land tenure put forward by 'the Rezeigat' in Darfur. We find a splendid contradiction in the submission to two different peace councils, sitting to resolve two different conflict situations that the tribe is involved in.

In the first instance the Rezeigat act as traditional landowners of a tribal dar. They regard the land as theirs from time immemorial, and insist that this gives them rights in land use, and privileged access to the resources of the state. They are defending these customary rights against the incoming Zaghawa, who have not been around for many years but are asserting their right to farm, trade and campaign for government office on the grounds that they are all Sudanese. In this instance the Rezeigat are appealing to customary law against national law.

However in a different conflict raging at the same time, between the Rezeigat and the Masalit, the position is reversed. Here, the Rezeigat have come into a country traditionally settled on by the Masalit, and recognised in tribal lore as theirs. The rights of each group and the obligations of migrants seeking access to land and water are clearly defined by custom. Yet suddenly the Rezeigat want to have nothing to do with these statutory relics from the past, and appeal to the new legal code instead. As Sudanese citizens, they assert, they can live and work where they like, and take office in local state government if elected.

This is a telling illustration of how local voices, so rich in authenticity of conflict experience are not necessarily of the best analytical value. The studies provide further evidence of the bias of conflict participants, always ready to list grievances, while rarely admitting to perpetrating or initiating acts of violence themselves.

The case studies avoid the implications of this dilemma by attempting to engage in conceptual modelling. The issue of conflict and its connection to the environment is raised, yet the wider issues as to what degree and what is relevant is not thoroughly taken into account in research There is sufficient data, however, to allow for some observations.

Impact of Migration

Migration, it seems, is a regular feature of life in the region. It must be pointed out that although current case studies all refer to the influx of a particular group in unsustainable numbers as a key factor in this particular conflict, migration should not be equated with conflict per se.

Indeed, in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Awash Valley, migration has been a historic feature. Long-standing relationships have grown up between different groups, with intermarriage, stock alliances, exchange relationships, and a complex regulatory code by which to govern these. Apparently what makes the recent moves so antagonistic, is the scale of the movement in relation to the resource base. In the Nuba Mountains for example, Baggara herders were moving higher into the mountains in search of pasture for their hungry herds, just as Nuba farmers, were planting in the valley. The former were coming up against severe constraints upon their traditional pastures, while the latter had run out of land reserves.

It is impossible, however, to escape the wider political context. In each case, insecurity entered into the region, with adverse effects upon intergroup collaboration. The chronic breakdown of rural life among the Nuer has exacerbated local tensions, while the ready supply of modern weapons has made it much easier for conflict to erupt. The unfortunate corollary of this easy trigger is that it becomes all the more difficult to settle, because of the high casualty rates.

In Darfur and Kordofan, refugees, combatants and weapons from the war in neighbouring Chad contributed to the militarisation of society. The ensuing war in the south of the country, which in the 1990s took an increasingly religious and racial tone, provided a further factor. Most of all, the use of Arabised nomadic tribes by the regime, had created an unknown quantity of rural violence. Since the recruitment of tribal militia as counter insurgency troops, the participating groups have increased their aggression in other areas of tribal conflict. They have realised that the dependence of the regime on their mercenary services provides them with a license to assert their interests elsewhere.

The Somali push into the Awash valley was part of long standing Somali irredentism and their claim to the Ogaden. In the run-up to the 1977 invasion, Issa groups received stores of armaments from the Barre regime, which were kept after the Ethiopian counter offensive. These weapons, provided originally as part of an inter-state hostility, have now found their way into local, inter-society conflicts. The Afar peoples, by contrast, have not enjoyed such powerful patronage and are therefore fighting a losing battle.

They are under pressure from the well-armed Somalis at the eastern end, and the Oromo and Amhara farmers who enter the valley from the Western side. The Amhara, form the ethnic backbone of the state and have long been in receipt of privileged access to the state, including weaponry. The Oromo, on the other hand, are well organised, and have their own political and military movement in the Oromo Liberation Front. This has left the Afar highly exposed. In the past government interventions and land grabs have only made matters worse.

Thus one of the major sources of tension is migration, in regions with limited resources. The unequal distribution of weaponry then goes to tempt some groups into asserting their interest with violence. According to local peoples it does appear that much of the conflict revolves around stock raids, water holes, and fields or pastureland.

The need to access benefits of development

However these are not the only reasons listed. Sudan provides a particularly rich source of information on group demands and explanations of motivation. What is most striking is the vehemence with which representatives appeal to peace conferences to improve their groups' access to development benefits. These benefits include job opportunities, statehood, better access to markets, and functioning courts and services.

These demands would suggest that much of the conflict with neighbouring ethnic groups is fought, not in pursuit of a set of demands, but in reaction to an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction as no other target can be identified, short of moving into anti-government opposition. Yet, most of the groups participating in these peace councils regard themselves as part of the nation, and are loyal, at least formally, to the government. In Ethiopia the Amhara, large sections of the Oromo, the Afar, and to a degree even the Issa are all loyal citizens of the state. In Darfur, both the Rezeigat and the Zaghawa have boasted of their track record as loyal fighters for the regime.

What many of the combatants are therefore fighting against is not the same as what they are fighting for. It is just that they have neither the target, the formulation nor the strength to rise up in arms for the development inputs and the economic opportunities that they crave. In the meantime they operate against so called traditional enemies, only what was once sporadic skirmishing has now degenerated into a series of highly destructive, unwinnable violent encounters.

Tradition and Modernity in the Mechanisms of Conflict Resolution

One way of testing the proposition developed above, that the cause of inter group conflict is to be found in the scarcity of development benefits, and the constraints within the non-traditional economy, is with reference to the impact of peace processes.

Up till now we have followed a simplistic approach, distinguishing formal, modern methods of conflict resolution, with traditional mechanisms.

In the following section this needs to be balanced, by pointing to contributing factors, as for example the backing of foreign governments (at the Somali peace conference at Arte), or the role played by government officials in the conferences described in the reports from Ethiopia and Sudan in this study. Referring arbitration of differences to higher authorities already marks a change from the historic past in which these institutions evolved. Formerly the Somali shir, or the Afar xera were meetings of elders who acknowledged no power above themselves, and who constituted the highest authority.

Today the framework is set by sovereign states, and governments with a power far surpassing anything local leaders can muster. The states in the Horn may face difficulties in gathering the capacity to penetrate rural areas for the purpose of effective administration, but they still control the monopoly of military force, and hold out the promise of great economic riches. It has been one of the long unrecognised ironies of the development crises of African states in general, that while their capacity to deliver development benefits is severely limited, they operate as near monopolists over the powers of modernity.

Traditional organisations and groups may exercise a strong claim on the loyalty of individuals, but there are no private sector corporations, or civil society associations to rival the state in gaining control over technical resources and know-how. Such functions are bundled in large parasitic corporations, most famously perhaps, the Mechanised Farming Corporation in Sudan. Even as governments attempt to adopt neo liberal recommendations to privatise, the actual fate of previously nationalised industries is not decided by the market, but by networking and contacts. Formally in the hands of private investors, they actually belong to elite members who are partners, if not members, of government.

Under these circumstances, the possibility of communities to control their future is highly constrained. They are unable to foresee, let alone control, wider developments in their homelands. They are also losing control over their own people, for example, the young Suri tribesmen, who choose to defer their initiation. Up until now, the implementation of development in Ethiopia and Sudan has taken place with little consultation and partnership. Decisions on infrastructure and investment have been made been made on the basis of technocratic analysis, not in response to community need. Control over these vital decisions which communities and individuals aspire to be are therefore beyond the grasp of community leaders and their institutions.

What the local communities do control, are resources of waning significance such as the moral authority to speak for and direct their communities. Often this is fading, as growing numbers of people abandon rural areas for urban settlements. In the Nuba Mountains this means a direct trade of traditional structures, for those of the state. In Darfur, we find that the decisions of elders are simply ignored by a new generation of people detached from the institutions and the way of life that gave rise to them. These people called the 'transitionals' by Battahani, play a role of yet indeterminate but rising significance in the Horn and all over Africa.

Their importance must be placed next to the new identities which have been created out of political processes such as elections. Here, modern politicians appealing to popular hopes and fears are instrumental in creating ethnic constituencies, and introducing identity as a key factor in the absence of challenging political or economic programmes. These newly detribalised groups may locate their spiritual home in the past, but employ methods of organisation which mark a clear rupture with the past. Instead of councils of elders, the locus of power lies with political parties, and government offices.

Nevertheless, elders, and the traditions of authenticity still hold a claim, which we do not wish to underestimate. The collapse of the Somali state has shown that these mechanisms have remarkable resilience. Yet, at local level the actual source of authority stems from control over people and land. Traditional councils can allocate farmland to migrants, adjudicate on the rights to water holes between competing herd owners, work out animal transit routes through fields and farmland. They can retrieve animals stolen in raids, and head off blood feuds by arranging for payments to the relatives of a man killed by enemies.

Blood money, or diya, is possibly the most important mechanisms for preventing conflict escalation, and remarkable for its ubiquity in the Horn. The diya establishes a fixed rate of payment for each category of victim. The funds are then collected from among the kin of the killer to compensate the kin of the victim. Thereby retributive killings are forestalled, and a sense of equilibrium restored. It is interesting to note how the Ethiopian state (during the late imperial regime) sought to reconstruct compensation payments into fines. This misjudges the underlying mechanism, which succeeds in simultaneously achieving a sense of justice and imposing an effective deterrent. Perpetrators, instead of being inhibited from resort to force by fear of the state law, are restrained by the possibility of opprobrium from their kin and friends, upon whom their action would place a keen financial burden.

The usefulness of this traditional mechanism, then lies in its ability to control and contain violence and in allocating natural resources. Yet, critics remark that they have failed in delivering permanent settlements. Violence erupts time and again, requiring new councils and conferences. In the light of the argument set out above the reason for this is apparent. Most inter group conflict does not centre on the control of the natural resource base, but over the control of the benefits of modernity.

Where does this leave the evident success of the Somaliland, Puntland, and possibly of Somalia processes? First, the collapse of the Somali state had broken the very framework which served to strangulate traditional processes in Ethiopia and Sudan. Secondly, the main subject of discussion of the conferences was not control over pasture and water, though these were issues of great significance, but rather the resurrection, and definition of the state.

In this sense they did not run parallel to other organisational processes, but were entirely in lieu of them. In southern Sudan Nuer elders are working out peace treaties for their people because of state weakness. However this may only be a temporary situation, rectified by oil exploration, or mechanised farming schemes, or the intrusion of regular armed forces. At that point the authority of elders, and the agreements they have reached, is likely to collapse. There may be men of ambition who interpret the local truce as a feature of the interim, and decide to abrogate it in pursuit of personal interests. Simple accidents, perhaps over the very allocation of natural resources may spark off quarrels which in the tension-charged atmosphere of a war-torn region escalates into inter group conflict. Chiefs and elders, without sanctions over their people, can neither guarantee observance of agreements, nor keep their people in check. Yet the collective solidarity upon which they depend is steadily being eroded, by the very violence itself, as well as the possibilities of and aspirations for development and modernisation. Declining environmental conditions add a further variable.

In Somalia, traditional leaders, by contrast, arrived at their agreement as a result of state absence. Not only had the external frame, set by a powerful, distant, and potentially antagonistic state been broken. The agenda set by the elders themselves, went well beyond the concerns of traditional peace councils. In Somaliland, Puntland and at Arte, Somali leaders came together to a traditional gathering to establish forms of modern government.

The success, particularly in Somaliland, rested entirely upon this application of indigenous principles to a contemporary situating, without interference. It allowed for a political process with a degree of democratic participation and genuine self-determination that is, possibly, unprecedented in the Horn.

It is important to recapitulate on the political heritage of each of the countries in the region. In each case, the colonial experience was one of authoritarian regimes, backed up by formidable security apparatuses and cushioned by the colour bar. Consultative, open government, as practised at least at village level in most of the pre-colonial societies, was eradicated, or marginalised. The one exception to this is Ethiopia, who in the highlands at least, developed a system of quasi feudalism under the over the lordship of the crown. Authentic though this system of government may have been in the regions, it was scarcely arranged along democratic principles.

What Somalis are therefore embarking upon, in their emergence from the political wilderness, is an experiment in indigenous political development. The term traditional should be cast aside for indigenous, for though entirely belonging to the region, the ambit of the negotiations have transcended that of traditional meetings.

Equally, the relationship between state and traditional mechanism in Sudan and Ethiopia, does retain some promise. In Ethiopia the actual benefits are already recorded. The PRCs do maintain dialogue and uphold security between previously warring groups.

The Darfur studies, while underlining the importance of government participation also draws our attention to the pitfalls. Government officials undermine the authority of elders, introduce sectional bias, and exacerbate tensions by administrative fiat. Yet it must be asserted that the state is not monolithic, and that for every example of favouritism, there are others of state officials genuinely engaging with local mechanisms.

In principle, then the co-operation of government working with traditional forms of organisations is the most promising way of reconciling regional conflicts and addressing underlying problems. Though resource competition is unconvincing as the root cause of conflict, the equitable distribution of livelihood sustaining renewable natural resources is a major factor of stability.

Co-operation between state and tradition, offers the ultimate opportunity for the far more explosive question of dividing the spoils of the state in a systematic and negotiated manner. Moreover, the development of these peace conferences may also provide an opportunity for the development of instruments fitting for governing Horn countries in the contemporary era.

Environmental Degradation and the Triumph of Technocracy

One of the few areas of consensus across political and disciplinary boundaries has revolved around the deterioration of the environment in the region. The first warnings were sounded in the mid 1970s, and quickly established, both the immediacy of crises and the need for external intervention. Studies by an international team in Northern Darfur registered a 90-100 kilometer southward shift of desert boundaries in the period of 1958-1975 (Lamprey 1975). Presented at the Conference on Desertification in Nairobi in 1977, these findings heralded a new dawn for environmental activism. While the incipient debate on climatic change would provide part of the explanation - and absolution to a potentially responsible government - the official position was outlined by one influential Sudanese geographer:

"In the past fifty years, the Sahara alone has taken over 650,000 square kilometers …man is the real cause of this desertification (Ibrahim, 1984:17)."

Overgrazing, the relentless increase in herd size, the unrestrained extraction of wood fuel, deleterious soil management practices, all stemming from the conservatism of farmers and pastoralists were listed as the main causes. In stark, neo-Malthusian terms peasants and pastoralists in the Sudan and the Sahel were portrayed as undynamic, unwilling if not unable to adapt their productive techniques, and heading straight for environmental disaster. Gathering ecological storm clouds made the intervention by outside agencies - the state and international organisations - urgently necessary.

A parallel narrative emerged in Ethiopia, around the subject of highland farming systems. Here, intensive plough based, mixed farming and the lack of vegetative cover has contributed to significant soil erosion. Though benefiting from high rainfalls, the position of the highland farming system is believed to be serious (Swift 1996). These objective processes reported by external organisations such as FAO and UNDP, reinforced ‘traditional Ethiopian elite attitudes towards the peasantry’ (Swift, 1996: 206). Subsequent measures, in the form of terracing and afforestation in ‘food for work’ schemes, or the forced resettlement of highlanders followed from these findings and a view of the peasantry as a major cause of the problem.

We find the attitude towards the peasants illustrated in the Ethiopian study's discussion of the willful Issa push into Afar land, and the elaboration of Afar and Oromo martial customs. Their movements are random, their violence volatile in nature, the pastoral economy unsuitable for the modern age (Seyoum 2001). In Darfur official contempt is evident from the concerns of the government officials. Their priorities are to restore order, assert the authority of governmental institutions and laws, and to ensure that local unrest does not become a vehicle for oppositional groups. Through the lens of government officers, local conflicts are the product of primitivism and inappropriate production systems. The explanation offered by ‘environmental degradation as a root cause of conflict’, contains an attractive formula, which acknowledges the depth of crises while exculpating the government.

The upshot in both countries has been an understanding of the need for technocratic management of the environment. While this has not yet translated into a methodology it has challenged the legitimacy of those in office in of fragile environments to manage their natural resource base. Environmental crises have extended the reach of the state in a post-developmental world. It is important that closer understanding of the managerial capacity of traditional productions systems is not denigrated in another race to post-modernity. Also, due account should be given to the valuable contribution made by the existing organisational mechanisms encountered in the Horn. Such cognizance, taken further into genuine partnership may actually lay the foundations for a new, better adapted local politics.


The Horn of Turbulence 2000

A chronicle of events in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland and Sudan in the year 2000.


The Horn of Africa has been an arena for warfare during much of the twentieth century. The propensity of regimes to resort to violence seems so entrenched, that policy makers and analysts have put forward a range of explanatory models.

During the 1970s, at the height of Marxist influenced liberation theory, conflict was reduced to contradictions between classes, which could only be resolved through the elimination of class differences. In the 1980s and 1990s cultural arguments resurfaced, with inter-group hostility explained as the outcome of primordial affiliation to tribes and clans, symbolic for the backwardness of most of the region. During the early 1990s, a new approach was attempted, when the impact of ecological degradation was recognised as an important factor in conflict analysis.

When ecological degradation is included as a variable, and set within an historical and political context it can significantly widen our understanding of the conflict. Under dual pressures from endogenous population growth, and the appropriation of common land for state or private sector projects, communities can mobilise in defence of perceived entitlements to arable land, pasture and water. In the absence of a robust legal framework to determine the rights of ownership, and with traditional mechanisms over-extended, groups in competition over a finite resource have a motive for exacerbating ethnic differences.

Originating as a quarrel over resources, violence is unleashed and the power to control it become a resource in its own right. The phenomenon of warlords in Somalia after the collapse is the most striking example.

In Ethiopia and Somalia, during the 1970s and 80s, Col. Mengistu and Siyad Barre respectively, deliberately resorted to war to shore up their unpopular regimes at home. In Sudan, the National Islamic Front has exacerbated resource competition by different ethnic groups into full-blown civil wars.

Moreover, the difficulties of communications made surveillance of borders and internal regions difficult for regimes. Rebel groups operate from bases in neighbouring countries, with whom they may have an ethnic or religious affiliation. This has led to a chronic policy of mutual destabilisation among neighbouring regimes. Each conflict, and consequently, each cease-fire, involves the re-arrangement of political alliances, as the various rebel, guerrilla and dissident groups, are picked up and dropped like chips in a game.

We should therefore look upon violence in the Horn as a web of border crossing resource conflicts, involving a range of players. In a review of events, we will concentrate on the acts of war, and those designed to end them. The fulcrum of regional politics since 1998, has been the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Starting with this significant event, we move on to describe the impact on the two direct participants, and then review the key events in Somalia and Djibouti, before turning to Sudan. Of the Horn, and of the Maghreb, North Africa is in a league of its own, straddling one of the main cultural and ecological fault lines of the continent.

This descriptive chapter is intended to provide a review of events, to illustrate and substantiate the theoretical positions elaborated elsewhere. It is also meant to read as a self standing document, to chronicle the State of War and Peace in the Horn up to the end of 2000.


Ethiopian-Eritrean Conflict

The outbreak of fighting in the Badme triangle early in 1998 earmarked the end of the honeymoon period enjoyed by the regimes in Addis Ababa and Asmara. For many years the predecessors of the two regimes, the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) were allies in a war of liberation against the brutal military regime of the Dergue. The Dergues’s defeat resulted in the de facto independence of Eritrea in 1991, and the assumption of power by the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in Addis.

During the mid 1990s, the two countries emerged as key regional allies of the US government and torchbearers of the short lived African renaissance. Emerging from years of brutal, military rule cloaked in Marxist rhetoric, and predicated on the simple ideological bi-polarity of the Cold War, the tentative steps towards economic reconstruction undertaken by both countries, were invested with hope for a fully fledged adoption of neo-liberal market reforms.

The Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi and his Eritrean counterpart Premier Issayas Afewerki were hailed as part of a new generation of African leaders. Institutional change, it was hoped would follow, beginning with the multi-party alliance that had swept the military men out of power in Addis, as a precursor to a democratic government. In Eritrea, it was hoped, that the experience of consensus based, consultative government in the bush during the long independence struggle, had sown the seeds of good governance.

The two countries retained close ties, marked by cross-border migration, reciprocal employment and residence rights, common foreign policy (both countries supported Sudanese rebels, and Ethiopia backed Eritrea’s claim over the Hamish Islands disputed with Yemen with military assistance) and economic cooperation. Most of Ethiopia’s external trade was directed through the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab. Eritrea imported about half its grain from Ethiopia, most state run utilities (telecommunications, the international airline) were managed from Addis, and until 1997, the countries formed a effective currency union.

In the wider Horn, the alliance of the two states had all the makings of a regional powerbloc, with possible repercussions for the Islamic regime in Khartoum, the crises in Somalia, and potentially even the web of conflict in the Great Lakes region.

Outbreak of conflict

Yet within a very short space of time this formidable position was gambled away in a conflict the actual outbreak of which is still shrouded in a fog of government propaganda. Both sides have accused the other of firing the first shot, of escalating the war on land and in the air, of grand designs, secret preparations and the premeditated recourse to arms for settling diplomatic problems. The Eritreans have attributed ill-concealed revanchism to factions of the Ethiopian army leadership, and even a desire to revise the agreements granting independence to Eritrea. Ethiopians, in turn, accuse their neighbours of unreconstructed expansionism, and a habitual willingness to resort to armed force.

Such motivations, even were they to be at least partially correct, still do not weigh up to a sufficient explanation for the belligerence between once friendly neighbours. The reports of popular support for the war in both countries needs to be qualified by recognition of the growing discontent over ever more extensive recruitment, economic hardship and even famine, which are manifest in draft dodging and cross-border flight.

Armed opposition movements are active in both countries (Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front in Ethiopia and the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces in Eritrea), with direct, if discreet, support from their neighbouring governments. Furthermore, the widespread occurrence of war profiteering, particularly egregious in the case of the expulsions of citizens of Eritrean extraction from Ethiopia, suggest that war enthusiasm is particularly robust where it coincides with self interest. Taken together it becomes evident that the actual grounds for conflict do not add up unless there was support from the very top.

It is a sad fact that both heads of state, Issayas Afewerki and Meles Zenawi, eagerly grasped the possibility of conflict when it presented itself. Both sides have at key moments rejected the efforts of international mediators, or participated in negotiations with less than good faith. They have both hitched their political fortunes to a war, which has degenerated from a dispute over a few square miles of bush, into a question of survival for two entrenched governments.

Post Dergue Period

The governments of the ERPRDF and the EPLF came to power in 1991 and 1990 respectively. Their assumption of power was cause for celebration and hope for large sections of the population, with undeniable, if sectional, grass roots support. Yet, towards the mid 1990s, the popularity of both regimes was in decline. The growing disparity between rich and poor, the favoured status of Tigrayans and other highland groups, and varying degrees of government inactivity and incompetence were widely resented in Ethiopia. In Eritrea, there were ever louder demands for peace dividends by a population still kept on tight rations, and for political space and room for expression outside of the government party. Already a new social division was consolidating between war veterans and non-combatants.

This level of domestic discontent predisposed both governments to finding alternative targets in which to channel popular anger. .An opportunity presented itself at Badme, with the misconduct of rogue armed elements, whose minor infringements were seized upon and dramatised into an international incident.

It is also important to set this military transgression, within the context of a series of provocations committed possibly unconsciously by the Eritrean government in the relentless pursuit of national self-interest and nationalist glory.

Shortly after independence Ethiopia made a show of goodwill, and of acknowledgement of the sufferings inflicted by the Dergue, and assumed responsibility for the national debt. This gave Eritrea a clean balance sheet, and unique in Africa, a net debt burden. Practical assistance followed, with the donation of 140 million Birr by the National Bank of Ethiopia to create liquidity in Eritrea. A range of agreements followed on cross border trade, the joint use of the oil refinery at Massawa, and the use of Assab port for Ethiopian trade.

Eritrea, on the other hand, inaugurated relations with the expulsion of up to 200,000 collaborators of the Dergue, most of whom fled to Ethiopia, where their repatriation became a cause for grievance sparking off student demonstrations.

In 1992, Eritrea raised port handling fees, and then insisted on payment in dollars instead of Birr. Ethiopia responded by rerouting much of its trade to Djibouti, the net beneficiary of any tension between the two neighbours. It also made little effort to involve Eritrea in the monetary policy making process, which affected it critically. Rates of exchange between Birr and dollar were undertaken by the Ethiopian central bank without any consultation of Eritrean financial officials. In 1992, for example, the official rate of the Birr appreciated sharply from 7-1 to 2-1, without Eritrea being given an advance warning.

In response, Eritrea launched its own currency in 1996, the Nacfa, provocatively named after the town, which had been under Eritrean rebel control since the 1970s. Ethiopia refused to accept parity between the Birr and the Nacfa, but weighted them 1-5 instead, and insisted on dollar payments for large scale transactions. Since the diversion of much of Ethiopia’s external trade, this was more onerous on the Eritrean exchequer, since Eritrea continued to import large amounts of its food requirements from Ethiopia.

Furthermore, Eritrea’s manufacturing base, although more advanced during the colonial era had been destroyed in the war of independence, and could only be revived if producers had access to Ethiopian markets. Economic revival was contingent upon political harmony. Even more so, as foreign investors were flocking to Ethiopia, investing in hotels, coffee production and the privatisation programme, leaving Eritrea on the side lines.

A measure of the desperation of the Eritrean government to draw in some of the foreign exchange available in the Horn, was the 10% premium offered from the mid 1990s onwards over Ethiopian rates. It is also indicative of the competitive approach, that was preferred to cooperation.

Yet the sovereignty of Eritrea was built on the goodwill and support of the rulers in Addis. Once in power the EPRDF not only accepted Asmara’s de facto independence, but also provided for the secession of Ethiopian provinces in the new constitution. When Issayas organised an Eritrean wide referendum on political status the ruling party, the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and the new state, obtained a seal of legitimacy of totalitarian proportions. With an electoral participation of 98.5%, a staggering 99.8% voted in favour of secession.

Ethiopian revisionists, schooled in the arts of electoral controversy have indicted the validity of this referendum on different grounds. It was indeed a popular poll as prescribed by the constitution. However, the argument goes, it was not complete, as, for any province to leave the Ethiopian federation, the entire Ethiopian people must be consulted, and not only the population of the region concerned. A government prepared for war but short of a casus bellum can always invoke the defence of the constitution. For Eritrea this should serve as a lasting reminder of the need for good relations.

The Ethiopian-Eritrean Border-war

On the 6 of May 1998 fighting between Eritrean and Ethiopian units broke out along the ill defined borderline along the Yirga triangle between the Mareb and Takazze rivers. The area which Ethiopia claims was within the killil, or regional state of Tigray, was neither wealthy, nor of strategic importance. To the nomadic herders and farmers who inhabited the area the demarcation mattered little. Highland Tigrayans migrated from both sides of the border in search of farmland were now living next to Kumana pastoralists.

During Eritrea’s independence struggle, Kunama support had fallen awkwardly between the EPLF, ELF, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Gash-Setit (Eritrea’s two western regions).

Moreover, this was not the first time the delineation of the border had been disputed between the two countries. At Badda, in the Danakil depression, and at Biru close to Djibouti, the EPLF/PFDJ established administrative posts after 1991. When the Ethiopian government asserted its claims in October 1997 in Bidda and in February 1998 in Biru, the Eritreans withdrew.

On 12 May Eritrean armoured forces pushed into the Yirga triangle which clashed with Ethiopian paratroopers in a full scale battle near the town of Badme. Both sides immediately launched into a war of words that would soon turn vicious against minorities (Eritreans and people of Eritrean descent in Ethiopia) and any internal opposition. Foreign exchange reserves were depleted and economic activity ground to a halt as each government embarked on an arms buying spree and mobilization

.Ethiopia, still in control of telecommunications and the international airline cut off links with Eritrea, and effectively isolated Eritrea from the world.

At the Eritrean port of Assab, goods destined for Ethiopia were piling up on the dockside. Fuel shortages were to bite first in Ethiopia, soon both countries were to suffer badly.

Slow to build up ground forces, Ethiopia took the war to the enemy in the air with raids on Asmara and the port at Massawa. Eritrea retaliated with strikes against installations in Ethiopian towns, killing 48 civilians in one attack on Mekele (the government later apologised for this).

Following the intervention of president Clinton, both sides agreed to a moratorium on air strikes. Cynics attributed this less to the US president’s power of persuasion, than to the state of disrepair of both air forces, short of spare parts, pilots and ammunition. Elsewhere the diplomatic efforts at arranging a cease-fire and attempts to bring the two parties to the table failed dismally.

Attempts at Mediation

Asmara had invited international mediation as early as 14 May 1998, and received US Assistant Secretary of State, Susan Rice two days later. Together with the Rwandan government they presented a peace plan, which Ethiopia accepted, but Eritrea refused arguing that it was being asked to withdraw unilaterally from its own territory, though it was willing to accede to a complete demilitarisation of the contested areas. Ethiopia refused any negotiation with Eritrea until the troops were withdrawn and there matters stood, with both sides apparently preparing for a major confrontation.

It was made clear by both sides in subsequent months that OAU initiatives were preferred. Simultaneously, President Hassan Gouled Aptidon of Djibouti, chairman of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) began to work towards an ‘African’ diplomatic solution, which culminated in a report by the OAU Ministerial Peace Committee’s report submitted in Burkina Fasu on 2 August.

Insisting that both parties withdraw to their 6 May positions, it made a request for UN peacekeepers, and this was celebrated as a vindication of Ethiopia by foreign minister Seyoum Mesfin. Before entering into further negotiation Ethiopia demanded that Eritrean troops be withdrawn. Eritrea, reinforcing a reputation of intransigence rejected the proposal, as this would implicitly accept the Ethiopian version of events and continued with an Eritrean occupation. The elaborated OAU Framework Agreement was accepted by Ethiopia in November 1998.

Impact of hostilities on citizens

Soon after the outbreak of hostilities the Ethiopian government began to scapegoat and victimise Eritreans living in Ethiopia, and Ethiopian citizens with Eritrean connections sometimes going back three generations. They were removed from office if in government service, forced out of their homes, robbed of their possessions, and often separated form their families.

Entire families were held in detention, before being loaded onto buses and trucks, and shipped to the Eritrean border. At times unaccompanied children as young as eight were expelled , others left behind as their parents were taken to camps, put on buses and taken to the border. There was much looting of property, and several recorded instances of rape, beatings and killings. The stream of refugees added to the burden of displacement along the border and the battle zone. Reports of the total number of people expelled vary from between 75,000 – 200,000, and needs be verified.

Environmental factors conspired against both beleaguered governments. Poor rains occasioned by the impact of el nino and exacerbated by long term ecological degradation, produced reduced harvests in 1999. By April 2000 584,000 Eritreans were in need of food aid, some 372,000 of whom had been displaced by the war.

In Ethiopia the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission estimated that 7.7 million people, including 385,000 displaced by the war were in need of food aid. Both countries received major shipments of food as well as cash disbursements for handling the shipments, while devoting internal resources to the war, a fact sharply criticised by the British International Development Secretary, Clare Short. It is likely, though unproven, that food aid helped both armies to extend the range of operations and the ability to amass troops. Several observers have suggested that food aid was diverted to feed the army.

The war also produced some unlikely beneficiaries. Many military officers still in detention because of their involvement with the Dergue, were released and assigned to front duty. According to some reports the victories on the Badme front would not have been possible without the work of the rehabilitated Brigadier General Hailu Tilahun and Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Up against a massive resource differential, the Eritrean position had always been the weaker one. Maintaining an army of 300,000 men in the field was a far heavier burden on the Eritrean economy than for Ethiopia’s. With greater foreign exchange reserves, Ethiopia could also upgrade and extend its arsenal more comprehensively than Eritrea. Ethiopia therefore had a choice. It could wait, and exhaust the enemy, or it could strike. In the event, the initiative was with Addis Ababa, while Eritrea was left to dig in.

Asmara also had to contend with an invisible enemy, who would eventually cost them dear. After decades of bush war, the Eritrean political and military leadership were deluded by a sense of invincibility. This resulted in overconfidence and neglect, manifest in the single line trench defences around Badme, backed up by some 150,000 land mines.

They also miscalculated the readiness of the Ethiopian people to flock to arms. The official Eritrean explanation for the conflict was that the Tigrayan regional government had been steadily pushing the frontier back, using the ascendancy of Tigre in Addis to realise the dream of a Greater Tigray (NEPE 1998; Serekebrerhan 1998).

Outbreak of fresh hostilities in February 1999

Having spent the preceding six months rapidly building up its armed forces, the Ethiopian high command took the initiative on 23-26 February 1999. The army launched probing attacks first at Badme, then Tserona and on the Assab front. Two weeks later, the Ethiopian armed forces launched a full scale attack on Badme. Breaking the moratorium on air strikes, the Ethiopian air force pounded the Eritrean positions from above, followed by heavy artillery, tanks and human wave assaults. The defenders withdrew, with losses of up to 45,000 prisoners according to Ethiopian sources. Attempts to recapture the area during 17-26 March, and again in June failed under heavy losses.

By the middle of the year Eritrean casualties were approaching the 100,000 mark. Ethiopian losses were estimated to be of a similar magnitude, but had to be set against the vastly superior manpower reserves.

Battlefront conditions prompted one observer to remark that this war was being fought with the military hardware of WW II, the tactics of WW I, and the medical facilities of the nineteenth century. Once again, the resource differential became apparent.

To sustain a credible defence, Eritrea had to crack down on draft dodgers and extend the original draft brackets from 18-40 to 14-55 year olds. Training courses at some of the main centres were reduced from six to three months and then down to one month, as troops were rushed to the front. The breach in the Eritrean positions had exposed the vulnerability of Asmara, a mere 100 km of paved road from the Ethiopian positions.

Well entrenched inside Eritrean territory, the Ethiopians played a waiting game throughout the winter. Removal of the Eritrean head of state, Issayas Afewerki, emerged as a major war aim. Fully aware that this was not a task which the Ethiopian army was best able to achieve, Ethiopia fostered Eritrean opposition parties, including ANEF and the Afar Revolutionary Democratic United Front (ARDUF).

When large scale military operations were resumed in May 2000, Eritrea was taken by surprise yet again. The defenders were expecting new attempts on Zalembessa guarding the high road to Asmara. Instead, the Ethiopian army struck in the west, seizing the towns of Barentu, Manderefa and Sanafe, and effectively cutting off the western part of Eritrea. Ethiopian troops now deep inside Eritrean territory had a number of options. They could attempt to either wrest control of the western part of the country from the ill equipped Eritrean garrisons, or encircle the Eritrean troops at Zalembessa, or cut off the port of Assab, or head for Asmara.

Instead, they dug in, using their air superiority to degrade Eritrean armoury and artillery. Having secured a string of military victories, asserted Ethiopia’s status as the regional power, and restored national pride, the Ethiopian leadership resorted to diplomacy. Knowing full well that in the meantime the war effort was hurting the fragile Eritrean economy far more than Ethiopia’s.

Resolution of hostilities

Each of the successive military setbacks served to wring concessions from the Eritrean government. After the defeat at Badme in February 1999 it announced that Eritrea would after all accept the OAU peace proposals. In July both sides agreed to the second stage of the peace Framework Arrangements, the Technical Arrangement of Modalities. Ethiopia’s insistence on the return to the status quo ante hindered the acceptance of the third stage, as well as other initiatives.

Following the incursion of Ethiopian troops into Eritrean territory, and the occupation of Barentu, Eritrea began negotiating in earnest. In June both sides arrived at Algiers in a round of talks negotiated by OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim. On 18 of June a cease-fire agreement was signed, and was soon backed by a UN Security Council declaration of intent to send 100 observers to the war zone. The BBC reported that Ethiopia had broadly got what it wanted – an agreement to deploy international peace keepers in a zone 25km deep inside undisputed Eritrean territory.

Gestures of goodwill followed on the ground. Removal of land-mines began along a long stretch of the Burre front in early August. By September the UN had authorized the deployment of 4,200 troops for the UN Mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). Overall command of UNMEE was vested in the Dutch General Patrick Commaert, in cooperation with the OAU representative, the Ghanaian General Peter Augustine Blay.

Meanwhile the second round of peace talks in Algiers broke down under mutual recriminations and stepped up demands by both sides for compensation. While at present neither side is likely to resume hostilities, a permanent peace settlement, and a normalisation of relations is badly needed. Both countries have depleted their foreign reserves, have accentuated their food aid dependency, and have seriously fallen behind in their development schedule. Ethiopia is now at the bottom of the UNDP Human Development Index, and officially the poorest country on earth.

It is hoped that the visit by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in early December to Addis and Asmara will encourage both governments to resume negotiations. Over 1,000 Dutch and Canadian troops are now being deployed. The International commission of the Red Cross is expected to be stepping up the resettlement of refugees, and the exchange of prisoners of war.

The Impact of the war on Eritrea

The cost of war

While the exact extent of damage has yet to be assessed, it would not be premature to say that the impact of the war has been devastating. In 1999 and 2000, Eritrea spend a third of its GDP on the war effort, frittered away its foreign exchange reserve on military hardware and damaged its international image for stable and responsible government perhaps permanently.

Even more difficult to tally given the official silence has been the human suffering, running up to an estimated 100,000 dead and wounded, and perhaps up to 1.4 million internally displaced as well as 70,000 refugees from Ethiopia, and another 90,000 refugees in Sudan. Combined with up to 300,000 men and women who have as yet to be demobilized, this has put an unbearable strain on a country of 3.5 million people. Not surprisingly, much of the war has been financed by the Eritrean diaspora. While paying hard cash for weapons, the country relies on international food aid to feed 335,000 of its people.

The damage to the infrastructure has been profound, ranging from the virtual abandonment of the Port of Assab, to the fire sale of government housing stock in order to raise money. Yet economic growth had always been secondary to the politics of statehood. Issuing its own currency, the Nacfa, in 1997, the Eritrean alienated the Ethiopian government which responded by demanding payment in hard currency for all cross border trade. It also prompted the Ethiopians to source petroleum products on the world market. Eritrea, unable to sustain operations with its domestic demand, had to close down its refinery at Assab.

Direct hits by the Ethiopian airforce have destroyed the radar station at Adi Quala, most of the newly acquired MiG-29s, and damaged the oil refinery at Massawa. Hope for long term economic recovery relies upon continued support from the diaspora, who pay a regular tax. Refusal to pay results in the denial of visas, and as some members anticipate, the harassment of relatives at home. Optimists talk in glowing terms of the development prospects of the sea water irrigation project in Massawa, where shrimps, fruit and vegetables are being farmed. A more immediate source of income will be the 4000 blue helmets come to patrol the former warzone.

Social Conflict

The pressures of the conflict also revealed the cleavages within Eritrean society. Contrary to the calculations of the leadership, the pressure presented by an external foe did not glue all the disparate social forces into a single unit. The draft was resisted by a large number of potential recruits, especially as the age range was widened to include 15-55 year olds. Tensions between young recruits and veterans of the war of Liberation became acute, especially when the former were placed in authority over the latter. In some circles, defeat was blamed on the low morale of the ‘coca cola generation.’

Army officers associated with the setbacks also had to suffer the consequences. Many were dismissed from their post, including the Defence Minister Sebhat Ephrem who was replaced by General Omar Taweel, and some were even arrested.

For the first time since independence, social disparity is becoming acute. The war has impoverished hundreds of thousands of refugees, for whom there is no longer a social security net as the governments coffers are depleted. In the cities the number of beggars has shot up dramatically.

It is unlikely that famine can be averted without significant food aid. It is unlikely that the lot of the refugees in the camps can be improved until substantial mine clearing work has been completed. Even then it will take time before farmers can return to their lands and get back on their feet. As the displaced are settling as close to their former homes as possible there is a strong likelihood of shanty towns springing up around Barentu and Menderfa. These will be difficult to dismantle even once mine clearance and Ethiopian withdrawal has made possible the reoccupation by their rightful owners.

Further fissures have occurred in the once famed gender relations of Eritrea. In the border war, men fought while women stayed at home. Former female combatants argued passionately for a front line role. According to the Luul Gebreab, the head of the Eritrean Women’s Union, the new policy was only accepted after long discussions, on the ground that equal rights were not decided along the front line but in the political and social sphere.

Political opposition in Eritrea

It is difficult to predict how these developments will shape the political future of Eritrea, and it’s present leader. Issayas personal identification with the war is difficult to square with military defeat and the ceasefire. If the critics who argued that the leadership had deliberately embraced foreign adventure in an attempt to escape domestic censure, are correct, the outcome could not have been more disastrous.

Eritrea has gambled and lost its meagre foreign reserves built up since 1991, it’s reputation as a centre of stability, and most importantly perhaps, it’s mystique of military invincibility. It is difficult to see how Issayas can justify his recklessness, nor how, with the external enemy gone, opposition demands can be denied outright. At present, the voices of dissent speak in different idioms.

There are Islamic groups fighting for sharia and representation, ethnic minorities who feel marginalised by the Asmara government, the veterans demanding their peace dividend, the young straining at the tight party leash, and the intellectuals and the educated middle class, who want the system opened up, and a greater degree of accountability. If they were to sing in chorus they might well blast the regime out of office.

Trying to forestall harmony among his opponents, Issayas has employed a mixture of cooption and repression. Seeking favour among the Islamic groups in the Lowlands, he appointed two former ELF leaders Mohammed Siad Nood and Saleh Iyeh, appointed as presidential advisor and governor of Serai region respectively.

These moves are unlikely to appease the coalition of opposition groups operating under the umbrella of the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces from bases in Sudan. dominated by Islamic Jihad, with an increasingly powerful presence around Irob and Alitiena. Other groups have also gained from the weakening of the government forces, including the Red Sea Liberation Front (RSLF) among the Eritrean Afar, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Gash-Setit among the Kunama. All these groups are ably supported by Ethiopia. As both groups straddle the border, however, Addis is not going to push their secessionary demands too far.

Perhaps the most serious threat to the PFDJ’s current monopoly on power came in the unassuming form of an open letter to Issayas signed by thirteen prominent Eritrean academics working abroad. Couched in diplomatic and respectful terms the letter inquired into the reasons behind the continued delay in implementing the constitution, besides proposing a series of far reaching changes in the way the country is governed. This letter points to the growing crises of legitimacy of the regime, at a time when it depends more than ever on the solidarity of the diaspora.

While Eritrea, has everything to gain from peace and the hasty normalisation of relations, to its leadership, peace presents the greatest threat yet.

Forthcoming Elections in Eritrea

Though parliamentary elections are scheduled for December 2001, key issues are yet to be decided. Will opposition parties be permitted to stand? Will parliament be empowered to elect the president, or will a presidential election follow? Will the constitution be adopted? Also, even if the PDFJ were to countenance political pluralism, would opposition parties have access to the government controlled television and radio? The newspapers, though in private ownership, are highly dependent on government revenues and very loyal. It is difficult to imagine how an opposition party could disseminate its views.

One of the perverse outcomes of the war has therefore been the growing support for the leadership, and particularly President Issias Afewerki. This has surprised foreign observers expecting a backlash after the Eritrean Front crumbled under the Ethiopian assault, and requires explanation. One analyst has suggested that having seen the myth of invincibility dissipate over the Badme triangle, the Eritrean national psyche now relies entirely on close identification with the president. The president, in a way, has come to embody nationhood in crises. His fallibility, brings him closer to the people, as "only god makes mistakes." Eritreans remain deeply sceptical of Ethiopia’s intentions, which leaves them anxious about the survival of the nation in the long term. Only the president, as symbolic incarnation and leader of the nation can assuage this anxiety.

Democracy, therefore, has ceased to be a pressing issue, with people concentrating their collective energies in rallying around the flag. National survival takes precedence over constitutional niceties. Media reports accusing the Ethiopians, and particularly the Tigrayans of harbouring genocidal intentions foster this sense of national insecurity. In the collective imagination the Woyane (Eritrean term for the acronym TPLF, Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front) have become Eritrea’s bogeyman.

If embarking on the border venture was the first reckless mistake by the leadership, the current tendency to batten down the hatches, could compound the error. Government announcements, "the people are willing to go hungry for the military budget" (Issias), are indicative of spending priorities. With the old bush fighters still in charge and an opposition coming up above the parapet Eritrean development is in danger of grinding to a standstill.


Background to the EPRDF Rise to Power

Modern Ethiopia consists of Abyssinia and its dependencies. It is a geo-political entity that grew out of a ravaging conquest of disparate peoples during the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century by the Abyssinian feudal elite. At the time colonialists were slicing up zones of influence in the still free areas of Africa.

Until recently the state ideology was rooted in the triple pivots of the Crown, the Orthodox Church and the Amharic language and way of life. It planned a gradual assimilation of the non-Amharic population into the official Amharic culture and an obliteration of other identities.

The subject peoples such as the Somali, Oromo and Sidama were denied not only basic human rights but also deprived of their means of economic survival. The very existence of these peoples as distinct cultural communities was threatened. Resentment, various forms of resistance including armed rebellion against the ruling elite was thus a foregone conclusion.

Conflict was not restricted to between the ruling elite and the masses of conquered peoples. The dictum that a nation that oppresses another cannot be free was no truer than in Ethiopia. Hence there were uprisings even in the old Abyssinian territories, notably among the Tigray and the Amhara. The tax rebellion of the 1960s in Gojam, and the uprising in Tigray in the late 1940s are cases in point. Even then, the Imperial Government was not content with its territorial inheritance and continued to lay claim to even more territories including Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea. Eritrea was first federated with the Ethiopian Empire and later annexed by the emperor as one of the provinces. Needless to say that territorial expansion could only exacerbate the already simmering conflict.

In the absence of political platform and free press, the student movement was the only platform to air the prevalent political debate. It popularised the "national question" as the paramount topic among the political classes, and the primacy and or interdependence of the national and class struggles was set forth as the foremost topic of political discourse.

In the early 1970s, the Addis Ababa University student paper, entitled Struggle, sensationalised the subject by carrying an article by Walelign Mekonen on the right of self-determination. Also the newsletter of the Ethiopian Students in Europe, Tatek, popularised an Oromo script adopted from Latin. The Tatek article thus complemented the case for political freedom with prospects of cultural emancipation.

Consequently, the imperial elite faced a dilemma: to democratise and introduce political competition or maintain the status quo and let the ever seething social strife run its historic course and consume the body politic. Lacking both imagination and a democratic tradition to fall back on they were utterly confused by the unfolding events and could only agonise over the course of action to adopt. Royalists, the aristocracy, and the reform minded elements alike took to mutual accusations and bickering. Being a minority in the empire that they presumed was theirs to exploit, a one-person one-vote would diminish their status. A multi-party system would, for instance, lead to alliances that would not guarantee their status.

At this juncture the most well organised sector of the imperial elite, the military, stepped in with the avowed aim of saving Ethiopia under the motto of Ethiopia First with promises of reform, such as land redistribution, abolition of the monarchy, promises of social justice and equality of individuals and cultures. The military regime also declared adherence to socialism, acknowledged the "national question", and vowed to implement the self-determination of peoples in the context of regional autonomy. This was reiterated in the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Republic that it proclaimed in 1987.

In practice, the regime centralised power even more severely. It soon reneged on promises of social justice, political reform, and self-determination of peoples. This only fed to the fuming fire of rebellion. Political exigencies required adoption of peace policy but it would negotiate only if it set the agenda and the outcome of the negotiations. As the Eritrean struggle raged, rebellion spread into adjacent Tigray providing the Eritreans with a buffer zone, and each side benefiting from mutual support and co-ordination. Conflict in other regions continued but without a vital moral and material support such as enjoyed by the Tigrean rebels. Regardless, in Oromia, Ogaden, the struggle for national liberation continued. Lower intensity resistance prevailed in Sidama, Kafficho, and other areas.

Eventually, the largest army in Africa could not contain the rebellion. By 1988 Tigray was liberated as was large parts of Eritrea. The Dergu’s control in Ogaden and Oromia, Sidama, and Kafficho grew tenuous. Abuse of human rights, absence of the rule of law and authoritarian one party tyranny lost the regime any trace of political legitimacy and social base. It directed all its resources to the war effort over ever widening areas. Corruption, command economy and social upheaval ruined the means of livelihood for millions.

When famine struck in 1984/86 it not only ignored its duty to save lives but also actually diverted international relief funds to feed its army, and to war related political programmes of "resettlement" and "villagisation". When all these failed, the regime extended the conflict to neighbouring countries by, for instance, using dissidents from neighbouring countries against some of the resistance forces such as Ogadeni and the Oromo.

Its support for the SLM in Somalia was instrumental in hastening the demise of the Siad Barre regime. Other neighbours, notably Sudan, saw the writing on the wall; it felt threatened by Derg’s links with the SPLM/SPLA operating in the south of the country. This prospect prompted the Islamist military junta in Khartoum to make a common cause with the national liberation forces fighting the Dergu. Even then, the demise of the Dergue would have proved more costly had it not been for the end of the Cold War and the waning of Soviet support.

In the course of the struggle, and particularly in the run up to the Dergu’s collapse, consensus seemed to have been forged among the various liberation fronts such as the OLF, TPLF and EPLF to resist national domination and to co-operate in the struggle to implement the right of self-determination. Moreover, they would work for a fully-fledged federal system in Ethiopia with clearly defined and manageable central structure to be kept in check by fully autonomous regional or national states.

In May 1991, during the American sponsored London Conference on transition in Ethiopia, the Eritrean forces captured Asmara and the combined TPLF and EPLF knocked at the gates of Addis Ababa. As a result, conference participants, the TPLF, EPLF and the OLF, could only agree Eritrea's right to a referendum, and a multi-party conference to chart a democratic way forward for the rest of Ethiopia.

Yet when fighters of the TPLF (and the EPLF) entered Addis Ababa the welcome was far from tumultuous. True, the military could not mount much resistance, and there was little or no bloodbath as feared by many observers. The suspicious and skeptical populace was calmed down partly by the prospect of a meeting of different political forces to discuss the transition.

The Constitution-Centre Periphery Relationship

The demise of the Dergu, the liberation of Tigray in 1988/89, the liberation of Eritrea in May 1991 and TPLF ascendancy in Addis Ababa at the same time presented the Ethiopia with an excellent opportunity for a genuine democratic change. Twenty-three political organisations and representatives of various population and political groups met between 5-11 July 1991 and deliberated and agreed a transitional democratic programme.

This was enshrined in the Charter that guaranteed respect for basic human rights including the right to freely organise, freedom of expression, self-determination, free political competition and representative government at national/regional level and in the whole of Ethiopia. A coalition government between representatives of various peoples and political groups was also agreed to see the transition through. Finally, a democratic constitution was to be drawn up to institutionalise the democratic gains.

Accounts differ as to how the TPLF wrecked the Charter and proceeded to consolidate its monopoly of power, trampling on the rights and liberty of others and also managed to formalise another one party rule in a new constitution. Of course, abuse of human rights, mistreatment of non-TPLF/EPRDF political groups, intimidating, imprisoning and killing of their members and supporters and closing their offices was rampant.

Moreover, TPLF intentions were unraveled in June 1992 during regional/ national elections. As members of Joint International Observer Group looked on, TPLF cadres disrupted the process by assuming the work of the electoral commission such as registration of voters, candidates, and manning voting booths. They intimidated and imprisoned candidates and supporters of other organisations with impunity. The OLF and some twelve other coalition partners found the situation untenable and withdrew from the sham elections.

It would appear that effecting change in conflict-ridden societies such as Ethiopia requires tolerance, co-operation and a contribution by all concerned. It should not be forgotten that people in Ethiopia have paid dearly for just such an opportunity. Hence, impositions of one party’s will on so many amounts to an act of supreme political folly that denies the constitution legitimacy and political authority. However, handpicked individuals at the behest of one party prepared the 1995 constitution, after it became impossible for others to have any meaningful role. In the elections of the 'constituent assembly' and later that of deputies, the TPLF/EPRDF and subsidiary parties were the only contestants.

It may be argued that, important as it may be, the writing of the constitution by one party alone should not render the constitution unacceptable. Hence, the need for examining the document for other redeeming features.

Both the constitution and TPLF practices make a mockery of civil liberty and human rights. For instance, the constitution totally undermines any principle of separation of power in the way other societies understand them. The judiciary, the legislature and the executive come from one party, and the legislature is the highest court. The independence and judicial review powers of the judiciary is entirely ignored, and judicial appointment and administration is not provided for.

True, the TPLF constitution replaced the Dergu’s "regional autonomy" as a means to implement self-determination by "self-determination and independence." However, cursory examination of the document and TPLF practices shows it does not in reality accept the very concept of decentralisation. This is aptly demonstrated by the manner in which the functions and powers of the central and regional governments are defined. As it happens, the power of the central government is unlimited. In contrast the regional or state governments are no more than mere political and administrative conduit for the ruling party. Hence the TPLF’s Ethiopia remains as centralised as ever.

Moreover, the constitution legalises the TPLF/EPRDF as the sole party of government. The TPLF socio-economic programme was written into the constitution and is legally binding. This would mean that another political party would contravene the constitution by merely advancing a different policy. Why would any other group form or operate separately if they cannot adopt and contest elections on policies other than that of the ruling party?

The Politics of Nations

The political dialogue of the national question in the student movement (1960s, 1970s) and the Derg’s official acknowledgement of the multinational character of the empire was indeed historic. The Derg even established the Nationalities Institution with the declared aim to research and resolve the perennial national question. However this was devoid of serious follow up. The Derg finally succumbed to centrist pressure and confined self-determination to limited forms of regional autonomy. It was the historic mission of the Transitional Conference of 1991 to make self-determination a recognised democratic and legal right.

Although the position on self-determination is reiterated in the 1995 TPLF constitution, the regime showed no serious attempt to devolve power or tolerate free exercise of basic liberty. Today the politics of nationalities is being conducted in two arenas. The first is the TPLF creation of national states that are run by client organisations with little or no autonomy. The second is the national liberation of the oppressed that are fighting for full democratic liberty, self-determination and for new democratic transition in the country.

Some of the national liberation movements have been around for a while. They include the OLF, the ONLF, Sidama Liberation Movement, and the Gambela and Benishengul peoples movements. Many of them have a guerrilla background and a popular base among their peoples. There are some ethnic Amhara groups operating in Gondar and Gojam zones of the present Amhara national state. In addition there are a number of multinational organisations and numerous exiled Amhara groups. The best known of these are the EPRP and Me'isone or the All Ethiopia Socialist Movement. The Amhara and multinational organisations are mostly those based on the Amhara nationality whose overriding objective is campaigning against Article 38 of the constitution that recognises the right of peoples to self determination and independence. National fronts of the southern peoples such as the Ogaden, Oromo, Afar, Sidama, and others value and uphold the right to self-determination. Their main objective is never to go back to the old order but to build on the gains this far and to compel the TPLF to deliver on promises of democratic reform and full autonomy and self-government.

There is limited dialogue and co-operation between the Amhara parties and the other nationality organisations in the opposition. A more open dialogue and level of co-operation exists between many of the southern people’s opposition movements. However, they have so far not formalised their relations or agreed a common political agenda. Even then, demographic and other practical considerations call for co-operation between these and the Amhara organisations genuinely fighting for democracy sooner rather than later. Success by either group without co-operation with the other is bound to prove far too costly and might even prove counterproductive.

Economic Liberalisation

The county’s highest foreign currency earners such as coffee, hides and skin, and khat, are under strict state monitoring. Benefits to the producers are negligible. The much-touted economic liberalisation of the TPLF regime has also yet to be seen to trickle down to benefit the common person.

True, investment and other laws have been issued to strengthen market economy. Accordingly, many of the state enterprises have been privatised. Still large numbers of state enterprises remain in the hands of the TPLF/EPRDF government. Reports that the TPLF and affiliate organisations and individuals received preferential treatment in purchasing the privatised businesses have wide currency. Also there is no guarantee that the same will not be repeated when remaining assets are disposed of.

Of course, the TPLF/EPRDF had vast resources at their disposal even before they assumed levers of state in Addis Ababa. They appropriated large funds and other material in kind particularly soon after the assumption of state power. They also collected donations from Tigreans and members of other nationalities under various pretexts and pressures.

These funds are controlled though the Relief Society of Tigray, REST, Tigray Development Association, TDA, Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray, EFFORT and such other overtly non-governmental, charitable and self-help organisations. Management and share holding in the companies controlled by the different holding bodies are carefully handled through the intermediary of high officials of the central government and the Tigray national state, all members of the TPLF. In other cases individuals TPLF officials or members hold shares. Legal requirements to protect TPLF officials and cadres are thus carefully monitored.

Through the agency of these organisations the TPLF runs over 150 companies engaging in divergent activities including manufacturing, mining, agriculture, transport, media, tourism, banking and insurance, etc. These routinely receive preferential treatment be it in licensing, credit facilities, etc. Some are said to benefit from direct and indirect state subsidies. No other political or ethnic groupings are allowed to create and operate similar enterprises. The TPLF/EPRDF business empire is said to control nearly a third of the private sector at the moment. Allegedly, it is the largest business conglomerate in the Horn of Africa if not in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence the best beneficiary of the free market economy is the TPLF.

The Political Economy of Food Aid

Famine and relief goods have long been put to political and economic uses from the time of the previous military regime. The Dergu’s diversion of international relief goods and other resources to feed its military and to finance its programme of resettlement and villagisation is a recent memory.

The TPLF was in opposition at the time but it has a fund of expertise in manipulating relief assistance for its own benefit. Its monopoly of relief distribution in areas it controlled effectively strengthened its grasp on the society. At the height of the famine in 1984/5 TPLF successfully directed thousands of rural population to refuge in Sudan under the gaze of international media. The objective was not only to discredit the Dergue but also to attract and justify external and cross border aid, which would be under its control. With the connivance of some donors (NGOs) or at least the acquiescence of some of their employees, it sold food aid in the Sudan and in parts of Tigray. In the process, it also acquired large numbers of vehicles and other material resources. Moreover, donor agencies paid for transport to and within Tigray. It executed these operations through the machinery of its relief wing, the Relief Society of Tigray. Thus the 1980s famine was a cause for accumulation in the hands of the TPLF of large but as yet unspecified amount of resources, which helped to prop up the political and military ascendancy of the TPLF.

When it assumed state power, it took to building on this capital accumulation by direct appropriation of state funds, materials and through forcing donations, and such other measures. Diversion of economic and relief assistance largely to Tigray, or enticing local and international donors in favour Tigray and creating conditions for investment with and through TPLF business conglomerates is widely reported. One of the TPLF companies, TRANS ETHIOPIA, has virtual monopoly to carry relief goods throughout Northern Ethiopia for which the international donors pay. TPLF expertise in manipulating relief goods has been put to good use once again and there is little doubt that it will use every available pretext and loophole to further enrich Tigray and its fast expanding business interests.

The Ethiopian-Eritrean War: Causes, Beneficiaries and Costs

Political friends of the TPLF and EPLF thought of the two forces as allies. The seemingly sudden heightening of tension and flare-up of violence on the Eritrea Tigray border in May 1998 thus came as a shock to many. Observers can seldom make out or agree on the causes for the deadly hostility and bloodshed between the two countries that were expected to concentrate their resources to ease the lot of their peoples. Some of the theories advanced have been summarised below.

Possible causes for the hostilities:

  1. The feudal classes of the two communities have a long history of rival polities. E.g. Tigray remained part of Ethiopia, and Eritrea became an Italian colony, which left cultural, psychological, orientational differences between the two.
  2. The role of Eritreans in the Italian army during World War II when Italy occupied nearly the entire Horn of Africa.
  3. The role of Tigreans in rallies during the UN sponsored referendum of 1952 that tilted opinion in favour of federal union with Ethiopia.
  4. The role of Tigreans in Eritrea in the Ethiopian security apparatuses and the privileged status Tigreans enjoyed in Asmara in trade, business, etc.
  5. The exigencies and challenges of Eritrean statehood.
  6. The "stealing" by the TPLF of the EPLF’s economic ideas to turn Eritrea into an industrial powerhouse in the region.
  7. Past ideological disputes and personal aversion between the leadership.
  8. Real or perceived EPLF dominance and TPLF desire to exercise autonomy.
  9. Resentment in Ethiopia of Eritrean advantages from use of common currency, and controversies over economic co-operation, transit, currency and interstate trade.
  10. Rivalry for politico-military supremacy in the Horn of Africa.
  11. Disputes over unmarked borders between the two countries.

Whatever the merit of these theories, the immediate pretext is the dispute over territory, with each side accusing the other of resorting to violence first.

Some observers saw the conflict as senseless not least because it used weapons of World War II and tactics of World War I with tremendous cost to life and property. Financially, each side is said to have spent nearly a million US dollars a day on the war. Fatalities reportedly run to tens of thousands with many more maimed on each side. Large numbers of civilians were rendered homeless as each army ravaged the bordering areas and settlements. The carnage could numerically be larger on Ethiopian side as human beings are used to sweep mines from the theatre of war. In Ethiopia the war was popular only among small sectors of the Amharic population who were happy to see yesterday’s enemies who swept them from power reach for each others throats.

Among the beneficiaries are former soldiers of the Dergue, particularly higher officers who were reinstated with back pay. They were vanquished and humiliated by the combined TPLF and EPLF forces in the closing days of the Dergue and have ever since lived in ignominy. Whether they will be retained in the event of peace is anyone’s guess. The real beneficiary from the conflict is the conglomerate of TPLF businesses who reportedly took to making quick profits by winning government contracts in providing transport, food and other war supplies, etc. The two countries and their peoples are surely the losers in the end.

The May 2000 Elections in Ethiopia

During their time in opposition, the TPLF have joined others such as the OLF in exposing and condemning the Dergue manipulation of the electoral process and how various WPE affiliated bodies screened each candidate for the party to nominate him or her to the Shengo or National Assembly. Unfortunately that is the practice by the TPLF/EPRDF since it came to power. One local observer called the May elections "a drama, TPLF style" and a farce.

To be fair, in the run up to the elections, which took place while war raged with Eritrea, a few meetings were held to discuss issues. One was conducted by a TPLF patronised civic organisation, the Walta Information Service. The Chamber of Commerce in Addis Ababa also held a meeting for the purpose. People, however, knew that, like the situation of 1992 and 1995, there would be no free elections. There is no faith in the electoral process, which is totally dominated by the TPLF and its affiliated parties. Organisations with grass-root support such as the OLF, the WSLF and the Sidama Liberation Movement could not participate in the elections. Only local versions of the ruling party whose main task is denunciation of home-grown parties with a popular base could field candidates. In the 1995 elections some 7 seats out of 546 were allocated to independent candidates. For some reason, the number of independent seats was reduced to five this time round. Even then the election results were long in being announced. Up until mid-November the "newly elected" deputies have not taken up their seats.


The Way Forward

The abuse of human rights and suppression of those unwise enough not to be affiliated with the ruling party is rampant in Ethiopia. In Oromia, the Somali region, in many parts of the Southern Regional State and elsewhere, those suspected of having opinions unsanctioned by the ruling party are harassed, accused as "narrow nationalists", their meetings outlawed, and imprisoned. Insecure and obsessed with control, the regime has reneged on democratic reform and narrowed the basis of freedom in every aspect of economic and political life. In the circumstances, the entire people of Ethiopia face a grim prospect. They variously expect and look upon the national liberation movements to either overthrow the regime and to replace it with a new democratic transitional administration, or to at least apply enough pressure on it so as to introduce genuine democratic reform. It is unlikely that their hopes will be realised in the short term.



Attempts at reviving the Somali State

Since the collapse of 1991, international mediators including the UN, the US and Egypt have organised 12 conferences with the aim of reviving the Somali state. A thirteenth attempt by Ismaeil Omar Geele, the president of Djibouti in July/August 2000, is finally promising to bear fruit. Building on the experience of the successful national conferences preceding the foundation of Somaliland and Puntland, the organisers of the Somali National Peace Conference at Arta, Djibouti, were careful to provide for a generous time frame, and refused to accept unrepresentative warlords and faction leaders. Previous attempts had been hampered by hurried agendas, often drawn up by international mediators concerned with costs. They had also served as a de facto legitimisation of the warlords, who were the principal participants.

The invitation list drawn up by president Geele also included anomalies, such as the ex-ministers of the Siyad Barre regime, and businessmen from the diaspora. His principled stance over the exclusion of unrepresentative faction leaders and warlords paid off in the end. Attendants from most clans, driven by war weariness and the determination to reach an outcome, voted 245 delegates into the Transitional National Assembly on a strictly clan basis, with 25 reserved seats for women.

The TNA then formed the electoral college for the key positions of the transitional government. On 26 August Abdioquasim Salad Hassan of the Hawiye clan became the new president of Somalia. A few days before, on 21 August Abdillah Derow Isaac the secretary general of the Rahenweyne Resistance Army (RRA) was elected speaker.

The election of the latter proved a particular triumph, as the RRA had refused to take part in the talks until mid June. This meant that with the exception of the Isaaq of Somaliland, the Majerteen of Puntland, and the Mogadishu Hawiye all clans had been represented. Ructions with the two fledgling states in the north of former Somalia, had always been on the cards. Both depend for their legitimacy, their economic prosperity, as well as their raison d'Ítre on the continuing turmoil in the rest of the country. Nine years into self-proclaimed independence, the people of Somaliland are loath to give up for the uncertainty of revived Somalia. After a number of opposition leaders showed up at Arta President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal called the meeting hostile.

Puntland, had initially been more constructive, and participated in the talks. On June 17, however, President Abdullahi Yusuf pulled his representatives out . Those who stayed on including Hassan Abshir, an ex-interior minister, were disowned. The two secessionist states attract more than half the aid that flows into Somalia, and the vast bulk of private capital. In Hargeisa and Bossoa hotels and houses are going up. The port of Berbera is being expanded. Livestock exports to the Gulf, and imports to Somalia and Ethiopia are lubricating the economy. In the south, by contrast the fighting goes on.

Mogadishu remains the main prize, but there are indications that the grip of the warlords is loosening. Hussein Aideed has turned out to be a poor imitation of his father’s original, and is being pushed back into the capital. His troops lost Baidoa to the RRA, and are withdrawing from the lower Shabelle valley. Further south, his ally Mohamed Siad Morgan lost control of the port of Kismayo in 1999. With his domestic power base contracting, Aideed is now critically dependant on the support of Eritrea, Libya and Qatar to keep going.

This was underlined by the rapturous welcome given to Hassan by the people of Mogadishu, when the president elect arrived in the city on 30 August. A few weeks later, Aideed declared himself willing to enter negotiations with the new government.

While in the opinion of the majority of people, the restoration of legitimate authority is long overdue, sensitivities have been heightened by over a decade of inter-clan fighting. Previous attempts to set up a civilian administration, for example in 1998 in Mogadishu, collapsed under recriminations and abuse. The institutions set up, most crucially the courts, invariably aligned with clan interests when push came to shove. The culture of violence continues to pervade Somali politics, and has already exacted the first punishment of the new parliament.

In the meantime, Hassan has been busy securing support from Somalia’s neighbours and among the international donor community. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Eritrea have all committed themselves to supporting the new government. The US has returned after a five year absence with a road building programme. The EU has a budget of 300 million Euros waiting to be dispersed on suitable projects. Since the collapse in 1999, a number of economic reforms, including excellent money transfer systems and telephone networks have been developed which could be harnessed by the engine of economic development given the right conditions.

At the same time, the challenges are daunting. There are an estimated one million refugees waiting for repatriation, as well as the breakdown, and virtual elimination of the physical and institutional infrastructure. Moreover, the power vacuum has been exploited by other powers, notably Ethiopia and Eritrea who have sought to fight proxy wars on Somali soil by backing rival groups. Aideed, for one has been obtaining weapons from Asmara since early 1999, and in return acted as a conduit for arms and men of the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front into Ethiopia. The operations of the Al Ihadad al Islami already prompted Ethiopian incursions as far back as 1997. Since then, the Ethiopians have built up the Rahenweyne Resistance Army (RRA), and the Digil Salvation Front in Baidoa.

The future stability of Somalia will therefore depend on the goodwill of its neighbours as much as on the determination of its own leaders. It is to be hoped that in view of pressing cross-border issues such as pasture and live stock management, water conservation and drought, infrastructure and trade, politicians will prioritise common interests over differences.



The Quiet Coup

Events in Khartoum towards the end of 1999, initiated the biggest series of political changes since the coup of 1989 which brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power. Gathering dissatisfaction among the ruling elite with the government of Hassan Abdullah el Turabi, founder and leader of the NIF, provided a narrow support base for the maneuvers of president, Omar Hassan Ahmed el Beshir. On 12 December 1999 Beshir declared a state of emergency, dissolved the assembly, and effectively sidelined Turabi to save his own career. There is little by way of ideology or outlook between the two men, which suggests that fatigue with the rule of 68 year old Turabi, who showed no sighs of relinquishing the reins of power, was the overwhelming motive for Bashir's band of supporters.

Following mediation by NIF elders, an uneasy truce was called in late January 2000, with Turabi declaring the dispute to be over, and Beshir forming a new Leadership Council. It was packed with staunch Islamists, and consisted of more NIF members than before. They included a number of Turabi supporters, such as Abdullah Hassan Ahmed (Cabinet Affairs Minister), El Tayeb Ibrahim Mohamed Keir (Advisor on security affairs). A few Southerners were given token appointments, such as Lam Akol (former leader of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army-United who stayed at Transport) and Joseph Malwal (Survey and Urban development minister), who openly complained about not being consulted about the new government.

Furthermore, a number of prominent politicians, including the ex-governor of Khartoum, Magzub El Khalifa, Sadiqu el Hindi and Sira el Khatim refused ministerial positions. This determination to stay neutral throughout an ongoing dispute is ominous for the current incumbent. According to some insiders, Beshir is largely the creature of the Islamist group behind him, and that his actions were prompted by the Memorandum of the 10, in autumn of last 2000. This contained an expression of dissatisfaction with the Turabi regime by a number of prominent government supporters, prompted by the negotiation of Turabi with the SPLA.

Bashir's dependency on the support of the Islamists is acute because of his difficult relationship with the army, which should have been his natural constituency. Yet among officers and the ranks, Beshir is seen as the man who furthered the cause of the militias over the army. Given the fraught relation between the two institutions, particularly in the South, where military triumphs by Baggara horsemen, put previous attempts by armoured columns in a poor light, this is a major shortcoming. The new government, therefore seems highly exposed to the volatile roundabout of Sudanese alliance making.

The new set-up was approved by the Constitutional Court in March, after which Turabi severed his links with the government to form his own political party, the Popular National Congress. On the streets Turabi supporters have been involved in fire fights with the police, while unrest is spreading among sections of the armed forces. Yet observers are divided between assessing the crises as a mere conflict between personalities and competing factions in government on the one hand, or as a qualitative shift in the direction of Sudanese politics.

While the details of the behind the scene machinations remain unclear, there are strong suggestions that Bashir acted before losing ground to Turabi’s overhaul of the machinery of government. According to some sources, Turabi had been trying to widen the regime’s support base, and establish a more inclusive government, reflecting the country’s diversity for several years. Democracy, as practiced in Egypt, Tunisia and several Latin American states, was to serve as political model to the new Sudan. The Sudanese Islamic movement provided the other prototype, as it already contained well developed interest groups, including professional associations, youth and student groups, which were simultaneously active and ideologically disciplined.

The thrust of Turabi’s reform project echoes some of the ideas from the 1977 National Unity and Reconciliation. As a constitutional expert, Turabi also sought to create a government of national unity with the NIF firmly in control. Hence the 1997 constitution provided for Professional Associations under Article 27. Amendments in 1998 widened the scope for Political Associations as a prelude for the constitutional transformation, albeit under NIF tutelage.

Employing allies in the House of Assembly, Turabi had sought to enshrine the rule of the NIF, and consolidate his own authority as power behind the scenes at the expense of President Beshir. Parliamentary allies put forward motions to transfer the power of appointing walis (provincial commissioners) from the presidency to the assembly. The same was to be done with regard to the power of redrafting state boundaries and the creation of new states (26 at present). It was also mooted to create the position of Prime Minister, ostensibly in order to accommodate Sadiq el Mahdi, but also to detract from the ceremonial prestige of the presidency.

Implications for the future

These events have serious implications for the future of the northern elite, as well as for the country as a whole. The solid foreign support enjoyed by Beshir suggests that most of Sudan’s partners wish to see a change of direction. Yet, his commitment to the Islamic cause, and the appointment of renown hard-liners to his government, provide little evidence that such a change is underway. Interpreting recent statements to domestic audiences, it rather seems like more of the same, with Beshir invoking the term ‘Jihad’ for his fight against the internal opposition, proposing the extension of Islamic teaching at every primary school, and voicing his commitment to ‘never letting the South go’.

These events have significantly affected the opposition parties, united in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). They are the Mirghani family’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) led by John Garang, the Beja Congress headed by Sheik Omer, the Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) under Abdel Aziz Khalid Osman and the Sudan Federal Party (SFP) led by Ahmed Ibrahim Diraige.

In principle the position of the opposition parties bundled into the NDA remains unchanged. They are still dealing with an intransigent regime in Khartoum, which uses peace talks mainly to impress the international community and for splitting the opposition. In fact, however, everything is different, as the NIF has suffered a major blow to its effectiveness and cohesion. There is the possibility of further fragmentation within the ruling strata, the danger of which is exacerbated by the existence of diverse militias and the ready availability of weaponry.

The opposition can be effected by this in two very different ways. Confusion and in-fighting at the center could weld the different opposition parties into a coherent political force. Alternatively, as the loss of central power goes to strengthen the bargaining position of the opposition, individual parties might break off to cut advantageous deals with the government.

It is important to remember that the National Islamic Front is largely Turabi’s creation, and that with his departure for a new political home, albeit one from which he has been removed at present, will lead to a serious loss of support. Turabi had a profound understanding of the role of Islam in Sudanese politics. Northern parts of the country at least, had been proselytized through the gradual infiltration of Islamic holy men and traders from the eighth century onwards. Originally part of wider, transnational brotherhoods, they eventually hived off to become very local institutions, answerable to none.

These holy men, or sheiks, often became the focal point of settlements, which they administered according to the teachings of the prophet and their baraka. Building up a network of courts, schools, welfare institutions and the collection of taxes (zeka), they paralleled and then superseded the structures of the state, yet denuded it of statehood. In the fourteenth century the secular rulers of the Funj kingdom adopted Islam, which gradually became the state religion. Yet a pattern was set, whereby Islam provided the blueprint for government, without detracting from the formal authority of the state.

This Islamic brotherhood was always of a populist, never an intellectual nature. Turabi himself sought to ride the wave of popular Islam he had unleashed and extend first the base of his support, and the length of his government. For that he needed to open dialogue with the opposition, and most importantly, the SPLA yet it was precisely the speed of his conservative radicalism and sudden talk about the ‘rights of minorities’ and the ‘people’s rights’ which overwhelmed some of this supporters and colleagues in government.

The project has been further damaged in the very process of reaping the fruits of success. Many Turabi supporters and prominent government figures have taken over slices of the state. While the euphemism is that this consolidates the party and enhances the forces of Islam, it amounts to little more than the misappropriation of public funds. This extends to the allocation of licenses, the privatization of state assets, and exemption from taxes.

Notwithstanding this, Islam is firmly entrenched in the political landscape of Sudan. Moreover, the Islamic movement is a viable force, which will continue to play a major part in politics for the foreseeable future. Turabi remains their most able and popular leader, with significant support across the political spectrum.

The past record of the NDA’s diverse members provides little comfort for champions of a united opposition. The commitment of the Umma party and the Democratic Unity Party, the two main ‘northern’ parties in the alliance, to the IGAD Declaration of Principles: secular constitution and referendum on autonomy in the South, is at best shaky. Furthermore, both these parties are riven by internal disputes over the involvement of party leaders in dialogue with the NIF.

Hence, the Umma party leader, Saddigue el Mahdi of Umma party came into conflict with Secretary General Omer Nur- el-Daim, after holding talks with Turabi in June 1999. The Secretary General of the National Democratic Alliance, Mubarek Abdullahi el Fadil el Mahdi was also strictly opposed to Saddigue’s maneuvers which resulted in a document, ‘The Call of the Homeland’. It was signed in Djibouti by NIF foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismael and on behalf of the Umma party by Mubarek Abdullahi el Fadil el Mahdi – who happened to be secretary of the NDA but was promptly suspended by the NDA who deplored the document as a flagrant violation of NDA charters.

In the rivaling DUP, leader Mohamed Osman el Mirghani met Sudanese officials on a trip to Libya in May 1999. This evinced protests from the DUP Secretary General Sid Ahmed el Hussein.

The south, which bears the main brunt of the civil war, has already seen its share of ‘divide et impere’, with the successful prizing away of Riek Machar and Lam Akol from the SPLA in 1997 and 1998. Riek Machar is back in Nairobi seeking reconciliation with John Garang. Many of his soldiers have already voted with their feet, defecting back to the SPLA. John Garang, the leader of the SPLA, reminded the NDA conference at Asmara in June 1999 of the dangers of cooption and isolation, by pointing to the isolation of the former rebels who have joined with the government. He also stressed that SPLA’s membership of the NDA is predicated upon the northern parties’ acceptance of a secular constitution and southern autonomy. This warning is significant because the SPLA maintains the largest military force in the field. It is also important as Garang, in spite of heavy pressure from supporters and African politicians continues to reject the call for Southern secession.

How the NDA will react to the opportunities now presenting themselves in Khartoum will remain to be seen. It is essential that the alliance holds together if a peaceful future for a united Sudan is to be worked out. An arrangement will also have to be reached with the Umma party. While Saddigue el Mahdi can still count on massive support, it was noted upon his return, that the vast majority of the supporters showing up at the airport, were middle aged and from a rural background. The Umma party has singularly failed to capture new support groups, to attract youthful followers, and or the urban professionals. Its tactics and slogans – one of the recurrent slogans has been "The Umma Party will not Collapse", first chanted in 1956 - are rooted in a past which is becoming quickly irrelevant. At the same time there are internal divisions, as the Mahdi family, who form the trustees and the tribal leaders, who form the second council, are internally split. The Imamate is being contested by a faction under Ahmed el Mahdi, who is also a direct descendent of the Mahdi, and there are squabbles over property. Still, with a strong following among the Western tribes in Darfur and Kordofan, Umma will continue to play a role, and could hold the balance in future governments.


Along the Frontline

In the meantime neither government nor the opposition seem to be able to force a military solution to the problem.

One of the major developments in recent years has been the military build up along the eastern front, a 100 km stretch from Hamesh Koreb to the Machar swamps since 1997. Led by SPLA commander Malik Agar, opposition forces have managed to take over a Chinese run gold mine in November 97, which yielded gold worth $100,000 in 98), and to surround the Adar-Yale oil field run by Quatar Gulf Petroleum Corporation and Sudan’s Concorp and National Oil Co., reportedly producing 10,000 barrels per day.

While the NDA forces could keep up the pressure throughout 2000 they also suffered a number of setbacks. First of all, the Eritrean-Ethiopian war prompted both governments to seek rapprochement with Khartoum, and cut back their support to Sudanese opposition groups operating on their territory. Taking advantage of this vulnerability, government forces were closing in on SAF strongholds around Hamesh Koreib, Kotoneb and Gadmayeb, in October 2000.

The high command also had to register losses, when the joint commander of the NDA forces, Suleiman Milad, was killed in action mid January. Also the oil wells are coming on stream the government is in an even better position to be able to fund its military efforts.

At the same time, there have been a number of successful attacks on oil fields and pipelines, such as near Sinkat on 16 January 2000, and successful campaigns by the SPLA brigadier Gen. Abdel Aziz, and by Khalid Osman of Sudan Alliance Forces and the Beja Congress in the South, East, and Blue Nile province. There has also been sustained activity in the Nuba mountains.

The army meanwhile is facing dwindling recruitment in the Northern provinces and has to resort increasingly to forced recruitment and the training of Southerners. Indeed, at present the Sudanese army is quickly becoming a southern army led by northern officers. It has a tense relationship with the militias, which have won laurels in fighting the SPLA in the South. Any peace deal would involve the merging of regular and rebel forces into a new force, something which the army would find very difficult to stomach.


The Nuba

Cut off from their military allies in the south of the country, the Nuba are facing a battle for survival against a government accused of genocide. The thrust of the government campaign is to clear the Nuba people out of the rich pastures in the mountains, and resettle them in other parts of Sudan, mainly Khartoum. Villagers are driven off the land and taken, often by force, into resettlement camps around Kadugli, where they are subjected to forced conversion to Islam, and often recruited into the army. Ironically, this process has been made possible by the provision of aid from the World Food Programme, who provide the food for the captives in the resettlement camps.

In many ways, the war in the Nuba Mountains is an anomaly in the Sudanese civil war. It also shows up the contradiction, the bad faith and the hypocrisy of the government. A large settlement of farmers of African origins in a largely Arabised areas, the Nuba Mountains have been encroached by pastoralists over the generations. Over the past decade inter-ethnic resource competition has been turned into a race war by a government playing off latent hostilities to support it’s own position in the region.

While the Sudanese government granted the UN permission to carry relief to ‘all war afflicted populations’ in 1989, it took until June 1999 for the first assessment team to arrive in the Nuba mountains. According to the local SPLA commander, Yousif Kuwa, the Nuba don’t want food aid, ‘the poison of the community’, but development assistance. They are lucky to receive any. Only in June 1999 president Omar el Beshir told South Kordofan Advisory Council that relief would never be allowed to reach the Nuba.

At present some aid from small aid agencies is getting through by air to the estimated 300,000 people living under SPLA command. However conditions are harsh, with a single

hospital available in the eastern Jebels. All supplies come in by air, at enormous expense to a people scratching a bare living out of the ground. The government forces, both regular troops and militia, are employing scorched earth tactics, to deny the rebels a base to be operating from, and are continuously pressing against the airfields.


International Reactions

Beshir initially scored a number of foreign policy successes by presenting himself as the cool, rational pragmatist, who was going to steer Sudan away from the hidebound Islamism of his ideologically obsessed predecessor. This was a relief to an international community who could see no end to the fighting in sight. Both Libya and Egypt offered their support and opened a fresh initiative for ‘national reconciliation’. Support also came from the Arab league and several Arab states. Uganda and Eritrea took this opportunity to normalise relations with Sudan.

Since the rapid backsliding into the rhetoric of Islamism has taken much of the shine off the new regime. The three main planks to his long term foreign policy are:

1) The international Islamic movement, where Sudan remains a major player. This stems largely from the role of Sudan as a frontier country where Islam is on the advance in the southern Dar el Harbera (land of war and opposed to Dar el Islam). This forms a happy contrast to the Middle East, where Islam is either under Zionist colonialism or held in check by corrupt regimes. One of the main supporters is Indonesia, with President Wahid underlining the relationship during a visit in late February.

2)..The Chinese government which maintains cordial relations, has a sizeable colony of professionals and workers there, and a major investment in the southern oil fields. It is said that installation security is provided by a force of Chinese guardsmen recruited from Chinese penal institutions.

3)..The growing attractiveness of Sudan to international capital, now that the oil is flowing. particularly the European Union, led by France, who are keen to mend fences with Khartoum.

This has left only the US as hard-liners against the Beshir regime. Whether the Bush administration will maintain their hostile stance remains to be seen.











The period 1999 - 2001 is marked by four major events: domestically the election in 1999, and the peace accord between the government and the FRUD; externally the impact of the Ethiopian - Eritrean war, which has impinged upon Djibouti’s role as Ethiopia’s second entry port, and the Somali peace conference sponsored by president Guelleh.

The tense relationship between the main ethnic groups, the Issa who constitute 33% of the population (a Somali tribe with brethren in Somaliland and Somalia), and the Afar, (23% of the population, separated from a further 600,000 Afars in Ethiopia), has somewhat abated. After several years of intense fighting in the early 1990s, the Issa dominated government of President Hassan Gouled Aptidon, defeated the Afar opposition organised into the FRUD (Front pour le Restoration de l’Unite et de la Democratie) with the aid of French soldiers and Gulf state subsidies. Unable to withstand the onslaught, Afar tribesmen fled into Ethiopia in their thousands, and one faction of the FRUD agreed to a truce in December 1994. In the 1997 national assembly elections the FRUD allied itself with the ruling Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progres (RRP), jointly obtaining 78% of the vote. Of the 65 assembly members 33 are of Issa and 32 of Afar origin respectively. Opposition parties, allowed to participate for the first time complained of irregularities and harassment.

These charges were also brought about during the presidential election, won in May 1999 by Ismael Omar Guelleh, with a total 74% of the vote. According to the opposition candidate, Moussa Ahmed Idris, the voter lists were manipulated, a claim rejected by the electoral commission. President Guelleh, a long standing member of the Gouled government, and heir apparent, has since been tightening his grip on the country. Media freedom has been curtailed drastically, and there has been a sharp rise in detentions without trial of opposition members and dissidents. The next elections are scheduled for 2003, National Assembly, and 2005 for the presidency. Nothing much is expected to change in the meantime. The remaining FRUD combatants signed a peace accord with the government in February 2000. This accord was signed by veteran FRUD politician Ahmed Dini, who returned from his decade long French exile in March 2000.

A small enclave along the Red Sea coast, Djibouti more than her neighbours is largely dependent on external connections. It is still largely dependent on French support, running to up to $200 mn per annum. There are over 10,000 French servicemen based in the country, though the force has been cut back over the years. Regionally, it’s main partner is land locked Ethiopia, who has been using Djibouti as it’s preferred port for overseas trade. Since the outbreak of the Ethiopian - Eritrean border war, the tonnage of goods being shipped through Djibouti has risen sharply. The railway line linking Djibouti with Addis Ababa has been upgraded, and monthly tonnage has increased from 14,000 to 21,000 tones per month. While this is still far less significant than the cargo carried by lorry it is set to rise further as new locomotives, supplied by France, come into service. With relations between the two war-ravaged neighbours soured, and the Eritrean port of Assab heavily mined, Djibouti should be enjoying the role of being Ethiopia’s main entry port for years to come.

In turn Djibouti imports foodstuffs, mainly grains, fruit and vegetables and khat from Ethiopia. While part of the quat is reexported to Yemen, or air freighted to Europe, Djibouti itself is one of the largest export markets for Ethiopian quat. This mild stimulant is distributed by a cartel of 43 agents, who have exclusive arrangements with Air Ethiopia for the shipment of fresh produce, and the sale of quat within the state. As a result Djibouti’s khat prices are prohibitive, a multiple of the purchase price in the producer area of Harharghe, and considerably higher than in other importing countries, such as Somaliland and Somalia. Given the high level of consumption, quat purchases account for approximately 20% of household expenditure in the average Djibouti household.

The most spectacular success of Djibouti foreign policy so far, has been the peace initiative for Somalia Guelleh has helped to broker. Djibouti hosted over 300 delegates from a wide range of Somali factions, representatives from all clans, new politicians as well as prominent members of the Siad Barre regime. Contrary to general expectations, the meeting succeed at selecting a government which has since taken up office in Mogadishu.

The only shadow over the proceedings was cast by President Egal, from the self-declared republic of Somaliland. Djibouti’s immediate neighbour to the south along a 90 km border, Egal had interpreted the Djibouti initiative as deleterious to Somaliland’s status of independence. It was suspected that the meeting would call for the reintegration of Somaliland into Somalia, and attendance was proscribed for its citizens.