Politics, Conflict and Conflict Resolution in the Horn of Africa:

Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

By Dr. Axel Klein, IFAA


In response to the deteriorating political situation across the African continent, the Institute For African Alternatives has sought to keep researchers and professionals working in Africa abreast of developments with an annual review on the State of War and Peace in Africa. In the course of collating this reference work, we began to identify commonalties in the different theatres of conflict, which allowed for the elaboration of general principles and drew us into dialogue with a wide body of research on conflict studies. In the process we found it increasingly valuable to contrast our own experience of several countries in the Horn with the prevailing models in conflict research. In response to the growing influence of cultural determinism and a Malthusian influenced ‘environmentalism’, we set out to first denaturalise the interpretation of African conflict.

Conflict, and consequently conflict resolution has to be squarely situated within the social process, and needs to be framed within the workings of the international political economy. External agencies involved in the Horn are aware of the importance of this knowledge gap, but should also become conscious of the controversy surrounding their interventions. The role of outsiders remains ambivalent. While each faction welcomes foreign assistance such interference, even the best intentioned, is not always conducive to furthering peace and reconstruction. It is the conclusion of this report that the most profitable point of engagement is with local peace initiatives determined upon breaking the cycle of violence and counter violence among given communities.

We have adopted a regional approach to this report because of the interrelationship between the different conflict scenarios. Prior to the destabilisation of Zaire, cross-border interventionism was practised nowhere in Africa as blatantly as in the Horn. This adds grist to the mills of those arguing for a comprehensive regional settlement. We believe that while the nefarious practice of cross-border destabilisation must be halted, there is hope for endogenous peace initiatives.

In the analysis of events in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, the explanatory power of prevailing conflict models was considerably enhanced once environmental scarcity was contextualised within the political economy of development. Equally important, the power of symbolic representations of collective identity in perpetuating conflict had to be reversed. Instead of being approached as an essential determinant, ethnicity had to be viewed as a consequence of conflict.

IFAA working in close collaboration with the Swiss Peace Foundation and the Canadian IDRC insists that the process of reconciliation has much to gain from redressing imbalances in the prevailing analysis of conflict in the Horn. The argument is therefore substantiated by extensive studies of the four relevant countries. The report that emerged in the process should be helpful to conflict analysts, as well as researchers and students of the region itself. By collecting material on Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan into one report we also provide a reference work for people working on each particular country, or the wider region.

The report presented draws upon a wide range of materials, building on existing scholarship, news items, as well as the latest reports from NGOs working on conflict resolution in the Horn. It is also includes information, viewpoints and discussions generated by the series of conferences held at IFAA in 1998.



Conflict and Conflict Management in the Horn of Africa: an update on recent developments and a prediction of trends.

Having been embroiled for decades in bitter inter-state and intra-state conflict, the countries of the Horn began pulling in different directions in the mid-1990s. Combatants in Ethiopia (1991), Eritrea (1991), Uganda (1986) and Somaliland (1993) were laying down their arms after years, sometimes decades of fighting, to embark upon the process of national reconstruction and development. In the first three countries, the respective resistance movements of the Eritrean Patriotic Liberation Front (EPLF), the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and the National Resistance Army (NRA) in Uganda, were moving from the bush into the capital to tackle the challenges of forming new and representative governments. Elements crucial to the reconstruction of peace, such as the demobilisation of fighters, the rehabilitation of infrastructure and of economic assets, and the repatriation of displaced people could only be implemented with assistance from the international community. In Somaliland much of the political process was taken up by the question of nationhood and independence.

In the Sudan, on the other hand, the internal conflict has been dragging on remorselessly since 1983, while Somalia remains floundering in a state of political-collapse. The social and economic dislocations engendered by chronic insecurity have exhausted the coping strategies of large sections of the rural population in both countries, who, once forced out of their productive cycle, become dependent upon international food aid and are vulnerable to famine and disease. As the crises continue the cost of conflict in terms of missed economic opportunities, social under-development and neglect of education and human capital, leaves a legacy of instability that may well endanger the prospects for development in the mid-term. It is against this background of rapid gains on the one hand, and the sustained erosion of development gains on the other, that the latest outbreak of violence in May 1998 between Eritrean and Ethiopian forces must be read. While it may be premature to evaluate the causation and character of this conflict, the very fact of war itself testifies how deeply violence is entrenched as a problem-solving mechanism in the region. For analysts the crises presented the horn of a classificatory dilemma. For Eritreans and their academic supporters, this was a clear instance of war between two sovereign states. In Ethiopia, meanwhile, the conflict was welcomed by revanchist elements as an opportunity to reverse the breakaway of a recalcitrant former province. Having kept a low profile in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Dergue, Ethiopian hard-liners used the sudden rupture in the hitherto cordial relationship between two ‘brother’ governments, to assert their aims for the re-assimilation of Eritrea. In a shrewd challenge to the validity of a political agreement hammered out quickly between the EPRDF and the EPLF in 1991, Ethiopian nationalists avail themselves of the currently fashionable political rhetoric. The legitimacy of Eritrea, it is claimed, remains invalid as long as it is not supported by an Ethiopia-wide referendum. There, disguised as an assertion of one of the principles of good governance, lie the ambitions of sections of a political class, which has never been reconciled to independence. Their interests coincide with those of the ‘war profiteers’, and a government under pressure at home. It is ironic, however, that the aim of reintegration is pursued with all the machinery available to a state facing the aggression of another state. At international level the good offices of the OAU, and key allies have been called upon. Internally the machinery of state has been geared towards war, met by a popular enthusiasm for war that Ethiopia’s previous governments could never inspire.

While at one level, then, the Eritrean/Ethiopian conflict can be portrayed as a continuation of an internal feud between different regions, and different factions within an African state, it has become de facto, and in the perception of the overwhelming majority of combatants a war between two closely related, yet separate states. The initial sense of disbelief among observers has since given way to the realisation that in Africa a new era of interrelated intra- and inter-state conflict has begun. Hence, even brief report on the state of war and peace in the Horn can restrict its ambit to the eastern seaboard. Entangled in a lethal daisy chain of cross border alliances, warfare has spread from the shores of the Red Sea, across the Great Lakes region to the Bay of Lobito. Under the government of Museveni, Uganda has emerged not only as a torchbearer of the African renaissance, but also as kingpin in a web of international alliances, aimed against the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum on the one hand, and Laurent Kabila in the Congo on the other. As Ugandan and Rwandan troops are backing the opposition to Kabila’s fragile government, they are threatening to come into conflict with Angolan, Zimbabwean and Namibian units fighting with the government. This is the first time that Africa is facing the prospect of war between opposing multi-state alliances.

One of the lessons learned from the welter of conciliation initiatives across the region is that different types of conflict require different types of conflict resolution. Many of the existing instruments available to the international community are far more suitable for reconciling differences between states, than forging a range of factions into a single government. The efforts by the OAU, by aid partners, by UN agencies in bringing the Eritrean/Ethiopian conflict to a close may therefore be met with success eventually. Equally, such intercessions in the Congo crisis may eventually bear fruit. At the same time, the cessation of hostilities at the highest level can only result in lasting peace if the actual causes of conflict on the ground are addressed. As long as the responsibility for the resolution of these conflicts remains solely in the hands of senior political figures, there is the danger that economic, ecological and political concerns of the warring parties themselves go unaddressed. High powered diplomatic interventions must therefore be complemented by efforts on the ground to bring together the different sides, to heal the enmity left by years of fighting, suffering, and resource competition. It is on this level that both local people and small, independent groups of outsiders can make their most constructive contribution. Linking up with local peace initiatives, outsiders can through logistical and material support, help to defuse the tension prevailing in some areas, and slow down the cycle of aggression and retribution.

The converse of this analysis is that the attempt by outside states or international organisations to bring about a complete package within a short period of time has proved an utter failure in civil war situations. This is not only detrimental in itself, but the very extravagance of such international conferences must be listed among the very incentives causing people to take violent measures. Misconstrued attempts at conflict resolution stand next to so called ‘famine crimes’, as policy perversions by external players. In Sudan and Somalia humanitarian aid designed to alleviate the suffering caused by conflict has frequently come to motivate, profit and sustain the very perpetrators of such violence. A critical review of aid management is therefore a pressing necessity for the NGO sector active in the Horn.

Models of Conflict Analysis: ideology, superpowers, and ethnicity:

Green wars, development and the state

The sheer dominance of conflict in the Horn of Africa has defied many an attempt at providing a far-reaching analysis of the causes of violence in this region. So intractable have the various situations appeared to outsiders, that political analysis has often been replaced by ethnic stereotyping, reducing violence to a cultural function of the ‘warlike’ peoples of the Horn. This deterministic model of an endemic culture of violence has proved so successful as to explain the astonishing, expansion of the region from the initial cluster of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia, to the far wider region incorporating Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. The prevalence of violent conflict has become, it seems, the defining feature of the Horn, which has subsequently been used to incorporate theatres of war that are conventionally located in very different geographical regions. Countries from what are alternatively known as the Great Lakes region and the rain-forest belt have found temporary accommodation in the Horn by virtue of internal unrest as a feature common to all.

The homogenisation underlying such a cavalier regard for regional divisions had until recently also discouraged serious attempts at establishing a typology of conflict. Though violence has been a regular feature of societal interaction in the greater Horn, opponents have clashed along, and allies coalesced around a range of different configurations of conflict. Fresh approaches to conflict analysis only began to emerge when the ego-political concerns of the Cold War era faded into the background. This had dramatic consequences in the Horn where superpower rivalries, having interlocked with intra-regional antagonism, had been providing a vital prop for two increasingly unpopular and mutually hostile regimes - the USSR’s ally Colonel Mengistou of Ethiopia (1975-1991), and the US-backed regime of Siad Barre in Somalia (1969-1989). Neither leader outlasted the ‘end of history’, leaving plundered public treasuries, and a culture of violence in his wake. Neither Somalia, nor Sudan, and, as ominous warnings rumble over the Badme, triangle perhaps even Ethiopia and Eritrea, has been able to capitalise on the new spirit of understanding. Indeed, the very persistence of conflict in the region belies two traditional explanations. First the voluntaristic model, according to which conflict is the outcome of ideological dispute between the left and right; and secondly, the school of foreign interventionism, which dubs African wars as proxy wars, and ascribes responsibility to outside masterminds. The dissolution of two reductionist models of conflict causation has been replaced by a ‘new era’ in conflict studies, in which an uncommitted pluralism - the recognition that conflict is rooted in a complex mix of factors spanning history, economics, ecology, social development, culture and politics - vies with ecological determinism and ethnicity for pride of place. One tangible benefit of recent studies has been a more discriminating differentiation of conflict types. A recent scheme therefore, provides for the following types of conflict:

I) State-society = Government of Ethiopia vs. Oromo Liberation Front

ii) Society-society (intra-state) = Baggara militias vs. Nuba settlements

iii). State-state = Eritrea vs. Ethiopia

iv) Internationalised intrastate

(Nichols Allan 1998)

While this classification serves as a salutary warning against totalizing tendencies, the analytical distinctions suggested by the model are, of course, rendered fuzzy by the exigencies of real situations, the overlap of competing group interests, the deliberate manipulation and exploitation of symbolic representations by internal players, and the interference of outside powers. Even the seemingly most straightforward form of conflict, the wars between the sovereign states of Somalia and Ethiopia in 1964, 1976-1977, were complicated by cross-cutting ethnic and religious affiliations – the Somali inhabitants of the Ogaden in Ethiopia - and the subordination of the ‘national ideal’ to domestic political agendas. Until 1998, this particular instance of inter-state war posited an anomaly in Africa’s post independence experience, where ‘civil wars’, or wars of ethnic secession, proved the norm. Yet such conflicts have rarely been contained within the national borders of any one state. Neighbours have very quickly been affected through the flow of refugees, the breakdown of trading relationships and increasingly, by the involvement of their governments. Sometimes the support of armed movements hostile to a neighbouring government has simply marked the continuation of an ancient rivalry between states, or cultures. It is in this light that the sustained support extended by successive Ethiopian regimes to southern Sudanese rebel groups should be understood. There are few actual objects of contention between the two countries, yet the lowlands of the southern Sudan form the arena in which the Christian Ethiopian highlanders have been in conflict with Arabised Moslems for over two centuries. The exactions of the Mahdi (1881-1889) are best compared to the violent attempts by Emperor Yohannes IV to christianise the Muslims of Wallo. (Tafla, 1994). Such antagonism has been manipulated by outside powers, using neighbouring governments as conduits for the delivery of supplies to armed movements, and initiating an alarming trend of cross-border destabilisation. Indeed, the support extended by neighbouring governments in the form of bases, money, weaponry and logistics, has become so regular as to pose a serious challenge to regional stability in the long term.

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, for example, was operating from bases in Ethiopia until the fall of Mengistou in 1991. Ejected by the new rulers in Addis Ababa, they simply shifted to Uganda and Eritrea, to become welcome guests of new host governments. The Sudanese government, in turn, has been supporting Islamic forces in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and more perversely, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Thus the camps of the LRA lie right on the route used by the SPLA for their incursions into southern Sudan. Equally, the camps of the SPLA in Uganda block the way of the LRA into Uganda. Hence governments by sponsoring such groups simultaneously create leverage over their neighbour, while insulating themselves from the attacks of their own internal enemies. One of the results of this policy of mutual destabilisation, has been the creation of an internal periphery as a replication of wider structural relationships. In terms of the capital and urban centres, are net gainers in a process, which further bleeds the countryside of resources, and its peoples. In the long term, of course, the ‘drag’ factor which conflict situations exert on production and overall economic growth (Nafziger 1998; Weeks 1997) ensures that the constituency of losers outnumbers by far the few beneficiaries.

In situations of conflict where the hit-and-run tactics of resistance movements are countered by the earth-scorching vengeance of government troops, the vast majority of the victims are civilians. In spite of these important characteristics, the internal, within-state-boundary location of conflicts, and the composition of the casualties, the label ‘civil-war’ has to be used with caution. First of all, a number of conflicts, including the longest continuing conflict in the region, the Eritrean liberation struggle, 1961-1991, are secessionary. They are not conflicts for the control of, or the determination of the character of an existing state, but are struggles with the aim of establishing a new state. The rebels who see themselves as engaging in a war of liberation would contest the very term 'civil war'. Yet, the clear-cut definition of Eritrean identity is debatable in itself for two reasons. The struggle for liberation was conducted in alliance with other opposition groups such as the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) against the centralising policies of an authoritarian regime – first the emperor then the Dergue. Secondly, the majority population of Eritrea shared cultural and linguistic features with the population of the Ethiopian province of Tigray. The identity of the emerging Eritrean nation than owed its definition largely to the shared experience of the struggle, rather than a pre-determined set of cultural features. In Sudan, the neat description of conflict as civil or a secessionary war of liberation is obscured further by multiple war aims. With John Garang, leader of the Southern Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), fighting for a united Sudan against the northern government, while some of his erstwhile allies (Machar and Akol) who were fighting for outright independence of southern Sudan in the early 1990s, have since aligned themselves with the central government in Khartoum. At times the unpredictable nature of events can even overwhelm the participants themselves, pushing ‘unionists’ into secession, and secessionists into unity.

Shifting alliances, the constant revision of war-aims, changes in leadership and in the composition of the following, combine to further complicate our attempts at reaching conceptual clarity of why wars are being fought. Particularly difficult to accommodate within existing models of conflict analysis are what have been termed intra-society conflicts, that is those conflicts carried out between corporate groups within a country, and independent from the state, such as between Nuba and Baggara Arabs in Kordofan. The Clausewitzian principle that war is fought as the continuation of policy by another means, for definite, tangible ends, is not easily applied to a situation where war has been dragging on endlessly without any apparent objective or purpose. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, therefore, analysts resorted to the invocation of ethnicity as the explanatory hold-all for violent conflict in the region. This explanatory model had a long history in western explanations of African conflict in general. The portrayal of Africa, including the Horn, as war-ridden and traumatised by tribal violence had provided a standard argument for the legitimisation of colonialism.

As ethnic differences, however substantial, were not necessarily a cause of conflict this argument remained deeply unsatisfactory. And as a growing volume of research was beginning to suggest that ethnic identity, instead of being a trigger was often the outcome of violent conflict, the reduction of the causes of conflict to ethnicity also proved circular. While an important factor in the mobilisation of warring groups (Markakis 1987) and the continuation of conflict (Suliman 1995), ethnicity in itself adds only to the obfuscation rather than the elucidation of our understanding of the outbreak of conflict.

During the Cold War the shortcomings of the ethnic model was attenuated by appeal to externalities, principally the impact of the super powers jostling for supremacy over the gateway to the Red Sea. Heavy weaponry, was, and continues to be delivered by the Soviet Union (Somalia 1960-1978; Ethiopia 1978-91), the US (Ethiopia 1952-1974; Somalia 1978-89), as well as by the former colonial powers, UK (Sudan, Uganda, Somaliland) France (Djibouti), Italy (Somalia), and China (Eritrea), and regional powers with vested interests in the Horn, including Egypt, Iran and the Gulf states. Via various mechanisms, prominently the arming of local militias by the government, secondary markets, capture in battle, this heavy armament percolated rapidly down to the local level with devastating impact. Once again, though initially plausible, the mere presence of weaponry does not account for its employment in battle without an accompanying mechanism of inter-ethnic hostility, or a culture of violence. Foreign involvement could only explain the exacerbation of conflict around fault-lines that were in existence already, not the original fissure. Throughout the 1970s, and part of the 1980s when the intricacies of African conflict were subsumed to the ‘wider’ dimensions of superpower confrontation the ethnicity/armament/external intervention complex remained satisfactory. But when the rapprochement of the power-blocs at the end of the 1980s did not lead to reconciliation between conflicting parties in the Horn, the need for a reappraisal became apparent. Not only were the former ‘proxy wars’ now seen as having developed a momentum all of their own, they were also reinterpreted by new causal chains. This allowed superpower strategists to drop the outdated and by now embarrassing term ‘proxy’ in favour of the far more populist ‘ecology/environmental’ explanation complex. In recognition of shifting public concerns, scholars and military analysts have therefore sought to pre-empt budgetary reallocations by focusing on "second front issues" such as the ‘ecological scarcity’ or ‘Green Wars’.

In the context of the Horn this proved highly persuasive. In Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan, the environment presents a ‘strange climatological phenomenon’ characterised by serious water deficiency. In the equatorial tropical zone., water is the determinant variable for agricultural production, the distribution and availability of which is sharply divided between humid highlands and dry lowlands. Competition degenerates into violence when existing distribution systems of renewable natural resources prove insufficient because of I) population increases ii) changing production systems (market economies, export production) iii) break-down of existing institutional mechanisms for resource allocation. Some western scholars have revised the initial premise of ecological scarcity as a new phenomenon by pointing to precedents in European history The linkage of environmental degradation/conflict, then, can be approached as part of the crisis of modernisation, when the dislocation of existing patterns of distribution following anthropogenic transformations of the environment, induces social change and political conflict over benefits and entitlements.

The growing band of interventionists, drawn to the region by successive humanitarian disasters has embraced this model. Working on the premise that war and societal breakdown are abnormalities, a mere setback to the development project, large sections of the aid community are convinced that aid itself is an instrument for the promotion of peace. This position pre-empts any possible challenge to the legitimacy or purpose of the undertaking. Moreover, modern disaster relief originated in responses to floods and droughts, and consists primarily in the provision of food, clothing, medicine and shelter. Being historically rooted in the natural disaster model, and operationally involved with survival commodities, the aid community is highly receptive to suggestions that conflict is the outcome of environmental degradation or ecological scarcity. What predisposes a range of external actors even more towards the Green Wars model is the implicit theoretical possibility of technical solutions, i.e. conservation schemes, rehabilitation measures, reforestation, which to boot, enjoyed much support among western political constituencies. Reminiscent of the political use once made of the concept of ethnicity as an explanatory simplification of complex processes, the stipulated environmental degradation can be harnessed to de-politicise conflict. Locating the cause of social stress in the interplay of native man and the environment, it removes both from the matrix of socio-economic development within the political framework of the various states, and their position within the international economy. It allows for a teleological shift, away from questions of economic policy, resource distribution and development priorities, to home in instead on the anachronistic production methods of primitive peoples - nomads and farmers - and the vagaries of nature. According to the model, farmers denuding Ethiopian mountainsides of their forest cover and the indiscriminate pasturing of nomadic herds exacerbated the fallout from climactic fluctuations, which lie beyond human control. Though overgrazing, deforestation and the depletion of biomass do indeed form issues of concern, which have been addressed, with controversial results, by regional governments they cannot be attributed solely to the inappropriate nature of traditional farming techniques. As a number of recent studies have shown African farmers are rarely ‘dyed in the wool’ traditionalists, continuing in the ways of their fathers in blissful ignorance of the havoc their obsolete methods inflicts on a fragile environment. A wealth of information goes to document that ‘traditional’ farmers are willing to experiment, have proved themselves adaptable to new conditions, are responsive to market opportunities and concerned about the sustainability of their methods, much like farmers elsewhere. Case studies routinely reveal that the causal chain of environmental stress-dislocation-conflict, manifested in the extension of farms into marginal land, the depletion of range land, or the exhaustion of water holes, is directly related to developments outside traditional structures of production.

We argue therefore that it is not the disengagement, but the development interventions themselves, and the injudicious redistribution of natural resources as well as the development benefits these entail, which trigger off conflict in the Horn. The clashes between Afar herders and farmers in the Awash valley of Ethiopia, for example, have revolved around the extension of farms into former pastures, and the arrival of herds before local farmers have completed their harvest. This is not related to population explosion, or the ecologically unsound values of maximum herd expansion of the ‘cattle complex’, but upriver development. Since the late 1960s over 70,000 hectares of dry season grazing land has come under government irrigation schemes. While the intersection of culturally distinct communities of agricultural producers may become the flash point of conflict, the causal process can often be traced back to the appropriation of natural resources - the commons- by state-centred development strategies.

It is crucial to reiterate that the state in all Horn countries has arrogated considerable powers to itself. All Horn governments have assumed a quasi monopoly over the development process. Rights to mineral wealth are invested in the state, the state retains a monopoly over a range of economic functions in spite of donor pressure to open the economy, and has assumed ownership of all land. The policy of land nationalisation, pioneered by Sudan in 1970 has been followed by every country in the Horn, Ethiopia and Somalia in 1975, and Eritrea in 1994.

The confluence of political expansion of the state, the clash of development with existing environmental management patterns, and violent conflict occurs in the Sudan. Here, the conflicting interests of the beneficiaries of large scale development schemes and local farmers are exemplified in the proposed Jonglei canal in Sudan, a gigantic scheme to draw off the waters of the Sudd swamps into the Nile and expand the acreage for cash crop agriculture. The fear of expropriation has pushed local farmers into the ranks of the SPLA, who put a halt to the operation by blowing up the machinery, including the worlds’ biggest earth moving machine. Where local interests are not incorporated into the design of development strategy, conflict ensues in different forms. Sometimes farmers and herders are pushed into marginal lands and clash with one another over the distribution of farming lands, pastures and water. When such conflicts are politicised by movements, parties or governments, these local disputes can become part of a general struggle along wider lines of affiliation and opposition. In the Horn conflicts are fought out across very different cleavages - religion and ethnicity as in Sudan, parties as in Ethiopia, clan as in Somalia, nation as in Eritrea. There are conflicts between governments and secessionists and between movements over the control of the government.

To the sustained attempts by outside agencies to foster reconciliation process in Sudan, Somalia between Ethiopia and Eritrea, this complexity has remained intractable. It has been argued that the formality of UN sponsored peace conferences on Somalia, where debates between selected faction were guided along prescribed agenda, has served largely to sustain warlords in Mogadishu. Equally, the humanitarian involvement of NGOs in Sudan has become essential for provisioning both government troops and the fighters of southern liberation movements. Western development partners even provide direct military aid, and a good proportion of the hard currency credits made available by the IFI’s finds its way into the defence budget. This collaboration between external agents and the representatives of the African State creates a powerful imbalance in national politics in every country, and leaves the position of access hotly contested. Where violence becomes established in this competition, it can produce direct benefits the reconciliation process is dogged by powerful interest groups. In southern Sudan, the impact of drought and the reduction of common land due to government development policy, at a time of increasing insecurity, have created ‘forced markets’. In these circumstances, producers are forced to sell their goods at a price far below reproductive cost, by the overt s to their property and their personal safety As the main beneficiaries are officers of government law enforcement agencies, who were initially commissioned to quell the unrest, policy intervention have only accelerated this cycle of forced asset instead of restoring security. Most analysts agree that so far this deliberate destabilisation has been part of covert government policy. The question is to what extent the political economy of violence has established itself as a self-sustaining system.

The Representation and Sovereignty in a Weak State

The likelihood of conflict breaking out in the first place increases when particular communities lose their representation at the centre of power, and have no resort to political mechanisms for voicing their grievances. The identity and configuration of the political community in the various countries of the Horn is therefore a core issue for conflict analysis and management. Both the intensity and scale of the crises have encouraged some western scholars (Minear & Weiss 1995) to undertake a comprehensive review of the principle of national sovereignty, to widen the remit of international executive agencies into areas of peacekeeping and military intervention. The first sustained attempt to turn the UN into a standby administration came under the UN secretary Boutros Boutros Ghali in Somalia. For the first time UN agencies and increasingly US combat forces took over judiciary and executive powers during a peacekeeping mission. While the ethical justification of peace-keeping without borders is grounded in charity, humanity, and recipient country interest, the outbreak of fighting between UN soldiers and Somali militias, and the celebration of Hassan Aideed as a national champion, challenged not merely the viability of peace-keeping, but its fundamental legitimacy.

As external agents remain important, whether as donors or donors of competitors, political players in the Horn, as well as politicised groups and movements, continuously reformulate their position. In most countries the identity and allegiance of followers find expression in religious, or ethnic or clan based idioms, while governments purport to enact development in the general interest of the nation. This is soundly based upon the sovereign rights of the state, and leads us to consider the final variable, namely the role and function of the state. The dual role of the state, as sole agent of development, with a claim to the monopoly of power and of modernity has already been mentioned. From an International Relations perspective the states in question are homologous, each a bounded, sovereign political entity. They also share many of the characteristics typical of African states; the fragile revenue base, institutional weakness, the tradition of bureaucratic autocracy, heavy-handedness, and the unequal relationship with civil society. One of the interim conclusions of reconstruction in Eritrea and Ethiopia has been that cessation of violence, mild economic recovery and the return of general food security, while desirable in themselves, do not guarantee political pluralism, government respect for human rights, and government tolerance of an effective opposition. In spite of a constitutional guarantee of press freedom, Ethiopia has imprisoned more journalists than any other country. This raises important questions over the role of the judiciary, rule of law and the feasibility of a constitution. In Eritrea, the ELF after fighting heroically for its right to political representation denies that right to others once holding the reins of power itself. Will this intolerance become the Achilles heel of a hopeful revolutionary government?

On a practical level, the ability of the state to implement changes in accordance with plans is hamstrung by the widespread tendency of officials to divert public resources to private benefit. Corruption and bribery are passive processes, of a bureaucracy impeding the development policy of its own government. In a crises, or a period of sharply widening inequality, the power of office can become activated, as official venality turns into predatory violence, with the powers of the state used against the citizenry. This is the face of the predatory state in Sudan of the NIF and Somalia under Siad Barre, moving against sections of the population who have lost their representation at the centre of power. This predisposition of the might of the state to be used against its own people gives the issue of representation such poignancy. No lasting solution can be found unless every section of the population has both a stake in the arrangement, and is protected against the excesses of powerful neighbours and outsiders.

Country Studies


War and Reconciliation

The cold facts and figures available for Sudan make for grim reading: over a decade of continuous warfare, casualties lists running into millions, and over 4 million internally displaced people in a population of 24 million. War has disrupted the social and productive cycles of whole provinces, and is threatening the survival of entire cultures. Violent conflict combined with drought has resulted in some of the world’s most bitter famines in the past 15 years. In 1998, over 2.6 million people were at risk of famine.

As the largest country in Africa, Sudan contains a magnificent variety of cultures and peoples right across the cultural divide separating the Islamic and Arabic North from the Sub-Saharan South. In a sense a microcosm of the continent, Sudan suffers from many of the tribulations that have afflicted so many African countries in recent years: economic decline, arrested development, war, famine and displacement. As in Liberia, Angola and Somalia, the problems seem increasingly intractable as the conflict drags on. The diverse ethnic identities have been build up over the years of warfare into objects of confrontation, giving the conflict in many theatres the quality of an ethnic, or a race war. In the southern provinces of Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal, but also in the Nuba Mountains, the conflict between government militias and the units of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) is widely perceived by combatants on both sides as a war between Arabs and Africans. The opposing claims of the different religions, particularly of Islam and Christianity, reinforce such discrete senses of identity, and are readily invoked to provide fighters with a religious license. The government has repeatedly declared a jihad on the rebels, ignoring the fact that many SPLA fighters are themselves adherents to Islam.

One of the purposes of representing the conflict, as an inter-ethnic, racial or religious war is to distract the attention of combatants and the population groups affected from the economic and political issues. On both sides of the divide, the degeneration into violent action has closed down the political space, and added to the power of the leadership. There is therefore little opportunity within Sudan to address the problems of resource distribution and power sharing between the different communities. Yet, for peace to be permanent, these two important issues have to be settled to the satisfaction of all sides. The alternatives are enduring instability and genocide.

With no points of contact for government and rebels within the country, the role of international conferences is of particular importance. Unfortunately, successive attempts by external powers to arrange for peace talks in Abuja, Nairobi and Addis Ababa have failed to deliver a settlement. It is hoped that these failures will not discourage external mediators in the coming year.

Any such efforts, however, need to be complemented by reconciliation initiatives at local level. The war in the Sudan provides a classic illustration of the inversion of ethnicity, from a perception of difference into cause of hostility. Since the early 1980s, for example Nuer and Dinka groups have clashed with increasing frequency, as the perceived difference between these neighbouring groups working on the same resource base, has become a trigger for violence. These instances of low level, but endemic violence, have given a new impetus to traditional authorities, and the use of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms. The mounting evidence for local level peace building initiatives provides a timely encouragement in an otherwise difficult situation. The challenge in coming years will be to work the many local initiatives into a comprehensive national settlement.


The North-South divide and the problem of national identity

One of the salient features of the Sudanese conflict is the opposition between the north and the south of the country. Since the early 19th century Arab or Arabised groups have been moving into the south of the country, where they encountered groups of African descent, mainly Cushitic and Nilotic tribes. The ethnic difference was reinforced by a religious dichotomy between northern Muslims and southern adherents to traditional religion. During 20th century these differences became even more marked with the establishment of Christian churches in the south.

The overlay of a regional divide onto ethnic differences reinforced by religious cleavages should, however, be understood within the context of effective Islamic proselytisation, cultural borrowing, intermarriage, dispersed settlements and large-scale migration. The different sides warring with one another are therefore largely political constructions, owing their origins to the sectarian use of religious and national symbols, as well as the manipulation of group history by factional interests. The hostilities which have been visited upon the Sudan since the departure of the British colonial regime in 1952 have been made possible by the lack of a clearly understood national identity and are, in part, an aspect of the attempt to forge nationhood.

As Sudan in its present territorial form was, in common with most African countries, a creation of nineteenth century colonialism, first Ottoman, then British, fundamentally different ideas about the nature of the state are held by the various population groups. The current government of the National Islamic Front (NIF) firmly identifies Sudan with Islamic religion and Arabic culture, which prevail in the North of the country. By contrast, among southerners the feeling of Africanism is the dominant marker of identity. The various regions are therefore distinguished by a plurality of races, religions, cultures and historical experience. According to the, albeit, controversial census indicates that 40% of the population identify themselves as Arabs, 12% as Dinka, 7% as Beja, and 6% as Fellata, or West African immigrants. Islam is the predominant religion, claiming 60% adherence

Attempts by successive northern-dominated regimes to impose their own version of Islam and Arab culture on the south have therefore triggered violent responses. Interestingly, however, the leading resistance movement, the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) is staunchly opposed to secession, fighting instead for a democratic, secular state, with regional autonomy and self-determination within a federal state. The issue of identity has grown in importance with the length of the conflict, and particularly since hostilities flared up again in 1983.

Yet, in practice the neat dichotomy applied in much of the literature on Sudan, which divides the country into a Muslim, Arab north and a Christian/indigenous religion, African south is rendered unworkable by the diverse processes of conversion, intermarriage and migration. Gradual Arab/Islamic penetration from Egypt has produced the phenomenon of the Arabised tribes, who adhere, with varying degrees of intensity, to Arab language, culture and Islam, but derive genetically to a large degree from African stock. There is a strong missionary impetus at work, with the systematic deletion of African cultural influences, and their substitution by Islam. This involves issues such as Arabic as language of government and of instruction and the forced conversions of non-Muslims to Islam. One trend is therefore towards arabisation, as is found among the Baggara nomads. These groups of nomadic cattle herders have over generations left most of their non-Islamic traditions and African languages, to identify today fully with the North, even though genetically, they are predominantly southerners. In Kordofan the Baggara even serve as auxiliary corps to the government army by carrying out raids against Nuer and Nuba farmers.

Meanwhile, the rank and file of the Sudanese army is increasingly made up of recruits who originated from the African south, and were displaced by the conflict to the camps and cities in the north.

The fallacy of portraying north and south as homogenous blocs is further exemplified by the crosscutting alliances initiated by successive governments, and copied successfully by the SPLM. The NIF government is now faced by a coalition of opposition parties, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which includes the main northern political parties, including Umma, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Communist Party and trade unions, as well as the SPLM. (NDA), and has been challenged on its Islamic credentials.

At the same time, Khartoum has repeatedly exposed the weaknesses of the fragmented opposition by co-opting disaffected sections and creating ‘friendly forces’ in the south. Since the late 1980s, the government has been implementing a strategy dubbed ‘peace from within’ to build up a viable alternative to the SPLA. The most spectacular success in recent years was the defection of the high-ranking SPLA commanders Riek Machar and Lam Akol in 1994.

This web of cross cutting alliances has given a political reality to the long-term project of cultural interaction. In spite of conflicting interests between the various sections, there is a manifest process of national integration at work. It is the terms and conditions along which national unity can be achieved, however, that constitutes the central object of contestation between the different parties. In this regard the role of external powers is also of critical importance.


External Players

The influence of outside powers is growing in proportion to the decline of Sudanese power. The wastage of continuous warring has arrested economic and social development leaving the country in a weak relationship vis-à-vis foreign donors and trade partners.

While most external players support the unity of the country, they hold different visions of Sudan. In the Gulf, Muslim Brotherhoods vehemently support the colonisation of the south, which they perceive as a frontier of Islam and Arab culture. Africa is viewed as an arena for conversion, where Islam and Christianity, as well as the Muslim world and the West are in competition. There is even a perception that the forceful invasion of southern Sudan is a defensive move, to safeguard a legitimate interest within an accepted sphere of influence. The webs of personal relationship between northern Sudanese and the Arab world bind ties of ideology and culture even closer. More Sudanese professionals are working in the oil-economies in the Gulf than in Sudan. Sudanese-Saudi Business conglomerates have built up holdings on both sides of the Red Sea, and venture capital from the Gulf has flown into developments in the southern lands of Sudan, particularly agro-business and oil. Religion, culture and economic interests have therefore combined in support of an aggressive and uncompromising government policy towards the south.

This show of pro-Islamic, pro-Arab support is rounded off by the national governments of Iraq and Libya, for whom the Sudan is one of few available partners in their international isolation. While Libyan and Iraqi support is valuable for sections of the military and of the government, it also attracts the wrath of the superpowers, illustrated by the cruise-missile strike on Khartoum on 20th of August 1998. In response to attacks on the US embassies at Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the US Navy bombed the site of an alleged chemical weapons factory belonging to Usama bin Laden. More importantly, Sudan as a ‘certified’ supporter of international terrorism is ineligible for US overseas assistance and has no trading privileges.

Egypt, the most important partner in the Arab world, however, does not support aggressive Islamisation. Not only is the Egyptian Government under serious pressure from a violent and powerful fundamentalist movement at home. Its overriding concern is to secure the free flow of Nile waters on which the country is dependent. In the case of Egypt, the aspirations of Islam and the expansion of Arab culture are secondary to the pragmatics of survival. The country’s historic ambition has been to ensure the stability and co-operation across the Nile valley. It therefore maintains links with all parties involved, by maintaining relations with the government as well as supporting conferences of the opposition. Egyptian influence has contributed to the resolution of SPLA leader John Garang to insist upon a united Sudan, against calls among his followers for southern secession.

A counter weight to these Islamic and Arab interests is provided by the national governments of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. All three governments resent the ruthless arabisation and Islamicisation policies of the NIF government, a danger they also have to contend with at home Ethiopia has been supporting the SPLA since its inception, and ensured the dominance of the military wing within the movement. It also provides bases for the Sudan Alliance Forces and has ferried troops and materials to Uganda. When in 1991 the new EPRDF government expelled the SPLA temporarily from Ethiopia, they were invited by President Yowerri Museveni to set up bases in Uganda. Not only have these served as a springboard for attacks against government positions in Equatoria province. The SPLA have also conducted joint offensives against units of the Lords Resistance Army, operating with Khartoum’s backing from within Sudan. Since independence, Eritrea has provided bases for the SPLA, the SAF and the Beja Congress, which has enabled the opposition to take the war to the north.

A dual role is played by the west, supporting both government and rebels. The US provides covert support to the SPLA, while France has been delivering arms to Khartoum. Humanitarian relief provided by Non Governmental Organisations in response to the famines in southern Sudan, and co-ordinated under the programme Organisation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), has fed both government garrisons and SPLA fighters. Fundamentalist Christian groups in the US, meanwhile, have funded the opposition forces more directly.

Far more significant, until the mid-1990, however, has been the role of the international financial institutions (IFIs), particularly the World Bank. Loans were made available on favourable terms to the Sudanese government to finance the expansion of commercial agriculture into the south.

Overseas interests are therefore to be regarded as a root cause in the continuation of the conflict.

The Benefits of Conflict

While the Sudanese intelligentsia prides itself in triumph of the people over two military regimes, the fact remains that Sudan has for most of its history been under military government. After two years of civilian rule following General Ibrahim Abbud (1958-1964) opened the chapter of military rule. While the Umma-led coalition government of Prime Minister Muhammed Ahmad Mahgoub succeeded him, democracy was suspended once more by the ‘Free Officers’ coup in 1969. After the disgraceful collapse of the Nimeiri government in 1985 a number of coalition governments took over, resulting in the domination of the National Islamic Front in 1992. The army has been one of the major beneficiaries of prolonged conflicts, as most government expenditure, as well as foreign support, flows directly to the military. On the ground, military officers use their power, especially in the war zone to establish exploitative economic relations with the ‘occupied’ population.

Though Sudan’s economic decline has been precipitous, politically influential groups have benefited from the war economy, as well as from the in-flow of funds from abroad. Thus outright warfare, the ready use of violence or the threat thereof, and the distribution of aid supplies have produced structures of political and economic organisation, that are deeply embedded in the complex political/humanitarian emergency. This development has raised a further obstacle to efforts at finding a peaceful solution and needs to be taken into account in all reconciliation processes.

Historical Background

No assessment of the Sudanese situation can ignore the historical process against which the current conflict is being carried out. The materialist assertion that government and rebels are fighting over the distribution of resources has to be placed within a historic framework which gives due importance to ideology and conceptualisations in this clash of civilisations.

From the eighteenth century onwards, the organised resource extraction of raiders and traders from Egypt and other parts of the Ottoman Empire superseded the subsistence needs of nomadic herders traversing Sudan from north to south in search of grazing land and water. Known as Jellaba traders operated under the protection of the Turco-Egyptian government, and often acting as tax farmers and moneylenders, they played a critical role in linking the subsistence economies of the Sudan with the emerging world market. This process intensified from 1820 onwards, when the Ottoman governor, the wali of Egypt, Mohammed Ali embarked systematically upon the colonisation of Sudan.

Little is known about the Funj kingdom or the culture of the Nubian populations of the area of Northern, in what is known today as Sudan’s Northern Province and the lands at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile. Turco-Egyptian expansion has displaced most memory of these pre-existing civilisations, by turning it into a frontier province of Islam and Arab culture in the late 19th century. Sudan was declared officially as a Turco-Egyptian colony in 1885, and developed a vibrant version of Islam. In the Sudan policy of Egypt the expansionary trend is still detectable, now muted into the ideal of a united Nile valley. This idealism has had, and continues to have, very practical ramifications. In the period prior to independence, Egyptian financial and political support, was instrumental for several of Sudanese political as they were forming political parties, including the Democratic Unity Party and the Umma. Today the Egyptian government concerns itself with every event, which bears influence on the Nile waters. These being regarded as both a domestic matter and a security issue Egypt feels free to pursue what she regards as its best national interests.

The political formation which was expanding from Egypt into the Sudan in the late 19th century was not, however, a nation-state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire, but led by an independently minded monarch, governing through a cosmopolitan administration, and commercial interests, in alliance with the military class of the Mamelucs. This assertive province then set out to colonise the politically even weaker lands to the south, thereby opening the records for our historic understanding of the Sudan, with a period that has become as Turkiyya in Sudanese historiography. There was therefore a combined push of nomadic herders, merchants and an imperialist state into the region.

During this time Turkish was used as the dominant administrative language, Islam became firmly entrenched, and the region was linked to the periphery of the world market. Sudan provided the raw produce, the natural resources and the labour power for another developing, peripheral economy, that of Egypt. The merchant class which grew to prominence in the urban centres of Khartoum and Omdourman, and established a web of settlements and connections across the entire country engaged principally in resource extraction, by selling such luxuries as ivory and ostrich feathers, or tropical cash-crops such as gum and sugar cane to Egypt. From Cairo Sudanese commodities were sold together with Egyptian exports, the staple of which was cotton. Stimulated by British industrial demand, Egyptian farmers had developed cotton growing into a profitable industry, which was principally constrained by the shortage of labour. This was met by capturing the politically weak populations of African subsistence farmers in Sudan, and particularly the south. Slave raiding by Arabised tribes and jellaba, dually sanctioned by economic necessity and Islam, has left a bitter mark on communal relations between the communities in the Sudan, where it fuels southern suspicions of northern domination, and northern fears of reprisals.

The disruptions to the established patterns of life along the lower Nile caused by these economic and political changes sparked off an uprising by Arab/Arabised nomadic groups under the charismatic leadership of Mohamed Ahmed Mahdi, known as the Mahdi, during 1880. Celebrated by modern Sudanese historians as an early expression of Sudanese nationalism, the principal thrust of the Mahdiyya was to purify the corrupt practices of the Turco-Egyptian rulers by asserting a rigorous ‘Islamic’ regime.

Though the insurgents succeeded in dislodging the Ottoman overlords, they were in turn overcome by Anglo-Egyptian forces in 1885. The intervention of Britain abruptly replaced the populist movements of the Mahdiyya with bureaucratic authoritarianism of British colonial rule. The legacy of the short-lived period under charismatic leadership, is the Umma movement, one of the major parties in Sudan’s political landscape, and a focus of nationalism.

The Condominium

The outcome of a series of military expeditions by Anglo-Egyptian forces, which culminated in the capture of Khartoum in 1885, was the colony of the Sudan. Its territorial expanse, ratified by the Berlin Conference and confirmed in its integrity for the independent Successor State by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1956, was established as an integral part of the British Empire. Though known as the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium from 1899, British influence prevailed, while Egyptian influence, as in Egypt proper, progressively diminished. This was given recognition by the unilateral abrogation of the agreement by the head of the Egyptian government, Mustafa Nahhas in 1936.

From the outset, British motivation stood at variance with Egypt’s. Sudan being neither a settler colony, nor considered a valuable commercial ‘estate’, the occupation served wider strategic interests of the empire. Developing the country’s physical and institutional infrastructure and what has come to be as human capital, remained low policy priorities, with two significant exceptions. As financial self-sufficiency was an axiom of British colonial policy in the 19th century, a number of cash-cropping projects were initiated to provide a sustainable revenue base. A process of accelerated import substitution during the Second World War complemented these measures, when Sudan became a supply base to British imperial armies operating in Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia. Linked to expanded production of consumer goods in the 1950s, these measures created a rudimentary industrial base which still holds great political and economic consequence today. Industrialisation was closely associated with the expansion of the civil service, the education system and the army as key institutions of the modern state, which form both the object of political competition and the arena in which the current conflict is carried out. The large majority of these institutions was situated in the north of the country, typically in and around Khartoum, and was staffed by Arabic speaking, Muslim northerners. They formed the emerging political class, which in the aftermath of the Second World War began to demand the withdrawal of the British.

As political parties organised to prepare for the take-over of administrative power, the question of identity was contentious. Confidence in Sudan’s existence as a separate, independent entity was so low that a strong lobby led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Khatmiyah sect even favoured federation with Egypt, even at the price of loosing the south. Until 1947, the south and the north of Sudan constituted separate entities that were administered differently and constrained by formal travel and consular arrangements.

The combined efforts of northern nationalists (especially the Umma party), southern groups and the outgoing British administration eventually prevented such a Union, Sudan emerged as a unitary, independent state with important outstanding questions of regional autonomy, cultural identity and political constitution.


Post-Independence Conflict

Independence was quickly followed by the outbreak of hostilities in the south. Sudan’s post-Independence history can therefore be charted into three distinctive periods.

  1. The First Civil War, starting with the revolt of southern officers of the Equatorial Corps at Torit in 1955, until the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement of 1972.
  2. The peaceful intermission from 1972-1983 interrupted only by local clashes in the Nuba Mountains and parts of the province of Bahr el Ghazal, home to the Dinka, the largest southern ethnic group, and the unsuccessful invasion of National Front forces from Libya in 1976.
  3. Following the mutiny of Major Kerubino at Bor in 1983, the Second Civil War which continues in the present.

Though the distribution of forces, as well as the delineation of the war front, is similar in both civil wars, the motivations driving the major protagonists are quite different. Political questions dominated the agenda of the First Civil War between subsequent Khartoum governments and Anyanya, the southern rebel movement, until successful arbitration in 1972. By giving way on the crucial issue of local autonomy and religious pluralism, the Nimeiri government (1969-1985) managed to secure the political unity of the country, and peace. A unitary regional self-government for the southern province was established at the assembly at Juba, and recognition was given to the pluralist character of the country by guaranteeing the rights of non-Muslims. The equality of all citizens and their basic human and civil rights were enshrined in the Permanent Constitution promulgated in 1973.

This period of rapprochement between the two halves came to a close in the late 1970s. The rising tide of militant Islam can only account partially for the cessation of co-operation. More important were the changes in the country’s economic situation. Spiralling foreign debt, exploding import bills for fuel, and rising consumer demand from the urban elite were putting pressure on the revenue requirements of the government and the private sector. The failure of economic diversification meant that Sudanese producers had to raise their output of cash crops such as cotton, first introduced on a large scale in the rich arable lands at Gezira, the province of Khartoum at the beginning of the century, by British colonial officers. In 1968, the Mechanised Farming Corporation, with backing from the World Bank and the IMF, vastly expanded cotton and sorghum cultivation across the northern provinces. The acreage of land dedicated to rainfed mechanised farming rose from 0.42m ha in 1967, to 7.5 m ha in 1989. Hampered by falling prices and declining profit margins as the yield/input ratio deteriorated over time, land was running short for Sudan’s agricultural capitalists. Even more attractive vistas opened in 1978, however, with the discovery of significant oil reserves at Bentiu, in Bahr al-Ghazal. Suddenly the south of the country, which had hitherto only been a strain on the treasury, held economic promise.

The government, already under pressure from gathering opposition forces and a sharpening economic crisis, was quick to react. In 1980 Nimeiri dismissed the Southern Regional Assembly. This was followed by a comprehensive revision of state boundaries in 1983, dividing the south into the three regions of Bahr el Gazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria, the re-deployment of the civil service across the three provincial capitals of Wau, Malakal, and Juba respectively and the introduction of Arabic as the language of government. These measures brought public administration to a standstill, while the security in the south deteriorated and large parts of the countryside became infested with bandits. More contentious still was the realignment of provincial borders across the north-south divide. The decision to attach the oil fields of Bentiu and rich grazing lands of northern Upper Nile to the northern province of the White Nile was swiftly followed by the relocation of the planned oil refinery from the expected southern site to Port Sudan in the north. These measures shattered the hopes of southern politicians of profiting from the oil production, and confirmed suspicions that the northern government did not care about the south. The economic rationale behind these measures was masked by the simultaneous policy of Islamicisation. In September 1983 the sharia was introduced, and Sudan became a member of the Council of Islamic States. Within a few years the government had reclaimed all the powers that had been vested in the regional bodies and virtually abjured the Addis Ababa Agreement.

The underlying reason for the sudden change of course was not lost on the southern leadership. When open rebellion broke out in 1983 the initial targets of the insurgents were the installations of the Oil Company Chevron at Bentiu and the machinery digging the Jonglei canal. This still uncompleted Jonglei canal is a massive engineering project intended to drain the waters of the Sudd swamps in Upper Nile to increase irrigation acreage in northern Sudan and Egypt. Two symbols of economic development, the benefits of which were seen to be accruing to the northern elite at the expense of southerners owning these resources, such as the local Bor Shilluk pastoralists, displaced by Jonglei construction works.

The eruption of conflict in the south cancelled out the greatest achievement of the Nimeiri regime, and led ultimately to its fall in 1985. In the subsequent negotiations between the succeeding coalition government and the southern opposition, hopes for a permanent peace were raised once more when the SPLA and the National Alliance for National Salvation met for comprehensive talks at Koka Dam, Ethiopia in 1986. But the DUP and the NIF rejected the agreement hammered out by the delegates. In the event, the head of state, Sadiq al Mahdi, leader of the Umma party, reneged on the accord, and embracing many of the religious precepts once espoused by his predecessor, returned to the policy of confrontation. Some of the coalition allies hitherto more sympathetic to southern demands such as the Communist Party, resented the SPLA for carrying the war to the north. With the entrenchment of the NIF, ushered in by the coup of 1989, the government adopted a more hard-line approach


Current Events

In contrast to its predecessor Anyanya, and in spite of a powerful caucus of separatists within its own ranks, the SPLA is outspokenly in favour of a united Sudan. This is often attributed to the overbearing influence of the leader John Garang, but also accounts for the fact that the SPLA is, albeit begrudgingly, recognised by other parties as an essential component of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the umbrella movement of Sudan’s opposition. Furthermore, the SPLA’s national ambitions have procured the movement support outside the south. This is most marked among the Nuba and in the Ingessana Hills (in Blue Nile Province) but also noticeable among the discontented urban poor in Khartoum and other northern city.

Operating from bases in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda, the activities of the SPLA extend from the three southern provinces, to Kordofan, Southern Blue Nile State and Kassala, in the Eastern Region. While other organisations (for example the Sudan Alliance Forces in the north east, the NDA in the east, the Beja Congress and the Ansar fighters of the Umma party) have also fielded forces, the SPLA with an estimated 100,000-120,000 fighters presents the main threat to the regime.

Since the early 1980s government control in the southern provinces has contracted to a string of garrison towns, supplied by air, which serve as springboards for raiding the SPLA bases and their civilian support base.


Friendly Forces and Local Allies

Instead of dissipating its forces in lengthy campaigns across the southern rural areas, the regime rests content with the control of the main garrisons and the cultivation of local allies. One key strategy is to bestow favours on politicians from minority tribes, such as DK Mathews, a Nuer appointed by Nimeiri as governor for the Dinka-dominated province of Upper Nile (1982-85). He set up the Friendly Forces militia of Nuer warriors, who used their weaponry to settle old scores with their Dinka and Shilluk neighbours. Largely organised into Anyanya 2, Nuer forces became increasingly involved in waylaying SPLA columns and in raids on the SPLA headquarters at Bukteng. The contradictions bedevilling this alliance between a northern government and southern militias emerged in the aftermath of the 1988 Addis Ababa Agreement, when the bulk of the Nuer fighters refused to be assimilated into the Sudanese army. As so often in the course of the conflict, the prioritisation of local rivalry by southern Friendly Forces did not translate into active support for the northern government.

The ‘Friendly Forces’ strategy received a fillip in 1991, however, when two guerrilla commanders, Riek Machar and Lam Akol, split from the SPLA ostensibly in protest at the leadership’s refusal to adopt southern independence as a policy platform. The political motivation for the split was soon replaced by an ethnic polarity, as many SPLA fighters of Nuer or Shilluk descent joined the two rebels, and clashes with loyalist troops ensued. The absence of a regional consciousness among the southern populace is a persistent obstacle to political mobilisation in the south. While the north is increasingly perceived as an enemy as the war continues, many young men join the SPLA units and militias in order to settle local scores. Furthermore, the northern government skilfully exploits ethnic animosity.

With the assistance of several African governments the NIF has arranged a series of meetings with the southern dissidents, including the crucial meetings at Frankfurt in 1992, and Nairobi in 1994 which led to the Khartoum Peace Accord of 1996. The SPLA renegades, far from furthering the cause of southern independence, cut a deal that secured them and their followers' material benefits. In return for handing over his homeland around Nasir, near the Bentiu oil fields, to government troops in 1995, Machar was offered a position in the government. However, while the government can prize individual leaders and their immediate followers out of the southern opposition, they can not consolidate this into a workable alliance. What unfolds instead is the progressive fragmentation of such groups or their return to the SPLA. Machar’s authority in Nasir was challenged in 1997 by a southern officer who originates from the same locality, Brigadier Paulino Mateb, with violent clashes between their respective followers reported from across the province and even Khartoum.

This strategy of co-opting selected ethnic minority groups is combined with the arming of militias of nomadic tribes of Arab or Arabised herders. Launched by the government of el Mahdi, this strategy re-directed the economic frustrations of nomadic herders who had been squeezed out of traditional pastures by economic development, towards combating southern secessionists. The Khartoum government, by playing on traditional links between the Umma party and the Baggara, on the values of ethnicity, religion and ancient oppositions and animosities, rekindled by crises, have drafted the Baggara militias into initiating the very economic policies that have adversely affected their traditional lifestyles. Recruited from security outfits employed by local landowners and oil companies such as Chevron, the militias were formed in 1985; they were armed by the government and officially recognised by the 1990 Popular Defence Act. Yet while there are hefty inducements to join forces with the government, there are also clear threats that refusal is not an option. Government officials employ the carrot and stick approach - cars and houses for tribal elders presented with veiled threats of imprisonment and expropriation. Once organised, militias are exempted by the declaration of jihad, the holy war, from prevailing agreements between Arab and Afro communities or any legal obligation. In the Nuba mountains, for example, all Nuba are suspected SPLA sympathisers, and hence enemies of the faith. While the Sudanese government plays down the religious dimension of its internal campaigns to outsiders, this provides a powerful rallying cry and eliminates the decade-old process by neighbouring communities to establish forms of trans-cultural co-operation and coexistence. For the government the militias have several functions:

  1. To destroy the organised military opposition of the SPLA in the field.
  2. To remove any population standing in the way of commercial developments.
  3. To relieve the pressure brought on the nomads by those very economic developments - like the closure of pasture or migration routes - by raiding and looting from the Nuba communities.

One of the consequences of this deliberate policy of informalising warfare is to spread violence and insecurity across the countryside. The interrelationship between economic causes and humanitarian and political consequences in Bahr el Ghazal have been analysed by Keen (1994). While during the colonial regime land ownership of the dars was vested in the tribes, the abolition of the Native Administration after Independence left all land not registered as private in the possession of the state. When international finance became available with the World Bank loan of 1978 the parastatal Mechanised Farming Corporation expanded its activities south into southern Kordofan and Upper Nile. These schemes cut across the trans-humance routes of the nomads. While they had previously followed routes offering the best pastures and plentiful water, they now had to move rapidly and under tight control along narrow corridors. Intrusions on the well-defended mechanised farms incurred heavy penalties. Kept in check by the army and squeezed off the land by the mechanised farms, the nomads turned on their traditional tribal enemies, the Dinka. In the early 1980s the intrusion by herders into the smallholdings of small-scale farmers erupted into a flurry of disputes. With the deterioration of the war in the south, violence escalated along the Baggara-Dinka transition zone. For the militia, raiding and pillaging turned into a way of life with devastating effects for the rural economy. As farmers saw their herds and harvests taken or destroyed, or were systematically rounded up and displaced from their farms, agricultural production collapsed. With the army actively involved in destroying the fabric of rural life as a direct beneficiaries of the accruing ‘forced markets’, and in the absence of any government efforts to establish food security, the south was first visited by famine in 1984-5. Ironically, this was a year when privately owned northern farms achieved record sales for their sorghum exports celebrated as a diversification success by the World Bank representative. This circumstance supports the thesis that the south, and especially the SPLA-identified Dinka have fallen out of the ‘moral community’ of Sudan; that neither regional officials nor central government feel responsible for their plight or in any way obliged to render assistance. Southern Sudan then is a clear instance of a population suffering not so much from an overall shortage of food, but the loss of entitlement by a substantial section of the population.



Relief and Administration in the South

The food shortfall has been partly made up by outside food aid delivered since 1989 by a coalition of aid providers organised into ‘Operation Lifeline Sudan’ (OLS). The pragmatics of aid delivery, as well as the constraints imposed upon charities by the Sudanese government, have meant that the major food distribution centres are situated in the towns remaining under government control. As a result refugee camps have mushroomed. These twin developments have raised concerns that humanitarian aid organisations are in collaboration with the Sudanese government and support its policy of clearing African population groups, such as the Dinka and the Nuba, off the land to make way for agro-industrial schemes or the herds of Arabised tribes. In recent months the British government has taken the lead in curtailing support for existing schemes arguing that the perpetrators of the violence who created the crisis in the first place abuse the very provision of such aid.

Unfortunately there are no signs that this situation can be remedied in the short term. Even the expected expulsion of government troops from their remaining strongholds in Equatoria, the garrison towns of Torit and Wau, will not necessarily lead to the establishment of a more efficient, more concerned and more accountable government which could undertake welfare measures. In fact the SPLA has failed the political challenge to set up a functioning administration in any of the territories under its control. Instead it seems to have replicated the NIF and turned itself into a military machine instead of a revolutionary force. Acting like an occupying power rather than a liberation movement, the SPLA has been responsible for pillage and atrocities in many of the areas of the south. In Yambio and Tombura in Western Equatoria, for example, the local Azande population fled to the bush following the ousting of government troops. Another ethnic groups, the Mandari, migrated to Juba, and large numbers of southerners have sought safety in Khartoum and other parts of the north rather than remain in SPLA held areas.

The poor administrative performance of the SPLA sits next to its patchy record as a military organisation. While it has avoided repeated attempts by government troops to inflict a crushing defeat, it still has not managed to reduce the government garrisons at Juba and was unable to hold on to Wau after seizing it in February. Greater successes were reported from the Nuba Mountains, where the local capital Kadugli has been identified as the next SPLA target. Once again, SPLA successes in the field have to be weighed against civilian losses. Large sections of the Nuba have been displaced and resettled in ‘safe villages’. These are settlements set up by the government ostensibly to supply food and medical supplies to the displaced, but effectively to impose closer government surveillance. There are extensive reports of forced conversions in the feeding centres set up in these ‘safe villages’, where food is exchanged for the nominal acceptance of Islam. It is also a recruiting ground for the army, and for the labour requirement of large farmers.

The activities of the SPLA spur the militias to even greater ruthlessness, and invite retribution from the government. When in May 1998 the SPLA flew in officials and press representatives to celebrate SPLA day, the government responded by withdrawing permission to OLS to assess the assistance needs of the Nuba people. Currently, the food security of an estimated 400,000 people in the Nuba mountains can no longer be guaranteed.


The Position of the Government

In 1991 the chances for compromise receded with the military coup by General Omar al Beshir. The military already demoralised by the endless war in the south, and declining budget allocations, entered an alliance with the National Islamic Front headed by Hassan Turabi. The interests vested in this alliance lie in the colonisation of the south by northern financial interests and continued priority of the military. In these circumstances there is little likelihood that the Sudanese government is prepared to enter into serious talks on the distribution of benefits and the sharing of power with the SPLA.

War and Peace

Unable to settle the issue, the SPLA ultimately hopes to achieve peace through negotiation. There have been numerous attempts by outsiders to facilitate such negotiations, but so far the stumbling bloc has been NIF prevarication. Most negotiations seem designed to split the opposition or to delay progress rather than a serious attempt at settling the conflict. Having boxed itself into a corner over the war in the south, the NIF is now in a difficult situation regarding its management. Its ‘peace from within’ strategy lies in tatters, as each alliance with a southern group is predicated upon mutual opposition to the SPLA and liable to be undermined by local interests. In fact, the government has no chance and not even a plan to impose its authority over the south. Instead, the NIF is content to hold on to the urban centres and secure the valuable grazing lands and oil wells as prizes for the elite. Major military efforts continue in the north of Bahr el Ghazal, with the intention of clearing out the local Dinka so that these can become Arab-occupied lands.

At the same time the cost of the conflict, exacerbated by the NIF’s inability to achieve a decisive victory over the opposition, is undermining government support even in the northern strongholds. The forced recruitment of school-leavers and the round up of young men on the streets of Khartoum is highly unpopular and has sparked urban protests among the northern middle class, a key constituency for any government. In April 1998, the city was shocked when over 260 conscripts died on a riverboat they had fled onto which capsized under fire of military guards. As northern elite families are increasingly feeling the impact of the war, support for the NIF is falling. Among the poor, the glue of nationalism and Islam is losing the power of adhesion. In the large shanty towns surrounding the capital, riots are becoming a regular occurrence. The level of dissatisfaction became evident with the explosion of several bombs in June 1998, marking the beginning of urban terrorism in Khartoum. Ironically there is considerable support for southern secession among northerners weary of endless hostilities. Protests are also growing from an unexpected quarter. Islamic clerics outside the governing alliance who have criticised the abuse of Islam for the political ambitions of a corrupt elite. Yet Islamicisation is one of the few policy options left to a government lacking the means and the vision for national reconstruction hence a welter of restrictive ‘Islamic’ laws is being introduced. For example, bans on men and women travelling jointly on public transport or on male hairdressers seeing to female clients impose new restrictions and punishments on Sudan’s war-weary population.

However, the nationalist wing of the NIF, most importantly the army, vehemently resists calls for separation. Currently, political differences over the constitutional future of the country intermesh with deep dissatisfaction over inadequate resource allocation to the regular army after the cut in US aid in 1991, soon after the NIF declared the Sudan an Islamic state. Supplies from Iraq, Iran, and the Islamic brotherhoods, and recently Eastern European countries, have stepped in to fill some of the gap. As a result the army is finding it increasingly difficult to achieve the standardisation of weaponry and ammunition, as different suppliers provide different weaponry. Furthermore, as neither Middle Eastern regime is capable of meeting all of the government’s requirements and the flows from Eastern European and Chinese suppliers are profit driven rather than politically motivated, they are subject to the regime’s financial constraints. Expected earnings from the Bentiu oil fields, remittances and cash crop export are the main sources of foreign exchange, but there are limits on Khartoum’s ability to mortgage the country’s future. While army support is critical for the regime, it is seen to be on the decline following the death of Vice President El Zubeir, the second highest-ranking NIF officer, in a plane crash earlier this year. The army is not only the strongest nationalist lobby at present, it also contains the main beneficiaries of the war. It is the favoured recipient of government spending and enjoys considerable privileges within the state. Moreover, lower and middle-ranking officers can profit directly from the disruption of life in the war zone, particularly the ‘forced markets’ for livestock. Thus army officers have been the greatest beneficiaries of the redistribution of land and cattle in the war-ravaged south.

Caught between rising civilian opposition to the war, and entrenched army opposition to southern independence, the government is said to have only two dependable allies left: God and southern oil.


Towards a Political Solution

Peace, it seems, has to await a change of government, and the SPLA, fully aware that it cannot achieve peace by military means, cultivates its political allies, such as the Umma and the DUP, with a mass following in the north. While discontent with the regime is rife, the opposition remains divided and vulnerable to co-option. The rank and file of Umma and DUP, for example, found the commitment to a secular constitution given by their respective leaders, Sadiq el Mahdi and Mohamed Osman el Mirghani, hard to swallow. Such an open declaration of secularism is, however, a precondition for membership of the NDA. Such fundamental differences have rendered the opposition vulnerable to President Bashir’s skilful manipulations, and he has been holding out an olive branch to the Umma Party. Besides, the political elite is united by ties of blood and kinship - the wife of NIF secretary Abdullah el Turabi is the sister of the head of the Umma party - which can override political differences in times of crisis. Squabbling over positions in the alliance at the Asmara meeting in March exposed the lack of unity among the coalition partners.

Coming in the wake of a history of letdowns and betrayals, such demonstrations of northern fickleness leave the SPLA little ground for confidence in their allies. There are widespread concerns in the south that any change in government will merely lead to an exchange of personnel, while the same hostile anti-southern policies will be pursued. To many, therefore, the current demands of Joseph Garang for a referendum on autonomy do not go far enough. There is also considerable dispute over the delineation of the border between the north and the south of the country, which many in the SPLA would like to extend into Blue Nile province. Calls for independence, of course, beg the question of the Nuba Mountains, the Ingessana hills and the large population of southern migrants in the north.

Outsiders have been implicated in the process of negotiation since the beginning of the conflict. Particularly active in recent years have been the Kenyan and Nigerian governments, the OAU and Inter Governmental Authority for Development. These efforts, have achieved little, and will remain futile until the government musters the political will to settle with the SPLA.

Outsiders in the form of aid organisations have also been deeply involved in relief work and attempts to alleviate the suffering generated by the conflict. In recent years such efforts have become increasingly controversial as the government has been using famine as a weapon of coercion and displacement. Food aid, such as that distributed to the ‘peace villages’ around Kadugli in the Nuba mountains by the World Food Programme (WFP), has become a corner-stone of the government campaign for land expropriation and resettlement. The dislodged farmers from the Nuba Mountains are now maintained by the WFP in government-controlled camps. While this smacks of collusion, the SPLA also benefits from the financial and material aid provided by international organisations to its humanitarian arm. Both sides regularly divert food aid to feed their armed forces. Therefore it can be argued that some of the food aid perpetuates the cycle of violence which causes the food shortages in the first place.


Local Reconciliation Initiatives

A more hopeful sign has been the recent resurgence of traditional instruments of conflict resolution in the rural areas. In the early 1990s the ethnic group of the Lou Nuer, hard pressed by the closing of options around them, entered the Sabal river basin in Upper Nile Province, which had traditionally been claimed by another group, the Jikang in the early 1990s. Competition escalated into conflict, and with the respective backing of the NIF and the SPLA, the death toll spiralled. After 1,800 casualties, tribal elders restored peace after a meeting at the small town of. There is hence machinery on the ground for reaching peace accords and breaking out of the cycle of violence; but only if both sides realise that the gains of violence are offset by the losses. As long as there are advantages to be had then violence will be used.

Elders and chiefs cannot be relied upon to act automatically for the good of the community. In the Nuba Mountains, for example, the arrival of the SPLA was greeted with great enthusiasm in some quarters, precisely because traditional authorities had failed to provide leadership. Instead they often acted as stooges for the regime, and were paid off with material benefits and privileges. Nevertheless, in recent years as the conflict has become more widespread and the government has relinquished its responsibility as guarantor of peace and stability, traditional authorities have increasingly begun to fill the role of peacemakers. They are the only actors whose legitimacy remains intact, and who can therefore mobilise and command the support of local people. Alternatively, the political machinery of traditional society has been be used by the people in spite of the office holders. Among the Nuba, collaborating chiefs have been disregarded and their offices replaced by an SPLA administration. Though the Nuba have been effectively cut off from the South since the early 1990s, they remain a part of the SPLA, albeit on their own terms. The SPLA administration in the region has been grafted onto traditional forms of government, with a grassroots democracy based upon the public meeting and elections for office.

This politicisation of traditional instruments has produced positive results in the form of local peace agreements. In 1995, 1996 and 1997 two Baggara tribes, the Hawazma and the Misseria reached extensive peace agreements with the local SPLA leadership representing the Nuba. This meant that for the first time one of the Arabised tribes, which had provided a ready pool of recruits for the government militia, was negotiating independently with the rebels.

It is here that outsiders can, in one way or another, make the most constructive contribution by supporting peace initiatives at local level, between local actors whose concern is to secure peace rather than political advantage. Naturally, such efforts are limited and cannot lead to a comprehensive peace agreement. But as long as the government remains inflexible, and while the opposition is unable to gain a clear victory in the field, the most effective form of alleviating suffering is to break the cycle of violence within specific arenas. Local initiatives, carried out by elders and traditional authorities, such as medicine men or Nuer spear leaders, provide one of the most effective and hopeful vehicles for conflict resolution.




The lands claimed by the Somalis stretch from the current rump of Somalia to the breakaway republic of Somaliland, Djibouti, into the North Province of Kenya, and the Ogaden across the Ethiopian border. The centripetal tendencies witnessed at the northern town of Hargeisha, seat of the Somaliand government, and manifest in current efforts to establish an independent Republic of Pundland in the Northeast follow from a tradition of political fragmentation and a deep-seated antipathy to political centralisation. Until the late nineteenth century, the Somali peoples had successfully resisted encroachments by external powers. Equally, they had eschewed the formation of a unitary state. Instead, Somali society was organised as a segmentary lineage system culminating in the qolo translated as clan or tribe. The association of these groupings, each of which claims descent from a single ancestor, constitutes the agnatic basis of Somali society where community is expressed genealogically. Clans are therefore considered wider families, and community is formulated in the idiom of kinship.

Though fluid loyalties and shifting allegiances are the hallmark of the social system, two main lineages - the Sab and Samale, and six main clans are conventionally recognised in ethnographic surveys: Dir, Isaq, Darod, Hawiye, Digil and Rahanwein. Each of these is in turn subdivided, into often a more prominent sub-unit, known as reer. The loose association of clans with particular territory has in recent years been asserted more vigorously as a traditional right to a clan territory. This in response to the dual process of sedentarisation of nomads and the commodification of land. Clans are also associated with each of the political movements, which emerged during the 1980s. Among the first organisations to oppose the regime of Siad Barre were: the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF, 1979) which contained mainly Majerteen, a sub-clan of the Darod clan; the Somali National Movement (SNM, 1981), which was based among the Isaq in the north of the country: the United Somali Congress (USC, 1989) which seized Mogadishu in 1991 and was made up of members of the Hawiye; and.

Before going further, a word of caution against overstating Somali-ness is in order. There are large pockets of ethnically distinct population groups especially among the sedentary, agricultural peoples, some of whom claim to pre-date the Somali migrations; others of Bantu origin followed in later and often forced migrations. These are often affiliated to, if not incorporated into, the clan system, and though racially divergent form part of Somali culture.

It is ironic that the vibrant idiom of Somali nationalism has no adequate institutional equivalent. This has facilitated the rapid fusion of former British Somaliland with the core of Italian- administered Somalia following independence in 1961, and explains the enthusiasm for uniting the disparate Somali territories currently under foreign administration - Ogaden, the Kenyan ruled Northern Frontier Province, and independent Djibouti - with the Somali core. The constitution even contains a pledge to return these provinces, poetically described as stars lost to the Somali firmament. In the absence of existing institutions that could unite the community, There are few mechanisms by which different group interests can be accommodated. Furthermore, outside government itself, There have been few benefits to make co-operation between different groups attractive. The weakness of the administration has combined with a weak economy to undermine the viability of the state. At present, the most promising recovery is occurring on a local level. It is possible that these units provide the basic constituents of an emerging confederation. A future Somali government is still faced with the fundamental questions of how to entice regional power-holders to submit themselves to the national interest. If Somalia is to return to statehood, it needs to produce positive advantages to all groups.


The Political Formation of Somalia

With no mechanisms for social and political integration beyond the clan but vast scope for fragmentation at lower levels, the project of nation building was to prove a great challenge in spite of cultural homogeneity. The difficulties of imposing the order and discipline of formal statehood were compounded by the cultural specificity of the Somali tradition. Formulated during the high period of nomadism, when sub-clan, group or even a single family or would traverse the clan territory with their herds, the republican ethos is summarised in a proverb: "In Somalia each man is his own Sultan." This individualism notwithstanding, Somali identity remains a powerful cultural symbol and retains its political appeal.

Somalia’s political history is therefore determined by the conflicting dynamics of charismatic leadership and nonconformist individualism. Political leaders can build alliances and attract followings on the strength of shared culture, language, and ancestry, but they have to adopt the awkward means of modern statehood to institutionalise their authority. This often backfires, driving people away from the modernising project to seek refuge and support in their regional or sub-clan identities. As individual charisma exuded by leaders such as Siad Barre and Hassan Farah Aideed fade away, the inspired assertion of power has to be replaced by routine administration. This can only function as long as followers are rewarded, and in as poor an economy as Somalia’s the need for a surplus distributed by the patrimonial state made the external connection to an outside power always very important. When this prop was knocked away under the regime in the 1980s the only recourse left was redistribution of internal resources, which inevitably means expropriation and displacement. In the late 1980s it spelled civil war.

The categorical subordination of traditional forms of organisation, such as the huurt (the meeting of clan elders) was completed in the 1880s when Somali lands were divided among Britain, Italy, France and Ethiopia. Arbitrary border delineation, a dilemma across the African continent, was especially restrictive for nomadic herders, dependent upon free movement towards pasture and water holes. Thus colonialism resulted in the shift of power towards the urban areas, the centres of administration, production and consumption, and broke up formerly extensive clan territories through the imposition of borders. The push factor of regulatory intervention, including the closure of migration routes and the expropriation of clan lands, was accompanied by the pull of opportunities and development benefits prospects of in the cities, especially the ports of Mogadishu, Kismayo and Berbera. In spite of this significant change in livelihoods, many of the forms of association and the fissiparous organisation into clans continued. People strengthened their ties with their clans and families, even though they had increasing contact with other Somalis.

In addition, colonialism introduced the Somalis to modern warfare, including Africa’s first experience of aerial bombardment. Armed resistance to British rule in north-eastern Somaliland under the leadership of Mohammed Abdulle Hassan lasted until the 1920s. In the Italian colony of Somalia, meanwhile, soldiers were recruited to participate in the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and fought on both sides in the Second World War. With the de facto unification of all Somali territories under British rule in 1942 peace was established, but the transfer of power from the allies to the UN was a prologue to the far more extensive UN involvement in the early 1990s.

Within months of gaining independence in July 1960 the former British colony of Somaliland united into a single country with its larger neighbour, former Italian Somalia. The agreement of the two governments

. The Haud region was made over to Ethiopia by the British administration of Somaliland in 1884. As no Somali was consulted in this agreement the governments of neither Somalia nor Somaliland accept it as binding.

Supported by referendums in both countries. The new state, with Mogadishu as its capital, took a strong nationalist position on the Somali territories in the Ogaden of Ethiopia and Kenya’s Northern Province. Charged with irredentist ambition Somalia refused to sign the OAU charter accepting the validity of colonial borders and embarked upon a policy of national expansion. Though the ominous rumble of gunfire could be heard as early as 1964, with clashes along the Ethiopian border, and a shifta (bandit) war in northern Kenya, the civilian government coalition led by prime minister Abdirazaqu Haji Husseyn pulled back from the brink of warfare. Following the military coup of 1969, however, a very different regime took the reins of power. General Siad Barre first consolidated his authority at home by replacing multi-party democracy with the single Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP), dressed in the ideological garb of the left. The state, however, moved centre stage as the engine of modernisation and development and the focus of social organisation. It also secured support from the Soviet Union, mainly in the form of military aid, which in turn satisfied the army, extended the power of Barre’s clan, and allowed him to entertain dreams of regional expansion.


The Prelude to the Collapse

In 1977 Barre gambled on the weakness of the Ethiopian military tied down in its campaign against Eritrean insurgents in order to realise the Somali dream of unification. Against the counsel of his Soviet advisors, he struck out across the Ethiopian border in July 1977 with a large, well-equipped army. Though the Somali people enthusiastically supported this act of aggression, the president lost his foreign backers, who changed sides at the height of battle. In the biggest military airlift known in history Russian arms and intelligence, poured into Ethiopia, enabling the Dergue government to repulse Barre’s invasion in 1978. The outcome of this adventure was disastrous for Somalia. With the economy in tatters and the accumulated reserves squandered on a foreign adventure, the morale of the army and the people plummeted. Demobilisation was a long and painful process as the government did not command the resources to re-integrate former soldiers; nor could adequate medical care be delivered to the wounded. To make matters worse, the retributions by the Ethiopian military in Ogaden triggered a wave of an estimated 700,000 refugees, many of whom were resettled in northern Somalia occupied by the Isaq, a clan only weakly represented in Mogadishu. The government’s inadequate attempts to render the most rudimentary assistance consumed over 14% of an already compressed national budget. Economic recovery and the scope for private sector operators to absorb the many new entrants into the labour market were hampered by the state’s monopoly of the economy. Under these constraints Barre was forced to concentrate his largesse upon his closer supporters, principally the Marrehan, his own sub-clan, as well as the clan he had married into, the Ogaden. Both are subdivisions of the Darod clan, dominant in the centre of the country.

Opposition therefore crystallised among the less favoured groups: the Isaq who formed the Somali National Movement (SNM) in the north of the country, and the Majerteen, whose political organisation, the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) operated from across the Ethiopian border. The Hawiye-based United Somali Congress (USC) later joined them. This insurgency was fuelled by the wide availability of armed weapons scattered by the retreating Somali army, and those readily supplied by the Ethiopian government. While military operations were often difficult to distinguish from banditry, the government response left no room for ambiguity. According to Africa Watch the clamp-down on northern dissidents in the early 1980s, escalated into military campaigns in which an estimated 50,000-60,000 civilians perished.

Negotiations with the IMF in 1982/3, meanwhile, had led to the first adjustment packages. Though Somalia was one of the highest net beneficiaries of aid, with donors supplying up to 25% of GNP and 70% of the government budget, debt levels remained high, and repayments in 1989 amounted to 124% of export earnings. Furthermore, the development funds and foreign investments pouring in during the early 1980s, while raising production, destabilised local production systems, thereby contributing significantly to the underlying political tension. This was most evident in the banana and sugar plantations revived in the fertile lands between the Shabelle and Juba rivers in the south of the country, as well as the commercialisation of livestock trade by large Mogadishu-based traders, the jeeble.

Furthermore, the aid was attached to conditions, which proved irreconcilable with the demands of the patrimonial Somali State. As stability depended upon popular acquiescence, which could only be secured through the distribution of favours, the frustrations of groups peripheral to the regime could only find expression in the customary forms of protest: violence. These in turn provoked responses which Siad Barre’s international backers found impossible to accept. After the bombing of insurgents at Hargeisha by government troops in 1989 US aid was cancelled. The suspension of IMF loans followed in the next year, ostensibly because of repayment arrears.

The contraction of the state’s patrimonial capacity resulting from reduced aid-flows was compounded by adverse developments in the private sector. Migration to the Gulf, known in Somalia as the ‘muscle drain’, and the livestock trade, had become the principal forms of economic activity and been instrumental in financing centres of political power outside the control of government. With no external regulation, nomadic pastoralists were left to their own devices to manage their herds and negotiate the allocation of the limited natural resources vital to livestock raising: water, pasture and migration routes. Conflict over grazing and watering rights had been part of Somali life since time immemorial. However, while the Somali economy was only loosely associated with the world market, a wide range of socially established redistributive mechanisms limited the expansion of herds. These ranged from stock alliances to polygamous marriages, which served as devices to counter herd's concentrations through the brideprice payments. As a result limits were set on herd size, a balance maintained between clans and a form of ecological management provided.

Once integrated into the money economy, albeit on unequal terms, Somali herders became capitalists whose economic outlook was determined by the maximisation of short-term profit. This shift in herd management patterns resulted in the rapid deterioration of rangelands and the increasing competition over a dwindling natural resource base. Fighting between two factions, the SSDF and the USC, for example, originated in clashes between Majerteen and Hawiye pastoralists over watering rights in the Mudug region of central Somalia in 1988. Yet, for the private sector, livestock exports had become an indispensable source of foreign exchange. The precipitous decline in livestock trade in the early 1980s, caused by Australian competition and a Saudi import ban, had devastating effects upon herders, traders and the entire port economy, which had grown around it. The fall in earnings was catastrophic, from $123m in 1982 to $47m in 1984. Though many herders recovered by redirecting their trade to Kenya and Ethiopia the national economy sustained a severe shock during a period of gathering political crisis.

Government attempts at re-establishing its authority were impeded by the spread of insurgency across the north and centre of the country and the reluctance of the US government to intensify its support for an unreliable ally. Unable to defeat the opposition in the field, Barre agreed to political reform in 1988, and promulgated a new constitution. This came too late, however, and only in piecemeal fashion. As a result Barre failed to allay the suspicions of the opposition. In December 1989, Barre finally acknowledged his inability to defeat the opposition in the field and began negotiations with opposition groups over sharing power in Cairo. The opposition, though successful in wearing down government authority, was divided over its demands. Unable to take a firm political line it showed the first indications of fragmentation along clan lines when it was unable to negotiate an accord with the government.





The fall of Siad Barre

In the field, meanwhile, troops loyal to the government were pushed back to Mogadishu. Militias of the USC, mainly drawn from the Hawiye clan, entered the capital in January 1991, forcing Barre to flee to his clan stronghold in the south. The final vestiges of the administration collapsed as the government was disbanded and its servants dispersed. The victorious militias, often made up of gun-toting youths and without a unitary command structure, took over power in the abandoned town. The first victims of this unbridled violence that ensued were members of the Darod clan, subject to reprisals for their associations with the previous regime. Soon, however, the unity of the opposition fragmented into factions as the removal of the common enemy dissolved the bonds of co-operation. An attempt by the Djibouti government to set up the USC commander Ali Mahdi as the leader of a provisional government was rejected by his archival Aideed and competition degenerated into violent conflict between former allies throughout Mogadishu. In the fighting between the two warlords Aideed, head of the Somali National Alliance (SNA) and Ali Mahdi of the USC, from November 1991 to February 1992 an estimated 14,000 lives were lost.

Fighting outside the capital caused even greater casualties, as Aideed’s troops set out towards Kismayo and Gedo in pursuit of the retreating Barre. Back in his homeland, the former head of state rallied clan support under the umbrella of the Somali National Front (SNF) and made two further attempts upon Mogadishu. His principal commander and son-in-law Mohamed Said Hershi, also known as Morgan, settled for regional dominance and engaged the forces of Aideed and his ally, Umar Jess, at Kismayo. The extension of the conflict into the rich agricultural land between the Juba and Shebelle rivers devastated the food production of the largely unaffiliated cultivators. By 1992, much of southern Somalia was in the grip of famine in which, according to the UN, 700,000 refugees fled to Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as overseas; 300,000 people perished. Meanwhile in the north of the country elders of the Isaq clan agreed to settle local differences peacefully and declared independence as the Republic of Somaliland.

As the disruptions caused by the war were beginning to cause food shortages, the international response was delayed by the information gap, which remains one of the casualties of war. Foreign embassies and aid agencies who had fled the country in 1991/2 and were unprepared. The enormity of the crisis, however, impelled the two principal warlords, Ali Mahdi and Aideed, to agree upon a cease-fire in March 1992. It lasted several months until control over the relief supply routes and distribution centres sparked a new round of fighting towards the end of 1992.

The breakdown in security led to the intervention of a UN-sponsored peace-keeping force in 1992. While Aideed reluctantly accepted their arrival given the prospect of economic opportunities, his rivals Ali Mahdi and Mohamed Abshir Musa welcomed the presence of UN troops as a much needed counter-weight to Aideed’s military strength. The various interventions by the United Nations departments of UNITAF, UNISOM I and UNISOM II, and a myriad of non- governmental agencies, have been the subject of much controversy within and outside Somalia ever since. It can be safely said that while the relief programme in 1992 did much to mitigate the impact of famine, it also played into the hands of the warlords who became the main contractors to the agencies. Thus, self-declared faction chiefs with little control over their militias could without any mandate, and risible popular support, share out jobs and benefits among themselves, with little concern for the absence of a functioning administration. Some of the basic functions of government, particularly relating to famine relief were carried out by a collection of organisations operating under the UN mandate. But the presence of an ever-growing international military force, based on US military power, failed to enforce peace. The position of the UN peacekeepers became untenable in the aftermath of the Somali attack on a unit of Pakistani soldiers, when Commander Aideed was singled out as the public enemy of the international community. The UN, and behind particularly the US military, were seen as abandoning their neutrality by becoming involved in factional politics. In Somalia Aideed, the paramount warlord was elevated into a national hero. The UN or more specifically the US intervention failed to establish a clear winner, and by moving against one particular faction accelerated the pattern of violence. At the point of UN withdrawal in 1994, the security situation was comparable to that of 1992.

A number of dominant themes emerged in 1993 as fresh attempts were made to work out a settlement. Already a north/south divide had become manifest in terms of volatility and violence. The north, especially the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland, remained largely at peace after years of fighting towards the end of Siad Barre’s period in office. The assertion of traditional authority at clan level had wrested the power from militias and armed gangs, thereby restoring a sense of order. By contrast, in the southern port of Kismayo, the attempts at clan level between the Harti and Ogaden to negotiate an agreement were scupperd by their respective leaders, Morgan and Jess. The weakness of clan structures played into the hands of the faction leaders and warlords, who alone could promise to take control of the gangs of wild gunmen and restore a level of stability. This stability rested precariously upon the ability of the warlord to satisfy the demands of his militias for guns, money and khat. He had to control the flow of locally available resources and, critically, deny access to his rivals. Foreign aid, emergency relief and contracting services for the UN relief/peace-keeping efforts provided the biggest opportunities. Upon the withdrawal of the peacekeepers and decline in emergency relief, local assets regained their importance. Foremost among these, were the rich agricultural lands between the Juba and Shabele rivers and the remaining installations of the capital.

The need to meet the demands of a quasi-mercenary militia had established the political economy of warlordism, predicated upon the continuation of violence. Without an inflow of resources from abroad, however, this involved taking ever-greater security risks for diminishing economic returns. Outside the group of war profiteers the traders who benefited from the market distortions war fatigue began to set in. This is instrumental in explaining the schism between Aideed and one of his main backers, Osman Ato, which began in 1994. A businessman, and former representative of Conoco, Ato had lost faith in the ability of Aideed to unite the country and restore order, and began withdrawing his support. During the 1995 campaign for the leadership of the USC, the rivalry would come out into the open, with Ato openly running against Aideed.

In response to this change in climate, a number of faction leaders met to discuss a comprehensive peace settlement towards the end of 1993 at the Ethiopian resort of Sodere at the invitation of IGAD. With Aideed conspicuous by his absence, There was no hope of a breakthrough, but at least a number of faction heads had stated their intent for a negotiated solution. Initially the two opposing camps, Aideed’s Somali National Alliance (comprising five factions) and Ali Mahdi’s Salvation Alliance dominated the political landscape. The failure of either to extend its authority across the country led to the emergence of new forces, such as Osman Ato as mentioned above and the alliance of Mohamed Quanyere and Abdullahi Yussuf.

The reduction in relief and peace keeping, as well as the diversion of trade flows away from Mogadishu, had seriously dented the war chests of Aideed and Ali Mahdi. As a remit Aideed began to develop the existing profit centres of his estate, including exports from the Dole Banana Company; this stood in direct competition to Ato’s Somalifruit. Moreover, Aideed sought to convert his control over the better part of southern Mogadishu and much of central and southern Somalia to international recognition. With a cabinet of 64 ministers working under his ‘presidency’, he hoped that the appearance of government would deliver western investment. Ali Mahdi, by contrast, played the Muslim card, setting up sharia courts in his part of Mogadishu with support from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

This proved a dangerous strategy as Aideed’s sharia courts soon began to disregard the authority of their erstwhile patron and established themselves as an independent force. A bigger blow to the existing balance of power followed the death of Farah Aideed himself in a gunfight in central Somalia in August 1996. Though his son Hussein Aideed little changed initially in the distribution of forces instantly succeeded him. But the lack of political skill of the US-educated successor has since put a heavy strain on the alliance.

Meanwhile Ali Mahdi also came unstuck: much of his support had been a negative reaction to the ascent of Aideed. With Aideed gone, his main rival became a spent force, giving Ali Sheik Mohamed the opportunity to challenge Ali Mahdi’s control over northern Mogadishu. These changes rippled through the Somali body politic, where fighting between faction militia was replaced by political assassination. Equally, clashes between the large clan groupings gave way to competition at a lower level. The ongoing rivalry between Hussein Aideed and Ato is illustrative of the level of fragmentation that has been occurring at sub-clan level, as both the main protagonists are Hawiye, but the former is Itsab/Habr Gidir/Saad/RerJalanf and the latter Itsab/Habr Gidir/Saad/Hiluwle.


Emerging from the Crisis

The renewed efforts at the Ethiopian town of Sodere in 1996 bear testimony to the determination of IGAD, and neighbouring states like Kenya to assist in the resolution of the Somali crisis; the nature of these initiatives, however, leaves much to be desired. One glaring absence at repeated conferences has been the omission of any civil society institution. Instead, faction leaders and warlords, with no mandate other than their guns, have been given an exclusive monopoly over Somalia’s political future. Some observers argue that this is regrettably occurring at precisely the point when the Somali economy is reviving, and the power of the warlords undermined.

Practical difficulties also surround the talks sponsored by UN agencies. These are usually adapted to the protocol requirements, and the budgetary provisions of the international agencies hosting them. The UN agency or the foreign government, who sponsor the conference, usually proceeds by inviting selected representatives from different Somali faction to a foreign location. Here they meet for a fixed period to discuss a prepared agenda. The UN bodies are principally concerned with the formation of a functioning administration, and push for a nominal agreement on the question of government and constitution. There is neither room nor time, in view of the expenses involved, allowing for a discussion of the issues concerning the delegates themselves. Furthermore, the selection of delegates is flawed, as the are no democratic mechanisms involved, and no system for guaranteeing accountability. Indeed, conferences attendance offering such attractive economic opportunities, they have become an object of political contestation in themselves. Far from enabling the peace-process to move ahead such peace-making efforts, it has been argued, undermine Somalia’s stability. They give recognition and thus an element of legitimacy to the warlords, and provide them with access to resources. One of the reasons why the many attempts by international mediators to produce a binding agreement have failed is due to cultural differences. The format of these formal talks, with their tight agendas, is ill suited to the circumlocutionary nature of the clan gathering. In contrast to the series of well-provided yet inconclusive meetings at Nairobi, Sodere and Cairo, the founders of Somaliland managed to agree on a government and a constitution in a series of meetings of elders lasting for several months. The guurti, or national assembly of elders, is the highest court of appeal and the highest authority in the land.

In 1998 Egypt took the mantle of conference facilitator from Ethiopia. At a meeting in Cairo in January 1998, the negotiators succeeded in finally bringing Hussein Aideed and the Somali National Alliance (SNA) into the peace process. For the first time the other large Hawiye groups from in and around Mogadishu were well represented, with Aideed (Jalaf/Saad/Harb Gidir), Osman Ato (Hilowle/Saad/Habr Gidir) and Ali Mahdi (Harti/Abigal) all included. It was agreed to follow this meeting up with a conference at Baidoa in north-eastern Somalia to bring together all factions (with the exception of Somaliland) in an attempt to establish a national government. Once again the formulation of a political solution depends largely upon the availability of foreign funding.


The Secession of Somaliland

In 1991 the sustained attempts by regional politicians and traditional leaders of the Isaq clan organised into the SNM to find a political settlement to end the war resulted in the unilateral declaration of independence by the Republic of Somaliland. Over the past seven years Somaliland has successfully quelled outbreaks of internal unrest, and has established a rudimentary administration. This has been achieved with minimum international assistance - as Somaliland is not recognised internationally and therefore is not eligible for either credits from the IMF or the World Bank or for bilateral assistance from other governments. Only a small number of NGOs maintain programmes in the region.

The government of Somaliland has sought to obtain international recognition on the strength of constituting a separate nation within the borders of the former British colony of Somaliland. It is claimed that the political unification with Somalia in the 1960s was constitutionally flawed, and only rectified in 1991 after the political process re-opened with the collapse of Barre’s regime. It is argued that the Somaliland Legislative Assembly never signed the Act of Union in 1960 and that the referendum on unification in 1961 did not win a majority vote in Somaliland, though it did over all of Somalia. Hence, Somaliland was first annexed and then illegally occupied during the Barre era, and independence is the realisation of self-determination.

During the 1960s, however, a nationalist bond of attachment served to weld Somalilanders and Somalis into a single nation, which received new impetus during the 1970s, when conflict erupted between Somalia and Ethiopia. Many Somalilanders with claims to the Haud region of Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden initially supported the military adventurism of the Barre regime. The fact that Somaliland politicians have not rescinded this claim illustrates the constitutional dilemma posed by their colonial legacy to the states of the Horn. Several decades of neglect and what came to be viewed as an occupation have dampened the enthusiasm for national unity. War-weariness, pragmatism and the benefits of local decision making have given impetus to an evolving sense of Somaliland identity.

In the spring of 1991 forces of the SNM took the regional capital of Hargeisha at the same time as the USC captured Mogadishu, revoked the Act of Union of 1960, and declared the independence of the Republic of Somaliland under the presidency of Abulrahman Aw Ali Tuur. A series of meetings throughout 1992 prepared the way for the national reconciliation conference at the town of Borama, where Somaliland’s new constitution, including the Assembly of Elders (the guurti), the Peace Charter and the terms for the presidency were hammered out. From the start emphasis was on making decisions based upon consensus through free discussion. In a series of meetings lasting over several months Somaliland succeeded in formulating the political instruments of government and embarked upon a programme of demobilising the clan militias and restoring and the rule of law. In 1993 Mohammed Ibrahim Egal took over from Ali Tuur, and expanded the administrative functions of government. While problems surfaced at the regional centre of Burco, where fighting broke out between the two sub-clans of the Habr Yunis and the Habr Yeclo, most of the country benefited from a relative prosperity on the back of livestock exports and imports through the port of Berbera. It is beyond question that Somaliland is a net beneficiary from the economic paralysis effecting the rest of the country, and the practical closure of Mogadishu and other ports in the south. Berbera has also been a net gainer from the diversion of Ethiopian trade after the outbreak of hostilities with Eritrea.

In the political arena, Somaliland has managed to evolve mechanism whereby political leaders can be removed without recourse to violence. The first head of state was successfully removed against his wishes after the expiry of his term of office in 1993. When violence broke out between government forces and the militia of a Habre Yunis subclan, the Rer Ishak, a peaceful solution could be found in talks between Egal and clan elders. It was agreed to integrate the militia into the national army. Persistent efforts by Aideed junior to foster unrest through arms shipments and striking an unholy alliance with political leaders, such as the ousted president Tour, have led to nothing. Most of the country is now peaceful and under a rudimentary public administration. The courts, police and army are all functioning, and staffed by paid officials. The economic mainstay of the state is livestock export and general import trade through Berbera, which has profited enormously from the paralysis of the southern ports. Nothing provides a stronger incentive to peace in the rest of the country than the comparative prosperity of the north-east. In the meantime the launch of two different currencies in 1994 speaks volumes for the respective systems of governance in Somaliland and the collection of territories held by Hussein Aided. While the Somaliland shilling has become accepted as tender in Somaliland, traders in Mogadishu have to be forced at gunpoint to accept the new Somali currency.


The Prospects for Stability

Comparative successes should not blur the magnitude of Somaliland’s difficulties. The currency, the above-mentioned Somali shilling, suffers from rampant inflation and competition from the Ethiopian birr and the US dollar. Moreover, the current administration is financed entirely from internal revenues, mainly raised in and around the port. Once Somalia returns to normal or the newly independent Republic of Pundland develops export facilities at Bosaso, the port dues collected at Berbera will decline. Without economic security, there is no guarantee for political stability, which at present owes much to the fact that its officials -the judiciary, the security services, the administrators - are paid.

Hopes for the longevity of Somaliland are rendered even more precarious by the opportunist conduct of senior politicians. After the expiry of his presidential term, Tuur moved to Mogadishu to become a client of Farah Aideed’s, and denounced the independence of Somaliland. With such a blatant display of disloyalty at the top of the state hierarchy, it is not surprising that centrifugal tendencies are found at the lower level. Sections of the Warsengeli and Dolbahunta subclans, both Haarti/Darod, are reportedly restless to leave Somaliland altogether and join with Pundland.

Further Fragmentation of Somalia

On 23 July 300 leaders elected Colonel Abdullahi Yussuf Ahmed, the former leader of the SSDF as the first president of the federal state of Pundland. At the helm of a 69-member parliament based at the capital of Garowe, the president has the difficult task of steering the region into the calm and mildly prosperous waters through which neighbouring Somaliland has been cruising over the past few years. Ironically, Mohamed Egal, the president of Somaliland, has warned of border conflicts as two of the principal clan groupings of Pundland, the Dolbahunta and the Warsengeli, also occupy parts of Somaliland. It is also likely that the return of a functioning administration will divert some of the Somaliland livestock export and some of Berbera's shipping to the port of Bosoa in Pundland.

Following the same example, General Morgan of the SDF has voiced his intention of turning the Juba-valley into a federal region. This latest development appears as the first concerted attempt at manipulating the initiatives arising from the grass roots and wider civil society to reconstruct a system of political order in Somalia. The prominence of Morgan in the new state of Jubaland is in itself indicative of the character of this particular political configuration. Morgan has not emerged out of the peace-making efforts undertaken by traditional authorities, but as a result of his wresting of control of the port of Kismayo in 1992. The inflicted by Morgan’s rampaging troops was largely responsible for the famine that haunted this rich, agricultural region. His current attempt at setting up an administration serve as a warning that yesterday's war-lords may now seek to assume the garb of quasi legitimate, civilian authority.

International Consequences

Internal fragmentation is intensified by foreign pressure. The Somali crisis has spilled over into neighbouring countries who had to absorb refugees in their hundreds of thousands, and who have become drawn into the vortex of violence and instability. Somalia provides a base from which groups opposing the governments in Ethiopia and Kenya can operate freely. Ethiopia has therefore taken the authority to launch military raids into Somalia. Somalis fear that Ethiopia, if unable to establish a stable Somali State will settle for a weak one. Worried about the incursion into the Ogaden by fighters affiliated to Al Itahad al Islami, Ethiopia has been trying to build up an anti-Itahad coalition in Mogadishu comprising the SNF (Somali National Front) under the leadership of Morgan, the Rahenweyne Resistance Army and Ali Mahdi. While this has been ineffective, the Ethiopian arms shipments have poured oil on the flames of Somali conflict. Repeated incursions by Ethiopian forces into Somali territory in the southern Gedo region have incited Somali nationalists against the invader.


The search for peace in Somalia remains problematic; as each time a peace agreement seems within the grasp of the negotiators the spoils of such peace provide the incentive for a fresh round of violence. As such violence is mostly inconclusive the prestige of faction leaders suffers and their authority diminished. In turn, cleavages open up at increasingly lower levels, weakening further the claims to national leadership put forward by particular clans such as the Hawiye. Their fortunes may mirror the example of the Darod clan’s claim to leadership put forward at Sodere, which in the absence of a concrete plan to implement authority, ended up in a round of vicious in-fighting between Marehan and Majerteen at Kismayo.

It appears to many observers that the attempts at resurrecting the Somali states are going in circles. The lack of trust between factions makes any agreement difficult, particularly when it comes to the sensitive question of political office. The contest for the governorship of Mogadishu is the most urgent issue to be settled at current, and Ali Mahdi’s supporters have already clashed with those of Ali Ugass, the former mayor, and those of Muuse Sudi. As of old, the winning candidate may well turn out to be the man who can field the largest militia. But violence can only achieve a hollow victory, as the demands of large groups of armed followers cannot be met from the meagre resources available to a reconstituted government. Dissatisfied militias are by now acculturated into a violent mode of acquisition, which can easily escape the control of political leaders. At Cairo, for example, the head of the Rahenwyne Resistance Army, Abdulkadir Mohamed Adan Sobe agreed to the cease-fire, but the men on the ground rejected the deal and continued in their attempt to oust Aideed’s militia.

At the same time There is a realisation that the warlord economy is doomed to short-circuit, which gives hope to the peace process in Somalia. There are already signs of a reviving civil society in Mogadishu where independent newspapers have resurfaced and economic recovery is under way. Whether these first shoots of the Somali recovery will be allowed to blossom in national reconstruction will depend on the wisdom of faction heads, the inclusion of clan elders, and the control exercised over the armed gangs.

In the face of the history of the unitary state in Somalia, the future does seem to lie with some form of a federal structure where the aspirations of local people can be readily conveyed to the institutions of state. These institutions, their personnel and the constitutional framework must, however, be carried by the consensual approval of the population. Somali society is so deeply fatigued by the incessant insecurity that genuine attempts at reconstruction can count upon a large stock of goodwill. But There has to be a clear dissociation of tomorrow’s leaders from the violent turmoil of the past.




In the wider context of African studies, Ethiopia has played a unusual role by providing the only instance in Sub-Saharan Africa where the two concepts of state as an organised hierarchy exercising control over territory and people, and of the nation as a community of people possessing common values have indigenous points of reference and were not inherited from departing colonial masters, as elsewhere in Africa. Recognition of the strength and reliance of the Ethiopian State is a necessary point of departure for the analysis of conflict issues in Ethiopia, as well as for the study of the conflicts between Ethiopia and neighbouring states. It should be emphasised that since independence Ethiopia has been engaged in both civil wars (state-state or state-society conflicts) as well as in wars with neighbouring states. In spite of the considerable burden placed upon Ethiopian society by the perpetuation of violence, the state and its principle structures have survived intact. This is rare in Africa, and is partly derived from Ethiopia’s historical experience, discussed below. State resilience across a number of violent regime changes has not, however, converted into an effective development policy. While this provides parallels with the state function and performance of its neighbours, particularly with Sudan and Somalia, it reinforces the argument for a historical explanation of the Ethiopian State as its current dynamic and efficacy cannot be referred to any particular model of development.


History of the Ethiopian State

The success of the Ethiopian state owes much to the interplay between two key institutions, the Orthodox Church and the imperial court, in which the official state ideology of the Solomonic dynasty was first articulated in the thirteenth century. According to this the emperors descended directly from the biblical Queen of Sheba and King Solomon; their temporal rule over a stratified and heavily taxed society was thus shrouded in divine right. Hierarchically organised with the patriarch at its apex, the church owned and managed large land holdings and enjoyed powers of taxation. Its chief significance for the project of state formation, however, lay in the training and formation of a professional class and the resultant strong traditions of literacy and administration.

Economically church and state were dependent on the surplus produced by the agricultural communities in the Ethiopian highlands and the resource transfers from the peasantry. According to a contemporary ethnic classification, this peasantry consisted of the three main groups of Amhara, Oromo and Tigrayans. The parallels with European feudalism are limited, as the title to land did not outlive its holder, and succession was therefore an issue of uncertainty. But it resulted in the growing need for the emperor to find new territories with which to reward supporters, and to keep the army satisfied by providing new targets for the acquisition of spoils.

Landlords received regular tithes from the peasantry, and controlled markets. They were in turn subordinate to the emperor on whom they in turn relied for recognition and legitimisation. But often the relationship was uneasy and marked by an itinerant imperial household. Prior to the development of cash crops and the benefits of long distance trade, no single region was wealthy enough to sustain a permanent capital. From the start, however, the system of apportioning land to favourites and the authority over its subjects who were often not blood relations but conquered peoples characterised Ethiopia (or, as it was Abyssina) as an empire. In some forms Abyssina resembled the British and Ottoman empires, with which it came into contact within the course of its history.

The Abyssinian state reached its first territorial apogee in the fifteenth century before contracting to its highland core in the wake of the subsequent Islamic resurgence, marked by the establishment of Ottoman power along the Red Sea coast. As the Horn of Africa became embroiled in the competing claims of the world religions, the Abyssinian rulers would strategically emphasise their Christianity, while rebellious subjects embraced Islam. European ascendancy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries therefore boosted the Abyssinian position, often presented as a Christian island surrounded by a sea of Islam. Emperors Tewodros (1855-68), Yohannes (1872-89), Menelik (1889-1913) and Haile Selassie (1916/1930-1974) succeeded in consolidating central control around the imperial court, the class of land owners, and the Orthodox Church. Hence the Abyssinian State could develop a cohesion and concentration of power without equal in the region.

The three determining factors in the process of state formation had already emerged during this period: military supremacy and the monopoly of violence in the internal domain; control over the economic base through export cash crop cultivation, principally coffee, established on a commercial scale during the 1890s by the emperor Menelik; and long distance trade. By intensifying contacts with external powers successive emperors managed to amass a sufficient fund of strategic resources during the nineteenth century to become independent from the class of feudal lords. In the 1880s the hitherto itinerant imperial court established a permanent capital at Addis Ababa.


Ethnicity as a Political Factor

In the process of state expansion a collection of independent and culturally diverse peoples were brought under imperial control and subject to varying degrees of exploitation. This process of expansion from the epicentres in the Ethiopian highlands, Gonder, Shoa and Wollo into the valleys exerted pressures on the lowland peoples to organise defensively, avoid capture by retreating into hostile territory, or accommodate the conqueror through submission and conversion. The latter course was facilitated by two factors: the ideology of subordination and domination, which is heavily inscribed in every aspect of Ethiopian culture and provided with a mythological charter by the church. The second lies in the plasticity of the collective identity of the ruling group within Ethiopia. Violent upheavals in the political history of Ethiopia have not dislodged the ruling elite, which has adapted to quick successions of regimes of different ethnic composition, religious affiliation and political orientation.

In the making of the Abyssinian Empire the group of the Amhara emerged as the dominant group. Amharic has become the language of state as well as the sacred tongue of the church, and following the expulsion of the Italians it became the medium of education throughout Ethiopia. Strangely, this cultural identity has not been based upon an identity compatible with the emerging 'ethnicities' and nationalisms in the region. In stark contrast to the Somalis, and many of the other smaller groups, the Amhara do not trace their origin to a single ancestor, and do not thus form a family of blood relations. In the absence of surnames and tribes, and a situation where descent can be traced bilaterally, newcomers and strangers are easily absorbed into the composite Ethiopian nationality. This ability of Amhara culture to absorb and to accommodate has proved efficacious in sustaining the successive shocks of violent political upheaval. The two key events being the Marxist revolution in 1974 and the 1991 triumph of the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF).

In spite of the EPRDF containing the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), two emphatically regional liberation movements, the Amhara have remained at the heart of the Ethiopian state. This continuity at the centre of the power structure has left many movements of political dissent to formulate their opposition in terms of regional secession and ethnic self-determination. A strategy used successfully by Eritreans, ethnic mobilisation, has also become the organising principle by activists among other major groups such as the Oromo, the Afar and the Somalis. In all these groups political organisations have emerged which demand to realise their constitutional rights to secession. Some groups including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Afar Liberation Front (ALF) and the Islamic groups in Ogaden, the Somali populated region designated as Region 5, are fighting government troops.

In each case, however, the distribution of benefits and the ready accommodation of leaders within the power structures of ethnic movements by the Ethiopian State has diluted the impact of ethnic activism. Ethnic identities have begun increasingly to stand in for social positions with regard to ownership of resources and access to the powers of the state. While some organisations have tried to manipulate ethnic group identities by presenting their ethnicity as synonymous with a subordinate position within the Ethiopian state, and Oromo, Afar or Kanana ethnic identity as synonymous with political marginalisation and economic exploitation, the rhetoric of victim status holds little appeal to local elite and has diminished the prestige of traditional authorities. The reaction against the impact of ethnicity in policy be this in educational policy where local languages are promoted as the medium of instructions or recruitment policies in the new administrative regions, has prompted protests by local elite as well as by Addis Ababa-based professional organisations.

Moreover, the preoccupation with ethnic identity often distracts from a motivation, which is fundamentally political. In the case of the Oromo, for instance, the attempt to conjoin groups with passive sense of affiliation to the Oromo such as the Arssi, Boran, Karaiyu, Macha and Wollo under one ethnic label makes sense in terms of power relations. But so far this has not galvanised a mass political movement. Today, as during the rule of the military regime of the Dergue (1973-1991), the mass of the rural population of 'Oromiya' (the land of the Oromos) has adapted itself to the political regime and organised itself primarily along lines of class with the peasantry on the one hand (subsuming its interests to the idiom of local particularlism) and the elite on the other which has amalgamated with the Amhara establishment. The strength of the state has enabled the EPRDF to establish itself effectively at the centre of power, and to transfer the legitimacy inherent in the symbols and institutions of the Ethiopia onto its own government. Whereas the preceding regimes of the Dergue and the emperor fought local autonomy, the current regime is opting for accommodation within a federal structure that concentrates decision-making at the centre. It hopes to vitiate regional grievances with cultural concessions and by providing development benefits, which do not jeopardise political control. In the process some regional factions, such as the Somali National Region Five, are incorporated into the government.

This century-old combination of malleability and core identity has provided the Abyssinian state with the organisational capacity to withstand the encroachment of European imperialism in the late nineteenth century, the challenge of secessionary pressure from its component population groups, and the radical shifts of political ideology in the last 25 years.


The Role of the State

The extent of the Ethiopian State was delimited in the last decades of the nineteenth century when Ethiopia assumed the role of an imperial power. Having dealt robustly with the external threat with the decisive victory over the Italian invasion army at the battle of Adowa in 1896, Emperor Menelik took advantage of his victory to cement the role of the imperial court and central government within the empire. On the international stage, the government dropped the name Abyssina for the biblically derived name of. Ethiopia. In the late nineteenth century, the rulers in Addis Ababa were treated as equals by the invading European powers. Thus, in the disposition of African territories, Ethiopia was not only consulted but accepted as an interested party and became signatory to a number of treaties demarcating colonial borders and establishing trading rights. Britain and France opened legations in Addis and after being admitted into the League of Nations in 1923, Ethiopia emerged as a full-fledged member of the international comity of nations.

During the scramble for Africa that followed the conference of European imperialist powers in Berlin in 1889, Ethiopia participated happily in the carve-up of hitherto 'unclaimed' territories. Much of the turmoil in the region, including the tension between Ethiopia and Somalia and Somaliland over 'Region 5', stems from this period of Ethiopia’s rapacious colonialism in collaboration with the external powers. The Haud pastures regarded by the Ogaden clan as their own were made over to Ethiopia by the Anglo-Egyptian agreement of 1897, and subsequently confirmed in 1954; consultations in which two alien powers disposed of land with no reference to local populations. Yet territorial expansion across territory twice the size of former Abyssina was tempered by loss of access to the sea, held by Britain (Somaliland), Italy (Eritrea and Somalia) and France (Djibouti). This fundamental weakness was compounded by the volatility inherent in an empire of great cultural and religious heterogeneity but built upon a fragile economic base. When confronted with the onslaught of Italian fascism in 1936 Ethiopian forces crumbled. While the memory of Italian rule, which brought at one time 130,000 Italians into the country, remains bitter to Ethiopian nationalists, it was a brief occupation (1936-1941) and of moderate significance. Following the reinstatement of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1941, Ethiopia became a torchbearer for African independence, a status emphasised by Addis Ababa being chosen to host the secretariat for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.



Land Policy

In the formation of the Ethiopian State a discrepancy occurred between the political importance of the highland core regions and their dwindling economic prosperity. Due to a combination of population pressures, land degradation and the climatic unsuitability for cash-crop production, highland farmers had lost out to the adjoining lands to the south and west. This was realised by emperor Tewodros, the son of a minor chief who had united the provinces of Gondar and Amhara with the kingdom of Tigre in 1855, and assumed the title of emperor. Availing himself of the military expertise of his noblemen he pushed into the regions of Kaffa, Welga and Siadmo, in the lowlands to the east and south, which became the engines of the country’s economic growth. The exactions of military conquest, followed by the sustained efforts of the highland elite to maintain control over these processes, created considerable social tensions. This involved the expropriation of existing farmers or herders by government agencies or private corporations and the reduction of formerly independent peasant producers into agricultural labourers or urban migrants. Social stability within the regions undergoing 'development' was undermined further by the contradiction arising between existing local social systems and the hierarchical, exploitative structures imposed by Addis. Mounting dissatisfaction with the loss of land to outsiders, the manipulation of markets by state marketing boards, taxation and labour recruitment fuelled discontent in rural as well as urban areas.

The issues surrounding land use, land management and land ownership have played a crucial part in determining political outcomes in Ethiopia. Growing dissatisfaction among sections of the elite particularly the army, over the distribution of benefits and the slow pace of modernisation were intensified by the famines in Wollo in the early 1970s, which the government and landowners treated with indifference. A group of reform-minded young army officers staged a coup in July 1974 to depose the Emperor Haile Selassie and to embark on a radical programme of social reform. Land policy was the key, which won popular support for the new government, and initially agricultural communities counted among the beneficiaries of the revolution. The land reform of 1975 abolished private property and freed the mass of tenants, particularly in the south, from the exactions of their landlords. Accompanied by the restructuring of the narrow industrial base and the vast expansion of the civil service, these measures comprised the proud achievements of the revolution’s 'creative phase' (Markakis1987: 241). The revolutionary regime took a change of course with advent of Colonel Mengistou Haile Mariam, who extended the power of central government, and reversed land policy. Peasant farmers were evicted from the land they had obtained only recently from the break-up of feudal holdings, by state farms. All land was nationalised, and a government owned agro-industry set up for export and to feed the growing army and as well as the politically sensitive capital. In what has become known as ‘Red Terror’ voices of dissent within the government were brutally put down, and a hard line taken to quelling with regional unrest in Eritrea. In the course of the 1970s and 1980s the demands of the war against the secessionists put such a heavy strain on the country that armed movements emerged in Tigray and among the Oromo and the Afar. The war depleted the treasury in spite of generous assistance from the Soviet Union and Cuba and prevented the government from implementing constructive development policies. In the final years the efforts of the government were concentrated upon the upkeep and supply of the 600,000-strong army, and the annual debt service of 530 million birr.

The revolutionary regime also persisted with the government monopoly on development, inaugurated by Menelik.. Ethiopia’s efforts at modernisation date back to the 1890s, with the introduction of a national currency, the introduction of postal services, and railway construction. The first National Bank was founded in 1907, a printing press set up in 1911 followed by a programme of road construction and the expansion of the educational system in the 1920s. Political reforms were undertaken to keep abreast with developments, including the country’s first bicameral parliament and written constitution in 1931. At the same time, the importance of the imperial court grew exponentially on the back of this state-initiated and government-controlled modernisation programme. In spite of these sustained modernisation programmes, the government was unable to break its dependence upon agricultural production. Systematic efforts to increase foreign exchange earnings were only made in the aftermath of The Second World War, when fresh capital from a friendly US government, sympathetic IFIs and multi-national corporations began to flow into cash crop production in Ethiopia. These projects created employment opportunities in the regions concerned and regular cash flows for government departments. Such gains came at the cost of significant dislocation of local economies and severe social tensions. Following the coming to power of the Communist regime in 1974/5 land reform and the abolition of feudalism promised a new beginning for rural producers. In the name of scientific socialism, however, the central government of the Dergue formulated policies of land nationalisation and collective farming which were, in effect, very similar to those of the preceding regime. In the late 1980s, for example, state farms controlled more than 6% of the available farm land, and benefited most from government inputs and extension services. Yet their production served mainly to secure food supplies for the 600,000-strong army and the cities.


Regional Unrest

The linkage between economic development, government intervention and the outbreak of conflict between regional movements and the state government is well illustrated by the current unrest among the Afar, a group of nomadic pastoralists with a history of uneasy relations with the Ethiopian state.. This dates back to the 1950s when sugar and cotton plantations were established in the Awash valley. In due course over 70,000 hectares of dry season grazing land were given over to agricultural development projects. During the severe droughts in the early 1970s, therefore, the Afar pastoralists, who had traditionally fallen back on these water and pasture resources watched their herds perish. The government took no measures to organise relief, indifference perpetuated under the Dergue, which nationalised land in 1975 and replaced multinational plantations with collective farms. Many Afar pastoralists who had lost their herds as a result this combination of economic policy and climactic factors joined the Afar Liberation Front and embarked on armed struggle against the Addis regime in the late 1970s. Military operations in the Awash valley were overshadowed by government campaigns in Eritrea. The government believed that the insurrections by the Afar, but also by the Oromo were secondary to the struggle in Eritrea. It therefore directed its military might against the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), to deal with the minor conflicts later. In the event, the victory of the rebels in 1991 brought promise to the Afar, which was soon disappointed by the intransigence of the new administration.

In the province of Ogaden along the Somali border, regional discontent was fostered by the government of Somalia determined to wrest control of the province from Ethiopia. This area had been ceded to Ethiopia by the British government and had never been recognised by the Somali government following its independence. The Barre government therefore actively supported the formation of the Western Somali Liberation Front in the early 1970s. It launched a low level of guerrilla activity, which was stepped up in 1976, eventually followed by the full-scale invasion of the Ogaden by Somali regular forces. Ethiopia managed to beat back the attack with the help of Soviet and Cuban troops, but has to this day been unable to reassert complete control over the area.

In the highlands, meanwhile, the penetration of the market economy also accentuated a pattern of land use that put severe strain on the reproductive capacity of the system. As the demands on production were fed not merely by population increases but also by the market, 'development' problems became indistinguishable from ecological problems. The government’s preoccupation with revenue collection and its blatant indifference to the plight of rural dwellers has resulted repeatedly in complex humanitarian emergencies.

Famine and Food Aid

Throughout the early 1970s and the mid-1980s famine devastated large parts of Ethiopia. In 1984/5, drought affected the northern areas, particularly the rebel strongholds, causing an estimated 300,000 deaths. In 1985 famine had spread to 11 out of Ethiopia’s 14 administrative regions. Yet the urban centres remained largely unaffected, as government efforts concentrated upon securing the livelihood of politically volatile urban populations and the pursuit of the war against the secessionists. Official indifference to the plight of the rural population was at times been replaced by the active manipulation of food supplies to create shortages in rebellious areas. During the 1988 famine foreign aid workers in the northern areas were expelled from the country but the relief organised by the principal rebel groups, the EPLF and the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), staved off the worst impact of the famine.

The government’s own contribution to establishing food security consisted of a resettlement programme. In the process several hundred thousand people were moved from the highlands into resettlement areas in the Illubabor, Kaffa, Wollega and Gojam regions. Ostensibly undertaken for economic and ecological reasons, the programme also served the government’s plans to impose political control over large sections of the peasantry through villagisation. Soon after formulating this programme the government was accused of being less concerned with the plight of the rural populations than with the extension of its powers. These suspicions were supported by evidence of international food aid and the humanitarian relief being diverted to the markets of Addis Ababa and the army. In addition, the Mengistou administration blocked relief convoys to the famine stricken provinces of Tigray and Eritrea in the winter of 1989 in a last ditch attempt to hold on to power.

Since coming into office in 1991, the successor regime has also used food policy for political advantage and profit. In co-operation with donors the early warning system was extended across the countryside, and the production of food crops encouraged through market reform. In 1996 a record of 11 million tons of grain was harvested. Yet the government, intent upon reaping double benefits from market sales and the by now customary provision of food aid from international donors, refused to set aside part of the harvest for storage. Instead the surplus was exported for hard currency to Kenya, Somalia and Eritrea. At the same time the national ‘Disaster Prevention Commission’ sent warning of new food shortages to foreign donors with an appeal for assistance for the coming year.





The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) Regime

In May 1991 the troops of a coalition of four resistance movements, united into the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), rolled into Addis Ababa while the remnants of the Mengistou regime sought refuge abroad. The defeat of the Communist regime was as complete as that of the imperial regime in 1974; it marked the utter failure of successive governments to suppress popular demands for political representation by force. The uprising that had begun in a remote corner of the empire led by a small band of Eritrean nationalists had finally led to the capture of the capital by the rebel forces. Within two months the new rulers had organised a national conference to put their political power on a legitimate footing, and began to implement a series of policy reforms the most dramatic of which was the referendum on Eritrean independence. Once again, Ethiopia broke the mould in which African states had been cast by breaching the 1964 OAU agreement to abide by colonial borders. Eritrea was allowed to secede and assume the functions and symbols of nationhood.

Within Ethiopia, meanwhile, the EPRDF took 32 seats out of 87 seats in the State Assembly, which struck observers as yet another sign of uncharacteristic moderation. Critics did point out, however, that a series of alliances still guaranteed the EPRDF a majority and that a number of organisations had not been allowed to participate. Furthermore, government critics were alarmed by the domination of the coalition by a single party, the TPLF, which, together with the ELF, had borne the brunt of the fighting. Suspicions were voiced that the main role of the other coalition members was to provide the appearance of pluralism and to split the unity of the main ethnically based opposition. This was a reference to one coalition member, the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO), which stood in opposition to the more militant Oromo Liberation Front, which had captured 12 seats. It was also recognised that the inclusion of the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (EPDM) and of the Ethiopian People's Officer’s Revolutionary Movement in the coalition was designed to provide the new government with a base among the Amhara elite. The choice of the chairman of the TPLF, Meles Zenawi, to become president, left no doubt where the power lay.

The government's decision to ban some political parties from participating in the electoral progress did little to quell such anxieties. A number of political movements competing with the EPRDF had already formed the Coalition of Democratic Ethiopian Forces (CODEF) in the US in April 1991. It included the Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the All Ethiopia Socialist Movement known by its Amharic acronym of MEISON. Most members were motivated by a concern over the genuine commitment of the EPRDF to political pluralism and democracy. In 1992 the northern proclivities of the security forces were turned against the political representatives of parties with a base in the south. Members of the OLF were subjected to increasing harassment, the security forces closed the party offices, and gross human rights violations were committed during the local elections in July. In consequence the OLF pulled out of the coalition government and renewed its efforts to build up a regional base. Repression followed, forcing a large number of OLF activists to go underground or abroad. The security net was soon widened, so that today a considerable number of Ethiopian politicians and intellectuals is in exile, waiting for an appropriate moment to return.

By 1992/93 it was becoming clear that the change of government brought little by way of policy changes. The different partners of the government coalition spent much time haggling over the allocation of government posts, and the regional policy strategists were slow to come up with any programmes in spite of the right to self determination provided by the constitution. One of the unforeseen outcomes of the significance of regionalism and ethnicity as a significant political factor has been the alienation of important sections of the middle classes. A mild economic recovery and a fresh injection of foreign aid meant the government could buy time and goodwill, but the initial benefits felt at the local level, especially in rural areas, could not be attributed to the policies of the new government but to the last attempts by Mengistou to shore up his regime. These included the de-villagisation in Shoa and Gojam, and the reform of the marketing system, which secured better prices for peasant producers. On the other hand conflict simmered on in parts of Oromiya and on Afar land. In most rural areas the ready availability of arms further impaired the security situation.

During the course of 1993 political dissatisfaction with the regime was demonstrated by a series of protest marches in Addis Ababa. For the first time the new government had to face the organised opposition of the elite as students took to the streets, ostensibly in protest against the secession of Eritrea on overtly favourable terms and the concession to individual regions to hold referenda on political self-determination. Beneath the patriotic demand that Eritrea take its share of the national debt incurred by the Mengistou government and irritation over the deportation of up to 200,000 so-called Dergue collaborators from Eritrea lay a tacit critique of the government itself. The regime, already nervous about the worsening food situation in northern Wollo where returnees from resettlement camps had swelled population numbers, reacted with swift brutality. It became apparent, however, that in order to secure its own longevity, the EPRDF had to broaden its base of supporters. Two principal strategies were pursued: accelerated economic reconstruction and the fragmentation of the opposition.





The Economy

The recovery of agricultural production following the end of the civil war in 1991 increased Ethiopian food security and raised farming income. The approach of the current regime is laissez faire in contrast to its predecessor, yet the expensive system of documenting leases remains a serious hindrance for small farmers and instils a sense of insecurity in the rural population in their dealings with the bureaucracy. In addition to food crops the cultivation of coffee and khat has risen substantially, providing the country with a steady flow of foreign exchange earnings. These have to be set next to the remaining foreign debt owed to the IFIs, and a number of country governments, including the Soviet Union. The EPRDF government has, nevertheless, been able to notch up a number of successes in its financial policy. By 1993 Ethiopia's rate of inflation had dwindled to 6% from 50%, thus restoring public confidence in the birr. By slashing military expenditure the government was able to double the allocations for health and education and invigorate its public administration. Foreign investors and aid partners remained disappointed, however, at the slow rate of privatisation and the continuing inefficiency of public sector industries. Direct foreign investment, therefore, contracted to $150 million in 1993. In 1995 new impetus was added to the privatisation programme, when the government sold off hotels, food-processing factories and retail outlets in 1995. Furthermore, the significance of Addis Ababa as a pivot for the development of the entire region continued to attract western interest and fresh flows of capital up until May 1998.



The right to self-determination and, if need be, secession, was guaranteed in the new constitution adopted by the EPRDF in 1992. It soon became clear, however, that any attempt by a political party to avail itself of this right was to be met with stern opposition. The OLF, though split internally between outright secessionists and those in pursuit of regional autonomy within an Ethiopian federation, has been severely punished, with a reported 20-30,000 Oromo held in detention. Yet the stick of political persecution was used in conjunction with the carrot of cultural autonomy and of political patronage. The country has been split into 10 regions, and a good deal of decision-making power has been devolved to regional institutions. Recognition has also been given to cultural diversity. In Oromiya, as in other regions, local languages have become languages of government and been introduced to the school curriculum, against vigorous protest by the Ethiopian Teacher’s Association. In addition, members of the EPRDF-sponsored OPDO have been rewarded with positions in the administration and financial benefits.

This has proved an effective way of accommodating the aspirations of regional secessionists in other parts of the country, including the Ogaden and the Afar regions. The Ogaden, also known as Region 5 in Ethiopia's new system of regional administration, has long been a font of opposition to central government. It’s inhabitants are mostly Somalis, mainly from the Ogaden clan, who have always looked longingly across the Somali border and welcomed the invasion of the Somali army in 1977. The attempt by the principal political movement in the region, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) to hold a referendum on self-determination in 1994 was met with mass arrests in the regional capital of Gode. The party, just like the OLF, promptly boycotted the national election in June. Its place at the ballot box was taken by the Ethiopian Somali Democratic Movement (ESDM), a creature of the EPRDF with the mission of containing the demands for self-determination within the framework of a greater Ethiopian state. The government, pursuing a deliberate government strategy of divide and rule, is periodically engaged in talks with each of the different sections. These usually remain inconclusive, like the 1997 negotiations between the EPRDF and the OLF in Germany.

While the demands for secession among the mainline movements have subsided this is largely accounted for by the continued state of turmoil in neighbouring Somalia. It is foreseeable that irredentism will resurface as Somalia reconstructs itself. In the meantime the torchbearers of Ogaden nationalism are the Islamist Al Itahad operating from bases in southern Somalia, with support from Iraq and Islamic organisations in the Gulf. Since 1995 Ethiopian forces have repeatedly crossed into the Gedo province of Somalia and distributed arms among Somali factions such as the Rahanweyne Resistance Army (RRA) and the Somali National Front (SNF), considered anti-Islamic. The net benefits of this policy are uncertain as infraction into Somali territory only serves to rally Somalis around the nationalist standard. Since 1995 the OLF and the Ogaden National Liberation Front, successor to the defeated WSLF, have sought to co-ordinate their campaigns, and to liase with other political movements excluded from the political process.

The Chances of Democratisation

The EPRDF has shown itself to be an authoritarian government and one, which has not lived up to its democratic promises. The client parties which act as coalition partners in the government provide a veneer of democracy, which has up to now been sufficient to placate international donors. Their patience, as US secretary of state Madeleine Albright warned on a visit in 1997 is not infinite. The human rights record of a regime which has imprisoned more journalists than any other in Africa and which persecutes opponents, resorts to mass arrests and reacts to any form of opposition with violence, is far from satisfactory. Such grievances are once again gaining political significance as the hoped for economic recovery fails to bear the expected fruit.

Unable to satisfy the demands of the regions, while at the same time accused by Ethiopian nationalists and important sections of the elite of pursuing a policy of ‘ethnicisation’, the regime came under considerable pressure in 1997/8. The EPRDF government has failed to extend its base from its Tigray constituency, and is increasingly accused of favouritism towards Tigray and Eritrea. In this situation of growing internal and external the outbreak of hostilities along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border in the spring of 1998 has come as a godsend to a beleaguered administration. In May fighting broke out along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and quickly escalated into a state of war. The Ethiopian government orchestrated a vindictive campaign against Eritreans and Ethiopian of Eritrean descent living in the country. This enjoyed the support of many opportunists who appropriated the assets of this economically well established population group. Across the country people have flocked to the recruitment stations ready to volunteer for the army. While internal conflict goes to undermine the state, it seems that a war with a foreign power has a nation-building capacity.



The popular enthusiasm surrounding the coming to power of the EPRDF in 1991 has all but dissipated. There are grave reservations over the government’s democratic credentials, the economic recovery is too slow to satisfy the pent-up ambitions of the populace and social development benefits have not spread far enough. The use of violence by the government to contain criticism and dissent bodes ill for the future. As the opposition is forced into exile it will opt increasingly for violent action to force political change. There is the danger of the diverse groups currently engaged in low-level military campaigns obtain the backing of foreign powers to intensify their struggle. This could push Ethiopia into another cycle of violence instead of evolving a political process.

The regional policy of the EPRDF on the other hand, has succeeded in addressing some of the major demands in the regions. Cultural policy and limited regional autonomy have alleviated some of the political disaffection among the Oromo, Afar and Somalia. Government alliances with local client parties like OPDO have contained the impact of the more radical movements. It has also succeeded in preventing the consolidation of the different opposition movements.

The economy, however, plays a central part in determining the stability of the regime. After decades of warfare, the prevailing peace in most of the country is still appreciated. Growth has been steep, though from a low base, and in the countryside. There is a noticeable improvement in food security and living standards. Discontent is most prevalent among urban populations and rural elite, but among these groups There are also strong constituents benefiting from the return of Ethiopian khat and coffee exporters to the world market and the flows of international investment. There is hence a combination of diverse political and economic groups with a vested interest in political stability and the preservation of peace. It remains to be seen whether the benefit of economic growth, a functioning administration and social reconstruction outweigh the attractions of armed struggle.




In 1991 the Republic of Eritrea with a population of 3.3 million inhabitants proclaimed its independence from Ethiopia and took its rightful place in the OAU and the UN as a sovereign nation. This brought to an end the longest and most violent anti-colonial struggle in African history and the only successful revision of colonial borders by a movement fighting for regional secession. In the course of the 30-year conflict the Eritrean nation and its political leadership has acquired a character and an identity all of its own. At current Eritrean nationalism remains imbued with a vigour and a triumphalist self confidence that is without parallel in the Horn. This is not only explained by the success of Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in defeating the Ethiopian occupation forces and capturing the capital of Asmara in April 1991, but also by the tradition of self-reliance and co-operation that has evolved in the course of the struggle.

In the territories that the movement liberated after taking up arms in 1974, mechanisms of local administration were established and an infrastructure of schools and health care services set up. As some of these territories have been under continuous Eritrean administration since the early 1970s, most famously the town of Nacfa which has been under uninterrupted EPLF control since 1974 and withstood two major Ethiopian offensives in 1978 and 1982, the movement can draw on an established tradition of governance and has practical experience in development.

Throughout the war the EPLF engaged in a dual project: to rid the country of Ethiopian occupation and to effect the complete transformation of Eritrean society. In contrast to the lip service paid to revolutionary ideology by many other movements in the Horn, the EPLF implemented wide-ranging social, economic and political reforms, which have placed the country on a solid footing. Integrating women as equal partners in the community, in politics and the economy and even the armed forces has been one of the radical achievements. From the start the forces of tradition, as well as ethnic and religious cleavages were subsumed under the unifying principle of Eritrean national identity. Today Eritrea retains a great degree of social cohesion and solidarity, with a well functioning and accountable civil service and a high degree of social mobilisation among the population.

The principal challenge to the regime of President Issayas has been to harness the discipline of the party organisation for the task of economic reconstruction, and to open a space for political opposition. The current government consists essentially of EPLF veterans, now working under the civilian banner of the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and a few members of other organisations appointed to office in an individual capacity rather than as representatives of alternative organisations to the PFDJ. While Eritrea has taken great strides towards realising the ideals of equity and justice it is a democracy in name only.

The country’s success as a developing nation will ultimately depend upon the ability of the current generation of leaders, reared and trained under the rigours and exigencies of the battle field to adjust to politics in peacetime. Foreign development partners would like to see a change from the prevailing rhetoric of self-sufficiency and independence towards a more co-operative approach. Until now, however, the Eritrean government has been reluctant to allow a foreign presence in the country for development purposes. It has refused permission to aid agencies to set up independent organisation, by insisting that all aid is channelled through government departments. As one of few African countries free from the burden of international debt Eritrea has been reluctant to take up credit facilities from the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) as these would entail loss over aspects of its economic policy. The most controversial aspect of Eritrea’s robust assertion of its interest, however, has been foreign policy.

Within a few years Eritrea has come into conflict with each of its neighbours: Sudan, Djibouti, Yemen and now Ethiopia. It is not surprising that with the arrival of Eritrea as a new political entity state of Eritrea, a revision of border-demarcations should have become necessary. What has disturbed neighbouring countries has been the penchant of President Issayas’ tendency for settling border problems by force. In 1991 the border with Djibouti was closed and an Eritrean claim to a strip of Djibouti territory has still not been renounced. Shots have been fired across the Sudanese border since 1994. In 1997 Yemen occupied the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea to forestall claims. And in May of 1998 Asmara despatched mechanised troops and warplanes against Ethiopia following disputes in the Badme area. Not surprisingly the country has found itself internationally isolated just when foreign support is most needed in its dispute with Ethiopia.

History of Eritrea

The militant tendency of the current Eritrean government is borne out of the history of the independence struggle where every single gain was achieved entirely through force of arms and against the opposition of the international community, which gave overwhelming support to the Ethiopian regime. Historical processes from the end of the nineteenth century onwards also serve to explain why Eritrean nationalism, alone of all the variegated provinces of the Ethiopian empire, gathered the force to achieve independence.

In the 1880s Italy established a colony that came to be known as Eritrea around the ports of Assab and Massawa on the Red Sea coast. Italian attempts to extend the colonial boundary across the lowlands were foiled following the defeat of Italian army at the hands of Ethiopian forces at Adowa in Tigray. Within Eritrea, however, developments took place at a brisk pace. By the mid-1930s a population of 60,000 Italians were engaged in a range of economic activities, including light industry. People from the surrounding highlands were drawn into the towns, particularly the capital of Asmara, by the opening opportunities so giving Eritrea the highest rate of urbanisation in the region. In the process of colonisation, underscored by the presence of a large Italian population, and the absorption into the semi-industrial labour force, the differences between Muslin lowlanders and Orthodox highlanders became subsumed to an Eritrean identity. With the densest concentration of industries and a flourishing trading sector, Eritrea established itself in the first part of the century as the most dynamic development pole in the Greater Horn. A role it would continue to have under Ethiopian rule.

Following the defeat of Italy in World War II Eritrea came under UN trusteeship, exercised by Britain, before being attached to Ethiopia in 1952. Haile Selassie’s campaigned hard to gain possession of the former Italian colony with strong support from the Orthodox Church. Amalgamation of two former Italian possessions was met with sympathy in western circles and deemed reasonable, as it would provide Ethiopia with an outlet to the sea. Consequently, the UN General Assembly voted in 1950 that Eritrea should become an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia. From the first, however, Ethiopia operated a heavy-handed centralist regime, which left little room for autonomous development. The legislative assembly finally abolished itself in 1962 amid accusations of bribery and Eritrea was demoted to an ordinary province of Ethiopia.

Eritrean political opinion began to issue demands for independence in the 1950s. Upon becoming integrated into Ethiopia the opposition began to organise in the urban centres of Asmara, Massawa and Assab. The reaction of the Ethiopian government was to tighten control, which resulted in the alienation of growing sections of the Eritrean population. Nascent resistance culminated in the founding of several movements in the 1960s, including the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM) in Asmara in 1960. Ethiopian security forces responded to the political mobilisation by rounding up potential activists. In the process the first shots were fired, ushering in a generation of warfare. During the 1970s the ELF was gradually overshadowed by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), which combined nationalism with a socialist agenda and was dominated by Christian highlanders. The two movements soon came into conflict. While this debilitated the independence struggle, particularly in the early 1980s, it ended with the complete triumph of the EPLF, which has ruled the country since 1991 and has forced the ELF into exile.

The process on the battlefield was slow and painful. After attracting international attention as a result of a number of spectacular hijackings in the late 1960s, the rebel forces steadily reduced the government’s grip over the countryside. By the early 1970s only the major towns were under Ethiopian control, and communications precarious. In 1978, however, Ethiopian forces, rearmed by the Soviet Union and assisted by Cuban auxiliaries, rolled back the Eritrean front. The ELF reverted to guerrilla operations, while the EPLF withdrew to its redoubt around Nacfa, in the north-east of the country. Having incurred high casualties in repeated attempts to capture the town, the Ethiopian army lost the initiative to the EPLF. By 1986 most of the north-eastern coast had been cleared of government troops, which suffered from severe demoralisation. As rebel control was extended across most of the country, the government came under new pressure from the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) in neighbouring Tigre. While Ethiopian forces gradually crumbled under the onslaught of the successful insurgents, the EPLF completed its triumph over rival movements such as the ELF and installed itself as the party of government in Asmara in 1991.

The outcome of this protracted experience of common struggle against a culturally removed and socially distant enemy has been to forge a strong sense of nationhood among Eritrean. Shared history over a period of intense hardship has forged the country into one of Africa’s few nation states.



In July 1991 Issayas Afewerki, the leader of the EPLF, agreed with Meles Zenawi, the head of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), that a popular referendum should determine the status of Eritrea. After that events moved quickly, with Issayas claiming de facto independence in anticipation of the referendum outcome and assuming the role of head of state. Elections were scheduled quickly and border posts erected. Though critics in Ethiopia would subsequently challenge the constitutional basis of these manoeuvres, the eventual outcome of the 1993 referendum provided a seal of legitimacy of totalitarian proportions. With an electoral participation of 98.5%, a staggering 99.8% voted in favour of secession.

One crucial factor behind this speedy transition to independence was the close relations between the two principal parties in the region, the EPLF in Eritrea and the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) which under the leadership of Meles Zenawi formed the nucleus of the EPRDF. The TPLF had been founded by the EPLF during the 1980s as part of a change in the Eritrean strategy, determined to take the war to the Ethiopians. The role of the EPLF as mentor if not creator, to the Tigrayan guerrillas in power in Addis was to turn from a basis of intimacy into a cause of irritation in the course of time. Initially, however, the EPLF was provided with privileges in Addis, where the party maintained an office instead of an embassy. Equally, the close friendship between the two heads of state belied the actual power relationship between the two countries, as Zenawi continued to defer to Issayas as his ‘older brother’.

On the back of this goodwill the two countries reached an amicable agreement quite quickly. Ethiopia assumed responsibility for the national debt, giving Eritrea a clean balance sheet in its negotiation with the international financial community and the IMF. Goodwill extended to practical assistance: when Eritrea suffered from an acute lack of coinage and banknote in 1992 the Ethiopian government donated 140 million birr to create liquidity. Agreements covering a wide range of issues were quickly hammered out. These included crossborder trade, the use of joint facilities such as the Massawa oil refinery, and the continued access of Ethiopian trade to the open port of Assab on the Red Sea.

But the relationship was also put under stain by the expulsion of some tens of thousands of people by the new Eritrean governments. The government claimed that these people had been collaborators with the Dergue; others said it was a campaign against Ethiopians. In any case, Ethiopia was left to pick up the pieces and the repatriations became a grievance, protested by rioting students in 1993. While the Eritrean government shrugged off such popular protests against their independence, Eritreans living in Ethiopia found their situation more delicate. In consequence, only 40,000 of an estimated 250,000 eligible Eritreans registered to vote in the Eritrean elections.

Furthermore, a resurfacing revanchism among sections of the Ethiopian elite, including civil servants and the army officers with a service record reaching back to the previous regime, was encouraged by subsequent Eritrean policy blunders. One of the first breaches of the understanding, on which the separation had been based, came in 1992, when port handling fees were first raised and later charged in dollars instead of birr. This was interpreted as blatant extortion by Ethiopia, which had traditionally conducted the bulk of its trade through Eritrea and which responded by diverting trade to Djibouti, the net beneficiary of any tension between the two neighbours.

While military and security co-operation continued with EPLF units participating in Ethiopian army sweeps against fighters of the Oromo Liberation Front, such a closing of ranks against third parties could not paper over the growing drift between the two governments in the mid 1990s.

Foreign Policy

As a small country with a formidable army Eritrea set out to assert its status as a regional power. Aided by its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea and close to the Arabian Gulf, the government opened the door to the US and to Israel which are now operating a ‘listening posts’ and using port facilities. A less co-operative line was pursued in relation to Eritrea’s neighbours. Insisting upon its rights to the Hanish islands in the Red Sea, also claimed by Yemen, Eritrea despatched occupying forces to Greater Hanish in 1995, and Lesser Hanish in 1996. Though the dispute was eventually settled at the International Court at The Hague, it is possible that Eritrean compliance with the ruling was the product of the conflict with Ethiopia, rather than a tribute to its respect for international law. It was imperative for the country to get international goodwill and get the support of Yemen.

On the southern border, Eritrea made territorial demands on Djibouti in 1996, which were only settled after lengthy negotiations. In the north Eritrea has no claims, but has openly come out in support of the Sudanese opposition. Prominent politicians, including Sadiq el Mahdi have moved to Asmara, while the fighters of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), one of the largest northern opposition movements, use Eritrean territory as a springboard for attacks on Sudanese towns and positions. The Sudanese government regularly claims that Eritrean forces are participating in the attacks. In reward for this anti-Sudanese line Eritrea has received US support, including non-lethal equipment such as vehicles and radios.

Not scared of taking on much larger opponents Eritrea has also squabbled with Egypt over the intrusions of Egyptian trawlers into Eritrean fisheries, and has added its voice to the sensitive debate on regional water management. When the situation along the Ethiopian borer deteriorated in May 1998, the Eritrean reaction was in character. A provocation was met head on with violence. It is likely, however, that Eritrea’s subsequent diplomatic isolation, has been a learning experience for the diplomatic service. Judging from the ready acceptance of the unfavourable court ruling on the Hanish islands - Yemen has been awarded territorial sovereignty over Greater Hanish - a less obstreperous Eritrean foreign policy can be expected in the future.



The Political Implications of Economic Reconstruction

Economic factors are important to understand the issue of stability in Eritrean politics, as years of scarcity and famine serve to polarise political groups. As the fighting has in turn devastated the economy, conflict and economic decline have been locked in a vicious cycle, which is difficult to break. Not only has the devastation of the war been far greater in Eritrea than in any region in Ethiopia, but Eritrea is the one country in the Horn most dependent upon international trade and the wider regional exchange economy. Since the end of the nineteenth century Eritrean industry has supplied Ethiopia with manufactured goods in return for agricultural produce and raw materials. But Eritrea’s industry has either been destroyed in the fighting or is antiquated from years of neglect. Without exports the country has relied on service charges for Ethiopian goods shipped though the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab to pay for its imports. At this level of interdependence it becomes evident that political stability in the region is essential for Eritrea’s economic prosperity and even survival. So far the government’s aggressive foreign policy has done little to further the national interest.

Potential threats to stability have also arisen from economic developments within Eritrea since the end of the war of independence. The return to a peacetime economy has opened the flow of money from abroad and spurred the redistribution of local resources. The resulting opportunities, while attractive for the beneficiaries, now threaten to erode the principle of social equity and cohesion. There is dissatisfaction in some quarters over the benefits accruing to former veterans and the émigrés returning from abroad with foreign currency. Some commentators now talk of new class formations: the poorly educated former fighters, the returning émigrés, and those who worked for and under the Ethiopian regime.

Of critical importance remains the role of the government and the party which has turned itself into a commercial concern with extensive holdings of the ostensibly privatised companies. By 1994 the PFDJ emerged as the most powerful economic force in the land, and the major source of capital for new economic ventures. At the cost of a 51% stake, allowing the party to dominate the formal sector of the economy, including the Red Sea Trading Company, the Eritrean General Construction and Transport Company, and the Trans-Horn Transport Company. As the programme continues with the privatisation of the breweries, the Assab salt works and the textile industry, it remains to be seen whether party will tighten its control over the economy, or whether alternative investors can be found

Such controversial opportunism in the service and industrial industries has run alongside a deliberate policy of fostering agricultural productivity. Employing 80% of the workforce and critical in a society frequently exposed to famine, agriculture has been the centrepiece of the economic development policy. One first step was landform, inaugurated with the nationalisation of land in 1991 and followed up with the extension of total cultivated acreage by a third, and the rehabilitation of rural infrastructure. A large number of former fighters and of young men recruited into public service has since been employed on building feeder roads, earth terraces, afforestation programmes, extension centres and meteorological stations. These programmes had the multiple purpose of generating employment, providing rural development and raising food production to 300,000 tons by 1997, about half the required total. But There was a price: the distribution of land to former veterans caused resentment among existing populations who were not eligible for the same kind of extension service. Ethnic and religious differences have since come into play, as former fighters are often strangers to the areas where they receive their land allocations. One such instance in 1996 concerned the settlement of 2,000 ex-fighters of mainly highland, Orthodox background in the rich cotton growing areas of Ali Ghideri, where the majority of people are Muslim. Since then the established farming population has felt displaced and marginalised in their own areas they are increasingly susceptible to the penetration by Islamic Jihad, a military insurgency movement fighting the Eritrean government and promising benefits to the Islamic population. Furthermore, they also raised expectation among the men and women recruited into the labour gang to get some benefit for their largely unrewarded labour eventually.

In spite of these efforts impressive Eritrea remains a long way off from self-sufficiency. Since 1991, when famine was only stave off by the provision of 332,000 tons of food aid brought in by international donors under the administration of World Food Programme and Eritrean relief agencies, the country has been depending on imports from neighbouring Ethiopia and donations. There is a real danger that famine may return in 1999 in spite of a bumper harvest in 1998. This is due to labour shortages in the countryside following the call-up to military service to face the Ethiopians and because of the embargo on trade exports by the Ethiopian government. Yet food aid may be far less forthcoming in 1999 than in the early 1990s, after the government has alienated large sections of the NGO community with its insistence on keeping control of development projects.


It is difficult to see where outside agriculture employment opportunities will arise in the Eritrean economy. The war Ethiopia has dramatically reduced the cargo handled Eritrean ports, while industrial installations earmarked for common use by both countries, such as the oil refinery at Assab have had massive cutbacks in their production. The difficulties faced by industry are made even more difficult by the instability surrounding Eritrea’s currency, the Nacfa. Launched in 1997 at party with the Ethiopian birr it soon declined to a nacfa-birr rate of 5-1. There are entrenched liquidity problems in the financial sector, which derive partly from the repatriation of bank deposits by the departing Ethiopian government. Over 500 million birr were spirited away to Addis at the end of 1990 and were only partly been repaid.

The principal source of cash fuelling the private sector, maintaining families, and paying for the upkeep of the government is still the flow of remittances running at an estimated $200mn a year. The Eritrean Diaspora was the pillar of support throughout the independence struggle, and continues to play a crucial role - both as a source of foreign exchange and of know how and technical expertise - in the task of state construction.



In contrast to many developing country governments, the Eritrean government has sought to keep tight control over incoming development aid, both by vetting the applications of NGOs seeking to work in the country and by channelling funds to the appropriate Eritrean government department. Aid flow has been used to strengthen the institutional basis of the state, rather than allow external agencies to set up their own organisations. The rehabilitation of much of the physical infrastructure (railway, roads, electricity) while financed from abroad has been implemented by Eritrean government ministries. The insistence upon maintaining ownership of the development effort has at times led to conflicts between the Eritrean government and agencies, which has proved abortive to a number of projects. Some agencies have refused to accept the condition laid down and withdrawn from the country. The government, in turn, has rejected some proposals as inadequate. For instance, an offer by The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to fund a resettlement programme for the estimated 500,000 refugees still in Sudan and Ethiopia in 1997 was rejected as inadequate. The Eritrean government is still looking for the necessary $200 million from the international community.







Financial Constraints to Development

The lack of liquidity of Eritrean markets has been partly responsible for the slow level of commercial development in the country. When the EPLF took Asmara in 1991 the bank reserves holding 500 million birr in deposits were expatriated to Addis. Though subsequent transfers from the Ethiopian National Bank eased the situation, it became apparent how dependent Eritrea was on Ethiopian fiscal and monetary policy. This also effected export and import performances, where the rates of exchange for the currency used by Asmara, the birr, were regularly altered by the Ethiopian central bank without any consultation of Eritrean financial officers. 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. The scarcity of foreign exchange in Eritrea is illustrated by the higher exchange rate against the dollar. Eritreans have been paying a 10% premium over Ethiopian rates of exchange. In 1997 the Eritrean government issued its own currency, the Nacfa. Ethiopia responded by refusing to accept parity between the nacfa and the birr, which was weighted at 5-1 instead. It also insisted that all large-scale transaction be conducted in hard currency.

Economic conditions in Eritrea deteriorated further after Ethiopia decided in to import petrol products. This closed down the most important market for the Eritrean oil refinery at Assab, Eritrea’s second port. The small size of the local market in combination with the country’s relatively high level of industrialisation leaves it exposed to conditions in and access to consumer markets in neighbouring countries. As a result of the long civil war production facilities are in need of modernisation and rehabilitation, however, which can not be achieved without capital inputs. The danger being, that Eritrea looses one of its prime long-term advantages - the absence of a significant foreign debt.

Eritrea’s belated start as a nation state at least spared it the fate of heavy indebtedness suffered by most African countries. The picture changed in 1994, however, when Eritrea joined the World Bank and became eligible for a $70mn credit. This was preceded by a major transformation of government rhetoric on the economy. Like neighbouring Ethiopia, the PFDJ dropped the Marxist jargon, and spun a classical line of neo-liberal development instead. This secured US support and IFI funds. But in reality the control extended by the party over the economic sector bodes ill for the development of a transparent, open market economy.







One of the ironies of the Eritrean State is that after a thirty-year struggle for self-determination it should vehemently deny those rights to other groups. Moreover, the protestations of democratic government and respect for human rights have not been translated into practice. By extending the control of the party across the economic and social sphere, and by concentrating power at the top, an authoritarian regime has emerged offering only limited room for opposition and for critique.

The unitary nature of the Eritrean State was determined in the constitution. From the start a number of Eritrea’s minority nationalities were discontented over the centralist tendencies and the political exclusivity of the new regime. One of the most vociferous nomadic groups, the Afar, became restive at the division of their traditional territories by the proposed Ethiopian-Eritrean border. Targeted by Islamic Jihad, as well as the Ethiopia-based Afar Liberation Front, they posed an early security risk which the government sought to head off with the appointment of a respected Afar leader, Mohamed Homad to become governor of Danakil in 1992. While the ALF concluded a formal alliance with the ELF and Islamic Jihad, the paucity of commonalties between Afar nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism has so far prevented this alliance from becoming effective.

The initial ban on religious and ethnically based political parties has since been alleviated by the devolution of limited powers to the regional governments. Since independence the existence of nine separate nationalities with rights to cultural representation have been recognised. The Afar, Beja and Kanawa peoples enjoy some degree of autonomy, and Saho and Kinama have become languages of instruction in schools. The vigorous refusal to bestow this status onto Arabic is not only a source of irritation for Muslims, but also illustrates government determination to close every loophole to what it regards as a potential opposition.

The ban on religiously based political activity has therefore precluded any negotiations between Islamic Jihad and the government. Opposition politicians form other groupings, however, such as Iris Galaydos and Taha Mohamed Nur have been invited to join the government, but only in a private capacity. The PFDJ has remained adamant in its refusal to negotiate officially with the EPLF. The proposed 150-member assembly will contain alternatives to the PFDJ, but with religion and ethnicity out of the electoral equation it is likely that these will be closely allied to the founding party.

Effectively then, Eritrea is a one party state headed by a powerful president, who at the same time acts as Secretary General of the EPLF and Secretary General of the Eritrean People's Development Party. This is an inner circle within the party to which all-leading EPLF members belong. Executive power has been backed up with some muscle by the 1993 appointment of former security chief Peter Solomon appointed as defence minister. The centre for human rights was promptly closed down, and critics silenced. The intolerance of criticism extended even to the rank and file of the movement itself.

Soldiers, many of them old veterans from the struggle, demonstrated in the streets of Asmara in 1994, upon being told that they were to perform another tow years of unpaid work. These remonstrances were violently put down by different army units, and ringleaders made to suffer harsh h reprisals. It response the government decided to replace the old fighters with a more malleable soldiery made up of young recruits, and to cut the size down from 95,000-55,000 men.

This downscaling of the military apparatus went ahead parallel to the pruning of the civil service by about 10,000 positions. While the government has thus asserted that the country does not owe the old veterans a living, and that they are neither above the law, There is growing disquiet in some rural areas about privileged access to land and inputs by former fighter.

For the time being authoritarianism has remained largely unblemished by corruption, and individual aggrandisement. Living standards are still improving, and the social inequality has not become offensive. The process of state formation is still absorbing, and the invitation individual opposition leaders have absorbed some opposition voices. Yet, There is nothing promising in the regime’s inability to deal with criticisms and to organise debate. In the long run, the refusal to open the political platform to non-governmental parties will also deprive Eritrea of the international sympathy and support on which it still depends.


The Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict

On 6 May 1998 fighting broke out between Ethiopian and Eritrean units around the village of Badme along the border of Eritrea and the Ethiopian province of Tigray. Soon after, skirmishes were also reported to the south of the port of Assab, though Badme in the Yirga triangle remain the main area under dispute. Within the first few weeks an estimated 130,000 people fled the region, as both sides moved in reinforcements. Telecommunications and air links, both operated by Ethiopian-based parastatals based in Addis Ababa were severed, leaving Eritrea cut off from the world. Eritrea halted its demobilisation programme and began to call up army reservists. Meanwhile Ethiopia launched a propaganda war reminiscent in language, imagery and the incitement to hatred of the campaigns of the Dergue. In early May aircraft from both sides struck civilian targets, in one raid killing over 48 people on the Ethiopian town of Makalle. To the amazement of outsiders a seemingly petty dispute between former friends over a small area of land had turned into a bitter war.


Border Issues:

1) The Eritrean version

This is the third instance of Ethiopian assertion in succession, and in view of the resurgence of Amhara nationalism in Addis, there is concern that some forces within Ethiopia are determined to reverse the 1991 Independence agreement. On previous occasions the Eritrean government ordered the withdrawal of forces from disputed areas in the Danakil depression and north of Assab. It is possible that these concessions encouraged regional politicians in Tigray to assert their interests so robustly. Eritrea has claimed that the Tigrayan authorities extended their administration into the Gash Barka region within Eritrea. Here they proceeded to levy exorbitant taxes and fines on Eritrean farmers and pastoralists, and to use the militia to evict Eritrean villagers.

Protests by the Eritrean government led to the formation of a bilateral commission to deal with the issues. It met repeatedly between 1993-1997, but foundered on the intransigence of the Tigrayan authorities. An Eritrean delegation of the Joint Border Commission even flew to Addis on 9 May 1998, three days after the outbreak of hostilities, but was met with the usual procrastination on part of their Ethiopian counterparts. As Tigrayan transgressions continued Eritrean forces were stationed in the area in early May in order to assist Eritrean farmers. Ethiopia in the meantime had been moving regular forces and armoured units into area. A short brisk clash ensued on 6 May, when Ethiopian ground troops moved in under air-support. The attack was brought to a halt after heavy casualties had been inflicted upon the Ethiopian forces. Eritrea’s army has since fortified its defensive position all along the border. A new front was opened up in the east, where the port of Assab is exposed to Ethiopian attack.


The Ethiopian Version

According to Ethiopia, Tigrayan farmers and herders who counted themselves unequivocally as Ethiopian had long settled the area around Badme. During the civil war Sheraro, the largest town in the triangle, served as a major base for the TPLF. Though Eritrean migrants have in recent years moved into the area in search of alluvial gold and farmland, the district was firmly under Ethiopian administration until the beginning of 1998. This fact has been recognised by most observers, most significantly the OAU Ministerial Committee on 1-2 August. The OAU has been taking a leading role in the search to a solution to this conflict. Eritrea had neither claimed the area at its official independence in 1993, nor had it protested when Ethiopian local elections were held in the area in 1992 and 1995; in addition it had not challenged the authority of Ethiopian local administration and tax collection. But in keeping with an Eritrean modus operandi of first occupying territory with military force and then appealing to international adjudication, Eritrean forces invaded the town and surrounding area on 6 May 1998. Having established themselves, the Eritreans pushed deeper into Ethiopian territory until halted by Ethiopian resistance. In the course of the fighting several thousand casualties were sustained, both military and civilian.

International Mediation and Reactions to the Conflict

From the first international opinion was aghast by the futility of the conflict and, moreover, the irresponsibility of both governments in allowing a minor dispute to escalate into open conflict. It should be reiterated that while the border has been defined by successive Ethiopian-Italian treaties in (1900, 1902 and 1908) and was further amended by the Italian authorities in 1937, the inherent vagueness of these accords left considerable room for dispute. Britain, under a UN mandate, restored the former Ethiopian-Italian boundary, which was then subsumed into the Ethiopian-Eritrean federation. In this period none of the problems which resulted from the vagueness of the early agreements were satisfactorily resolved. Successive Ethiopian governors of the province, particularly Ras Mengesh Seyoum, made tactical alterations, but the overall delineation remained subject to interpretation. Upon Eritrean independence the Italian colonial borders were agreed to form the point of departure from which details would be elaborated jointly.

The US, which had fostered both countries as torchbearers for the African renaissance, as regional allies - particularly against the perceived threat of Islamic fundamentalism - and as examples of successful economies in transition, was in the forefront of the mediation process. Susan Rice, US Assistant Secretary of State, worked on a comprehensive settlement in conjunction with Rwanda’s vice president Paul Kagame. The American effort was followed by moves by the UN, the OAU, President Gouyled Aptidon of Djibouti as chairman of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Libya, Egypt and Kenya among others. The critical issue in the early weeks was to persuade the Eritreans to withdraw their troops from the area. They did not, and thus putting paid to any hopes of a rapid and return to the status quo ante. The only breakthrough came in July, when the US brokered a moratorium on air strikes. In August the Ethiopian foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin that an OAU investigation had established that the Badme area had always been under Ethiopian administration. This was critical evidence for the Ethiopian attempt to establish its sovereignty and legitimacy over the disputed area. In the absence of follow-up talks, however, these findings could not be put to constructive use. Eritrea refined its own position by agreeing to withdraw but only upon condition of a general demilitarisation of the area.


The costs and benefits of Conflict - Expulsions

Prior to the mass expulsions in the summer of 1998, the Eritrean population in Ethiopia was estimated at 350,000; many Eritreans had reached positions of prominence and prosperity. The Eritrean influx started during the brief colonial occupation of Ethiopia when skilled and educated Eritreans took over positions of authority in the colonial state. After the Italians were ejected many Eritreans remained in Ethiopia; they intermarried and assimilated. But Eritrean independence fundamentally changed the situation of the Eritrean minority in Ethiopia.

Initially benefits accrued from the close relationship between the TPLF and the EPLF, including access to sensitive government positions. But Ethiopians of Eritrean descent felt the cold wind political retribution blowing soon after the Eritrean government expelled collaborators with the former regime soon after coming into power. In essence this was a move against Ethiopians in the country, which first raised the complex issue of nationality and citizens' rights. The Eritreans in Ethiopia became aware of their own vulnerability and scaled down their participation in overtly Eritrean events. At the Eritrean referendum for independence only 60,000 of the 240,000 estimated eligible voters registered. This came as a disappointment to Eritreans, but revealed a realistic appraisal by their nationals in Ethiopia. With the war in May these vulnerabilities were fully exposed as the Ethiopian government took steps first against Eritrean government installations - such has closing the EPLF offices which had also functioned as an embassy, but which had underlined the once close relations between the two ruling parties. Soon after reprisals were launched against Eritrean nationals, and next against Ethiopians of Eritrean extraction. Several reports have revealed appalling human rights abuses on a massive scale (between 20-30,000 within the first six months of 1998) as people have been rounded up, herded into detention centres, and deported across the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. Among these have been many Ethiopians who have never been to Eritrea. Once again, human rights violations grow out of the circumstance of war in accordance with a rationale that is ostensibly patriotic, but in reality driven by petty personal gain. The Eritrean deportees include a large number of businessmen and professionals, whose property has disappeared into the pockets of the arresting officers. Equally, within the Ethiopian civil service, a large number of officials with Eritrean connections have been dismissed, their positions eagerly claimed by former colleagues with an indisputably Ethiopian genealogy. There has therefore been erosion of social solidarity as neighbours and work-colleagues inform on each other in an atmosphere of state-sponsored propaganda, which fosters racial hatred.

While Ethiopians in Eritrea have not had to suffer such invidious treatment, there has nevertheless been a voluntary move back to Ethiopia. So far the Eritrean government has restrained itself from scape-goating these immigrants and has guaranteed the upholding of law and order. But it should be remembered that Eritrea called the first round in the game of cross border expulsion if expelled an estimated 150,000 of so-called collaborators the Dergue in 1991.


Political Distraction

In 1998 the Ethiopian head of state Meles Zenawi, came under pressure from political opposition over the faltering economic recovery, the continuing domination of the government by the TPLF, and the privileged treatment of Tigray province in the distribution of development benefits. Pressure also came form within the TPLF as disaffected elements felt they had not reaped any benefit from the victory. At the same time the government was seen to be lagging behind on promises of democracy and self-determination. While position of Meles Zenawi in the executive committee of the EPRDF, which comprised members from four different parties, remained secure, he had been loosing his grip over the TPLF’s Politburo. Here regional matters predominate, and Meles’ robust defence of Tigrayan interests against Eritrean encroachment has swung the balance back in his favour.

In Eritrean political circles the independence of Eritrea, the method by which it was achieved - without an Ethiopia-wide referendum - and the terms themselves have been the subject of passionate debate. Critics claim that Ethiopian interests have been jeopardised by the lack of reciprocity in employment arrangements with Eritreans taking up senior posts in Ethiopia, but no significant Ethiopian employment in Eritrea. Eritrea has also benefited from currency union, as it could use loans denominated in birr to obtain Ethiopian coffee, which was then exported for hard currency. Furthermore, no effort was being made to repay Ethiopian loans, which were instead being treated as grants for war compensation. These issues were not just mere irritants, but used as points of criticism directed against Meles Zenawi who had negotiated these accords himself. The war has provided him with an excellent opportunity to prove his patriotism and his mettle against attacks from within and without the cabinet.

A similar situation obtained in Eritrea, where Prime Minister Issayas was heading for his first low in the popularity ratings, as Eritrea proved a far more complex entity to govern in peacetime than anticipated by the military command of the EPLF. The backbone of the regime, the armed forces, were riven with dissatisfaction over pay levels, land grants, and employment. Old veterans had already taken to the streets in protest against the extension of the cortege - the system of unrewarded labour. Political opposition was increasingly disappointed with government unwillingness to open political space for genuine dissent. Opposition groups advocating violent change, such as the ELF and Islamic Jihad, have been gaining ground among lowlanders and Muslims. This dissatisfaction has been partly fuelled by growing social inequality, as the benefits of peacetime development were unequally distributed. The involvement of the ruling party in the economic sphere, where the EPLF in refashioned form as PFDJ has diverse interests has become increasingly controversial.

Both governments as a respite from internal critics therefore welcomed the news of the outbreak of fighting at the border. There has been an immediate closing of ranks, as opposition parties have muted their criticisms, and even ethnically based movements have made a display of their loyalty. In Ethiopia’s case particularly, the war has united the diverse country in a way which the Dergue, and the imperial regime, which also fought wars against the EPLF, would envy. The presentation of a military threat by a foreign power has galvanised Ethiopian patriotism and there are reports from across the country of genuine support for the government. In Harar and among the Somalis for example, the conflict with Addis has been temporarily forgotten to deal with the foreign threat. Eritrean opposition groups meanwhile have been approached by the Ethiopian government and have attempted to use the conflict to exert pressure on the government. But the main body, the ELF, supports the government’s territorial claim and stresses that the area in dispute was under ELF administration from 1961-1981.


In Eritrea the fresh outbreak of hostilities has brought the government back into familiar territory, the bunker. All development projects and political processes have been relegated as national defence is given priority. At the same time the conflict has made Eritrea aware of its vulnerability. The country imports over half its staple foods from Ethiopia, and receives a chunk of its foreign exchange earnings in port and rail dues for Ethiopia-bound freight.


Regional Context

Eritrea’s foreign policy of aggressive assertion has meant that a ring of hostile neighbours suddenly surrounds it. The government of Sudan has openly rejoiced that "the weapons which Ethiopia and Eritrea acquired from the US to fight Sudan are now being used to kill each other." Yemen has also reaped the benefit of Eritrean acquiescence with the decision of the international court at The Hague, which awarded sovereignty over the Hanish islands to Yemen. Eritrean troops have since withdrawn from the disputed archipelago. And Djibouti has seen its port revenues boosted by the diversion of all Ethiopian trade. By autumn 1998, however, the sixfold increase in freight was posing severe capacity problems, and an attack on an Ethiopian convoy by members of the Djibouti rebel group Fronte pour la Restauration del’Unite et la Democratie (FRUD), recently expelled from Ethiopia, once more exposed the vulnerability of Ethiopia’s supply routes. The OAU, an organisation castigated by President Issayas at the inauguration speech upon Eritrea admission, for having failed to support the EPLF during the liberation struggle, has also enjoyed a re-evaluation by Eritrean diplomats. There had been similar performances by Eritrean politicians and diplomats at the UN and other international organisations, whose support and sympathy is now being sought. In the wider diplomatic arena Eritrea has been forced to realise the full scale of its isolation. Its two strongest military partners, the US and Israel, have taken a decidedly neutral approach, wishing to favour neither country. In the world beyond the conflict has largely been ignored.

Ethiopia has won the first round of the propaganda war by convincing most onlookers that Eritrea was the aggressor. Ethiopia reacted quickly by diverting trade to Djibouti. As the main regional power, and with its long tradition of diplomatic contact, it has managed to sell its version of events successfully even though it is the Ethiopian government, which has repeatedly refused arbitration.


Both governments have benefited from the conflict as it has secured their position vis-à-vis their opposition. They do realise, however, that this support will not tolerate a heavy intensification of the fighting, and already war preparations are taking their toll. The first economic consequences were felt in the autumn of 1998, when Eritrea, having called up the military reserves, lacked the manpower to gather in a bumper harvest.

Meanwhile other shortages loom in Ethiopia where the closure of the Eritrean ports is causing supply bottlenecks. Both countries, as well as the entire region, are suffering the effects of dwindling foreign investment due to the loss of investors’ confidence. Israeli engineers have dissipated already scarce foreign exchange reserves on military purchases, including for example, Ethiopia's acquisition of tanks from China and the refurbishment of the airforce.

While both sides claim to favour a negotiated settlement, they have retrenched behind irreconcilable positions. Ethiopia refuses to enter negotiations until the Eritreans have withdrawn from the disputed area, and the Eritreans insist that the area be demilitarised. Neither the effort of international agencies, donor nations, or neighbouring African states has borne fruit. However, there is now a greater urgency for sustained efforts at reconciliation, as the rains which have until now thwarted military plans have stopped, and each side has deployed sizeable armies - according to reports over 250,000 soldiers each.


Post Script

In the first week of February 1999 the Ethiopian army launched large-scale assaults on Eritrean positions in the Badme area and along the eastern front. The strategic objective seems two-fold: to seize and secure the Badme triangle and to break through to the sea and capture the port of Assab. The conflict is no longer a border dispute but has become a war of territorial expansion and national survival. Ethiopia hopes to translate its greater economic weight into military superiority and force a breach in the Eritrean defences. It has used the quasi cease-fire period of 1998 to refurbish its armed forces and particularly the airforce. On 6 February 1999 the moratorium on air strikes was broken with sustained attacks on Eritrean villages in the border area. These were followed by strikes against the water supply of Assab. There is at present little information on Ethiopia’s war aims.

Eritrea has accepted the need for international arbitration and has proposed the despatch of peacekeepers. The international community, however, already overstretched with peacekeeping missions, has not produced any volunteers so far. Its military strategy, meanwhile, is to take as heavy a toll of the Ethiopian ground forces as possible, hoping thereby to force the Ethiopian government to negotiate. This is a reminder of the campaigns in the previous two decades when Eritrean guerrillas fought far larger Ethiopian armies to a standstill. But this time Ethiopia is united, there are not regional allies to support the Asmara regime.

For both sides the war has now turned into a battle of survival. Both governments are politically committed to victory. Eritrea, however, is fighting for the very independence it has spent the past thirty years fighting for. For the entire region the ramifications for development policies could not be bleaker.


Policy Recommendations

The outbreak of hostilities between Eritrea and Ethiopia has raised the stakes in conflict issues in the Horn. Two sovereign states, with the full panoply of diplomatic and military means at their disposal, are now locked in combat. So far a dramatic escalation of violence has only been mitigated by the onsets of the rains. As the roads became passable again in January and February of 1999 violence escalated on an unprecedented scale. The conflict provides a challenge to the diplomatic skills of regional organisations and international agencies concerned with the Horn. High-level diplomatic efforts are called for if all out war is to be averted. Yet this inter-state war contains many of the elements which have typified conflict in the Horn region, and which have to be addressed holistically if a comprehensive settlement is to be found.

Though this is the only instance of an inter-state war within the Horn, the current conflict can also be regarded as a continuation of the 30-year struggle between Eritrean dissidents and the government in Addis Ababa. Conflict between a centralised, modernising administration and the champions for regional autonomy. Seen in this light the war is not altogether different from the wars for independence, autonomy or access to the state fought in Sudan and Somalia. In each case, violence was a reaction of marginalised groups against an at best neglectful or at worst intrusive and violent state.

The role of the state has been crucial in all the conflict scenarios. Opposition politicians often complain about the ‘unnatural’ configuration of African states, forgetting that states everywhere are the product of history and politics and their natural appearance a matter of ideology. Yet the inheritance of colonial borders, which cut across the territory of some ethnic groups, while conjoining them with other groups, is not the greatest challenge to the independent African states. Cultural diversity does indeed provide administrative difficulties and raises obstacles for the nation-building project, but the principal problem is the dichotomy between the resource poverty of the African state, and its powerlessness and dependence on external states on the one hand, and its overbearing might in relation to marginal or excluded groups within its demarcated territory on the other.

In the Horn, therefore, most conflicts have taken the form of a region-based opposition movement fighting against the central government. In the contest the rebels use a range of strategies. One is to denounce the government as illegitimate, unrepresentative and incompetent, an obstacle to modernisation and development. Movements such as the EPRDF in Ethiopia, the USC in Somalia and the SPLA in Sudan always claim a right to power, derived from the struggle, and from the abuse of office by its predecessors/current incumbents. In the absence of an encompassing, national message politicians and military leaders mobilise on the basis of ethnicity, regional identity, clan-based identity and religion.

In turn, governments respond by presenting their opponents as bandits, who have no political agenda whatsoever, or as secessionist traitors to the nation. This moral opprobrium can be developed along lines of ethnic or religious condemnation, into race wars or jihad. Governments can mobilise the powers vested in the state to defend the interests of the office holders, which may often coincide with a small faction. It is this ‘capture’ of the state by sectional interests which undermines both the stability of governments and fuels the readiness of marginalised groups to rise in arms.

What has added a particular quality to the situation in the Horn is the entanglement of political conflict between different elite groups over the state, with violent encounters at the local level between different communities. While this conflict is couched heavily in ideological terms, material interests are usually the driving forces. What occurs over the long term, however, is that the material cause is subsumed into the representations of conflict objectives and its underlying motivation, transforming ethnic and religious identities which in the pre-conflict period defined selfhood and affiliation, into causes of conflict.

This not only distracts from the direct manipulation of the symbols of ethnic and religious identity, it also serves to disguise the systematic encroachment on the resource base by the agents of development, particularly the state. All across the Horn the dramatic expansion of cash-crop agriculture and mineral extraction have reduced the resource base of ‘traditional’ producers. Fundamentally what is occurring is the dramatic redistribution of wealth in the guise of modernisation and shared benefits at the behest of external funders and investors.

Yet nowhere has the development strategy succeeded in producing a level of wealth that would lead to self-generating growth, or encourage economic expansion and the diversification of the productive base. Instead, the people displaced from the expropriated agricultural lands have joined the mass of the urban poor. It is up to the various country governments to devise and implement developmental strategies that prevent this downward spiral of shared and spreading poverty. This cannot be achieved without offending the interests of the elite, who have become used to a lifestyle and rate of consumption, which cannot be provided for from domestic sources alone.

To stay in power governments thus depend upon external backers who provide the resources which are then shared out among the supporters of the regime. This is typical of the patrimonial state, which is now faced by crises of dwindling overseas interest and thus declining aid flow and rising expectations. The chances of any of the countries of the Horn to palpably improve their economic performance through homemade measures are decidedly sparse. The prices for regional commodities are set on a long-term downward trend, with little by the way of new industries starting up. The production of non-renewable and renewable natural resources is the only arena in which the African elite can have an impact by raising production. But increases in the production of cotton and sorghum (Sudan), coffee and khat (Ethiopia) for export can only be achieved at the cost of:

  1. expropriating local farming/herding communities;
  2. dislocating local markets;
  3. pursuing unsustainable agricultural policies;
  4. sparking off violence directed either against the state (SPLA and Jonglei canal) or among subaltern communities.

The state has turned from the benevolent engine of development into a predator, where weaker communities are pushed below the law to help the elite maintain their consumption levels. At the same time the elite has to grapple with the dual process of falling commodity prices and rising costs of manufactured imports. Within the context of the failure of diversification, this has meant increasing production through the appropriation of ever-greater parts of the nations renewable natural resource base.

The numbers of people entering this turmoil of expropriation, divestment of rights and a cycle of violence is set to rise. Governments and ‘political entrepreneurs’ find conflict, with a clear, albeit unrealisable, set of objectives, and often attractive, as it distracts criticism and provides benefits for key groups. In the past the coping strategies of rural peoples were premised upon the availability of a wide range of natural resources under the control of the community to which each individual belonged. In the Sudan, for example, Arab groups such as the Shutria or Kababish were territorially organised into dars, each of which would comprise a range of ecological niches. Their mobile land use and an array of resource regulating institutions and controls enabled them to minimise the impact of environmental hazard in a fragile land.


Policy Implications

Ethnicity, which is associated with the various adaptations to the environment, turns from a marker of identification into a source of legitimacy and a definition of rights of access. The same argument can increasingly be applied to religion, with the declaration of jihad (Sudan, Eritrea) and the collaboration of the Orthodox Church with successive Ethiopian regimes. Thus identity becomes ‘an issue’ and hence a resource for politicians. Economic motives have, however, interpenetrated, and become masked by cultural, ethnic and religious oppositions. As war has dragged on for over three decades, the ethnic and religious differences between groups competing over limited resources have transformed from perceptions of otherness (and self) into a material cause of conflict. With this in mind we therefore deduce that:

1) Conflicts in the Horn are resource conflicts between different actors in which ideology, ethnicity and religion are utilised as idioms for maximisation and control, as well as for the definition of identity and entitlements. The preconception that conflicts are inherent to inter-ethnic, inter-religious, inter-clan relations must therefore be corrected. Efforts towards establishing commonalties and breaking the cycle of inter-communal violence must therefore be encouraged.

2) Resource shortages have resulted from the incomplete and asymmetrical incorporation of African producers and elite into the world market; elite consumption rising with international peer groups is the driving force behind state expansion at the expense of the traditional sector, thereby marginalising rural societies. Development programmes cannot therefore achieve their overall objectives without securing the rights of all participants in the development process. In a general formula, development interventions have to be people-centred and driven by need. Consultation and the realistic assessment of project impact are therefore crucial to future stability.

  1. The nature of the African elite and their positioning within the world economic order has discouraged economic innovation. Politics remains the principal means to economic success, which consists in controlling the inflow of benefits from abroad, the distribution benefits within the country, and control of the production of export cash crops and raw materials. The efficient running of a consistent, equitable and law-respecting administration can only be provided once economic opportunism has been exorcised from public service. In Somalia and southern Sudan traditional political structures have provided models for administrative process which merit further investigation.
  2. All countries need to engage in the urgent reformulation of the remit, form and extent of the state, its function with regard to administration, social services, and economic development, the division of executive powers, and the concentration of decision-making powers at the centre. A retreat from the unitary state can be detected to different degrees in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, with debates about the devolution of power to regions.

The role of external donors has to be scrutinised much more carefully. Since independence the promotion of outside interests often in the name of aid have made a critical contribution to the cycle of violence. In future, donors should engage with conflict resolution initiatives at local levels, where structures and organisations are created at the grassroots. There are splendid examples from the Nuba Mountains, from southern Sudan, from Somaliland and Eritrean independence, of Horn-based initiatives securing lasting peace. It is important to continue the success stories by creating an interface where donors and the international community can work with indigenous institutions towards peace and development in the entire region.




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