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Peace processes and conflict resolution in the horn of Africa

John G Nyuot Yoh1

African Security Review 12(3) - 2003

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Conflict resolution processes must meet certain prerequisites and conditions. Unless the warring parties or the mediators meet, it will be difficult to find lasting and just solutions to the conflicts in the Horn (Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and Somalia). Most of these conflicts have ethnic or religious components and also have a lot do with the nature of the government institutions and the power distribution among the communities within these states. Identifying the main causes of the conflict and the issues involved in each country is a very necessary first step toward peace. Secondly, conditions have to be identified that would make the current peace agreements work. This includes identifying the specific problems faced by the parties involved; ascertaining the validity of the mechanisms through which the problems will be overcome; and planning how the agreements will be maintained. The knowledge that mediators have about the conflict is often as important as the actual meeting of parties at the negotiation table. This article also evaluates the peace initiatives underway in the Horn and attempts to identify the apparent reasons that prevented their implementation.

The Horn of Africa has long been a focal point of strategic interest to outsiders. In fact, for many centuries, the Horn attracted international attention for three main reasons: strategic location; religious and ethnic diversity; and agricultural potential.

Strategic location

Four important countries in the Horn—Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan—border two important waterways: the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. These two important waterways are trying to regain an important role in the international naval trade route system, especially now that some Middle Eastern countries, Russia and some Asian countries are opening up their markets to Africa after the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the emergence of Africa as a potentially lucrative market for Asian electronic technology, the discovery of oil reserves in Sudan; and the effects of globalisation in international trade, make the Horn of Africa an important nexus for Africa’s 21st century economic ambitions. In addition, Sudan’s oil industry potential, water reserves and agriculture potential will allow it to make it an important contribution to regional development once it attains internal stability. Ethiopia too, once its internal problems are resolved, has water reserves and human resources that, if properly used, would add considerably to the region’s growth prospects.2


The region also has incredibly diverse religious and ethnic groupings; a situation that calls for careful management. The majority of the Horn’s citizens espoused Sunni Islam as their religion and most of them could trace their historical ethnic origins to Middle Eastern tribes. With religious radical politics reigning in the Middle East, it is likely that the Horn will witness, as has been the case in Sudan and some parts of Somalia, the rise of some Islamic radical groups trying to impose their version of radical Islam on others. The emerging latent rivalry between the Sunni and Shiite versions of Islam along the eastern coast of Africa might well pose a threat in some countries in the Horn where the numbers of Muslims and Christians differ widely.3


The third factor is the significance of the Horn’s agriculture potential. Since over 80% of the Nile waters and its tributaries flow from the Horn there is a good chance of economic prosperity if the leaders in this region manage to place the peaceful resolution of its conflicts at the top the agenda. As a region, the Horn has the capacity to improve its trade relations with East African states such as Kenya and Uganda, and neighbouring Middle Eastern and Asian countries. This natural resource, much like oil, has the potential to cause yet more conflict but also to bring increased prosperity to the citizens of the region who rely greatly on income from small-scale farming.

  1. John G Nyuot Yoh is a lecturer in the Department of Political Sciences and Philosophy, University of South Africa in Pretoria, and author of Southern Sudan: Prospects and Challenges, Amman: Al-Ahalia Press, 2000, and Isolation, Unity and Secession: The evolution of political thought in Southern Sudan. Amman: Al-Ahalia Press, 2002.
  2. M Doombos, et al. Beyond Conflict in the Horn: Prospects for Peace, Recovery and Development in Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan. The Hague: Institute for Social Studies, 1992.
  3. J Markakis, National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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