Political and Economic Problems
In the Horn of Africa, the nature of state power is a key source of conflict, political victory assuming a winner-takes-all form with respect to wealth and resources as well as the prestige and prerogatives of office. Irrespective of the official form of government, regimes in the Horn of Africa are, in most cases, autocracies essentially relying on ethnic loyalties. The military and security services, in recent times emerging from a liberation front background, ensure the hold on power of these militarized regimes (Medhanie,
2004:7). By default, a controlled, not to speak of peaceful change of power, is an exception. And, insufficient accountability of leaders, lack of transparency in regimes, non-adherence to the rule of law, lack of respect for human and peoples’ rights made political control excessively important and the stakes dangerously high.
Also, given the highly personalized milieu in which politics operates in the Horn of Africa, it was possible for a ‘strong-man benevolent leader’ (Rupiya, 2008:14) in the likes of Mengistu Haile Mariam, Gaafar Nimeiri or Siad Bare who were all deeply insecure behind their ruthlessness and vindictive egomania, to shape the political destiny of a state almost single-handedly and to enter into warm or conflictual relations with other states, inducing civilian populations to join in and converting them into military and para-military groups (Wasara, 2002:39). In fact, despite the devastation they brought, such leaders and their behind-the-scenes operators used senseless conflicts to divert popular impatience to their inability to improve conditions. Moreover, there is, in these states, a lack of trained personnel mustering a long-term vision and with long experience in security policy-making and management who prefer to go abroad in order to better their lives or escape systematic maltreatment. Leaders exploiting the international community’s laissez-faire attitude turn deaf ears to the advice of professional policy advisors and opinion-formers. This automatically leads to what an observer of regional politics described as ‘short-term thinking’ (Medhanie, 2004:7) and clumsy ad hoc decision-making and eventually to shocks such as the unanticipated Ethiopia-Eritrea War of 1998-2000.
Moreover, political competition in the Horn of Africa is not rooted in viable economic systems. All of the region’s states are barely capable of reaching a level of economic development at which even the basic needs of their populations are met. Economic activities are strongly skewed towards primary commodities for export which are subject to the whims of the fluctuating prices of the international commodity market. Economic activities are also hampered by external dependence, inadequate infrastructure, shortage of capital, shortage of skilled manpower and misguided development policies. Moreover, the state is unable to provide adequate health and education services and to remedy mass unemployment which partly results from unsustainably high population growth.
Furthermore, in order to hold on to power, to hold the state together and to defend it against the claims and attacks of other states and rebel movements, governing regimes build and maintain military forces of large dimensions (See Tables 4, 5 and 6). They spend a large share of national expenditure disproportionate to available economic resources and existing security threats. This kind of excessive militarization eventually entails an increased burden especially in the present times of dwindling resources and economic crises. Excessive military spending is essentially a wasteful expenditure because of which social projects in education or health remain stagnant or even nonexistent. It also heightens the perception of mutual threat with a wide range of unintended political consequences. On the one hand, external threats will be used, as mentioned earlier, to distract attention from real internal problems. On the other hand, a politicized,
compromised and restless military with its proneness to usurp state power and resources will represent a grave danger to inherently fragile regimes as well as their political and security structures.
Access to Shared Resources and Environmental Degradation
Even though the states of the Horn of Africa appear to be independent of each other, ‘there may have to be a sharing of resources. An obvious example is the flow of a river … but shared resources may also be reflected in the cross-border movements of pastoralists’ (Woodward, 1996:118). The most prominent river is the Nile River which has always been an intricate part of Horn of Africa geopolitics. Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt are geographically partly owners and users of the river, and all three consider it as a major security issue (Swain, 1997; Debay, 2008). Egypt, in particular, totally depends on the Nile River’s waters for its very existence (Abdel, 1995:19) and thus ‘the first consideration of any Egyptian government is to guarantee that these waters are not threatened. This means ensuring that no hostile power can control the headwaters of the Nile or interfere with its flow into Egypt’
Accordingly, Egypt repeatedly made it crystal-clear that it would resort to the threat of military action (Swain, 1997:685) to preserve its portion of the Nile River (the 1959 Egyptian-Sudanese Treaty allocated 55.5 billion cubic meters of the river to Egypt) even though, ‘owing to a combination of political and economic conditions and technological limitations in Central and Eastern Africa, this threat fortunately did not materialize for a long time’ (Abdel, 1995:19-20). For instance, after signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Egypt’s late president Anwar Sadat issued a stern warning which was well-noted in Ethiopia and according to which ‘the only matter which could take Egypt to war again is water.’
This policy aimed at preventing upstream states, especially Ethiopia which contributes more than 80 % of the water flowing to Egypt, from claiming their share of the Nile River’s total water. Furthermore, being the Arab world’s most populous, politically influential and militarily strongest state, Egypt entertained the long-established ambition of projecting its power into the Red Sea. Ethiopia was exposed to this geopolitical projection which included overt support to the Eritrean Liberation Front established in Cairo, military support to Somalia during the 1977-1978 Ogaden War, military support to Eritrea during the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrean War and short-circuiting Ethiopia’s IGAD-mandated mediation in Somalia during the mid-1990s. Indeed, a military pact was signed in 1976 between the two states following which Egypt stationed troops in Sudan, trained its military personnel and undertook joint military planning given that, in the case of aggression against one, the other will come to its rescue. Clearly, Egypt regards Sudanese territory as providing added depth to its geopolitical objectives and is not comfortable with the idea of South Sudan attaining independence as it ‘might jeopardize Nile security’.
In addition, pastoralists have to be constantly on the move looking for areas offering better water and grass which ignite conflicts among pastoralists as well as with sedentary agricultural communities in the Horn of Africa. However, the creation of artificial borders and of states which are interested in controlling all movements and imposing taxes limited the size of available resources and disrupted the traditional movement patterns of pastoral societies (Markakis, 1993). Armed clashes, negative state policies leading to violently expressed grievances and recurrent drought lead to an environmental crisis and the militarization of pastoral societies which in turn exacerbate inter-ethnic tensions. What happened in Darfur was partly an environmentally-generated antagonism over shared resources such as water systems, woodlands and grazing land for livestock.
As populations in Darfur and its surroundings increased and access to these resources became more acutely scarce, conflicts between and among communities erupted and became difficult to resolve.