Dehai News The Horn Of Africa States: The Changes Over The Horizon – OpEd

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Wednesday, 01 May 2024


The world works in cycles. Political systems, economics and markets, financial systems, wars and peace, and climate all change and recur in cycles with highs and lows, growth and declines and indeed, good and bad years. The Horn of Africa States region is in a chaotic cycle for some three decades and some years at present, but before then the region enjoyed a growth period marked generally by the wind of change that swept across the African continent, many countries including countries of the region achieving independence from direct colonial rule.

There was then hope for development and renaissance of the region, which got exposed to the Socialist camp of the era. Unfortunately, there was generally emphasis on liberation and strives for freedom thereon from any quarter and this included wars within the region which included the Ethio-Somali wars over the Somali State of Ethiopia, wars which indeed, disrupted any form of development. Security became the main focus instead of economic development which eventually led to the collapse of states in the region. Ethiopia split into Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Somalia governance remains scattered into clan-based enclaves, some of which claim total independence from the Somali Government, currently organized into a federal system.

The general prospect for economic development and national and regional growth of the region in the second half of the twentieth century became illusory. All that was built and achieved in terms of education, health, transportation, culture and other spheres, all collapsed including governance, which fell into the hands of ethnic-based political groups, whose interests are more of personal ambitions of a few using the tribal and/or clan base in the place of national or even regional development.

In Somalia, the chaos started with the concentration of power in the President of the country for some twenty-one years, who despite claims to scientific socialism, surrounded himself in the governance of the country with his own clansmen and clanswomen, which eventually led to the rebellion of the rest of the population through clan-based opposition parties, mimicking the ruler of the time. This has led to the total collapse of governance of the country and for over thirty odd years, the nation is still trying to find itself. The elite of the country have failed to organize themselves in patriotic and nationalist groups. Instead, the population is currently ruled by unqualified clan chieftains and the mess they have created is evident from the corruption levels, which the entire globe is fully aware of, but just watching, doing nothing about it. This will not continue and change must come.

In Ethiopia, the monarchy was forcefully removed through a bloody coup, which is reported to have killed large numbers of people, ruling the country through wars with Somalia and Eritrean and other Liberation Fronts, which it eventually lost to. The Tigrayans, who formed the main armed opposition to the regime of the bloody Military regime, took over control of Ethiopia and again ruled it through a tribal organization, manning every conceivable important post in the country instead of the large Ethiopian multi-ethnic population. Eritrea seceded and became an independent country. Tribally organized opposition groups resulted from the undemocratic governance and a change was a must and it did occur with another tribal head from the main Oromo nation, taking over. Tribal wars involving the Tigrayans who are still licking their wounds when they lost power started to fight back instead of settling matters over the table, instigating one of the worst Ethiopian internal ethnic wars, which lasted for two years. This was followed by the Amhara war against the center which still continues and which also added on to the longest Oromo war against the Ethiopia center, that of the Oromo Liberation Army. Many other ethnic -based wars are underway in the country and they include the Somali-Afar war in the country, the Benishangul-Gumuz uprising, and others. Ethiopia knows no peace for many years now and change will have to come.

Eritrea is ruled by one party from its independence in 1993 under the leadership of one President for some thirty-one years. Change, therefore, is inevitable. Djibouti is no different as the country is ruled by one sub-clan since its independence from France in 1977, although there are only two members of that sub- clan, who have assumed the leadership chair including the present President of the country who has ruled it since 1999, some 25 years, now. Change is again inevitable in Djibouti.

Obviously, the region has failed in governing itself well despite being free from open direct control of others over the past almost seventy years. Political monopoly through tribal/clan chieftains and imported religious terror groups such as the case in Somalia have hindered and caused chaos in the region. Foreign interference has also added to the chaos and many of the leaders of the region appear to be serving non-regional parties instead of their own countries. All these factors have created a massive imbalance in the redistribution of the region’s wealth, which appears to be concentrated in the hands of a few and hence the cause of most of the troubles in each of the countries of the region.

Currently, a general exodus out of the region is underway. Thousands of the region’s youth leave the region every year. They either perish on their way to perceived greener pastures or decide never to come back to the tribal/clan ethnic chaos in the region. They stay away but do contribute to sending some sustenance to their kin and kith, which they left back home. Why should the region be losing so many of its future manpower? In this respect one must note that the region has a large portion of its population young, and under thirty years. This is estimated to be about 70% of the population. The governments have failed to provide them with good education, reasonable healthcare systems and they suffer from the poor infrastructures of the countries of the region. Why should they not move away from such unwelcoming situations? No wonder they move even if they have to die in the deserts of North Africa, Arabia or the seas separating Europe from Africa – the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea. This cannot go on and a change must occur to ensure retention of the region’s youth instead of losing it to others.

The continuing civil wars in the region, which are mostly tribal/clan competitions for power consume many of the youth of the region. The corrupt leaders of the region, both ruling and opposition, use them in those wars, which leads to loss of workers, insecurities and hence declining food production, poverty and general vulnerability of the regional populations. None of the countries of the region can, therefore, achieve its sustainable development goals in the current trajectories of each country in the foreseeable future, which thus makes it inevitable for changes to occur.

The current general infrastructure of the region in terms of politics, which is marked by political exclusion of most of the region’s population and concentration of power in the hands of few tribal and/or clannish chieftains, servitude of the leadership to non-regional parties through probably paychecks or other possible controls, the imbalance in wealth distribution and the unacceptable terror groups managed and financed from beyond the region necessitates a general rebellion of the region’s population, which will bring in changes to the region.

Such rebellions are currently in the form of a general feeling among the populations of the region, both inside and outside, that something must be done to change the status quo, but would soon turn to real and practical organization of nationalist, regionalist processes, which will deny any attempts to re-ignite the old adversarial relations among the countries of the region as is the case of Ethiopia’s current attempts to interfere in the Somalia internal affairs through many avenues and channels including but not limited to the recent MoU instigated by Ethiopia’s current leadership. Such disputes are, indeed, unnecessary and should be addressed through a regional organization, 

A regional organization would not only accelerate and speed up economic integration but would also contribute to ease of travel of the regional population and present a common approach to the region’s external issues and problems, and there are many. The region is not isolated from the rest of the world and must act and react with it. Its geostrategic location overlooking one of the main seaways for global trade attracts the powers that be in the world, be they regional or global. The region needs to present itself in a better picture than has hitherto been the case. We know many would consider this impracticable in the present circumstances. But nothing good starts with ease and the youthful population of the region will make the changes. The coming changes will rattle the existing powers in the region and the external forces involved therein but changes are inevitable and it would be good for them to ride the waves for the betterment of the region.


Dr. Suleiman Walhad

  *Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at

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