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Strengthening Civil Society for Conflict Prevention and Resolution in the Horn of Africa
November 17, 2017

The OCP Policy Center took part in The High Level Policy Dialogue on Conflict and Development in the Horn of Africa, jointly organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Peace and Security Division on November 13th-15th, 2017 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Serving as a platform for discussion between policy-makers and experts, this dialogue provided relevant case studies and figures to understand the complex nature of regional instability. Building knowledge on strong and accurate bases is central to assessing and determining the real needs for stability and development, however, the continent is still lacking a continental database on conflicts in Africa and their effects. For this purpose, the discussed reports on Human and Economic Cost of Conflict in the Horn of Africa and the New Fringe Pastoralism, coordinated by Mr. Jalal Abdel-Latif, Head of the Governance and Human Security Cluster at the ECA and Senior Fellow at the OCP Policy Center, present a collection of data that contribute to define a way forward in the achievement of sustainable stability in the region.

Among the obstacles that refrain the development and evolution of the African continent, the major challenge certainly remains linked to the volatile and insecure context that results from chronic crises, conflicts and wars. Many regions of the continent are torn apart by ongoing internal tensions and conflicts that delay the realization of pressing Human development priorities. The distant causes to these tensions are sometimes but not exclusively to be sought in the depth of the History of these countries. 

Pre-colonial and colonial legacies are definitely essential to understanding current African geopolitics. The frontiers resulting from the decolonization process have given new meanings to some African identities. In many cases, the local and regional power structures have been redefined either by the fragmentation of homogenous socio-cultural groups around different states’ boundaries -sixty major ethnic groups in Africa are trans boundary- or by the emergence of new elites, which still destabilize the core foundations of the state-building process. The end of the disastrous alliance games during the cold war gave hope for a reduction in the instances of internal conflicts. Yet, this has not necessarily happened. Some conflicts in the Great Lakes region and in the Horn of Africa, born in the wake of their independence, continue to have considerable national and regional dimensions, demonstrating their durability and protracted nature but also the inability of policy and decision-makers to define the exact underlying root causes to unresolved tensions. 

According to the data gathered by the UNECA and the IGAD, state-based conflicts in the Horn of Africa between 1989 and 2014 resulted in 554,808 deaths, 2,728,503 refugees and about 6,575,230 internally displaced persons (IDPs). With these alarming figures, the region is home to the highest population of refugees and IDPs in the world. The causes sustaining old and long-standing tensions in this vulnerable region are not stagnant but stability requires an urgent transformative and preventive approach that anticipates risks and establishes early response mechanisms. This in turn relies on the existence of a strong political will for the implementation of such measures. Frontier Economics and the Center for Conflict Resolution (CECORE) suggest that stability in South Sudan could save the region between $31 billion and $53 billion of estimated GDP losses in one year. Avoiding the destruction of basic infrastructure could also facilitate the achievement of the social development goals in the region. In fact, in times of conflict, the costs of reconstruction and economic and social development are diverted towards war efforts and military expenses. 

The real root causes of these conflicts remain generally shrouded by identity, ethnic or clan feuds. However, while an anthropological approach invoking History is often favored to analyze and understand conflicts, it is important to bring additional concepts and introduce new paradigms and frameworks in the analysis of recurring intra-state tensions that are in essence, multidimensional. Thus, instability and tensions, particularly in the Great Lakes and in the Horn of Africa, result from the entanglement of several traditional and non-traditional factors each with its own historical origin and involving a plurality of actors influenced by national, regional and global dynamics. In this sense, beyond the conveyed simplistic nature of certain conflicts, building a deep reflection on intra-state conflicts in the modern international system requires a holistic and pragmatic approach that addresses the deeply rooted political and institutional failures in sustainable state building initiatives and democratic governance much-needed to establish and strengthen national cohesion.

Somalia’s internal state of mayhem is not religious or solely due to clan frictions but the misdefinition of the crisis prevents decision-makers from finding adequate solutions to successfully ease the internal tensions and permanently resolve the conflict. The reform of the political system through inclusive constitutional arrangements that guarantee the rights of all groups and communities is a first step to neutralizing intra-state tensions. In addition, the reconsideration of the available means to establish the required trust between the citizens and the state implies a redefinition of the relationship between the ‘nation’ and the ‘state’ building processes.

Involved in the majority of the ongoing African conflicts, including in Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan, pastoralists nevertheless contribute by 30 to 38% of the gross value of the agricultural commodities for the continent. In Ethiopia for instance, the pastoral activities represented approximately 15% of GDP in 2005-2006. Hence, while representing a major contributing sector in the horn, the mobility of the pastoral community poses important challenges to the state-based governance system, especially with regards to land use. The New Fringe Pastoralism also has to adapt to the changing realities as these communities are often roaming in the in most underdeveloped parts of the country and poorly governed border areas, exposing them to severe climate and security conditions. Further exacerbating existing vulnerabilities, resources in the East African region are often located in border areas, where issues of identity collide with resource scarcity, tensions over land ownership and a clear incapacity of the state to respond to crises in its remote areas.

Reform of constitutional and political arrangement to ensure the decentralization and devolution of power remains central to effective and sustainable state building that guarantees the participation and the rights of all components of the society. Dialogue is a crucial condition for the consolidation of peace and prosperity. As an example, in Botswana, tribe chiefs spend four months at the parliament discussing and exchanging views on issues concerning their local communities. This sort of hybrid system seems to be working well and provides a reliable case in point confirming that there is no single state or governance model to apply but an array of opportunities and options in order to guarantee the engagement of the civil society in all its age and gender groups. 

Finally, the increased militarization of the Red Sea and the growing foreign interest in the resource prospects of the East African countries adds further concerns on the situation of this region. The Horn of Africa is at crossroads. With some of the most unstable and fragile countries, the region is also home to the fastest growing economies in the world. Regional policy-makers should seriously consider local and global dynamics that will provide the region and the continent with a new set of ever-evolving realities.