A Guide:


Costs and Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn of Africa

A. Impacts on Countries in Conflict

B. Impacts Outside the Countries in Conflict

C. Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn of Africa

  1. Systemic Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn:  External Factors

  2. Systemic Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn:  Internal Factors

  3. Proximate Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn:  External Factors

  4. Proximate Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn: Internal Factors

This appendix examines some of the impacts of war within and outside of countries in conflict, and follows this discussion with an analysis of the causes of conflict in the Greater Horn region.

A. Impacts on Countries in Conflict

The human toll for individuals and families. Conflict makes life a constant process of adapting to basic insecurity and permanent crises for the generations caught up in war.

Genocides and politicides are estimated to have claimed from 7.8 to 19.6 million lives since 1945; these figures do not count major international wars like Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Deaths in Angola’s and Mozambique’s wars alone are estimated at one million each; battle-related deaths from active conflicts in 1993 are estimated at over 68,000.

Wars displace whole populations and make millions homeless. The number of refugees increased from 2.5 million in 1970 to 17.5 million in 1992. An additional 24 million people were displaced, in large part because of wars and accompanying distress.

War prevents people from meeting their basic needs by destroying crops, land and the environment.

Civilians, mostly women and children, bear the brunt of war, accounting for over 80 percent of war victims. Conflicts contribute to the "feminization of poverty:" women are not as mobile as men, do not have the same access to credit and resources, and must assume mens’ responsibilities in addition to their own.

War and militarization impose special burdens on children when children are drafted into armies and the number of orphans and homeless children grows. War impairs physical and mental development, destroys schools, and immerses children in a culture of violence, fueling the desperation that forces children to pick up a gun before they reach adulthood.

These human impacts are not conflict by-products. They are often intentional strategies that target household coping strategies in order to destroy an opponent’s support base. Deliberate tactics include:

Planting land mines in farmland.

Heavy taxing and tribute-taking, eroding subsistence cushions for lean years.

Destroying crops and livestock and poisoning wells.

Stripping households of their basic assets.

Forcing civilians to join militias or work on combatant-owned land during peak agricultural seasons, inhibiting local production.

Bombing farmland to restrict production.

Bombing markets to disrupt commerce, especially grain trade.

Disrupting, blocking or diverting humanitarian aid.

Denying food aid as a weapon to displace and starve populations or as a magnet to draw civilians away from enemy territory.

Terrorizing civilians through executions, torture, rape, conscription and resettlement.

Displacing civilians to draw them into territory controlled by one side to facilitate observation of these populations while depriving opponents of their civilian support base.

Effects on communities and social structures. War destroys a society’s social fabric and coping mechanisms when civilians are direct targets or affected bystanders; returning to normal community life can take years following the deliberate destruction of social institutions and ways of life.

War disrupts the support provided by wider family and kinship systems, exacerbates divisions between groups, increases intra-group insecurity and hostility, disrupts inter-group economic relations, and promotes disease. For instance, after the killing subsided in Rwanda in mid-1994, deaths continued as refugees and the internally displaced fell victim to disease from lack of food and potable water.

Effects on national economies. Violent conflicts and complex emergencies have profound short-and long-term consequences on economic resources and institutions. They destroy local and national economies, capital and investment, and skew productive economic activity, often deliberately.

War removes the resource base on which populations depend. Asset depletion and transfer are especially debilitating to pastoral and farming communities. In Somalia, for example, combatants often stripped villages of all of their assets. Most of the dead were minority agriculturalists with no military capacity or protection.

War destroys the physical and social infrastructure, human capital, and local economic institutions. Killings or forced conscription can mean insufficient labor for productive work.

War disrupts trade and economic activity. Armies target merchants; trading systems collapse.

War reduces investment by the government, aid agencies and domestic and foreign entrepreneurs. War reduces possibilities for recovery by frightening away foreign investment.

War reorients resources from socio-economic development to the military.

War promotes the drug trade and arms sales as the means to support armies.

Effects on political institutions. War destroys national political systems, killing current and future leaders, sowing bitterness and division between communities, destroying or altering traditional political institutions, and changing power relations and national political institutions.

Planned genocide is not the only way that populations are targeted. In civil wars, the distribution of power or assets depends on who is harmed or spared; this distribution is often along ethnic or regional lines.

Wars worsen political inequalities, for example, when the powerful are enriched by stealing assets or when poverty affects a group’s ability to exercise human rights. Democratic institutions are compromised when war suppresses press freedoms and civil rights.

B. Impacts Outside the Countries in Conflict

Conflicts inflict costs on third party governments, donor institutions, and other outsiders when foreign relief workers are killed or when local conflicts block the US and other donor nations’ ability to pursue foreign policy goals such as regional security, development, democracy-building, free trade, environmental protection, human rights, and multilateral cooperation. Conflicts divert scarce international resources into relief, peacekeeping, and reconstruction.

Regional stability and security jeopardized. National political disputes frequently spill or threaten to spill over borders, endangering or destabilizing whole regions, as in the Balkans, central Europe, the Sudan, and Central Africa.

Humanitarian and reconstruction aid costs. Costs mount for humanitarian aid and rebuilding war-torn societies through bilateral aid, the UN, non-governmental organizations, and international financial institutions. International emergency humanitarian assistance was $6.2 billion in 1993; the US share was about a quarter of this amount.

The price tag for peacekeeping. In 1993, nearly 80,000 troops were deployed in 18 UN peacekeeping missions. This is higher than ever before, and so were the costs—an unprecedented $3.6 billion that year, representing more than three times the regular UN budget. Total peacekeeping costs for Bosnia may ultimately total $8 billion, with the US paying about 30 percent. Defense ministries of countries that supply peacekeeping troops have noted that these activities sometimes displace part of their own defense budget and may compromise their national defense effort.

Costs in foregone development, commerce and investment. Conflicts destroy existing development projects and prevent new projects in conflict areas as funds for long-term economic, agricultural and other development are siphoned into emergency relief and reconstruction. Highly visible conflicts in the developing world may undermine future development aid: when conflicts destroy past aid’s accomplishments, legislators and the public may feel that development aid is wasted in the developing countries’ unstable environments.

Lost trade and private investment has been high for Greater Horn countries and potential partners outside the region. For example, the civil war in Sudan began to escalate in 1982. For the ten years between 1982 and 1992, US exports to the Sudan slumped from $192 million to $51.5 million. Kenya and Uganda, with no major wars during this period, doubled imports from the US.

Conduct of US foreign policy and domestic political fall-out as conflicts affect the US’s and other third party nations’ abilities to achieve global and regional goals.

Conflicts thwart US regional goals such as opening and increasing trade and investment and fostering stable democracies.

Conflicts divert partner governments’ resources that otherwise could have gone into development and economic reform.

Conflicts put political pressures on regional alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and regional organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Conflicts can reduce donor country leaders’ ability to govern when leaders have to justify risky and costly peacekeeping and further foreign assistance.

Frustrations over these conflicts have increased rancor in the internal US debate over foreign policy and fueled efforts to reduce appropriations for the US presence abroad. The bi-partisan consensus that traditionally supported US foreign policy has deteriorated.

Impact on international order and cooperation. Violent national conflicts erode the international order, the tenor of international relations, and the viability of multilateral institutions by weakening the sense that violent national conflicts are preventable and manageable. This damages the stature and legitimacy of the United Nations and other international bodies, and dulls our moral sensibility ("compassion fatigue") as we witness horrible slaughters and crimes against humanity. International indifference invites ambitious regional leaders and local factions to promote conflicts deliberately, further reducing prospects for international order, and ultimately threatening international security.

C. Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn of Africa

The causes of armed conflict in the Greater Horn of Africa are numerous and interconnected, ranging from individual or group volition to structural inequality and injustice. Some causes of conflict are local; others are the result of transformations in the international structure since the end of the Cold War. Although the quality of governance in a few states in the Greater Horn has improved in the last decade, state structures are steadily eroding. Continuing economic decline and material insecurity are accompanied in many countries in the region by increasing political instability and conflict.

The geopolitical map is being rearranged in the Horn as new states are formed—Eritrea has won independence, Somaliland has declared it, and southern Sudanese rebels seek it.

Power is being redistributed—group power relationships are far from stable in most states in the Greater Horn.

This section will examine a number of causes of conflict in the Greater Horn, all of which contribute to the kaleidoscope of instability in the region. This section will reflect the divisions discussed in Section II, focussing on external and internal systemic and proximate causes of conflict.

Systemic causes of conflict are structural conditions, including:

External factors—for example, the legacies of colonial and Cold War policies.

Internal factors—for instance, geophysical conditions, resource scarcity, poverty, socio-economic inequalities, and ethnic divisions.

Proximate causes of conflict are the political and institutional factors that influence whether systemic conditions give rise to violent reactions, including:

External factors—for example, economic reform dislocations, ideologies, arms flows and military aid.

Internal factors such as militarization, competition for state power, war-making for economic gain, and the problems of political liberalization.

1. Systemic Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn:  External Factors

The colonial and Cold War legacies. Colonialism in the Greater Horn has tremendous cultural ramifications. Kenya’s Wangari Maathai summarizes the interrelated impacts of the colonial period:

Culture is Africans’ antennae into the unknown future and their reference point into the past... People who are robbed of their heritage during occupation, enslavement and political and religious colonization, become disoriented and disempowered.

The world cannot ignore centuries of cultural adulteration of the African people through religious and mental indoctrination against their heritage.

Colonization has left Africans weakened culturally, economically and politically... [and in] a crisis of leadership.

These cultural effects cannot be overemphasized. Adigun Agbaje of Nigeria contends that colonialism’s attempt to replace indigenous values with Western ones produced a cultural dualism, leading to a "moral disorientation among the African people between the old and the new, a dualism neither well-aligned nor properly digested." Communalism and traditional religious leadership were discouraged, and replaced with "the gospel of individualism and a monastic and abstract view of a universal, remote God, not directly concerned with issues of governance, who could be approached only through practices and observances infused with Western cultural precepts."

One of the most important legacies of the colonial era was the formalization of expansionism. The British pushed their boundaries in southern Sudan and Kenya until they met with resistance from Ethiopia, France and Italy, all of whom were widening their rule concurrently. The trend continued after independence with Somali irredentism, Ethiopia’s annexation of Eritrea, claims on French-protected Djibouti, and various border skirmishes. Internal expansion of state power within state boundaries often met with violence, such as in the Ogaden, Bale, and Sidamo provinces of Ethiopia during Emperor Selassie’s reign.

This external cause had internal ramifications:

Expansionism incorporated resistant groups who discovered that mobilizing around ethnic or religious solidarity was often the most effective way to fight for political change. These fault lines of identity corresponded predictably to cleavages of economic and political opportunity, creating a tremendous potential for conflict that has subsequently grown. Centralizing power in the post-colonial state was often a response to or excuse for ethnic strife and political competition, and served to exacerbate underlying problems even while temporarily overwhelming symptoms. The main investment in governance in the Greater Horn was the multi-faceted instrument of internal security, subverting broader development of governance and civil society.

North-south dichotomies were cemented during colonial rule. Separate administration of northern and southern Sudan, British Somalia and Italian Somaliland, and Eritrea (Italian) and Ethiopia (not colonized), as well as regional or ethnic favoritism in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi helped lead to political disputes directly after the departure of the colonial administrations.

Some analysts argue that the current conflicts result from colonialism and "incomplete nation-building." During colonization, heterogeneous populations were united into single parties and movements against the common enemy. Some states still experience conflict between those who won and those who lost out at independence.

Colonial borders are a further source of conflict. During the Cold War these conflicts were not easily distinguishable as internal or inter-state wars. The end of the Cold War has weakened ideological models and internal security mechanisms, resulting in new demands for self-determination.

In a balanced system of reciprocity, traditional warfare had a political function: to establish ascendancy to ensure control of resources and a symbolic means of delineating the political and cultural boundaries of ethnic identity. The collapse of that system began with colonial penetration and is linked to the introduction of new forms of exchange relations, a shrinking resource base, decay of governance, and the spread of automatic weapons. Localized battles for resource control have in effect been replaced by state-sponsored asset transfer which benefits narrow elite bands whose interests do not fit with historical notions of balance and reciprocity.

As states formed throughout the post-colonial Greater Horn, Cold War imperatives influenced the policies of external actors toward the region. Although states and their associated social welfare systems received plentiful resources, aid was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance which reinforced repressive security apparati and legitimized divide-and-rule governing policies.

The northeast corner of the Greater Horn was particularly targeted because it is close to the Persian Gulf and borders the Red Sea with its oil traffic and strategic importance for introducing or countering naval blockades. The Soviet Union poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Somalia before and billions into Ethiopia after 1977. The United States did the reverse, although on a lesser scale. The US also supported governments beyond Ethiopia and Somalia, including Kenya and Sudan under Numeiry.

As Cold War priorities subsided and military aid dwindled, authoritarian states met violent ends or mutated to attempt to address donor states’ post-colonial interests, particularly democratization. Nevertheless, the legacy of overdeveloped internal security systems and bloated military budgets remain fixtures in most Greater Horn states, even in countries where governments are attempting to make clean breaks with the past.

2. Systemic Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn:  Internal Factors

The breakdown of values and traditions. The rate of rural-urban migration continues to escalate throughout Africa. One African government minister described the effects of urbanization:

In the villages of Africa it is perfectly natural to feed at any table and lodge in any hut. But in the cities this communal existence no longer holds. You must pay for lodging and be invited for food. When young men find out that their relations cannot put them up, they become lost. They join other migrants and slip gradually into the criminal process.

The cultural crisis which results from urbanization is further explored by Zaire’s Zeke Gbotokuma:

Among the most painful consequences of this exodus are depersonalization and deculturalization. Despite their limited attractions, the way of living in the villages still procured a certain reassurance and a feeling of solidarity. There were laws, order, mutual community help and, in the family, along with a sense of responsibility for the needs of the others, was the feeling that ‘someone cares about me, takes care of me.’ This sense of responsibility is lost in the big cities. In the traditional milieu, the individual has a clearly defined status and a corresponding role to play; in the urban slums, he is isolated; nobody cares about him and he does not feel responsible for anybody. It is every man for himself; families must face competition from other families, a task for which they are ill-prepared. In the city, the immigrant must abandon his system of values, his traditional behavior; from then on, unemployment, crime, alcoholism, debauchery, divorce, etc., become commonplace. Respect for one’s elders and parental authority diminish or disappear.

On the other hand, the influx of women into urban areas often signals a desire to avoid degrading traditional practices and scarce opportunities in traditional settings. At the same time, increased physical danger without protection from kinship networks erodes any gains from freedom from traditional boundaries.

Participants in a workshop for local Sudanese NGOs were asked why traditional values were no longer respected. Major responses include:

Modern weaponry allowing for random killing.

Traditional values not being passed along when displacement causes community breakdown.

The absence of a legal system to try crimes outside the military system.

Military authority replacing traditional authority, reducing prospects for local approaches to peace.

Economic stresses, including the rise of female-headed households and military lifestyles.

The sheer brutalization of society in times of prolonged war.

Weakening traditional authority structures lead to problems in promoting peace, protecting human rights and delivering humanitarian assistance because of:

Marginalization by political movements and relief agencies.

The growth of an "entrepreneurial class" who recognize the economic benefits of war and who do not hesitate to incite violence.

Declining resource and growing impoverishment strangling traditional values of caring for the most vulnerable.

Although constitutional law has replaced customary law in many places, many national governments have been unable to manage local disputes without repressive measures. In the colonial and immediate post-colonial period, the customary role of elders as peacemakers in many places became subject to party ideology and political manipulation.

In the absence of traditional means to resolve disputes, the use of modern weaponry accelerated the transfer of assets from the politically weak to the politically strong. In some cases, these weapons helped destroy the remnants of balanced reciprocity. Local conflicts consequently escalated into state conflicts over the semi-subsistence economy, which sometimes resulted in famine; in many places the weak became increasingly vulnerable.

Resource scarcity and competition. The primary cause for conflict in the Greater Horn is competition over declining resources. The central role of the state in determining resource distribution makes it a major target and, when power is over-centralized, reason for conflict. Resource scarcity and competition in the Greater Horn arise from the natural resource base, population pressures, and environmental degradation.

The natural resource base, topography, and climate of the Greater Horn are contributing factors to conflict, especially in the Northern Tier countries (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan). The history of the region includes massive population movements pushed by other groups and pulled by the search for better pasture and water sources.

Pastoral migrations are legendary: Arab populations in the Sudan migrated from Egypt; Ethiopian Oromo originated in the tip of the Horn; the Somali came from the Gulf of Aden.

The Horn contains the largest grouping of pastoralists in the world: Sudan has the highest percentage globally; Somalia is third; Ethiopia is fifth; in Djibouti, one third of the population is pastoralist.

Drought is cyclical and omnipresent and is worsened by over-cultivation. Large areas of once fertile soil are desertified, available land is reduced, and competition over remaining land intensifies.

Cultivable land is limited; in Ethiopia, for example, only a quarter of the total land mass is planted.

Land tenure in the region remains a critical issue, a "ticking time bomb," in one Somali aid official’s words.

Land tenure is among the issues that led to Siad Barre’s overthrow and remains at the root of much of the fighting in Lower Shabelle and the Juba Valley, as Omaar and de Waal confirm: "Clan-based militias have ravaged the country, but the commonest reason for their wars is land."

In Rwanda, disputes over land tenure and property ownership are among the most explosive issues in the country. The 1993 Arusha Accords clearly mandate that refugees who return to their land within ten years are entitled to reoccupy their homes and land. This means that "old caseload" Tutsi refugees, originally displaced in 1959, do not have rights to their own homesteads, although often they are occupying the property and land of the 1994 refugees. The Habyarimana government used population density and land shortages as a pretext for keeping the largely Tutsi refugee population from returning to Rwanda. In exile, the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front was born in Uganda. No clear legal process and policy has yet emerged to address this issue.

In Kenya, Burundi, and Ethiopia, land tenure is a critical component of conflict as well.

The Greater Horn of Africa suffers from extreme population pressures, calculated both in terms of population density and growth rates.

Some of the highest population densities in the world are found in the Southern Tier of the Horn, especially Rwanda and Burundi.

The Northern Tier also has some of the world’s highest population growth rates:

Djibouti, 3.5 percent population growth per year.

Ethiopia, 3.1 percent.

Kenya, at least 3 percent per annum.

Somalia, 3 percent.

Sudan, 2.8 percent.

Natural erosion and improper agricultural practices have greatly damaged the land’s productive capacity. Food production growth rates have fallen behind population growth rates. This population growth combined with commercially-driven increases in the animal population has led to denudation, intensified erosion, falling yields, and possibly climatic change: precipitation has declined since the 1950s, drought is now common and famine inevitably follows, even when early warning systems have alleviated famines caused by droughts.

In Somalia, conflicts over pasture and water have been further exacerbated by intensifying environmental degradation. Traditional forms of mediation were overwhelmed in some places (and consciously undermined by the Siad Barre regime in others) by resource conflicts which became intertwined with larger civil conflicts.

Land degradation is caused by climatic change and human activities such as farming and cutting trees. Resource competition, intensified by drought, heightens social inequalities. Often, the first to feel the effects of droughts are small farmers and poor pastoralists.

Economic deprivation and environmental degradation escalate as poor inhabitants of degraded ecosystems are forced to compete for diminishing resources. Often conflict is the result, as, for example, in the conflict between pastoralist tribes over haffirs—water points—in Sudan.

The balance between people and nature is threatened as drought reduces the available resources needed by livestock. Pastoralists are forced to roam in smaller areas and overgraze vegetation, overexploit water sources and prevent regeneration.

Government action has often exacerbated conflict rather than provided relief. Destructive processes are often supported by legislation. In Sudan, for instance, traditional grazing lands were taken away from pastoralists and distributed to wealthy farmers for tractor cultivation on the assumption that unregistered land was empty.

Instability caused by environmental pressures almost always leads to further insecurity as people arm themselves for protection against theft of their resources and violence. The availability of weapons moves war-producing environmental causes (the Greenwar cycle) to higher levels of intensity. The Greenwar cycle develops new tensions and exacerbates political and racial antagonisms. Though not limited to poor sections of society, prejudice and xenophobia often stem from poverty and powerlessness. Whole communities have become refugees in order to avoid direct combat.

Environmental degradation causes conflict which causes environmental degradation, creating a vicious cycle of environmental decline, tense competition for diminishing resources, increased hostility, inter-communal fighting, and social and political breakdown. In a semi-subsistence economy the easiest form of attack is to destroy the natural resources an opponent needs for survival.

Poverty. Endemic poverty and wide inequalities of income are reliable predictors of conflict, although not universal; Tanzania is a notable exception. Countries torn apart by violent conflict average a GNP roughly one-third of that of non-warring nations. "Poverty of this magnitude," notes Copson, "contributed to the emergence of war by exacerbating underlying social tensions and depriving governments of the means of ending war." Poverty limits opportunities in education, employment, and economic advancement.

This lack of opportunity can intensify the sense of grievance among social groups suffering discrimination. When opportunities generally are scarce, discrimination can take away any hope of finding employment. In tearing the last shreds of hope, it causes deep resentment and destroys any sense among its victims that they have a stake in society. In Sudan, Liberia, Uganda, and Rwanda, the denial of opportunity and impoverishment of people linked by primordial ties undoubtedly contributed to the strength of societal resistance to the state.

The marginalization of pastoralists. Most borders in the Northern Tier of the Greater Horn were drawn through areas inhabited by lowland pastoralists, dividing ethnic groups and pasture lands. The Somali were carved up into five states, the Afar three, the Beja and Boran two. Markakis notes:

The economic viability, social integrity and political efficacy of pastoral society were gravely impaired as a result, and pastoralist groups were gradually relegated to a marginal position, alien and alienated in a changing world. The decline of pastoralism and endemic conflict in the lowlands of the Horn are closely related phenomena.

Constraints placed on the mobility and migratory patterns of pastoral communities over the last century have severely limited the land available for grazing. National and provincial borders, designated grazing zones, wildlife sanctuaries, and the rapid proliferation of land under cultivation have combined to reduce the room to roam, igniting conflicts over increasingly valuable land and water. These conflicts are fed by generations of rivalries between major pastoral groups.

Sometimes these intercommunal disputes feed into larger contexts of national war, such as the Baggara Arab and Dinka in Sudan, as well as the Isaaq and Ogadeni in Eastern Ethiopia, Somaliland and, during Siad Barre’s reign, Somalia. Agriculturalists also battle pastoral groups, such as southward-moving Ethiopian cultivators and pastoralists from the lowlands, the Afar Liberation Front and its historical disputes with highlanders, and the Baggara Arab pastoralists and the settled Fur communities in western Sudan.

Conflict has been most prevalent in areas lacking in natural resources and neglected by the state, whose inhabitants are not part of the ruling group. These pastoralist regions are usually so deprived that the inhabitants’ very existence is threatened.

Ethnicity. Exacerbating ethnic cleavages is a tool leaders use to gain or consolidate power. Colonial rulers (similarly, successive monarchs in Ethiopia) and their successors have fueled ethnic tension by deliberately favoring some ethnic or religious groups at the expense of others. This approach to governance was directly supported by Cold War aid suppliers, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

These divide-and-rule strategies created enduring ethnically-linked economic and political inequalities which help fuel continuing cycles of rebellion and repression. Superpower military and economic aid during the post-colonial era underwrote the strategies and reinforced divisions in countries as diverse as Djibouti, Kenya, and Burundi. The Isaaq in Somalia, Tigrayans in Ethiopia, and Dinka in Sudan are examples of ethnic groups who suffered explicit discrimination from national governments and eventually erupted into violent rebellion. In most cases in the Greater Horn, conflicting parties belong to different ethnic or clan groups. Whether the conflicts are caused by differences ascribed to ethnicity is hotly debated; that they are a contributing cause and routinely exploited is undeniable.

Leaders have emphasized differences rather than similarities among ethnic communities. Demands for liberation and ethnic self-determination are not necessarily popular or democratic (although they can be), but are often rather a form of "elite advocacy" representing particular organized movements on behalf of entire "nations" and "peoples." The problem of nationalities was created within a particular tradition of political thought, discourse and struggle, not the spontaneous reality of ethnicity that became the basis of "national self-determination" struggles in Africa.

Why is ethnicity often the most effective form of political mobilization? Markakis explains:

Ethnicity is an imperative embedded in the foundations of the political order and functions as a controlling factor in the political process, long before an ethnic movement appears to challenge that order. It is precisely because ethnicity is intrinsically political in that setting that ruling groups go to great lengths to exorcise its spirit with invocations of ‘nation-building’ and ‘national unity.’ In the ‘ethnocentric state’, as one would expect, ethnicity is also the ruling principle of economic and social differentiation. This means that this principle divides, along ethnic lines, groups that confront each other in the process of competition for material and social resources...

The ethnic group as a political actor is a product of the situation, not of history, and what mobilizes its members to take collective action is concern for future prospects, not an atavistic attachment to the past.

Forced African unity or integration has been at the expense of various nationalities’ and peoples’ distinctive identities, interests and aspirations and was based on domination by small ruling classes belonging largely to one ethnic group.

Cultural repression is another characteristic of conflict-prone areas that relates to ethnicity. Ruling groups discriminate against groups whose language and culture are different in the name of "national integration."

A misunderstanding often occurs when conflicts in Africa are attributed strictly to "tribal warfare" and Western analysts attempt to place the burden of violence on sociological factors inherent to Africa. This view ignores the fact that asymmetrical modernization in Africa actually gave ethnic groups an incentive to organize and increased the level of competition that already existed in most countries.

In theory, modernization should cause ethnic competition to disintegrate through a new social organization that centers around the capitalist means of production. Horizontal ties should form under which class cleavages are more defining in real social terms than tribal or ethnic bonds. Yet in reality, rapid modernization often creates a competition for limited resources that mobilizes ethnic competition rather than causing its deterioration.

Robert Bates argues that there is a "rational basis for ethnic competition" since each ethnic group actually represents politically mobilized coalitions used to attain limited income and capital. The most fundamental resources that groups desire are land, markets, power and jobs. Competition for these resources can be fierce. With modernization it was clear that some groups would benefit disproportionately because of the "factor of space"—modernization begins in a few central areas and then diffuses outward to other regions. This inevitably causes ethnic groups to mobilize. From colonial times, local administration was a primary agent of modernization. Groups tended to be organized along ethnic or tribal lines. This meant that groups that were better "spatially located" received a greater share of the benefits of modernization and had an incentive to mobilize support and gain political power to ensure that they retained these advantages. Political power, with authority over the distribution of many of the benefits of modernity, became tied to ethnic mobilization. The distribution of limited resources became a primary focus for both politicians and their supporters.

The competition for political power can exacerbate ethnic tensions. Political leaders in many African countries have attempted to mobilize supporters through appeals to ethnic identity. This can worsen underlying ethnic resentments and even lead to outbreaks of ethnic conflict. In particular, poorly designed or implemented elections which are seen as "fixed" or as not accurately reflecting voter preferences in some other way have aggravated ethnic tensions within the region. The mobilization that began with resources desired from modernization continues.

3. Proximate Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn:  External Factors

Economic reform programs. The austerity measures introduced in the context of economic stabilization and Structural Adjustment Programs often intensify poverty and income inequality, at least in the short run, and therefore can exacerbate insecurity. Introducing user fees for previously free services in some countries also has heightened social tensions, as has the removal of certain producer and consumer subsidies. Austerity measures have caused food riots and other forms of instability in some countries. This in turn has led to the expansion of security systems designed to repress such public expression, undermining what are often parallel processes of democratization.

Ideology. Deeply held ideologies drove many of the liberation movements which have now ascended to power throughout the region. The leadership of the current governments in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda all spent years in the bush after significant university experience, as have some of the leaders of the southern Sudanese rebel movements. These governments all have firm ideas about governance, human rights, justice and other central issues, often at variance with Western donor concepts. The nif-controlled government in Sudan is also driven by a particular ideology, that of political Islam.

Ideology was more overt before socialism’s demise. Socialism still drives some leaders in the Greater Horn of Africa, as does religious fundamentalism. The more salient disagreements now are over models of governance: multi-partyism vs. single-partyism, alternative forms of engendering participation and sharing power, federalism, proportional vs. representational elections, strong vs. weak presidency, and so on.

External military aid. Good governance is a Northern condition for aid, but the North continues to export materials/technology that support bad governments. The greatest North-to-South transfer of technology is in armaments. Strategically driven foreign aid and trade have historically valued stability over democratization.

Conflict in the Greater Horn has been fueled by external military aid to governments and rebel groups. At the apex of the mid-1980s arms transfers, the Soviet Union was providing Ethiopia with $1 billion per year in arms, while the United States underwrote a significant portion of the defense budgets of Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya. Among others, France, East Germany, Cuba, Israel, Iran, and Libya have all been significant arms providers to combatants in the Horn at various points during the past decade. Private arms dealers have also been extremely active in the region.

This military aid underwrote local and national military responses to fundamental economic and political problems, delaying their resolution and intensifying their importance. Prolonged military rule was the logical result.

4. Proximate Causes of Conflict in the Greater Horn: Internal Factors

The dysfunctional state. Political exclusion through single-party, state-dominated authoritarian rule has been an important cause of Africa’s deepening crisis. Basil Davidson referred to this state hijacking as "top-down commandism" which "repudiated Africa’s democratic tradition" and produced "a concerted aggression against the common people."

The Greater Horn exhibits various gradations of exclusionary rule, from fascist fundamentalism to narrowly based authority.

Election processes are manipulated, flawed or tightly controlled.

Coalition governments are often powerless window-dressing or tenuously balanced.

Opposition political movements are often no more inclusive than governments.

States in the Horn are, or until recently have been, examples of what Ali Mazrui called "ethnocracy," meaning monopolistic control of a state by one or more ethnic group, a basic cause of conflict within the region. Examples include Arab control of Sudan, Issa Somali control of Djibouti, and former Amhara control of Ethiopia.

Even when there is a will to share power, it is difficult to develop coalitions across ethnic, religious, or regional blocs. Groups experience intense pressure to consolidate power in case there is a serious challenge. Fear of eventually losing power can lead to a rapid effort to expand resources, often illicitly and extra-judiciously, under the control of the group(s) in authority.

In the Horn, the state developed a repressive apparatus which excluded groups opposed violently. State functions not related to internal security degenerated. Military aid from the East and the West ended with the Cold War, replaced in the West with concern over human rights and democracy. The authoritarian state was now deemed dysfunctional and a political system conducive for "free market" operations was recommended.

Copson contends that wars in Africa have resulted from "grave errors of policy and conduct" by regimes in power. Decision-making processes offered no room for participation or expressions of dissent by affected communities. Examples include President Numeiry’s imposition of Shari’a and redivision of the south in Sudan, Emperor Haile Selassie’s annexation of Eritrea, President Obote’s stealing the 1980 elections in Uganda, and Siad Barre’s increasingly exclusionary reign in Somalia. These errors of policy, connected with a perception of exploitation by certain regions or ethnic groups, combined to produce conflict, as in Tigray, southern Sudan, Eritrea, and the Buganda in Uganda.

In a recent public forum, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated that "All African countries are potentially failed states," and that the two most important reasons for violence in Africa are perceptions of mistreatment by a population, and no legal channel for that population to address that perceived injustice.

In some Horn countries—Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda—visionary leadership from a younger generation of ex-freedom fighters has glossed over deepening structural problems. Proliferating fissures within national opposition groups in the region, both armed and unarmed, are a major issue. The lack of open, democratic structures gives a convenient excuse for opposition leaders to go underground and into the bush. Violence and volatility usually increase as opposition groups split internally. In response, state repression also increases, reinforcing the cycle and delaying the opportunity to address fundamental issues.

The disconnect in the Greater Horn between social organization and the state is a major cause of conflict. Originally expected to mobilize populations and economies and to modernize societies, the state at the end of the colonial period quickly became consumed with corruption and the consolidation of power. Possibilities for participation gradually eroded. New terms were developed to describe the deterioration of governing structures: "soft state," "lame Leviathans," and "pathological patrimonialism."

There is an extraordinary divide between ordinary peoples’ concerns in the Greater Horn and political-military elite machinations. Peter Vale of South Africa’s University of the Western Cape speaks to the gulf between rulers and ruled:

In post-colonial Africa, people have become totally alienated from the state. States are seen as partnerships of predatory elites. Part of that alienation is to withdraw.

A further element of dysfunctional leadership is the phenomenon of elite insecurity. Brian Job describes this critical issue as:

An internal predicament in which individuals and groups acting against perceived threats to assure their own security or securities consequently create an environment of increased threat or reduced security for most, if not all, others within the borders of the state.

Competition for state power. Profound demographic shifts are underway in the post-Cold War era in the Greater Horn, stemming from contests over state power and from the transfer of assets and resources that results from changes in government. There are numerous current examples:

Fundamentalists backed by the Sudanese government have gained control of much of the productive infrastructure and marketing channels in northern Sudan and are penetrating into central and southern parts of the country, pursuing policies of ethnic cleansing in some areas with great economic potential such as the Nuba Mountains and Northern Bahr al-Ghazal.

"Old-case" Rwandan refugees in Burundi and Uganda began reasserting themselves and consolidating assets and political power within a year after returning to Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide.

Habr Gedir pastoralist militias originally from Central Somalia have forcibly occupied key productive zones in Lower Shabelle and Bay Regions as well as commercial channels in Mogadishu.

Historic jockeying for ascendancy in Ethiopia continues as politically paramount groups move south and experiment with ethnic federalism, creating regional power struggles which presently take precedence over national ones.

Leaders of various communities position themselves for the spoils of Kenya’s eventual transition, displacing and stripping the assets of certain Rift Valley communities.

The Issa/Habr Awol are consolidating their commercial axis from the Ogaden through Somaliland, displacing formerly paramount Darod/Ogadenis and Issaq/Garhajis.

These historical realignments of populations and political power are fueled by a hyper-exploitative quest to consolidate resources and access to state machinery—taxation, trade, patronage, and aid.

Competition for the benefits of modernity has changed slightly in current Africa. Political power is no longer strictly a question of land or jobs. Ruling elites now hold the nation’s purse strings. This makes political power more desirable than ever, especially when drought and famine create scarcity that intensifies competition and can be manipulated by politicians to mobilize support.

In post-colonial Africa, and especially in the Greater Horn, the state is often the locus of conflict because it controls "the production and distribution of material and social resources." Unequal access to state power inevitably creates conflict, as those in power attempt to consolidate it and those outside the circle fight to get in.

Groups fight for state power.

State power is used to combat or repress those seeking to displace the entrenched.

Opposition groups attempt to reform state structures to allow wider access to decision-making, or advocate for autonomy or independence, ultimately to capture as great a share of the state’s resources as possible.

As Markakis concludes, "[State power] is the real bone of contention and the root cause of the conflict in the Horn, whether it is fought in the name of the nation, region, religion, ethnicity, or clanship."

Socializing the means of production means that the state provides the main channel to accumulate personal wealth and secure privileged positions. This causes a brutal competition for power and position where groups and individuals feel that they must win at any cost to society or individual life.

Development has contributed to conflict through state decisions about investment in export sectors, especially agriculture and livestock. The state steered investments towards areas controlled by ruling elites; resulting investment patterns led to extraordinary disparities in economic opportunity from region to region. These disparities have been intensified as the state provided social services primarily to the same areas. This post-colonial continuation of a colonial trend intensified inequalities between various social groups and regions, creating tensions that fed larger civil conflicts. The most conflictual areas in the Greater Horn are generally areas that were excluded from the fruits of state investment.

Governments in the Greater Horn have exacerbated differences through cultural imperialism, imposing languages, religions, and particular versions of history on all groups. Markakis demonstrates the folly of such policies:

Forced assimilation not only was rejected by subordinate groups, but also encouraged them to invoke their own cultural symbols, most often religion and language, in the propagation of what may be called ‘dissident nationalism’... As a result, the conflict often appears to be a sectarian or communal struggle lacking objective causes.

However, appearances can be misleading. On the one hand, cultural elements are often used as rallying symbols to mobilize groups in conflict that have an objective material basis... On the other hand, cultural elements themselves can have a material dimension in a given situation.

War for economic gain (crass profiteering). War would not occur or persist if it did not have significant political and economic functions and benefits for political power groups. These groups can be divided into groups who actively manipulate violence (greed) and those who are ready to be manipulated into violent activities (need).

The absence of ideology is striking in many of the complex emergencies to which the UN and NGOs respond. "The combatants are often crass profiteers," motivated by "pure self-interest," says one observer. Asset-stripping is a primary feature of this crass profiteerism: participants are motivated by profits and plunder. They use ethnicity and fear to mobilize and terrorize. Modern weaponry has made asset-stripping easier. Civilians are raided when a combatting side is unable to control or pay its own fighters. As economic rationales for war change, warfare may "mutate" like a virus. Outside assistance becomes difficult when this shift is not understood.

Since they can profit, authorities often calculate they have much more to gain from continued war than from peace. As formal economies contract or collapse, asset-stripping, authoritarianism and controlling aid inputs become attractive options when placed against alternative (and more risky) options such as slow, painstaking democracy-building with no guarantees of survival. In extreme cases, famine or scarcity can be profitable: in times of stress, assets are transferred from poor to rich more rapidly and at panic prices.

Insecurity and conflict are manipulated for economic gain in the following ways:


Protection rackets.

Diversion of relief.

Charging people to move from one area to another.

Official corruption and the use of public funds for private purposes.

The use of force to skew markets in particular ways.

Ejecting people from productive or mineral-rich land.

The benefits of war can exceed its costs, especially when a country, group or individual is relatively immune to these costs. Those who benefit from violence may find it relatively easy to avoid the costs of fighting and trading. This may help to explain patterns and persistence of conflict. Large sections of the population may benefit in the form of security in geographical areas controlled by warlords or "mafia-type" bosses.

Benefits can be intended or unintended and can accrue to a narrow or to a large section of the population. An analysis of the political economy of war in Africa explains that war is not chaotic but is usually organized to benefit the few. It also identifies how international aid can be used to sustain violent conflict.

Keen hypothesizes that unintended benefits that accrue to a broad section of the population may perpetuate the conflict, but probably do not cause it.

Intended benefits that accrue to a narrow section of the population are likely to be a cause of war. These intended benefits can be described as part of the function of war and must be taken into account in any attempt to prevent, reduce or stop a war.

Other economic benefits that accrue from war include:

Protection rackets.

Monopolizing trade and profits through violence and smuggling.

Exploiting labor through low wages or in extreme cases slavery.

Taking valuable land.

Controlling and manipulating emergency aid.

Gaining or retaining state power and the corollary benefits of aid and taxation.

Some wartime economic strategies are clearly exploitative, such as raiding and protection rackets. Other strategies are not directly exploitative but are damaging to long-term production. These include:

Stripping the environment.

Selling off assets.

Consuming seed.

Leaving productive land.

Investing in activities of limited usefulness rather than putting money into production, "legitimate" trade or savings.

Directing public policy to attract external aid rather than develop the domestic economy.

These economic strategies may be legal or illegal.

Often upward mobility and opportunity are best accessed through participation in militia forces, whether as foot soldiers or revolution leaders. Alternative, peacetime livelihoods rarely offer the same benefits and security as membership in an armed force, be it government, rebel, or criminal.

There is often a fine line between politically motivated violence and criminality. In many Greater Horn countries, asset-stripping and attacks on those in power are linked: politically motivated opportunism with economic rewards is a driving force behind violence. The parallel economy—the transfer of assets that can fuel war—can represent an essential source of income and is not necessarily violent. However, attempts at regulation often generate violence. The parallel economy threatens the subsistence economy and in some places has resulted in the virtual annihilation of certain ethnic groups, as occurred with the Nuba, Mundari and Uduk in southern Sudan.

The interaction between violence and deprivation is important to understand, because violence results in the transfer of resources and victims may become perpetrators. In wartime, violence may serve an important economic function for particular groups by providing resources. However, it can be difficult to differentiate between actions aimed to attain economic benefits and actions aimed for the execution of war.

Sometimes violent and politically destabilizing alternative or parallel economies have emerged in reaction to marginalization within the global economy. These adaptations have created new forms of political economy beyond conventional socio-political relations.

The functions of a civil war may be economic and political for international actors as well. Governments and groups outside the country at civil war may be directly or indirectly involved in trying to secure, or maintain, a distribution of political and economic power to fit their own interests.

The problems of political liberalization. In the Greater Horn, attempts to liberalize political processes with multi-party elections have been incomplete and fraught with difficulty. Liberalization is risky: change of any sort is likely to cause instability, at least in the short-term. One study found that globally, states transforming from autocracy to multi-party democracy are twice as likely to fight wars in the following decade than states that remain autocratic. Other studies demonstrate that mildly multi-party systems are better at containing conflict by providing more channels for expression. Typically, voters are averse to the high costs of war, but multi-party democratization can lead to war when domestic pressure produces incentives for elites to elevate nationalist sentiment. "Democracy challenges entrenched autocratic elites," notes one analyst for USAID, "and thus can engender a violent period." According to Hizkias Assefa:

As can be seen in many Western countries (and already in Africa), having access and selling one’s ideas in a competitive multiparty situation requires a complex organizational capability and abundant material and human resources. Ordinary citizens are usually restricted in their ability to sell their ideas due to a lack of access to these means. Therefore, it is usually those individuals with wealth, connections, and strong organizations who can put forward their views and exercise their influence...

The most serious problem with the multiparty system has to do with its high degree of win-lose orientation in election contests; one party wins and the other loses. The winner gloats in triumph while the vanquished licks its wounds. The loser must accept its loss and wait for its turn in the next round of elections to hopefully defeat the opponent. This approach works in societies characterized by a strong measure of social consensus and where the issues of contention are relatively marginal... Multiparty competition tends to exacerbate rifts rather than provide resolution to outstanding social and political issues... Especially when ethnicity is an important factor in party affiliation, losing an election might mean exclusion from power for an entire ethnic group, followed by discrimination and even repression.

During processes of political liberalization, new elites and old ruling groups, fighting over public support, often resort to nationalist appeals. It is difficult for an already weakened state not to further fragment under the strain of liberalization, especially winner-take-all approaches to democracy. Severe pressures are compounded by powerful remnants of the old order, such as military and internal security systems, often responsible for keeping weak states together by force. This can cause increased conflict between different political, economic and identity interest groups as has happened in the Greater Horn:

In Kenya’s Rift Valley, ethnic tensions were deliberately stoked to achieve political objectives, including the appearance of anarchy and ethnic strife.

In Rwanda, fear of losing power fueled extremist plans for a "final solution."

In Sudan, the democratic period accelerated a clique of fascist fundamentalists’ plan to grab power.

In Ethiopia, the governing coalition narrowed rapidly once movement towards elections accelerated too quickly before genuine reconciliation had taken place after the fall of the Derg.

Political liberalization often corresponds to economic reform processes which can decrease the rewards available to authorities when formerly closed economies open up and diminish the state’s ability to collect rents. Leaders understandably feel besieged by these new pressures and become more desperate to hold on to their advantages. Fomenting violent conflict is one of the tools employed.

Winner-take-all elections can marginalize minorities and provide an opportunity for disaffected losing parties to organize their opposition along military lines. The importance of minimizing the win-lose orientation of electoral politics is increasingly recognized.

In analyzing the effects of introducing electoral processes, numerous issues must be differentiated, including electoral laws, state institutions and types of electoral systems. The question is not the number of political parties in the system but whether the system is polarized. The structure of electoral laws and rules in which political competition occurs is critical. There is a rich debate about how institutions and electoral laws can be structured to avoid inflaming ethnic cleavages and tensions.

But election laws are only part of the democratization equation. Basic laws relating to freedom of expression and association are also critical. As an example, if groups are prevented from forming political parties under existing law and from participating lawfully in the political system, they have incentives to organize violently to disrupt the system, whether by boycotting or revolting militarily. More broadly, violent responses often occur when there are widespread perceptions that the state is infringing on basic human or property rights and that there are no legal procedures for redress.

The depth of the liberalization process is also key in averting violence. When non-executive components of government—parliaments, local governments—are perceived to be relatively powerless, there are less opportunities for formal democratic institutions to channel broad societal currents and to bring extremists into compromise positions. It may not be necessary for one ethnically-based party to win the presidency, but that party’s members may not resort to violence if they feel they can have some degree of local autonomy and control over their own lives through empowered local government structures. The solution is not authoritarianism, but rather deeper political liberalization.

Formal democratic institutions are extremely weak in their current form, particularly nascent political parties. They often lack the legitimacy necessary to satisfy those who want their views expressed. In most instances there has been little organizing of a grassroots base. These institutions are having little impact on national level decisions in most countries of the Greater Horn.

Consequently, when individuals want to express themselves, they often turn to civil society organizations (representing an increasing trend) or they turn to violence. The development of civil society organizations will be a key in avoiding future conflict if they are able to act in a way to aggregate interests rather than aggravating societal cleavages.

Militarization. While organized primitive weaponry can be devastating, as seen in Rwanda, civilian casualties have skyrocketed with the proliferation of small arms, land mines, modern counter-insurgency operations and low-intensity warfare tactics. It is estimated that 90 percent of deaths in such situations are civilian.

Access to arms is becoming easier and cheaper in most of the Greater Horn. Even traditional conflicts have become much bloodier with the availability of modern weaponry. High-technology weaponry, new modalities of war, and intensified cycles of revenge have overwhelmed traditions that formerly attempted to ensure that elders agreed on what wars were to be fought and that maintained a code of chivalry in battle.

Militarization consumes enormous resources. Mengistu Haile Mariam spent over $700 million per year for military purposes, and Sudan continues to spend over $1 million per day to finance its war in the south.