The Nordic Africa Institute


Conflict and State Building in the Horn of Africa

Started • 01 January 2010

The project seeks to examine the origin and causes of inter-state and intra-state conflicts in the HOA. The interplay between inter-state and intra-state conflicts and the regional dimension of these inter-related conflicts is interrogated with the aim of searching for regional and holistic solutions. It further seeks to identify internal and external stakeholders and actors. The project also examines the process of state building where it is thought that the incomplete process of state building is the main underlying factor for the crises in the societies of the region. The project also critically interrogates the project of state building in the HOA, and seeks explanations for the dialectical interplay between conflicts and state building in the HOA.

The Horn of Africa (HOA), comprising of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan is the most conflict-ridden region in the continent. These festering conflicts are underpinned by historical, socio-economic and interlinked factors. These intra-state and inter-state conflicts have over time compounded by a combination of intra-regional and international intervention. Such interventions have been driven by competing national interests, and a host of factors: economic, political, and security, strategic—linked to the war on terror and the international concerns related to acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

International intervention in the region has in some regards contributed to the intractability of the conflicts and insecurity in the region. The presence of international actors including the United States, France, and more recently China, as well as the activities of transnational criminal networks call for more scientific and critical studies about the nature of the conflict dynamics and its regional dynamics. These interlinked conflicts and insecurities would definitely require holistic multidimensional approaches and mechanisms, that go beyond the protracted and narrow, fragmented ‘nationalist’ and politicized perspectives that tend to characterize studies on the conflicts in the Horn.

These convoluted problems are also embedded within the precarious project of state building in the HOA. The states in the HOA are defined as either failed or fragile. The modern state is characterised by certain features, notably bureaucratisation, institutionalisation and democratisation which are in dearth in the region. These are interlinked variables that increasingly define modern state building process. The process and evolution of modern state building in HOA could be linked to three factors that are broadly believed to account for the malfunctioning of the state, which in turn may explain the spate of inter-state and intra-state conflicts bedevilling the region.

One of these relate to the legacies of colonial history, the legacies of the Cold War, and internal cleavages and political conflicts. The Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea relate to the first and second, while Ethiopia can be linked to the second and third factors. The alienation of indigenous institutions, authorities and practices, internal contradictions and division as well as external powers have, arguably, affected the states in the region leading to crises, conflicts and instability.

In its methodological, conceptual and theoretical approach this project critiques the existing approaches to conflict and state building and adopts innovative, contextualised and historicised approaches. As it is widely accepted that the inadequacy of some existing theoretical, conceptual and methodological tools in analysing and searching for solutions to the inter-state and intra-state conflicts and the crisis of state building may complicate rather than resolve the problems, the project intends to adopt multidisciplinary, holistic and context-specific approach in addressing the roots of conflicts, the nature of the state and the challenges of peace and security in the HOA.

The study will be based on desk research and fieldwork in the countries of the Horn. Some aspects of the project will involve the holding of workshops and Policy Dialogue involving researchers from the Nordic countries and the HOA, as well as policy makers, activists and other stakeholders engaged in addressing conflict, peace and security in the region.