The Horn of Africa - Prologue to a Tumultuous Year


By Kumsa Aba Gerba   10/22/09

The Horn of Africa is laden with many fundamental socio economic and political problems that are caused by the regional players themselves. There are however many non intrinsic problems, due to underhanded meddling of the so called “development partners”. The Hydro politics of the Nile and Egypt, the future of Southern Sudan, the situation in Somalia and the fate of Somaliland embed ticking time bombs, with little safety pins that are to set off in 2010 and forward. 

These cataclysms, unless mitigated by political players of the region and the “development partners” ahead of time and in a responsible manner, may transcend borders and escalate to international conflicts from the Lake States of Africa to all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. 

Hydro politics of the Nile and Egypt

The nine riparian states Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda Egypt and Sudan’s have long been actively negotiating about the uses and rights of the Nile waters. During all these negotiations, development partners represented by the World Bank and Eritrea, co-opted by none other than Egypt, have been observers.

In May 2009, seven of the riparian states, angry over the near veto powers Egypt and Sudan, adopted a draft pact that does not recognize Egypt and Sudan’s “historical rights and uses” of the Nile waters during the Nile Council of Ministers (Nile CoM) meeting in Kinshasa. They wanted to adopt a draft pact that provided for the establishment of a permanent Nile Basin Commission for fair use of the river’s riparian resources.

Subsequent to the pact of the seven riparian states, the “development partners” who are supposed to be impartial, issued a joint statement against the majority states who adopted a draft pact. The statement, issued by the 12 development partners convening under a trust fund hosted by the World Bank, seemed to favor Egypt and Sudan against the other seven countries.

The seven riparian states became angry at the intervention of the so called ‘development partners’ according to information from the very recent Nile CoM meeting in Alexandria in Egypt, in July 2009. Nonetheless the seven riparian states have decided to conclude the much-anticipated blueprint by early 2010 in what appears to be an ultimatum for Egypt and Sudan to accept a draft agreement that the other seven countries accepted, or risk isolation. 

For more than a century Egypt has had a visceral hostility towards Ethiopia that is highly noxious. Despite that Ethiopia is one of the seven riparian states; it is also cautious of untimely Egyptian growl that is backed by USA and the ‘development partners’. Egypt is the biggest recipients of US aid (Since 2004 over $28 billion in economic assistance, including $2 billion in military aid) and has political clout over institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF.

Ethiopia is the main source of the Nile, which contributes 86% of the water to the basin and utilizes less than 1% of the potential for hydroelectric power or irrigation. Ethiopia is precautious because if the ‘development partners’ do not handle the use of Nile waters in an impartial, fair and prudent manner and when the seven riparian countries move along with their anticipated resolution and ultimatum in early 2010, Egypt may wreck havoc on Ethiopia through its historic proxies, Eritrean forces and terrorist networks based in Somalia.

The future of Southern Sudan

Even though Darfur has grabbed global attention for the last few years, Southern Sudan, an area containing abundant oil reserves, has been dealing with its own crisis. In 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the war between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) that had been raging for almost fifty years at the cost of more than 2 million lives. Part of the peace agreement calls for a referendum to be held in 2011 to give Southern Sudan an opportunity to secede or stay united.

There are very serious differences between the two parties on how to go about the referendum in 2011. The NCP says all southerners (including ones in the North) should participate, while the SPLM wants to limit it to the residents of southern Sudan only, afraid of the validity of the census. On the question of voting, the NCP says secession should be valid only if at least 75 percent of voters chose "Yes", while a simple majority of 51 percent should be enough for unity. The SPLM proposes a simple majority percentage for both choices.

In the past, the US had been working towards the secession of Southern Sudan. The Christian Rights and many neo-conservatives during the Bush administration have been actively engaged in preparing the oil rich south for independence. The US based Inside the Pentagon (ITP) newsletter had stated that the US administration was keen on assisting Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) transition from a guerilla force to one that can provide adequate defense capabilities for its people and territory. In not so distant past, some Washington policy makers had also been contemplating of boosting SPLA’s air defense capabilities to deter the North from attacking in an attempt to prevent the secession of South Sudan. This being the view from Washington, South Sudan had reportedly been building up its military arsenal, including a controversial shipment of Ukrainian tanks last year, in secrecy to prepare for such an event.

Recently the US is having a second thought about the eminent independence of the South.  In a drastic turn of policy the US is now talking to both parties to make the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) realistically implemented regardless of the outcome, in order to avoid another flare up of hostilities between the North and the South.

President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration is making headways in the trilateral talks since it started in July 2009 in Washington. Gration is said to be a much seasoned diplomat and his military background might have helped him in obtaining more cooperation from the DOD and the State Department, unlike his predecessors.

Gration is advising the North that it should not be working on how to make independence unfeasible. On the other hand Gration is counseling the NCP to work hard on how unity can be viable. This US position has recently made SPLM very nervous.

The US realized that the secession of the south may not end up with a smooth separation with the North. The border of the two regions is not even defined, especially around the very contentious oil rich areas. The US also realized that the South is not that homogeneous with various ethnic and tribal make up and may not stay as one country that long after secession.

Either way the wind blows, at the prelude to the referendum in 2010 or the outcome in 2011, there is a high potential of deadly turbulence in Southern Sudan, much worse than that of Darfur. This commotion of heavily armed conflict in the south may adversely affect the peace and stability of neighboring Uganda, DRC, CAR, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Lawless Somalia and the fate of Somaliland

Somalia is such a mess because of the rivalries of various clan warlords and because of ascendance of terrorist networks. But there are many international players that have contributed to stir up disorder and lawlessness.

With regard to US policy on Somalia, it has been myopic either due to the ‘Black Hawk Down’ traumatic syndrome or due to lack of any economic incentive such as oil in the region. The theory that Hizbul Islam can be tamed in order to crash Al Shabaab is nothing but a repeat of the same failed policy in Afghanistan of playing nice with the Taliban in order to target Al Qaeda that resulted in the Taliban to become a menace to the very survival of a key US ally, Pakistan.

One of the architects of such US policy is Ken Menkhaus, with an effort to create a tailored policy by cajoling jihadists such as the Hizbul Islam coalition. Menkhaus has invested on such theorem and written some hypothesis such as “Somalia after the Ethiopian Occupation: First Steps to End the Conflict and Combat Extremism” and “Governance without Government in Somalia: Spoilers, State Building, and the Politics of Coping.”

One of the Hizbul Islam figures being cajoled is Sheikh Hassan "Turki" Abdullahi, the leader of Ras Kamboni Brigade, which is part of four factions that merged to form Hizbul Islam with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys as chairman, with strong ties with Eritrea. Al-Turki fought alongside Al Shabaab to overthrow warlord Barre Hirale in Aug. 2008. In recent days, Sheikh Turki has publicly opposed Al Shabaab's declaration of an administration in Kismayo that excludes other groups. This position of Al-Turki has made US policy makers distortedly gleeful.

Al-Turki was designated, under US Presidential Executive Order 13224, for terrorist financing on June 3, 2004. Al-Turki was born in the Ogaden. It is believed that Al-Turki participated in the unsuccessful Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia over control of the Ogaden region. He still has his eye on Ethiopia’s Ogaden and holds key influence and control over the leadership of Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

The UN has also become a paper tiger with regard to the Somali crisis. Sanction on Eritrea, which channels weapons to Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, is not going to happen. Eritrea already trades less with the outside world. The country's president is not interested in being a globe-trotting statesman who often skips AU summits and IGAD meetings. UN knows sanctions won't deter Eritrea’s less savory allies, Libya and Iran who provide Eritrea with aid.

The other potential trouble area in the Horn is seemingly peaceful Somaliland. Even though the international community does not recognize Somaliland as country, there has been so much foreign hand in respect to the upcoming election in Somaliland.

Like many elections in underdeveloped countries, there is a familiar indulgence of NGOs in the Somaliland election that has exasperated the contradiction between the incumbent and the opposition parties. Last summer, the head of Interpeace, an international peace building NGO was expelled after being accused of sharing incomplete voter information with officials from the opposition parties without consulting with the Somaliland election commission.  Moreover, the ruling party has become intolerant of any push from external parties partly due to the pure malady of incumbency to linger in power.

Such an affray with NGOs has probably affected US policy makers towards Somaliland. Donald Payne (D-NJ), chairman of subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, invited Mohamed Omer, opposition Kulmiye party foreign officer, while Abdillahi Mohamed Duale, the foreign secretary of Somaliland government, who incidentally was in Washington, was told that the congressman wasn’t available to see him. Mr. Duale was received by President Obama’s advisor on Africa and met other officials from USAID, despite that Donald Payne refused to meet him.

According to VOA, Ted Dagne, an aide to Donald Payne said: “Donald Payne does not recognize Mr. Duale as the only one who represent the Somaliland people and will meet any other official from Somaliland”. Consequently, the humiliated President Dahir Rayale refused to attend and participate in recent congressional hearing about Somalia chaired by Donald Payne.

On the home front, Al-Shabaab has had keen interest in seemingly peaceful Somaliland and considers it as its home base. Many Al-Shabaab leaders come from Somaliland. Lately, Sheikh Mukhtar Abdurahman Abu Zubayr, the Amir (leader) of Al-Shabaab who comes from Somaliland, urged the people to rise against the government.  He has accused, through a circulated voice message, the Somaliland authority of oppressing Muslims.

Somaliland is not an internationally recognized country and has no official diplomatic relations with the US, UN or any other country. With such a flawed US policy as advanced by Donald Payne and Ken Menkhaus as well as with Al-Shabaab sleepers all over Somaliland, the 2010 election may drag the country towards lawlessness ala the rest of Somalia, making the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Eden and the western shores of the Indian Ocean a treacherous zone.

The author is an Ethiopian American graduate student and a researcher of International Relations in USA. He can be reached at