The Gulf crisis and the scramble for military outposts in the Horn of Africa are exacerbating regional tensions that risk triggering a conflict. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director Rashid Abdi untangles the complex web of relations that tie the Horn and the Gulf.
Ethno-religious tensions and mob violence rose in several areas, especially in Somali region in east. In east, after federal govt forces tried to dismantle Somali region’s Liyu police and remove regional President Abdi Mohamoud Omer (known as Abdi Illey), both accused of human rights violations, youth and Liyu police attacked non-ethnic Somalis, looted and burned their property and burned Ethiopian Orthodox churches in regional capital Jijiga 4-5 Aug. Govt soldiers reportedly exchanged fire with local Liyu police. Liyu police cracked down on residents protesting attacks 6 Aug, killing four. Violence spread to at least four other towns. Attacks in Dire Dawa, about 150km west of Jijiga, 2 Aug left at least nine people dead, including six Djiboutian citizens; some 2,700 Djiboutians evacuated to Djibouti. Abdi Illey resigned 6 Aug without giving reason, replaced by region’s Finance Minister Ahmed Abdi Mohamed. Oromia region official said Liyu police carried out cross-border attacks in East Hararghe district of Oromia region 11-12 Aug, killing at least 40 ethnic Oromos. Unidentified assailants reportedly killed at least thirteen ethnic Somalis in same district 28 Aug. Following parliament’s removal of three rebel groups from list of terrorist organisations in July, govt 7 Aug signed reconciliation agreement with one, Oromo Liberation Front, fighting for self-determination of Oromia region; another, Ogaden National Liberation Front, fighting for secession of Somali region, 12 Aug declared unilateral ceasefire. Exiled leadership of third, Patriotic Ginbot 7, early Aug said it would return home and launch political activities. Amhara region authorities 16 Aug signed reconciliation agreement with rebel group Amhara Democratic Forces Movement exiled in Eritrea. Govt 10 Aug said United Arab Emirates was exploring investment opportunities there, including building oil pipeline between Addis Ababa and Eritrea’s Assab port.
Ethiopia’s struggle with domestic religious radicalisation has shifted toward top-down intervention, a policy that has contained violence but is generating new risks. Political accommodation and compromise are vital to defuse faith-based radicals’ opposition to what they perceive as overly secular rule by the dominant party.
The most credible attempt at talks to end decades of armed conflict in Ogaden may soon resume, but concerted efforts need to be made to guide them to a peaceful resolution.
The West will need to show tougher love to his successor than it did to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died Monday, if one of its most important regional allies is to remain stable.
The Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), led by its chairman and prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has radically reformed Ethiopia’s political system. The regime transformed the hitherto centralised state into the Federal Democratic Republic and also redefined citizenship, politics and identity on ethnic grounds.
The Ethiopia-Eritrea impasse carries serious risk of a new war and is a major source of instability in the Horn of Africa, most critically for Somalia. Following Ethiopia’s refusal to accept virtual demarcation of the border by the now disbanded Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC), Asmara unilaterally implemented it and forced out the UN peacekeepers (UNMEE), significantly raising the stakes and shattering the status quo.
The risk that Ethiopia and Eritrea will resume their war in the next several weeks is very real. A military build-up along the common border over the past few months has reached alarming proportions. There will be no easy military solution if hostilities restart; more likely is a protracted conflict on Eritrean soil, progressive destabilisation of Ethiopia and a dramatic humanitarian crisis.
Ethiopians want [the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF)] to concede on the issue of the constitution. ONLF previously said they were not going to recognize the federal constitution.
[The dispute about future management of the Nile] is a proxy conflict over who should be the regional hegemon, Egypt or Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government backed a different candidate, so there was speculation that the new Somali president may actually be hostile to Ethiopia.
The protests [in Ethiopia] have now reached a serious level, a different scale. We should not exaggerate and say the government is going to keel over tomorrow, but it portends future trouble unless they get a grip.
It is clear Ethiopia has a potentially serious and destabilizing unrest on its hands. What started off as isolated and localized protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions has now morphed into a much broader movement covering a large swath of the country
I think the government [of Ethiopia] is fearful that these protests may actually engulf the whole country. That is why you are seeing this heavy-handed crackdown
A 12 June clash between Eritrea and Ethiopia comes as the Horn of Africa’s two most implacable rivals face a crossroads.
Originally published in Slate Afrique