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Ethiopia’s Slide Toward Civil War
Ethiopia’s Slide Toward Civil War
Podcast / Africa

Ethiopia’s Slide Toward Civil War

This week on The Horn, clashes have broken out between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces in northern Tigray. Crisis Group experts covering the long-feared escalation and the broader Horn of Africa discuss reaching a ceasefire and how to address the underlying need for a broader national dialogue.

A war that many feared was possible, but hoped would never happen, appears to be under way between Ethiopia’s federal forces and those commanded by the northern Tigray region.

William Davison, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, walks Alan through the long-simmering tensions that set both sides on the course to armed conflict. Joining from Addis Ababa, he gives his assessment of how the conflict is playing out, stressing the urgent need for concerted diplomatic intervention to bring a potentially protracted conflict situation to a halt. 

Alan is also joined by Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Program Director Dino Mahtani for an overview of how a full-blown civil war could not only wreak devastation in Ethiopia but also have grave consequences for peace and security in its neighbourhood and Africa at large. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see:

Ethiopia’s Clash with Tigray: Getting to a Ceasefire and National Dialogue

Steering Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis Away from Conflict

The Horn S1 Episode 9: Ethiopia’s Fragile Transition

Contributors

Senior Analyst, South Sudan
alanboswell
Senior Analyst, Ethiopia
wdavison10
Deputy Director, Africa Program
DinoMahtani
Podcast / Africa

The Horn

The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. Join Alan Boswell and his guests who will be delving deep into these issues in Season 2 of The Horn podcast.

Eastern Africa's Jihadis

Episode 5 | Eastern Africa’s Jihadis: The “War on Terror”

As the twenty-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, this last instalment of The Horn’s mini-series about jihadism along the Swahili coast explores two decades of the “war on terror” and how they affected the Horn of Africa. Alan Boswell welcomes a panel including Crisis Group’s Murithi Mutiga, project director for the Horn of Africa, the BBC’s Mary Harper and Boston University Professor Michael Woldemariam to discuss how East Africa’s politics changed as Western policy toward the region shifted to its overriding focus on security concerns and counter-terrorism above all else.

They discuss the U.S. efforts to counter jihadism in East Africa prior to 9/11, and how the subsequent “war on terror” shifted politics across the region, from the pressure put on the regime in Khartoum, to regime change in Somalia, to America’s securitised partnerships with Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Kampala, and the isolation of Eritrea. They also discuss Somalia’s fate, shifting U.S. priorities, and how the events in Ethiopia may affect regional counter-terrorism efforts moving forward. They also look at the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and how this chain of events has emboldened jihadist groups in East Africa, particularly Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The Eastern Africa’s Jihadis series of The Horn is produced in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

This episode also features as part of our series The Legacy of 9/11 and the "War on Terror”.

Episode 4 | Eastern Africa’s Jihadis: The Big Picture

As jihadist ideologies have spread across Eastern Africa, governments are struggling to counter their growth, while the militant movements themselves are divided between the competing franchises of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the dominant jihadist group in the region, Al-Shabaab, is emboldened by the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan. What does the future hold? 

In this episode of The Horn’s mini-series, Alan Boswell and Rashid Abdi, former project director for the Horn of Africa at Crisis Group, connect the dots between the jihadist groups that have sprung up across the region. They discuss what the implications for other armed rebellions might be in the wake of the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and what the endgame is for groups like Al-Shabaab seeking similar power. They also discuss whether al-Qaeda or the Islamic State have regional momentum in their competition against each other, and the challenges governments face in finding the right time to dialogue with the groups. Finally, Rashid argues why regional cooperation can only go so far in countering the jihadist threat.

The Eastern Africa’s Jihadis series of The Horn is produced in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 3 | Eastern Africa’s Jihadis: Mozambique

The roots of militancy in northern Mozambique go back years, but the insurgency’s true extent didn’t catch the world’s attention until the Cabo Delgado attacks earlier this year. Meanwhile, a humanitarian crisis worsens and neighbouring countries are deploying troops to help reverse the threat. As yet, however, there is little progress toward resolving the conflict.

In a new episode of The Horn’s mini-series, Alan Boswell and Dr. Adriano Nuvunga, a political science professor and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Maputo, unpack how socio-economic marginalisation in resource-rich Cabo Delgado bred grievances that drove recruitment into a new militant group. They discuss what the Mozambican government should prioritise in its response, including tackling the humanitarian fallout, improving governance in the area and overseeing regional military assistance. Most critically, Dr. Nuvunga stresses that Mozambique and its partners should consider political dialogue over a purely military strategy in order to avoid another “forever war” on the continent. 

The Eastern Africa’s Jihadis series of The Horn is produced in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, read Crisis Group’s report: Stemming the Insurrection in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado.

Episode 2 | Eastern Africa's Jihadis: Somalia

Somalia’s Al-Shabaab insurgency was born of a strong nationalistic reaction to the Ethiopian invasion in 2006. Over the years since, the group has treaded a thin line between galvanising local support and tapping into the rhetoric of global jihadism, including through allegiance to al-Qaeda – a strategy that has seen it grow in prominence amid a governance vacuum.

In this second instalment of a mini-series on jihadism across Eastern Africa, Alan Boswell is joined by regional expert and former government adviser Samira Gaid for an in-depth look at Al-Shabaab’s origins and rise. Samira describes how the militants have embedded themselves in the dynamics of Somali politics – particularly through the clan system – to extend their reach across the country. She also explains why military efforts by Somalia and its international partners have failed to stem the insurgency, discusses whether political elites – embroiled in an electoral crisis – have the will to open a dialogue, and assesses how waning external support for stabilising Somalia could affect progress toward an eventual settlement to the conflict.

The Eastern Africa’s Jihadis series of The Horn is produced in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 1 | Eastern Africa's Jihadis: The Roots

In this first episode of The Horn’s special mini-series about jihadism along the Eastern African seaboard, Alan Boswell talks with historian and analyst Ngala Chome about how new ideologies East Africans brought back from the Middle East sowed the seeds of militant doctrines that took root within some communities amid a climate of political marginalisation.  

They unpack the role of colonialism in the region and how Saudi Arabian scholarship funding gave youth an opportunity to establish themselves within social and political hierarchies. They also explore the kinship networks, established during East Africa’s days as a trading hub, that link the Swahili coast from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. They discuss the domestic and transnational interplay of these militant ideologies with national and local politics, and the heavy-handed response from regional states since the start of the so-called Global War on Terror. 

The Eastern Africa’s Jihadis series of The Horn is produced in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Season 2

Episode 23: Behind the Front Lines in Ethiopia’s Tigray

Last month, the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region took a stunning turn as Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital Mekelle. This week, Alan Boswell talks with Declan Walsh, Chief Africa Correspondent for The New York Times, about his reporting at the moment federal forces evacuated Mekelle and his reflections as the conflict continues to escalate and spread.   

Walsh offers an on-the-ground look at the Tigrayan forces, the dramatic turnaround in the conflict and how the federal government lost ground in the war. He also discusses his conversations with commanders and soldiers on both sides, while assessing prospects for bringing the conflict to a close. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ethiopia page.

Episode 22: Does a Better Decade Lie Ahead for South Sudan?

In July 2011, South Sudan gained independence with immense international support. Achieving statehood was seen by many as the end of an unstable coexistence with Sudan, but the bloody decade that followed is testament to the dangers and difficulties of state-building. 

Joining Alan Boswell this week to reflect on South Sudan’s troubled ten-year journey is Dr. Luka Biong Deng Kuol, Dean of Academic Affairs at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and former civil servant of Southern Sudan and Sudan. Dr. Luka shares his thoughts on what led to the young country’s descent into a devastating civil war and why its two main antagonists, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, remain locked in zero-sum politics. They discuss what it would take for a leadership change in South Sudan, what constitution would suit the country best, and whether prospects for a much-needed reset are realistic as elections loom on the horizon.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information:

Episode 21: Somaliland’s elections and struggle to break free

Somaliland is enjoying a boost following parliamentary elections at the end of May that resulted in a surprise victory for the opposition. Dr. Mohamed Farah Hersi joins Alan Boswell to explain what this changing political dynamic means for the country as it continues its quest for recognition as an independent country. 

They discuss the strong bonds that hold Somaliland together in pursuit of external recognition, and how clan identity affects its national politics. Dr. Hersi also talks about the changes that need to be made in the negotiations between Somaliland and Somalia to make progress possible and how Somaliland has used its geographic position to secure alliances with the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan, altering the dynamics of the Horn of Africa region.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 20: Ethiopia’s Rocky Transitional Election

Ethiopia is set to hold delayed elections on 21 June, a milestone that – before the ongoing war in the Tigray region – many observers believed would be a litmus test for the transition under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Violent flare-ups in various parts of the country, a poll boycott by some opposition groups and postponed votes in several locations all cast a shadow over the landmark election. 

Joining Alan for a discussion on what to expect from the process under these circumstances is William Davison, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia. He unpacks the rising instability, including the growing insurgencies in the Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia regions. They discuss how political parties are vying for support amid a surge in ethno-nationalism and the fierce debate over the constitutional structure. They also flesh out different post-election scenarios for Ethiopia given the many outstanding questions about how to resolve the country’s deep rifts.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Ethiopia page.

Episode 19: The Court Ruling That Just Upended Kenyan Politics

In May, the High Court in Kenya overturned President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plan to make significant changes to the 2010 constitution, seen as one of the most progressive in Africa. Willy Mutunga, former Chief Justice of Kenya, talks to Alan Boswell about the court’s decision against the proposed referendum, also known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), and the political significance of the ruling, which emphasises the sovereignty of the Kenyan people. 

He explains why the independence of the Kenyan judiciary is at a crossroads, the pressures he faced as Chief Justice, and answers to critics who say Kenya’s court is “too activist”. They also discuss whether the government’s appeal of the BBI court case can succeed, and whether the government could still organise a referendum before the 2022 presidential elections. He also discusses whether he is concerned about a peaceful transfer of power or constitutional backsliding during the next administration. He then reflects on what it will take for younger generations to imagine and create a new Kenya.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Episode 18: What's Driving Sudan and Ethiopia Apart?

Armed clashes along the al-Fashaga border between Sudan and Ethiopia are the latest twist in the up-and-down relationship between the two neighbouring African juggernauts. The border dispute, rooted in historical disagreements but now inflamed by the deterioration in ties between the two countries’ new leaders, could escalate into a regional crisis and is deepened by the recent pivot of Khartoum towards Cairo amidst Sudan’s concerns over Ethiopia’s Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project.

Annette Weber, senior fellow with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, points to a loss in trust between the new governments in both Sudan and Ethiopia, the lack of effective communication channels between them and Addis Ababa’s new approach to the region as the main causes for the recent fallout. She talks about Sudan’s and Ethiopia’s diverging views on the soft border at al-Fashaga, the ongoing GERD dispute and the worrying rise of militias in both countries. She also discusses the future of Ethiopia’s recent alliance with Eritrea and the unclear fate of regional multilateralism. They then examine the EU’s new strategy towards the region and how U.S. re-engagement might affect the European approach.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Episode 17: Somalia's Dangerous Impasse

Tensions have been rising in Somalia since President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” failed to hold elections in February. After Farmajo moved to extend his term by two years, the ongoing political crisis triggered clashes between security forces loyal to the president and the opposition in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. This turn of events forced President Farmajo to backtrack, says political and security analyst Mohamed Mubarak, but inherent lack of trust among stakeholders means the dispute continues. 

Mohamed says the crisis proves Somalia doesn’t really have a national army, as clans still hold the most sway. Despite these challenges, there is no political will to make much-needed changes to Somalia’s broader federal structure. He tells Alan that Somalia, pressured by the international community, has focused on anti-piracy and counter-terrorism operations, setting aside fundamental security issues and institution building. They also discuss why Al-Shabaab may be winning the battle for legitimacy, the barriers to seeking any political settlement with the group, the risk of civil war should the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) soon withdraw, and where Somalia’s state-building project should go from here. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information:

Episode 16: Inside the Region’s Struggle for Peace in South Sudan

In September 2018, South Sudan signed a peace accord to end five years of civil war. However, the agreement remains extremely fragile, and over two years later key parts of the unity government between President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar – now Vice President – have not been constituted. According to Betty Bigombe, Uganda’s special envoy to South Sudan, the peace process suffers from an overemphasis on power sharing, a lack of political will and a region that has placed the peace process on the backburner.

Betty joins Alan Boswell to examine the mediation process led by East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and why some claim the South Sudan people don’t own the deal. They look at the role of Uganda and Sudan, former foes, in reconciling the two main parties. Betty tells Alan that a more inclusive national dialogue is needed that brings together the political elites, civil society and refugees. They also discuss whether IGAD should continue to lead the mediation process, the role of the African Union, and the future of Kiir and Machar.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our South Sudan page.

Episode 15: What Eritrea Wants

The international community has long viewed Eritrea as a pariah state, yet the country’s influence is rising again in the turbulent Horn of Africa region. For more than a decade, Ethiopia and the West pushed the country’s regime under President Isaias Afwerki into survival mode. But with the political transition in Ethiopia, and Eritrea’s alliances with Gulf powers across the Red Sea, Asmara is once again looking to shape the region in its favour. 

Harry Verhoeven, a scholar on international politics in Africa, joins Alan Boswell to unpack Eritrea’s rising influence in the region and what it means for regional order and stability. They discuss President Isaias Afwerki’s survival techniques and his ties with the Gulf states. Harry also describes the complex alliance between Asmara and Addis Ababa amid the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and whether President Afwerki could be willing to withdraw Eritrean troops from Ethiopia for tactical purposes. They also look at escalating tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia and where the shifting power relations in the Horn of Africa are headed. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

For more information:

Episode 14: Tanzania's Opposition Leader Tundu Lissu on Politics after Magufuli

The death of President Magufuli, a populist authoritarian and COVID-denier, officially from a heart failure, raises questions about whether newly sworn-in President Samia Suluhu Hassan will change course or maintain her predecessor’s authoritarian track. Tundu Lissu, Tanzania’s main opposition leader, joins Alan Boswell this week to discuss the late President Magufuli’s legacy and policies in Tanzania.

Tundu says President Magufuli’s death is an opportunity to reverse trends and ensure accountability in the country. He expects Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s first woman president, to reverse the government’s response to Covid-19, as well as a variety of other policies pursued by Magufuli over the past five years. 

Tundu tells Alan his biggest fear is the influence of the security forces, which amassed tremendous power under Magufuli, and hopes for a general improvement in the political atmosphere to secure democracy in Tanzania. He also answers Alan’s question on whether he plans to run again for president in the next elections. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify

Episode 13: What Does Reconciliation among Gulf States Mean for Africa?

The Gulf dispute over Qatar’s foreign policy has spilled over into the Horn of Africa. In trying to shape the regional landscape in their respective favours, Gulf states have intensified proxy conflicts in the Horn of Africa and Libya and made them harder to resolve. The January 2021 al-Ula declaration ends the blockade of Qatar and promises an end to the rift between them, at least formally, but will it lead to a de-escalation of their rivalries abroad?

Elham Fakhro, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Gulf States, joins Alan Boswell to discuss how Gulf states’ reconciliation might impact their foreign policy choices in the Horn of Africa, in particular. She unpacks the vested interests they have in the region and how they can engage constructively in countries like Sudan and Somalia. She tells Alan that additional dialogue among Gulf states to further resolve their disputes over foreign policy is still needed and says the upcoming elections in Somalia may be a test of what’s to come. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information:

Episode 12: Risks of Starvation Rise in Ethiopia's Tigray War

Armed conflict has been raging in Ethiopia's northernmost Tigray region since November and fears are growing that it is on the brink of famine. Sporadic reports trickling out of the chronically food-insecure region paint an alarming picture: hundreds of thousands displaced, essential infrastructure systematically destroyed, widespread atrocities committed and an untold number of civilian deaths. 

Shrouded by a virtual information blackout, Alex de Waal says the scope of what is yet to emerge is cause for even greater concern. Executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine, the renowned Horn of Africa scholar is back with Alan to distil what is known of how the war is unfolding. Having drawn in multiple belligerents, the situation is dire but also complex. 

Alex underlines that the window of time to avert a full-blown humanitarian disaster is slipping. He discusses what witnesses have told him about the catastrophe, how political will at the highest level can be mobilised to give humanitarian agencies access to stricken regions, what Eritrea’s endgame could be, and what may come of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) now that it has been forced into an insurgency from the mountains.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see our latest briefing: Finding a Path to Peace in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

Episode 11: Uganda After Its Troubling Elections

Last month’s elections in Uganda saw President Yoweri Museveni clinch another six years to his rule that began in 1986, a win marred by controversy and violence. The widespread crackdown on the opposition, civil society and protests prior to the vote was the clearest sign yet that the incumbent regime’s days in power may be numbered. 

Joining Alan Boswell to take a closer look at what happened and what’s to come in Uganda is Daniel Kalinaki, Africa editor at Nation Media Group and managing editor of The East African. He explains to Alan that a record-low voter turnout and opposition leader Bobi Wine’s popular appeal both indicate that the country’s citizens, particularly the urban youth, are growing disillusioned with the status quo.

Together they unpack the big questions this reality raises, including the complicit role of foreign interests in Uganda’s democratic backsliding, the inevitable prospect of succession and what future political turmoil would mean for the restive region in which Uganda has long been an unusual anchor of relative stability. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, read our recent Q&A: Uganda’s Museveni Clings to Power – But Trouble Lies Ahead.

Episode 10: Somalia's Election Crisis

With President Farmajo’s mandate due to end in just two weeks and little consensus on the way forward, a delay in Somalia’s high-stakes elections appears inevitable.

Back with Alan to explain why a mid-September agreement on electoral changes has unravelled is Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Somalia. Together they chart the various scenarios the country could be headed toward, taking into account the major issues fuelling tensions between Farmajo, regional states and political opposition. 

To steer clear of contestation and resulting unrest further down the line, Omar underlines the need for renewed agreement between the parties on a realistic electoral timeline. He tells Alan that failure to establish a framework for political order in Somalia after 8 February could heighten clan-based grievances, the risks of Al-Shabaab violence and new involvement of regional actors.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, visit our Somalia page.

Episode 9: 2021 in the Horn of Africa

Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Director Murithi Mutiga joins Alan Boswell to debate which regional conflicts and crises are most prominent on their radars for 2021.

From the myriad political and security crises in Ethiopia ahead of elections to the enduring economic woes troubling Sudan’s transition, this year promises to be pivotal.

Murithi tells Alan that much hinges on political elites’ capacity for dialogue, compromise and reform. Recent events have demonstrated how easily unrest can reverberate across borders, so whether our gaze is on who emerges successful out of Somalia’s polls or what Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki is planning, it is how these dynamics overlap that will prove most telling. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore our work on the Horn of Africa region here.

Episode 8: America’s (and Biden’s) South Sudan problem

The U.S. was South Sudan’s most important ally on its path to independence in 2011 and a major player during talks that led to a peace deal in 2015. The agreement collapsed soon after, plunging the country into wider civil war and a humanitarian crisis that has deepened since. 

Joining Alan to look back on America’s role in South Sudan and the Obama administration’s struggles to bring peace to the young country is Jon Temin, Africa director at Freedom House and a former State Department official from 2014 to 2017. He reflects on what the U.S. got wrong in its approach to brokering peace once South Sudan achieved statehood, what factors influenced its policy at critical junctures along the way and why the country’s fate ultimately lies in the hands of the South Sudanese people and regional actors.

As the incoming Biden administration configures its policy priorities in Africa, they also discuss how these takeaways will likely inform future peacemaking efforts on the continent.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, read Jon Temin’s report for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum here and his piece in Foreign Affairs: What the United States Got Wrong in South Sudan

Episode 7: As Conflicts Mount, Where Does Ethiopia Go from Here?

With the conflict in Tigray declared over by the federal government, Ethiopia’s complex transition is at a daunting crossroads. Steering the country into calmer waters ahead of the upcoming elections will require difficult political navigation by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Regional autonomy demands, border disputes and recurring bouts of inter-ethnic violence lay bare the many fault lines that remain. What will it take to successfully bridge the competing agendas of ethno-nationalism and pan-Ethiopianism to find a workable middle ground on which to advance Ethiopia’s democratic transition?

Constitutional specialist and political analyst Adem Kassie Abebe, a Program Officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), joins Alan to give his personal take on the likelihood of a Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) insurgency, the imperative of inclusive national dialogue in the near future and the different directions the country could be headed in given these uncertainties.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 6: Biden and Africa – Same Old, or New Era?

The last four years of relative U.S. absence in Africa contrast starkly with the country’s historically oversized role in shaping peace and security on the continent. Has this shift set the tone for years to come or will President-elect Biden seek to re-engage as an active partner?

Crisis Group’s Chief of Staff Brittany Brown, having worked on African affairs under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, joins Alan for a look at what Biden’s foreign policy priorities should be. 

Together they draw parallels between previous U.S. administrations to envisage whether the incoming Biden team will mark a departure from past approaches to China, human rights, counter-terrorism and multilateralism in Africa – and the Horn of Africa region in particular.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Special Episode: Ethiopia's Slide Toward Civil War

A war that many feared was possible, but hoped would never happen, appears to be under way between Ethiopia’s federal forces and those commanded by the northern Tigray region. 

William Davison, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, walks Alan through the long-simmering tensions that set both sides on the course to armed conflict. Joining from Addis Ababa, he gives his assessment of how the conflict is playing out, stressing the urgent need for concerted diplomatic intervention to bring a potentially protracted conflict situation to a halt. 

Alan is also joined by Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Program Director Dino Mahtani for an overview of how a full-blown civil war could not only wreak devastation in Ethiopia but also have grave consequences for peace and security in its neighbourhood and Africa at large. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see:

Episode 5: Sudan's U.S. Terror Delisting: Too Little, Too Late?

Almost eighteen months after a popular revolution ousted President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s transition remains on shaky ground. While the Juba peace agreement signed in August and President Trump’s recent announcement that Sudan will be removed from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list are welcome developments, the economic crisis and societal frustrations persist in the absence of substantial support from the international community. 

On his return from Khartoum, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Sudan, Jonas Horner, joins Alan to explain how this lack of buy-in endangers these initial signs of progress, why the way political alignments are currently shifting in the capital is cause for concern, what post-Bashir Sudan looks like on the ground and where it may be headed.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group's Sudan page.

Episode 4: Strengthening Africa’s Hand in Peace and Security

The onslaught of COVID-19 combined with a host of upcoming elections are putting Africa’s peacebuilding institutions and democratic resilience to the test. Managing the overlapping challenges in many countries, several of them undergoing critical transitions, will require a balance between forming consensus internally and collaborating with external partners. 

Joining Alan this week to discuss peace and security on the continent is Hanna Tetteh, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative to the Secretary-General to the African Union. Drawing on her own experience and the cases of Sudan and South Sudan in particular, she shares her thoughts on the importance of finding solutions to common issues within multilateral frameworks, strengthening the partnership between the AU and UN and building truly inclusive peace processes.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 3: Eritrea's One-man Rule

President Isaias Afwerki has become virtually synonymous with the state of Eritrea, having single-handedly moulded the country in his image since its inception in 1991. Alan is joined this week by Martin Plaut – author, journalist and now Senior Fellow at the University of London – who has covered Eritrea’s trajectory for almost 40 years.  

Together they explore how Isaias has maintained his unyielding grip on power while pursuing his geopolitical ambitions in the region and further afield. Martin describes a country pervaded with regime paranoia, extreme domestic repression and isolationism that has somehow also managed to leverage itself into strategic partnerships with actors ranging from the UAE and Saudi Arabia to insurgent groups.

This in-depth conversation offers insights into the inner workings of the Horn of Africa’s most off-the-radar country, the shape-shifting quality of Isaias’ shrewd foreign policy as well as the uncertain future of a post-Isaias Eritrea.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 2: A Rare Glimpse into Darfur’s Last Rebel Stronghold

Sudan’s 31 August peace deal between the government and an alliance of rebel groups from Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile was welcomed with enthusiasm by the international community. But in the Jebel Marra mountains of Darfur, controlled by a faction of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), a rebel group that refused to sign the agreement, it was met with raised eyebrows.

In early 2020, Vice News correspondent Julia Steers became the first foreign journalist to set foot in the Jebel Marra in five years. She witnessed first-hand why mistrust toward the government flies high in this remote area traumatised by seventeen years of war, even after former President Omar al-Bashir’s ousting in 2019.

Steers explains how the rebels want justice for the crimes committed in Darfur and a significant improvement of the situation on the ground, where gunshots ring out daily and humanitarian services are absent. High on their list of concerns is also the fact that the process that led to the August agreement involves a general they consider as one of the masterminds of the genocide committed against them.

Elsewhere in Darfur, Steers notes, challenges standing in the way of peace also abound. One obstacle is a surge in what the United Nations calls “tribal clashes”, where civilians displaced by the conflict are attacked in and outside the camps they live in.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information:

Episode 1: Peace and Conflict in Africa, Then and Now

To mark the first episode of season two of The Horn, Alan talks with Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director Comfort Ero about how the politics of conflict and peacemaking have changed — and not changed — across the African continent during the decade that she has led the organisation’s work on Africa.

She highlights that although headlines may be dominated by topics such as “jihadist threat” and “violent extremism”, the key causes of conflict remain the same, including corruption, instrumentalisation of ethnicity, and marginalisation of certain communities. 

They discuss power struggles in the Horn of Africa as America’s primacy wanes, the African Union’s more assertive role in peace and security, and how African leaders should manage their relationships with China to strengthen conflict resolution on the continent, not repressive authoritarian regimes. They also explore the benefits and risks of talking about African solutions to African problems, and the need to take into account the crucial national interests that can drive a state to try to shape the future of a neighboring country. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

The Crisis Group report Comfort mentions on China's foreign policy's in Africa can be found here: China Expands Its Peace and Security Footprint in Africa

Season 1

Episode 22: Somali Politics Heat up, Again

Somalia's political crisis has reached a worrying stage. Since his election in 2017, President Farmajo has pushed to strengthen the federal government's control, fuelling infighting between the government and member states. The decision to postpone upcoming elections has inflamed these already deteriorating relations. 

Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab continues to inflict violence and will likely benefit from this political disarray, and external actors compete for influence, using the country as a playground for their own interests.

Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Somalia Omar Mahmood joins Alan for the final episode of this season to discuss these worrying trends and the need for a consensus agreement over the electoral process. They also examine the skirmishes in Jubaland's Gedo region and their impact on wider regional dynamics.

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Episode 21: As Rains Begin, Crisis Looms over the Nile Dam

As rains swell the Blue Nile, Ethiopia has made clear its intent to soon start filling the massive dam it is building. However, it has yet to reach an agreement with its two downstream neighbours, Sudan and Egypt.

Trilateral talks resumed in early June, and while most elements have been agreed upon, two key issues remain unresolved: drought mitigation and dispute resolution. The gap to reach an agreement is closing fast.

William Davison, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Ethiopia, returns to The Horn once more to unpack the complex dynamics at play. He and Alan discuss negotiations, technical issues, and the parties' various concerns. He stresses that all three need to compromise if they hope to reach a deal, lest tensions rise further.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, read our statement: Nile Dam Talks: A Short Window to Embrace Compromise.

 

Episode 20: Africa and the Emerging US-China Cold War

The "age-old story of the rise and fall of great powers", already in motion, has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

So says Abdul Mohammed, chief of staff and senior political advisor for the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. Amid waning U.S. influence, the steady rise of China, and a new era of competition between the two, he asks, where does Africa fit in?

The continent has undergone a dynamic transformation over the past twenty years. In the absence of robust, long-term U.S. engagement, China has emerged as the continent's most important economic partner. Meanwhile, the U.S. is now primarily focused on sidelining China in Africa rather than providing the transformative engagement needed.

With the continent now caught between these two opposing geopolitical forces, just like the rest of the world, Abdul argues that Africans cannot afford to be passive. They will need to "play a weak hand well" by positioning themselves as relevant actors, both in managing the current pandemic and in contributing to the shaping of a future global order.

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Episode 19: Inside Africa's Coronavirus Response, with Africa CDC's Dr. John Nkengasong

Africa’s priority in fighting COVID-19 is to find the right “balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods”, based on the experience of what happened in Europe, the United States, and China, says Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the African Union body coordinating the response to the pandemic on the continent.

The wave of COVID-19 infections that many predicted would cruelly expose Africa’s weak health systems has not materialised on the continent thanks to early lockdown measures, lessons learnt from the Ebola and HIV crises, and strong leadership and coordination on a continental level.

But Africa is not out of the woods yet, and as European countries start easing lockdowns, Africa needs to redouble its efforts if it wants to avoid a massive spread of the disease.

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Episode 18: Fighting the Pandemic in the Horn of Africa: A Conversation with Amb. Alexander Rondos

Africa has been hit with a double punch. The economic fallout of COVID-19 has preceded the health crisis, resulting in job losses and endangering food supplies. The pandemic's impact on the region's tumultuous political transitions could be grave. 

The international community has moved surprisingly quickly in response to the pandemic, but is it enough? EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa Alexander Rondos explains that greater regional cooperation is needed to address the potential consequences wrought by the crisis. Only by working more closely together can they develop an effective strategy for pandemic relief.

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Episode 17: Climate, Conflict and Peacekeeping’s Unwanted Footprint

“Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change across the world, and yet is the least responsible”.

Climate change is a threat multiplier. Its ability to disrupt livelihoods, change migration patterns and complicate political imbalances make it an increasingly significant driver of conflict. 

David Mozersky, co-founder of Energy Peace Partners and a former Crisis Group project director for the region, is Alan’s guest this week. They examine the conflict in Darfur, UN climate goals and the international community’s carbon footprint.

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Episode 16: Bracing for the Post-pandemic Storm

“COVID-19 is not just an epidemic, but a highly complex emergency”. 

The implications of the coronavirus pandemic are still unclear. But the looming global recession and direct impact of containment measures on livelihoods make this an unprecedented crisis for Africa. Furthermore, the U.S., once an important ally in times of health crises, has turned its back on the continent, especially after President Trump’s “reckless” decision to terminate funding for the World Health Organization. Worst-hit countries are now faced with the prospect of major food shortages, political fragility, and major economic dislocation. 

Alex de Waal, an expert on the continent who has written extensively on the effects of pandemics on political power, joins Alan this week to discuss the international system’s ability to respond to the new crisis in Africa and the value of community-led strategies to help blunt the impact.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 15: Around the Horn: The Political Fallout of the Pandemic

We continue our COVID-19 series with a 360-degree view of perspectives on the pandemic’s impact. Five Crisis Group analysts look at the risks and opportunities in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Sudan, as well as the profound political and economic implications of the disease.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

 

Episode 14: Sizing Up the Threat of COVID-19 in East Africa

COVID-19 poses an enormous threat in the Horn of Africa. Beyond deadly risks to public health and hospitals, democratic systems are already affected and critical diplomatic efforts disrupted. Outbreaks in camps housing refugees and other populations displaced by conflict could be catastrophic.

Kenyan diplomat Ambassador Mahboub Maalim joins Alan for this second special COVID-19 episode. They discuss the implications of the disease on vulnerable populations, the threat to multilateral institutions and the limits of virtual diplomacy.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

 

Episode 13: Flattening the COVID-19 Curve in East Africa

The death and disruption wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has already been felt by much of the world. With the disease now making its way across East Africa, Alan Boswell sat down with journalist April Zhu to discuss the challenges the region faces.

Overstretched healthcare systems, the consequences of a global economic depression on stability, and the long-term geopolitical implications of China’s growing engagement are all covered in this first episode of a special COVID-19 series on The Horn.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see our recent briefing on the possible political effects of the contagion: COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch.

 

Episode 12: The Dangers of Deadlock in the Nile Dam Talks

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan are struggling to reach agreement over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Ethiopia, which sees the dam as a defining national development project, is ready to start filling it; Sudan, a historic ally of Egypt, covets the cheap electricity and expanded agricultural production that it promises; while Egypt remains deeply concerned about the impact it could have on the Nile’s water flow.

Harry Verhoeven, a leading academic expert on the issue, joins Alan this week to discuss the current impasse. They examine the technical issues, the politicisation of the dam, understandings of security and power, the role of the U.S. Treasury, and what the dam could contribute toward poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and agricultural productivity in the Nile Basin.

For more information, see our Commentary: Calming the Choppy Nile Dam Talks and our Report: Bridging the Gap in the Nile Waters Dispute

 

Episode 11: Will South Sudan’s Peace Deal Hold?

On 22 February, South Sudan's two warring leaders, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, agreed once again to form a unity government. After several failed attempts to make peace, this deal is more important than ever. In this episode, we flip the script by bringing Crisis Group's Africa Program Director, Comfort Ero, into the studio to interview host Alan Boswell. Alan, who is Crisis Group's senior analyst on South Sudan, has just returned from field research there. In this episode, Comfort and Alan discuss how we got to this point, what the unity government needs to succeed and what may hold it back, again. 

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For more information, see our statement: A Major Step Toward Ending South Sudan’s Civil War

Episode 10: Freeing Sudan from U.S. Sanctions

Sudan’s transition hangs in the balance. 

As the country embarks on its journey to inclusive, democratic rule, one of the most pressing issues it faces is the flailing economy. The civilian-led administration inherits a legacy of decades of ruinous economic policies, exacerbated by crippling U.S. sanctions. Crisis Group has long called on the U.S. to rescind its outdated designation of Sudan as a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST), which would be an important first step in supporting economic reform. 

Cameron Hudson, Senior Fellow at Atlantic Council, joins Alan this week to shed light on the nature of U.S. sanctions, the factors obstructing the lifting of the SST, the role of the international community and the challenges for Prime Minister Hamdok. 

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For more information, see Cameron’s Foreign Policy article: The United States Should Lift Sanctions on Sudan.

 

Episode 9: Ethiopia’s Fragile Transition 

Ethiopia’s elections, scheduled for August, are set to be the first free and fair elections since 2005. But myriad challenges lie ahead, warns Will Davison, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ethiopia and Alan’s guest on The Horn this week.

When Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power, he immediately marked himself as a departure from the country’s authoritarian past. He has opened up the country’s politics, embarked on a historic rapprochement with Eritrea, released more political prisoners and invited home exiled dissidents. 

However, efforts to dismantle the country’s old order have sparked a debate between supporters and opponents of the country’s ethnic federalist system. Hostility among different regions has soared, ethno-nationalism is on the rise and intercommunal clashes have displaced millions. Concerns abound that intensified political competition around elections could further destabilise the state. 

Tune in to hear all about the complex dynamics at play.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see our report Keeping Ethiopia’s Transition on the Rails.

Episode 8: East Africa in 2020 

From Sudan’s fragile transition and Ethiopia's internal tensions to a resilient Al-Shabaab insurgency, 2020 is set to be an important year in the Horn of Africa.

Murithi Mutiga, Crisis Group’s Project Director for the region, joins Alan to discuss the conflicts and crises dominating the headlines and the ones evading them, from the Kenya-Somalia maritime dispute to the dramatic deterioration of Tanzania’s political environment. 

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Episode 7: How Women’s Support Energises Somalia’s Al-Shabaab
 

The Al-Shabaab insurgency remains a potent force in Somalia. One understudied source of its resilience is the support it enjoys among Somali women, despite the group’s patriarchal ethos, strict gender ideology and brutal methods. 

Azadeh Moaveni, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Gender, joins Alan to discuss women’s roles within the movement, from intelligence gathering, to fundraising, to arms carrying and to recruitment. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see our briefing: Women and Al-Shabaab’s Insurgency.

This episode was originally published on 28 June 2019. 

 

Episode 6: Kenya and Somalia Quarrel Over Offshore Oil

Kenya and Somalia are currently fighting a legal battle over their shared maritime border, an area rich in oil and gas. 

Somalia’s President Mohammed Abdullahi "Farmajo" is playing hardball. With national elections approaching, he has taken a more assertive stance to demonstrate the country’s strength and appeal to his support base. Kenya views itself as a powerful country in a turbulent region and doesn’t wish to be seen caving into pressure from Somalia.

Rashid Abdi, Consultant and former Horn of Africa Director at Crisis Group, joins Alan this week to shed light on the deeply complex issue. They seek insights about why the dispute flared up, Ethiopia’s changing role under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and how mediation efforts have achieved some positive, modest success in de-escalating tensions. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 5: Inside South Sudan's Peace Talks

After five years of violent conflict, South Sudan’s main warring leaders, President Salva Kiir and his chief rival Riek Machar, signed a peace deal in September 2018. The agreement established a ceasefire and set out a political roadmap toward elections in 2022, which included the formation of a unity government. But the peace deal is imperilled, and with it the fragile ceasefire. 

Emmily Koiti, a civil society activist who participated in the peace talks, joins Alan this week to discuss why she thinks the main parties will fail to form a functioning unity government, what the principle issues obstructing progress are and why the country’s current leaders do not represent the aspirations of the South Sudanese. She also described what it was like to be present at the negotiations, shedding light on how Sudan’s forceful mediation methods under Omar al-Bashir’s leadership achieved a peace deal but failed to push the warring parties together.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see our briefing: Déjà Vu: Preventing Another Collapse in South Sudan.

 

Episode 4: Trumpian Minimalism vs East African Realities

In theory, President Trump hoped that minimal engagement would bring big wins in the Horn of Africa: more U.S. trade & investment and seeing off his great power competitors. In practice, multiple surprises have forced U.S. policy into a mode of serial reaction. How are these priorities and realities different from those of his predecessors? And how has he dealt with themes that rarely feature in his usual doctrines, issues like governance, peace and security?

Alan Boswell drills down on U.S. Africa policy with Judd Devermont, Director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and formerly a senior official at the National Intelligence Council under the Obama Administration.They highlight the importance of multilateralism, democracy and governance in a tumultuous region, the incoherence of U.S. policy toward the rising competition between Gulf Arab states in this part of Africa, and the issues of using great power rivalry as a framework to dictate policy.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

 

Episode 3: After Sudan’s Revolution with Reem Abbas

Sudan’s strongman Omar al-Bashir was swept from power in April after a 30-year dictatorship. A power sharing agreement was signed in August between the military and opposition alliance, which offers the best hope for the country as it transitions away from autocracy. However, the civilian-led government faces monumental challenges, among them a a deeply dysfunctional economy, political polarisation and a powerful security establishment bent on clinging onto power.

Reem Abbas, journalist, activist and researcher, joins Alan Boswell this week to discuss these dynamics and suggest ways forward that can improve the lives of the many millions of disempowered Sudanese who, for decades, have been reduced to dire living conditions, conflict and marginalisation. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Reem was a contributor to our recent report, Safeguarding Sudan’s Revolution.

 

Episode 2: On East Africa’s Digital Frontier 

Byte by byte, digital technologies are having a dramatic impact on politics. But while their influence in Western political spaces has been heavily scrutinised, their role in East Africa is only beginning to become widely discussed. 

As Africa attracts greater foreign investment, countries in the Horn find themselves at the intersection of politics and technology. In Sudan, social media offered civilians a space to organise against and eventually oust the repressive regime of Omar al-Bashir. But in Kenya, politicians put big data to work. Long before the U.S. 2016 presidential election, the private data company Cambridge Analytica manipulated the Kenyan electoral discourse, operating with little accountability and stripping away the agency of ordinary people. 

Nanjala Nyabola, who recently authored Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Era is Transforming Kenya, joins Alan Boswell on The Horn this week. They discuss everything from digital colonialism and the exploitation of technology by state powers to the democratising potential of social media. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Episode 1: Red Sea Rising 

The Horn of Africa, long an arena of great power competition, today sees a new rivalry playing out on its shores. Gulf countries and Turkey are vying for allies, influence and physical presence in the Red Sea corridor. They are injecting resources, but also exporting rivalries in ways that could destabilise fragile politics in the region.

Alan Boswell is joined by Elizabeth Dickinson, our Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula and formerly a reporter for publications like Foreign Policy and The Economist. On this week’s episode, they discuss the risks of Red Sea rivalries and also the opportunities. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, see our report: Intra-Gulf Competition in Africa’s Horn: Lessening the Impact.

The Horn podcast series is produced by Maeve Frances.