A young Somali girl

The Horn of Africa is the largest conflict system in the world and has wrought untold suffering to its more than 170 million inhabitants. Numerous international interventions and mediations have usually resulted in weak authorities and peace deals whose signatories have become their very spoilers, leaving the region steeped in an unending cycle of civil and at times interstate conflicts. Economically, the Horn has some of the worst off Least Development Countries according to the latest Human Security Index. The Sudan remains a tinderbox in the region as it heads to a plebiscite on separation in January 2011. Somalia is disintegrating as the Al Shabaab and their allies step up their insurgency thus exacerbating the fragility of the transitional government which in turn increases maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Aden. Some observers believe that Eritrea’s support for the Somalia insurgents continues despite sanctions, while its border stand-off with Ethiopia still raises security concerns. As the Kenyan 2007/8 elections showed, the region’s weak political institutions are not able to handle the storms that come with competitive democratic processes due to underlying structural failures. The regional landscape shows a rather grim outlook.

There are several major security threats in the Horn of Africa region, key among them weak states, preponderance of small arms and light weapons, Al Qaeda-linked extremist groups, intra- and interstate resource disputes and a

Al Shabaab militia in a training session

case of bad neighborhood. These are the underlying causes of the obvious symptoms like numerous armed groups, maritime piracy, secessionist rebellions and political violence. Gaining a clear understanding of Somalia’s (in)security dynamics, ethno-political landscape, spillover effects of the conflict, role of foreign extremist groups and previous regional intervention efforts will provide critical insights that should guide cogent, practical policy formulation for this region. Somalia singularly holds the key to securing and stabilizing the Horn of Africa. Therefore, any meaningful intervention by the international community and especially the US government and non governmental agencies must address Somalia as the epicenter of the Horn of Africa conflict system. Indeed, the real ‘axis of instability’ comprises Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. The failure to officially recognize Somaliland’s statehood despite the territory showing appreciable democratic gains with two elections described by leading observers as reasonably free and fair has only exacerbated the situation. Clearly, the international community needs to rethink the issue of Somaliland’s statehood and putting in place mechanisms to help the other breakaway region of Puntland along this path.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has greatly affected maritime trade in the Gulf of Aden

If these two regions are stable, there is bound to be a ‘spillover of stability’ into the greater Somalia territory. The international community should by now have come to appreciate that the cost of attempting to reunite the whole of Somalia into one country is too high. Notably, the US’s limited, indirect diplomacy and largely militaristic support to the transitional Somalia government has clearly not had the desired effect. Instead, perhaps due to its poor planning or execution, it has resulted in solidifying hitherto belligerent extremist groups that have managed to whip up nationalistic sentiments against the weak government. Thriving maritime piracy of the coast of Somalia has triggered a knee-jerk response of dozens of navy ships from foreign countries patrolling the Gulf of Aden. This paper will show that the only permanent solution lies on shore with stable and legitimate administrations, not on the sea.

USAID must focus more on providing much needed development aid so as to reduce the recruiting base for the multitude of rebel movements whose main drive is greed as opposed to genuine grievance. Participatory and equitable development consolidates security, what Robert Zoellick calls ‘securing development’. Continuous support of administrations that lack legitimacy in the eyes of their citizenry is not sustainable in the long run and only stokes antigovernment sentiments which the rebels capitalize on. Aid for development of the region must therefore be more than military aid. The US and EU must not limit their intervention in the Horn of Africa conflict to the global war on terror because this only results in militarizing their foreign policies while ignoring the real underlying economic causes.

Crafting better cooperation between AFRICOM and local Horn of Africa security agencies is best placed to address the overall security threat in the Horn. The United States should seriously consider moving AFRICOM from its base in Stuttgart, Germany to Northern Kenya. Recent Al Shabaab bombings in Uganda coupled with threats of the same in Burundi and Kenya have no doubt left the security apparatus in this region feeling vulnerable; therefore a window exists which the US can take to convince Kenya to host AFRICOM. Not only will this enable the US military to monitor and respond to the security situation, it will also curtail a looming spike in military spending of these states especially in light of the increasing security threats from Somalia and Eritrea.

Finally, the issue of small and light weapons in the post-conflict Sudan should

A large amount of SALW in the Horn are believed to come in through the long and lawless coast of Somalia

addressed through a better coordinated DDR program focused on reintegration of thousands of former combatants especially in the restive Darfur and South Sudan regions. A recent Small Arms Survey report underlines the importance of this, with clear indications that this will be the biggest impediment to the stability of a future South Sudan republic, should the southerners vote for separation in January 2011.

Clearly, a total change in policy towards this region is long overdue.