It seems the current definition of the Horn doesn’t include the two Sudan’s. A while back the whole Sudan was considered part of the Horn, but that conception seems to have faded away, particularly after the secession of South Sudan. Whether the Sedans will be reconsidered as part of the Horn in the years to come is something that remains to be seen. Be that as it may, the ongoing flux of geopolitics seems to have worked its way, also in our region. Positions of countries that were taken for granted for a long time are now changing rather swiftly. The currently evolving relations between countries of the Horn are aspects of this changing global reality!
Ethiopia and Eritrea are making amends. We are not going to belabor this point, as it has been dramatically demonstrated, to all and sundry. By the same token, Eritrea and Somalia are restoring formal diplomatic relations. We can realistically expect good relations to be established also between Djibouti and Eritrea, maybe sooner than later. Such goodwill will certainly pave the way for more cooperation between the four countries of the Horn. If the current trend continues it might not be long before closer political arrangements between countries can be forged across the width and breadth of this once rife with the violent region.
Confederation or even Federation might not be out of the ballpark, so to speak! There are two visible motives why such political configurations might come to fruition. Today we will examine some of the internal imperatives, to be followed by relevant sequels. In all the four countries of the Horn, objective conditions exist that compel the reconsideration of the seemingly various trajectories these countries have been pursuing. Ethiopia, as the core country of the horn, is regarded as a trendsetter, in many regards. In the last half a century, it had managed to execute radical changes, both in its polity and policy.
From Imperial Ethiopia, whose polity was dominated by highland Christians (for thousand of years) to a Marxist regime that promulgated the most radical land tenure system in Africa, Ethiopia proved, time and again, its willingness to experiment with far-reaching ideas to secure peace and stability. Despite the number of protracted wars the Ethiopian state waged against both outsiders and organized insiders, the country as a whole had always displayed an open attitude towards new and more cohesive projects with a view to foster its long-term strategies. Ethnic federalism is the latest to be tried in this land of diversity. This overarching policy ruled the land for about three decades, with mixed results. Time has now come to also rethink this paradigm, maybe in toto!
The ethnic federalism launched roughly three decades ago has yielded tangible results, some positive and others not so positive. Most importantly, this paradigm demonstrated to the world, especially to neighbors, Ethiopia’s resolve to try all means necessary to tackle its recurrent internal problems/strife consciously and deliberately. ‘Taking the bull by the horn’ was the phrase favored by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Again, it would be preposterous to thoroughly evaluate the experiences of the last three decades in this column. We will only pinpoint to the combined outcomes that threaten to unravel the federal state of Ethiopia!
We are inclined to believe that Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism, despite its benign features, is implicitly predicated on ethnic favoritism. Adhering to such a principle is tantamount to reading the ‘universal declaration of human rights’ upside down, so to speak! When abrasive ethnic consciousness is regarded as the height of enlightenment, all other rational discourses tend to be relegated to the back burner. There are plenty of examples to illustrate the various consequences of such an emphatically stated constitutional program. When ‘collective rights’ outshine ‘individual rights’, the tendency is to have instinctively organized entities (along ethnic lines) impose their will on individuals. As a result, critical reflections as part and parcel of ‘freedom of expression’ suffer immensely, to say nothing about other activists’ issues of whistleblowing, organizing, etc.!
Unbridled collective rights have fostered, maybe inadvertently, widespread organized crimes in Ethiopia. It is not without reason qualifiers are used when discussing the Mafiosi: the Irish Mafia, Sicilian Mafia, Russian Mafia, etc. The current PM Abiy Ahmed has already coined the phrase ‘Daylight Hyenas’ to describe our homegrown Mafiosi. To be sure, these ‘Daylight Hyenas’ exist in all regions of the country and tend to operate in unison. For example, opportunities were limited or even fully closed to the ethnically unaffiliated, particularly in the domains of the regions.
At times, even native inhabitants of a region were excluded from all considerations (state, market, civil society, etc.) if they were reluctant to support the reigning policy of favoritism. Disfranchising and disempowering those deemed competitors, in the sphere of politics, economics, etc., became the pastime of the ethnically obsessed, as this platitude shielded their incompetence, inhumanity, and gross corruption! To further such shallow ends of the degenerate politicos, some of the critically inclined mavericks, both from within and without, were targeted for elimination.
The highly organized Mafiosi State that operated behind the scene was empowered to execute such tasks along with its creation in the private sector, namely the parasitic oligarchs, both domestic and foreign! By the Ethiopian ‘Mafiosi State’, we mean a clandestinely operating state that leverages the apparatus of the formal state and the ruling party (in a highly coordinated manner) with the clear intention of undermining the rule of law to fulfill criminal desires! What is to be privileged, if one cannot flaunt one’s position of being above the law to ordinary mortals? This was the motto of the Mafiosi state, which has effectively undermined the current federalism from within!
If truth be told, ethnicity-targeting violence is to be expected, particularly in a country where regions are legally encouraged to prefer ‘their own, as opposed to ‘the others’! This not-so-subtle and the institutionally built-in alienating sentiment were elevated to the highest echelon of all the country’s state organs. The failure to dismantle this lopsided and disempowering governance structure, along with the heinous Mafiosi State, which was behind many of the injustices and atrocities, is what ignited the country from below. This comprehensive socio-economic ailment was initiated, to a large extent, by the degenerate elements of the TPLF and later expanded to all the other regional parties and states. Patiently waiting for the ever-receding ‘deep reform’ from above, the sheeplets (the youth) finally lost it and took to the streets. The rest, as they say, is history!
The whole episode of ethnic federalism serves, once again, as another illustration of Ethiopia’s inherent willingness to try non-conventional methods/approaches to come up with lasting solutions to what ails its complex existence. When such attempts fail, the country seems to be ready and willing to embark, yet again, on another wave of reform, with determination to sweep the old and replace it with the new!
Ethiopia seems to openly uphold the following obvious truth; the only thing inevitable in the whole universe is change, and it should be embraced, not feared.
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate. But, it is fear.” Gandhi.
How can unity of purpose come to fruition in a world of uncompromising identity politics?
This is the real challenge facing Africa. The Horn is probably more prone to this malaise than many of the other regions on the continent. Here is the dilemma. On one hand, there is the realization that Africa’s fate is doomed unless Africans forge a broad and meaningful alliances against the reigning polarizing globalization (not excluding wars, etc.) On the other hand, this Pan African sentiment (easily said than done) is confronting the formidable primordial forces of identity politics that work against the unifying drive. How is one to reconcile this? So far and outside of the usual empty rhetoric, (the AU vision, etc.) Africans and their leaders have conspicuously failed to articulate and implement durable strategies that can pacify the elemental sentiment of kinship to allow diverse, yet cohesive, political entities to take deep root!
The so-called RECs (Regional Economic Cooperation, like COMESA, ECOWAS, etc.), which were initiated by the formal states to serve as building blocks of continental unity, might not stand the first serious brawls, especially if these incursions are instigated by hyper-ethnicized sheeple (human mass.) This top-down concoction is almost exclusively focused on the mercantilist logic of exchange and accumulation, which in turn is based on the ideology of greed, sanctified by the modern world system. Put together, such schemes, mostly pushed by the narrative of the metropolis, do not consider the real issue of identity politics that obtains on the African ground.
Countries that looked relatively homogenous like Somalia, Libya, etc., have succumbed to identity politics of much lesser intensity than what we are currently facing in the broader Horn. Imagine if this ontological conviction takes over the imagination of the sheeple (the youth) in a seriously diverse country like Ethiopia! With some luck, the Horn can potentially avoid such nightmares if its collective leadership genuinely focuses on issues that are common to all and sundry.
Unfortunately, after the demise of the socialisms, USSR, et al, and the ascendance of neoliberalism, critical thinking was sacrificed on the altar of the accumulation god. Would be articulators, revolutionaries, humanists, etc., in general, those who used to be genuinely concerned about the welfare and liberation of collective humanity were systemically marginalized/ignored/disregarded, both by the global power that is, as well as their minions in the peripheries. As the result; countries in Africa are mostly run by zombies with hardly any knowledge about the workings of the modern world system. The modern world-system is sustained by systemically leveraging racism, religion, ethnicity, sexism, etc. all across the globe!
Be that as it may, the Horn has to tackle its myriad problems intelligently/creatively, by hook or a crook; if anything, at least to avoid the worst possible outcomes that can easily lead to utter chaos and regional instability! To those well disposed of, Ethiopia can still exert a ‘pulling effect’ on the other countries of the Horn. Ethiopia has a large area inhabited by several clans of the Somali ethnic groups that are adjoined by Somalia (Ogaden). In the North, Ethiopia has a large area inhabited by the Tigreans, adjoining Eritrea (Tigray). Ethiopia has a large area inhabited by the Affairs, adjoining Djibouti and Eritrea (Afar). Again, Ethiopia has a large area inhabited by the Nour, Dinka, etc. adjoining South Sudan (Gambella).
Ditto Beneshangul and Borena. It is only Ethiopia that has, within its political jurisdiction, all the diverse nations, and nationalities of the Horn, however, defined! On the other hand, the other Horn countries lack such a full spectrum ethnic mix. For example, Eritrea doesn’t have Somalis or even Oromos in any significant number. By the same token, Somalia doesn’t have a noticeable number of Tigryans in its territory, etc., etc. This wide encapsulation of (Ethiopia’s) diversity is an asset in its own right and can help build confidence amongst the peoples of the Horn. Obviously, this reality is a two-sided sword. Handled properly and wisely, Ethiopia’s composition can help bring the peoples of the Horn together and might also serve as a rudimentary template for potential consolidations elsewhere in Africa. Absent capable leadership to handle the growing unbridled primordial instincts, proliferating disturbances can destabilize the region as well as the faraway lands of the Middle East, Europe, etc.!
We admit quality leadership has proved difficult to come by, almost everywhere. Shallow demagogues with psychopathic streak always craving for power, continue to brainwash and goad the gullible African sheeple into heinous acts, which are only intended to serve the interests of the criminally inclined. The African Sheeple has to start interrogating some of its elite whose loyalty to the continent/people is suspect. A number of these characters are only interested in collecting crumbs from their foreign masters for massively undermining their poor sheepless and states, in all possible ways! In the absence of committed indigenous leadership with sufficient caliber or what Gramsci, (the radical philosopher early 20th century) labeled ‘organic intellectuals’, our future remains, at best, precarious! When ethnic affiliation overrides long-honed collective values, there isn’t much one can do. For instance, when next to kin is engaged in atrocities/genocide against members of another ethnic group, the rational and decent thing to do is to bring the culprit to justice. But when his clan is out in force to protect him from justice, the time-tested collective civilized existence is going to be undermined severely! Enlightened leadership, based on common human values must take the lead if we are to survive, let alone flourish!
To be fair, capitalist modernity to which all African nation-states have pledged alliance to is failing them left and right. Critical discourses that challenge the prevailing polarization are no more encouraged or even allowed by the status quo! The Horn will not get very far if it adheres to the existing unsustainable nature-destroying paradigm that passes for ‘development.’ We will try to interrogate the prevailing economic narrative that dominates social thoughts, particularly as it pertains to the Horn’s future, in our next installment. In the meantime, we should remind ourselves that we could always learn from history, with a view to employing the various lessons in our endeavor. Here is a statement from one of the unifiers/consolidators of 19th century Europe.
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Otto von Bismarck.