Today, we know the countries of the Horn of Africa as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. However, humans have inhabited the Horn of Africa for thousands of years – some evidence dates back as far as 125,000 years ago. People is an overview of the unique features of this region.
Pre-history and Aksum
Archaeologists have discovered remains of early hominids in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley, including Australopithecus afarensis, or “Lucy,” thought to be 3.5 million years old. By ca. 7000 B. C., Cushitic- and Omotic-speaking peoples were present in Ethiopia, after which further linguistic diversification gave rise to peoples who spoke Agew, Sidamo, Somali, Oromo, and numerous Omotic tongues. Initially hunters and gathers, these peoples eventually domesticated indigenous plants, including the grasses teff and eleusine, and ensete, a root crop, kept cattle and other animals, and established agricultural patterns of livelihood that were to be characteristic of the region into contemporary Times. By at least the late first millennium B. C., it appears, the Agew occupied much of the northern highlands, whereas the Sidama inhabited the central and southern highlands. Both played important roles in subsequent historical developments.
During the first millennium B. C., Sabaeans from southwest Arabia migrated across the Red Sea and settled in the extreme northern plateau. They brought with them their Semitic speech and writing system and a knowledge of stone architecture. The Sabaeans settled among the Agew and created a series of small political units that by the beginning of the Christian era had been incorporated into the Aksumite Empire, with its capital at Aksum. The Aksumite empire was a trading state that dominated the Red Sea and commerce between the Nile Valley and Arabia and between the Roman Empire and India. Centered in the highlands of present-day Eritrea and Tigray, it stretched at its height from the Nile Valley in Sudan to Southwest Arabia.
The Aksumites used Greek as a trading language, but a new Semitic language, Ge’ez, arose that is thought to be at least indirectly ancestral to modern Amharic and Tigrinya. The Aksumites also constructed stone palaces and public buildings, erected large funerary oblelisks, and minted coins. In the early fourth century, Christianity was introduced in its Byzantine Orthodox guise. Although it took centuries before Christianity gained a firm hold, in time Orthodoxy became the embodiment of Ethiopian identity. During the seventh century A.D., Aksum began a long decline. By the eleventh century, the political center of the kingdom had shifted southward into Agau territory, and a non-Aksumite dynasty, the Zagwe, had assumed control. Aksum faded, but it bequeathed to its successors its Semitic language, Christianity, and the concept of a multi- ethnic empire-state ruled by a “king of kings.”
The Medieval Period
From Aksumite times, there began a process of cultural and lingustic fusion between the northern Semites and the indigenous Agew that was to continue over the course of a millennium. This process gave rise to northern Christianized Agew, who formed themselves into the Tigray and Amhara ethnic groups. The Zagwe placed their capital, Lalibala, far south of Aksum and constructed there and elsewhere across their domains a remarkable ensemble of rock-hewn churches. In the late thirteenth century, an Amhara dynasty moved the center of the kingdom still farther south into Shewa in the southernmost part of the northern highlands. During the succeeding centuries, the Amhara kingdom, a military state, was often at war either with Sidama kingdoms to the west or with Muslim principalities to the east.
About 1529 a Muslim Afar-Somali army overran the highlands, and during the 1530s nearly succeeded in destroying the Amhara-Tigray state and Christianity. At almost the same time, the Oromo were in the midst of a decades-long migration from their homeland in the far southern lowlands. The Oromo moved north through the southern highlands, bypasssing the Sidama on the west, and into the central highlands, where they settled in the center and west on land, some of which had formerly belonged to the Amhara. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Jesuits arrived to minister to Portuguese soldiers who had helped defeat the Muslims in the early 1540s and who had remained in the kingdom. As part of their mission, however, the Jesuits attempted to convert the Orthodox Ethiopians to Roman Catholicism. They met with some initial success before their crusade set off a religious civil war in the late 1620s that led to their expulsion and an attempt to keep out all “Franks,” as the Ethiopians called Europeans.
Early Modern Times
An era of reconsolidation and cultural flowering ensued I no during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries following the founding of a new capital at Gondar. The monarchy eventually become a pawn of regional warlords, however, and it was not until the mid- nineteenth century that Tewodros II reunited the kingdom and sought to restore the power of the throne. Most scholars trace the origins of the modern history of Ethiopia to his reign. Menilek II (1889–1913) defeated the Italians in 1896 when they sought to invade Ethiopia, although he allowed them to retain the frontier province facing the Red Sea, which they named Eritrea. Menilek, in turn, sent armies to conquer the southern highlands and surrounding lowlands, annexing them to the traditional Amhara-Tigray kingdom to create the present-day nation-state of Ethiopia with its capital at Addis Ababa. He also opened the country to Western influence and technology, for example, by establishing diplomatic relations with several European powers and by authorizing construction of a railway from Addis Ababa to Djibouti on the Red Sea.
After serving as regent, Tafari Makonnen, a cousin of Menilek, ascended the throne in 1930 as Emperor Haile Selassie I. French-educated and aware of Ethiopia’s backwardness, he began to introduce various Western-inspired reforms, but these changes were hardly underway before war broke out with Italy in October 1935. The emperor’s dramatic appeal for assistance in mid-1936 before the League of Nations, of which Ethiopia was a member, went unanswered. Italian colonization lasted from 1936 to 1941. The Italians never controlled large parts of the countryside and at times ruled harshly. Nonetheless, they constructed public buildings, built a rudimentary road system throughout the country, and in general sought to modernize the country.
The Post-World War II Era
After the war, Haile Selassie pursued a policy of centralization, but he also continued to introduce change in areas such as public education, the army, and government administration. The slow pace of his reform efforts, however, fostered discontent that led to an attempted coup in 1960. In early 1974, a mutiny among disgruntled lower-ranking army officers set a process in motion that led to the fall of the imperial government. The mutineers were joined by urban groups disappointed by the slow pace of economic and political reforms and aroused by the impact of a devastating famine that the government failed to acknowledge or address.
Over a period of several months, the rebellious officers arrested the emperor’s ministers and associates, and in September removed the emperor himself. A group of junior military officers, soon known as the Derg (“committee” in Amharic), then assumed power and initiated a 17-year period of military rule. The Derg pursued a socialist agenda but governed in military style, and it looked to the Soviet Union as a model and for military support. It nationalized rural and urban land and placed local control in the hands of citizen committees; it also devised controversial policies of peasant resettlement in response to another devastating drought in 1984–85 and of “villagization,” ostensibly to improve security. A Somali invasion in 1977–78 to capture the Somali-inhabited southeast lowlands was repulsed with Soviet aid, but thereafter resistance against the Derg arose in all parts of the country, most notably in the north. In Eritrea the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) pursued a campaign against the 1962 annexation and eventually sought separation from Ethiopia. In Tigre, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) sought regional autonomy and the overthrow of the Derg.
In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa and the Soviet Union did not intervene to save the government side. Mengistu fled the country and was granted asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides. The 1st multiparty election took place in May 1995, which was won by the EPRDF, and its leader Meles Zenawi, became Prime Minister. Meles died on 20 August 2012 in Brussels, where he was being treated for an unspecified illness.Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was appointed as a new prime minister until the 2015 elections, and remained so afterwards with his party in control of every parliamentary seat.
Mass protests erupted in Ethiopia’s populous Oromia region – home to the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethno-national group – in 2015 after a master plan was unveiled to expand the boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa. The Oromo protesters’ first demand, therefore, was to cancel the master plan outright. But their demands quickly grew to include the release of prisoners of conscience and more political and socioeconomic rights for the Oromo, who make up more than 34 percent of the country’s 100 million citizens and have long complained of being marginalized. Angered by an unfulfilled demand to retake control of some of their lands, the Amhara – Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, constituting about 27 percent of the population – launched protests in their region soon thereafter.
On February 16, 2018, the government of Ethiopia declared a six-month nationwide state of emergency following the resignation of the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Hailemariam is the first ruler in modern Ethiopian history to step down; previous leaders have died in office or been overthrown. As a result Ethiopia elect its first ever Ethnically Oromo Leaders in all its 3000 or more history
The Somalie people have inhabited portions of present-day Somalia for 1,000 years. The emergence of a sense of nationhood among them, however, awaited the imposition of colonial rule by three European powers (Britain, Italy, and France) on Somali- occupied territory and the extension of Ethiopian claims there in the late nineteenth century. Between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, sections of the Somalis settled in the relatively fertile river valleys of southern Somalia, where they made cultivation the basis of their economy. Most Somalis living in the surrounding drier regions continued to engage in nomadic pastoralism, allowing differences in social structure, culture, and language to develop between them and their settled brethren. Despite these differences the agricultural Somalis and the more numerous pastoral groups have come to consider themselves one people.
At an early date in their migrations, the Somalis came into contact with the Arab world and in time formed a strong attachment to Islam, which has further served to unite them as a people. During the colonial era the Somalis were grouped into two major divisions—Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland—and three lesser ones—the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and those areas of Ethiopia and French Somaliland populated predominantly by Somalis. Although the Italian and British territories followed different patterns of development and education, they were successfully amalgamated on July 1, 1960, into the independent Somali Republic.
Somalia’s transition to independence differed radically from that of most African states. In 1950 the former Italian colony was placed under a United Nations trusteeship administered by Italy. Although British Somaliland retained its colonial status until inde- pendence, changes instituted by the United Nations in the trustee- ship territory influenced political developments there as well. As a result Somalia’s independence as a unified, multiparty parlia- mentary democracy was attained relatively painlessly. The early postindependence period was dominated by two difficult problems: the political and administrative integration of the former colonial territories and the conflict with Ethiopia and Kenya arising from Somalia’s irredentist demands.
Internal political conflicts revolved around methods of handling these difficul- ties. Competition for electoral support both exploited and widened cleavages within the nation as politicians sought the backing of rival regional and clan groups, often obscuring the country’s pressing need for development by overemphasizing party politics. Party composition and leadership fluctuated as new parties were formed and others declined. A great many parties, some with only a single candidate, participated in each national election, but one party—the Somali Youth League—was clearly domi- nant and had been even before independence.
The import political parties were not divided by significant ideological differ- ences, and all their leaders had at one time or another served together in the Somali Youth League. The most significant tend- ency was for parties to be organized on the basis of clan-families or their constituent descent groups, but political alliances existed across clanfamily boundaries. The conflicts generated by competing interest groups within the parties, the time and energy given over to aggrandizing each of them as opposed to dealing with the country’s more general problems, and the extent to which corruption had come to pervade the operation of government and the parliament led to disillusionment with the democratic process.
On October 21, 1969, senior officers of the Somali National Army deposed the government in a bloodless coup and established the Supreme Revolutionary Council, headed by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre.
The Supreme Revolutionary Council made clear that it intended to establish a new economic, social, and political order based on an ideology it called scientific socialism. Somalia’s long tradition of democracy was extinguished as all important decisions were made by the military-dominated leadership in Mogadishu and conveyed to the largely military structure in control at the regional and local levels. Opposition to the new government’s policies was not tolerated. The Supreme Revolutionary Council initiated a number of development projects aimed at exploiting resources to best advantage. Priority was also given to the settlement of the nomadic and seminomadic peoples who constituted about 60 percent of the country’s population.
In 1976 the Supreme Revolutionary Council was abolished and its authority transferred to the executive organs of the newly formed Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party. Executive positions in the party were taken over by members of the former Supreme Revolutionary Council who also retained the key posts in the gov- ernment. Therefore the changes appeared only to broaden, not replace, the existing hierarchy. Somalia’s relations with neighboring Ethiopia deteriorated in the early 1970s when Siad Barre’s government gave support to guerrilla operations conducted by Somali separatists in the Ogaden, an action that appealed to strong pan-Somali sentiment in the country. By mid—1977 well-equipped elements of the army were openly cooperating with the separatists and had engaged Ethiopian troops in the predominantly Somali region. In 1974 Somalia concluded a treaty of friendship and coopera- tion with the Soviet Union, which became a primary military benefactor. In exchange for continuing assistance, Moscow ob- tained rights to strategically located naval and air installations. After the Soviet Union—then in the process of establishing closeties with Ethiopia—embargoed further supplies to Somalia in 1977, Siad Barre abrogated the treaty and expelled Soviet personnel. A massive infusion of Soviet military aid to Ethiopia and the introduction of Cuban troops ensured Somalia’s subsequent defeat in the Ogaden
The Horn of Africa is sometimes also called the Somali Peninsula. It located in the easternmost part of Africa, sticking out into the Arabian Sea and forming the south side of the Gulf of Aden. Off the coast of Somalia sits the Indian Ocean. The region is home to the rugged landscape of the Ethiopian Highlands. This region is also home to the Great Rift Valley. Closer to the equator, the land is generally flat with some plateaus rising above the lowlands as well. The Horn of Africa receives very little rainfall and can reach extremely hot temperatures in some areas.
This region is home to a number of animal species such as the Speke’s gazelle and the Somali wild ass. Notably, it also has the greatest number of endemic reptiles of any other area on the African continent.
Although the Horn of Africa consists of 4 independent countries, it shares similar ethnic heritages throughout the region. The vast majority of people here share an Afro-Asiatic ethnicity.
The largest ethnic group in the Horn of Africa is the Oromo. The Oromo population is around 30 million individuals, the majority of whom (25.448 million) live in Ethiopia. Research suggests that the Oromo people, a Cushitic culture, have lived in Northeastern and East Africa since at least the 1st century AD.
The second most common ethnic group is the Amhara. Globally, the Amhara population is around 25 million. Of these individuals, nearly 20 million live in the northern and central highlands areas of Ethiopia. The Amhara peoples have lived here for over 2,000 years, ruling over several periods of time. One of the most well-known Amhara leaders is Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until 1974.
The Somali ethnic group is the third largest ethnicity throughout the Horn of Africa. This group numbers between 16 and 20 million individuals. The majority of the Somali live in Somalia (around 9 million). Another 4.6 million live in Ethiopia and 524,000 in Djibouti. This ethnicity is believed to be responsible for 5,000-year old rock paintings. Researchers have discovered Somali cemeteries that trace back to the 4th century BC as well.
Other significant ethnic groups living in the Horn of Africa include: the Tigrinya, the Tigrayans, and the Afar. Some of the principal languages spoken in these countries and among these ethnicities include Oromo, Amharic, Somali, and Tigrinya.
Culture And Religion
As previously mentioned, the cultures found in the Horn of Africa have existed over thousands of years and have contributed to a number of advancements. Cultures from the Horn of Africa have helped influence the development of agriculture, literature, art, music, architecture, technology, and education. Several ancient written scripts were developed here as well as ancient wall paintings. The Horn of Africa is the birthplace for both coffee and teff, an ancient seed grass, and is noted for having the largest quarried rock ever recorded (the Great Stele of Axum).
One of the major influential factors over the history of the Horn of Africa has been religion. The three principal religions practiced here today include Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity has existed here since at least the 4th century AD. During the 7th century, followers of Muhammad fled the Arabian peninsula into the Horn of Africa. Here, they were accepted and protected, leading to the growth of Islam. Judaism has also been practiced here since ancient times. One story relates that Menelik I was the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. He is believed to have lived in Jerusalem before bringing the Ark of the Covenant to present-day Ethiopia.
Additionally, some inhabitants continue to practice traditional religions.
Where is the Horn of Africa?
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in Northeast Africa. Today, we know the countries of the Horn of Africa as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia
Source World Atlas