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Reviewed by:
  • The Horn of Africa by Kidane Mengisteab
  • Joel S. Messan and E. Ike Udogu
Mengisteab, Kidane. 2014. THE HORN OF AFRICA. Cambridge, England: Polity Press. 272 pp. $28.37 (paper).

In The Horn of Africa, Kidane Mengisteab, professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University, provides an outstanding analysis of the political situation in the Greater Horn of Africa, a region that includes eight countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda. The book focuses on the past and contemporary conflicts in the region, explicating their origins and the factors that generate and perpetuate them. This volume is primarily intended to sharpen and augment understanding of the sociopolitical conditions of the countries not only in this region, but also in much of Africa.

This book, dedicated to victims of war in the region, is subdivided into eight chapters, a bibliography, and an index. The first chapter, “The Greater Horn of Africa: Hot Spot in the Global System,” sets the stage. Mengisteab claims he has a double mission: to provide a comprehensive yet concise analysis of the factors that have spurred conflicts in the region since the 1950s, and to explore new political and institutional arrangements that may help the region overcome these factors and extricate it from its trademark devastation.

In chapters two through eight—“Conflicts in the Greater Horn,” “The Legacies of Empires,” “The State as a Source of Conflict,” “Failures of National Governance and Nation-Building,” “Regional Instability and External Intervention,” “Poor Resource Management and Environmental Degradation,” and “Prospects for Democracy, Integration, and Stability”— Mengisteab discusses in detail the causes of the raging problems in the region and the dilemmas they pose, not only from a sociological, but also from a geopolitical perspective. The last chapter reiterates the key points and closes with a solution that could alleviate the problems in the region.

In sum, these chapters note that after the precolonial and colonial eras, the region was left in unstable conditions that were susceptible to generating conflicts. One of these conditions was the creation of nation-states combining disparate ethnic groupings and clans with distinct cultures, leaving open doors to ethnic antagonisms, segregation, and marginalization of the weaker collectivities by the dominant ones (p. 11). Another conflict-generating factor was the improper construction of interstate borders, which continues to fuel interstate fights and irredentist wars.1

Theoretically, ethnic diversity in and of itself does not lead to social conflict, which arguably arises from competition for limited resources. This supposition is exacerbated by the weak state and lack of strong and adequate economic and political institutions to guarantee impartiality with respect to access to national assets among the different population groups. Anomalies in the distribution of material goods constitute a rationale for virulent intrastate and civil wars (pp. 24–30, 96–101). Poor resource management and overpopulation do not help matters (pp. 155–69). [End Page 144]

Another cause of instability is the direct military intervention of foreign forces in the internal affairs of the countries in the region, in part because the states are weak (pp. 70–71). Such interventions are triggered by varying dynamics. One involves “the contestation for access to and control of the region’s resources” (p. 113). Moreover, leaders, in their quest to cling to power, do not respect their countries’ sovereignty, since they rely heavily on foreign support, to the detriment of the populace of their own societies; the presence and rise of radical Islamic movements such as al-Shabaab and their terrorist activities in Somalia and elsewhere are cases in point. Furthermore, environmental degradation in the region makes resources scarce, in turn inviting confrontations between different populations, as was the case between the Ogaden and Ishaq Somali clans, which slugged it out over grazing rights (p. 153).

To advance stability and peaceful coexistence in the states and the region, Mengisteab suggests the need to design and implement a democratic genre that reconciles the differences in the polities and allows for the emergence of political endeavors that guarantee transparent and trustworthy elections (pp. 189–90). Added to this measure is the need for the formation of a viable regional integration scheme and cooperation, a project that could...


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