Extinguish Horn of Africa fires before they spread farther afield

Sunday November 14 2021
Sudan protesters

Sudanese anti-coup protesters. The volatile and fluid situation in the Horn of Africa forces me once again to conclude that our rulers are not up to the heavy burden of keeping their countries safe for their own peoples, and are in fact nonchalant in the face of the dangers that threaten their very existence. PHOTO | FILE


It is high time that the political principals of the African continent took their responsibilities more seriously than they have been willing to take on to date. Of course, this sentiment would serve as a reminder to those who govern us to take their domestic responsibility of care for their peoples’ needs and concerns more seriously.

But, although these are still paramount, there is another duty, one that goes well beyond the national boundaries of our individual countries that are still limping on the slippery road to attempted nationhood.

The volatile and fluid situation in the Horn of Africa forces me once again to conclude that our rulers are not up to the heavy burden of keeping their countries safe for their own peoples, and are in fact nonchalant in the face of the dangers that threaten their very existence.

Before our very eyes, it would seem that the giant state of Ethiopia is disintegrating under the weight of the combined blows of regional geopolitical ambitions and fractious ethnic exclusionism. The latter consideration may have existed for much longer than the former, but now it is clear that the two main factors are feeding on each other to make for a regional conflagration with dire consequences for all involved.

As I write this, reports suggest that the rebellious forces opposed to the Ethiopian government are threatening to move on to Addis Ababa, and if that were to culminate in the capture of the capital, it is anyone’s guess what that might mean in terms of the ethnic upheavals that have been simmering for many years now.

One of the principal protagonists in this drama is the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize no less, whose ability to deserve such an award is being called into question, rightly or wrongly. Those skills for which the prime minister was seen as befitting that singular honour are the very attributes one would like to see on display in this thorny context but which, alas, are very much in short supply.


The extremely complex governance system currently running the country has often drawn commentaries from observers who have questioned the apparently discriminatory aspects of the setup against certain ethnic groups, as well as the provision guaranteeing the freedom of the federated states to secede in certain circumstances.

The combination of these two apparently strange political bedfellows presents a real danger of a national meltdown with results that could muddy the whole region up.

The situation in Ethiopia, one of the biggest countries on the continent with a population of about 100 million people, is put in relief by the recent worrying developments in Sudan, another big country in the neighbourhood that is finding it increasingly hard to shake off the military yoke that hangs around its neck like an albatross.

Despite the pious declarations to the contrary, the Sudanese armed forces, for far too long used to lording it over the people of that country, are loath to give up the privileges and perks that have been bestowed on them by long periods of military rule and the habitual impunity that has installed.

The new republic of South Sudan is not so encouraging either. Riven by apparently insoluble ethnic rivalries and the illegitimate appetites of its rulers, the new republic, born of a desire to cast off an oppressive “Arabocentric” Khartoum government, looks like it cannot work out a modus vivendi among the various tribal warriors.

This woeful picture is incomplete without adding Somalia to the mix, another country that defies any attempt at categorisation except to say that it is a state that has crafted normality out of abnormality, hobbling on from day to day, dodging national death by default.

To make this situation worse, one hardly needs the addition of the rather interesting government in Asmara, which from time throws a few twigs into the regional fires, obviously looking to safeguard what it considers legitimate interests of the Eritrean nation, sometimes at the expense of regional stability and concord.

Eritrea has been changing its spots from time to time, depending on which way the geopolitical wind blows, and can sometimes look disconcertingly unpredictable, which adds to the complexity of the problem.

The obvious elephant in the room has to be the contentious issue of the mammoth hydroelectricity dam that has put Ethiopia at loggerheads with Egypt, with unforeseeable consequences should diplomatic efforts fall through.

In that whole subregion there seems to be very little ability to negotiate relations, be they internal or regional, and the general impression one gets is that of a troubled neighbourhood in which soldier boys are running around looking for anything to shoot at or blow up.

Geopolitical cataclysms have a habit of jumping out of their territorial confines to set on fire other countries not necessarily in the vicinity, and it would be wise to smother fires that look like they have the potential to spread farther afield.

News that Olusegun Obasanjo is taking an active interest in that conflict cannot but encourage us, although I would urge the whole continent to take it up as a matter of utmost urgency. The future of our continent may depend on it.

Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]