Why has the Horn of Africa proved to be a region of such exceptional domestic and international conf For many years now the Horn of Africa, commonly thought of as embracing Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and the Sudan, has featured prominently in the news headlines. In this, already one of the poorer regions of the world, foreign intervention and internecine warfare has contributed significantly to economic and state collapse and ushered in an era of mass starvation. Obviously, the strategic location of the Horn, dominating as it does the Bab el Mandeb Straits, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea area; through which much of the West’s tanker traffic must pass, gave it geopolitical importance in the cold war between the United States and Soviet Union.
However, this fact only accounts for why foreign power’s would wish to supply expensive military equipment to the economically weak nations which comprise the Horn. The overwhelming reason why there has been such exceptional domestic and international strife in the Horn of Africa revolves around the internal economic needs and construction of the Ethiopian state and the irredentist ambitions of the former Somali Democratic Republic.
Therefore, in this essay we will examine how the strategic location of the Horn enabled the various national and ethnic groups living within its boundaries to settle their differences, via military means, through the auspices of competing outside powers wishing to gain a geostrategic position in the Red Sea/Indian Ocean area. INTERNATIONAL DIMENSIONS Through the lower end of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa passes all of the Persian Gulf oil moving to the United States, Western Europe, and Israel. All Suez Canal traffic to and from the Indian Ocean must pass the narrow strait of Bab el Mandeb between the Djibouti and the wo Yemens’: whoever controls this area controls the oil flow to the Western world. With the Left-Wing inspired Ethiopian Revolution of 1974, relations with the American’s, Addis Ababa’s traditional ally, began to cool rapidly.
The refusal of the US to match the Soviet-backed Somali military build-up, and the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 with strong Human Rights credentials, ended any hopes the State Department may have entertained in retaining a significant presence in Ethiopia. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, had been strengthening its presence in Somalia. Enjoying extensive port facilities for its Indian.
Ocean Fleet, it had in return set about building an army in Somalia, a poor nation with a relatively small population, equal to any in sub- Saharan Africa. Up until 1977, the Soviets had not only supplied arms to the Sudan and Somalia, but to the Eritrean rebels in North East Ethiopia, who, until recently had been fighting an American/Israeli trained and equipped Ethiopian army. The invasion of the Ogaden in 1977, provided the Soviet’s with the excuse to fully acquiesce to the pleas for military help from the Ethiopians. The USSR hoped it could settle the war amicably, and induce Somalia, Ethiopia, and South Yemen to join Libya in a Socialist.
Federation revolving around the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. When these hopes failed, the USSR pumped up to a billion dollars of military aid into Ethiopia in one year. The status of Ethiopia within Africa itself, and the revolutionary potential of its huge population, clearly made it a much more substantial ally than Somalia. Throughout the 1980’s, Soviet support for Ethiopia remained constant and massive shipments of military aid continued to arrive at Djibouti, Asmara and Massawa; together with thousands of Soviet/Cuban advisor’s. Much of this effort was directed towards securing the Ogaden.
and crushing the rebellions in Eritrea and Tigre. Therefore, many Western commentators feel that the Soviet Union shoulders full responsibility for destabilising the Horn and making continuing hostilities possible. But the USSR refused to accept this assumption: “alleging that the Western disengagement was bogus, that the NATO powers were in fact actively engaged in strengthening a new Red Sea alliance through proxies…. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and other pro- Western Arab regimes. ” (Legum:p. 11)
Whatever the allegations, however, the facts remain that both the Western countries and the Eastern bloc had substantial strategic interests in the Horn of Africa; and proceeded to use their economic and military muscle to sustain and aggravate areas of historical conflict in an economically fragile area. Therefore we must study the history of the region if the events of the past thirty years are to make sense. Ethiopia was an ancient empire, an empire compromising many ethnic and religious groups and dominated by the Christian Amharic elite. The Highland Amharic’s believed their mission to be a holy crusade against the forces of Islam, which over the centuries had continually threatened and encircled their vulnerable Christian dominions.
However, Ethiopia emerged from these Moslem attacks with a siege mentality and a warlike centralised State. A process of colonisation and conquest followed reaching its zenith in the latter part of the nenetenth century under the forceful rule of Emperor Menelik II (1889-1911) During this period the centralised Ethiopian empire, backed up by modern weapons, emerged as a regional power quite capable of treating on equal terms with the European nations, and proceeded to engage in a classic colonial carve up of the North East African coast into spheres of influence. In this respect the Ethiopians received the Ogaden and Southern Oromo, and the French, British and Italians divided up the rest of the coast which the nomadic, but culturally cohesive, Somali people dominated.