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A Vision for the Horn of Africa

David H. Shinn
Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University

Remarks at a Conference Hosted by

Advocacy for Ethiopia and the
Ethiopian National Priorities Consultative Process
Arlington, Virginia
9 April 2010

My involvement with the Horn of Africa (Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and
Djibouti) dates back to the early 1960s. In one capacity or another, I have periodically
been engaged with the region since that time. Although I am still learning about this
complex and conflicted part of Africa, I have a reasonably good understanding of the
interrelationships of the five countries in the Horn and their links to immediate neighbors.
It is important to add that I left the U.S. government ten years ago. My comments
reflect only my personal views and not those of any group or organization. I want to use
this occasion to suggest a vision for a better Horn of Africa.

Ending Support for External Opposition Groups

One of the first things that must happen in the Horn of Africa before it has any
hope of achieving political stability and prosperity is to end the long standing practice of
support for opposition groups in a neighboring country. Except for Djibouti, all the
countries in the Horn have in recent decades provided refuge to and/or offered tangible
support for dissident groups whose goal, stated or implicit, was to topple the government
in a neighboring or nearby state. This tactic is expensive for the host government and the
one being threatened. More importantly, it leads to a similar response from the
government that is targeted, resulting in a tit-for-tat cycle that often ends only when one
or both governments fall. Even when that happens, there is a history in the Horn of the
cycle repeating itself.

Reducing Poverty

All countries in the Horn are poor, even Sudan with its significant oil wealth.
According to the World Bank, per capita national income in 2006 was only $190 in
Ethiopia and Eritrea, $780 in Sudan and $1,060 in Djibouti. The Bank had no figures for
Somalia. World Bank statistics for life expectancy at birth range from a low of 48 years
in Somalia, 53 years in Ethiopia, 55 years in Djibouti, and 57 years in Eritrea to 58 years
in Sudan. The annual United Nations Human Development Index constitutes a global
poverty ranking. The 2009 index evaluated 183 countries. The best performer in the
Horn was Sudan in position number 150 from the top, not a place you want to find

yourself. The other countries in the Horn were even lower. Djibouti was number 155
while Eritrea ranked 165 and Ethiopia 171. The index did not even include Somalia.
Poverty contributes to many of the social, economic and political problems that
afflict the region. A significant reduction in poverty will not end these problems, but it
will permit governments to devote more resources and attention to related problems and
other challenges. It goes without saying that poverty reduction will require increasing
assistance from the international community. Equally important, it will require in some
cases more intelligent policies and a reallocation of scarce resources by each of the
governments in the region.

Diversifying the Economy

All five countries need to diversify their economies. Although Sudan is fortunate
in having large quantities of oil, which accounts for about 90 percent of its export
income, it has allowed its agricultural sector to deteriorate. One day the oil will be gone,
especially in northern Sudan, and the country may have to return to agriculture. If it
continues to ignore this sector, the transition will be painful.
Ethiopia remains excessively reliant on the export of coffee, although it has
expanded the export of crops like sesame seed, cut flowers and chat. Unfortunately, chat
has serious negative qualities that impact residents of importing countries as well as
Ethiopians. Eritrea has managed some modest diversification by exporting medicine and
machine parts. This is not nearly enough if the economy is to thrive. Djibouti is almost
entirely reliant on serving as an entrepôt for goods transiting to/from Ethiopia.
Because of two decades of conflict, Somalia is a special case. Much of the
economy has collapsed. It still exports live animals but its once prosperous banana
industry has largely disappeared. Its only other industry, albeit illegal and embarrassing,
is piracy. This is no recipe for future development.

Raising GDP Growth Rates

All countries in the region need to increase and/or sustain their GDP per capita
growth rates. It is important to look at the per capita figures in order to take into account
relatively high population growth rates in the region. No World Bank figures exist for
Somalia, but the GDP growth rate situation is obviously not good. According to the
Bank, from 2000 through 2006 Eritrea had an annual average minus 3.3 percent GDP per
capita growth rate. Djibouti was barely in positive territory at eight-tenths of one percent.
Ethiopia performed generally well at 4.3 percent annual average GDP per capita growth
rate and Sudan did the best at 4.9 percent. Nevertheless, the region as a whole needs to

Encouraging Economic Integration

The region would be much more productive if it were integrated economically.

This would also have the beneficial effect of reducing conflict among the five countries.
As the world’s most populous land-locked country, Ethiopia has perhaps the greatest
incentive to work towards economic integration. To some extent this is happening.

Ethiopia is buying increasing amounts of petroleum from Sudan. It is increasing its

hydropower capacity with the goal of selling electricity to neighboring countries. It
depends primarily on Djibouti as a transit point for most of its exports and imports. Once
political relations improve with Eritrea, Assab and Massawa will help reduce Ethiopia’s
geographic isolation and provide transit income for Eritrea. A natural connection for
southeastern Ethiopia is the port of Berbera in Somaliland.
If the Intergovernmental Authority for Development could resolve its internal
political differences, it might be the logical forum to encourage economic integration.
Alternatively, an expanded East African Community might be the solution, especially
because of the economic ties between the Horn and Kenya and Uganda. In addition,
there may soon be a new independent country in the region—southern Sudan—that
would fit into this organization. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
seems to cover too large a region to serve as a vehicle for encouraging economic
integration in the Horn.

Respecting Term Limits

As some of you know, I have been crusading for term limits for the principal
leader of all countries for some time. Developing countries can with some justification
disagree with the need to follow a few provisions considered essential to western liberal
democracy, but they make an especially big mistake when they ignore the concept of
term limits, which insure leadership change and new ideas.
Djibouti and Somaliland have enshrined term limits in their constitutions. The
constitution of Djibouti limits the president to two terms of six years. The constitution of
Somaliland permits the president to hold two terms of five years. The Ethiopian
constitution limits the president to two six year terms but has no limitation for the much
more important position of prime minister. Sudan, Eritrea and the Transitional Federal
Government of Somalia have no term limits.

Holding Free and Fair Elections

In its earlier independent history, Sudan actually held some reasonably free and
fair elections, especially the one in 1986. The current president of Sudan has been in
power continuously since 1989 and seems poised to win another election this month as
key opposition parties say they will boycott the balloting.
The prime minister of Ethiopia has been in power since 1991 through elections
that the political opposition has strongly criticized. You all know the history of the 2005
election, which began as a meaningful contest and deteriorated in the vote counting stage.
By all indications, the elections in May this year will largely be a non-event.
The president of Eritrea has held power since 1991 without ever holding national
First elected to office in 1999, the president of Djibouti was reelected in 2005
without opposition and won 100 percent of the vote. The president is now talking about
amending the constitution to end term limits so that he can run for a third term in 2011.
Somalia established a good record for democratic elections in the 1960s, but has
not had viable direct elections since Siad Barre seized power through a coup in 1969.

The parliament now elects the president of the Transitional Federal Government for a
five year term.
Since 1991, only Somaliland has regularly changed leadership by direct elections
generally considered democratic. But even Somaliland elections have hit a speed bump.
The last election scheduled for August 2008 has been postponed on several occasions and
there is still no date for it.
Free and fair elections are expensive, sometimes messy and they do not guarantee
good governance. But compared to the alternatives, they are a time tested mechanism for
allowing a different approach towards governance to prevail when a majority of the
people want to try something different. In order to maximize their fairness, elections
should have international observers and be administered by an independent national
electoral commission. Most importantly, governments need to sanction more political
space for opposition political groups.

Developing a Free Press

One of the hallmarks of democratic society and one most resisted by countries in
the Horn of Africa is a free press. The least controversial component of the media is the
written press, which traditionally has a small readership among the population. But even
the print media is carefully controlled in all five countries. There is heavy self-
censorship. There is also periodic jailing or harassing of print journalists in Eritrea,
Ethiopia and Sudan. At the same time, opposition journalists need to exercise
responsibility and professionalism, and that has not always been the case.
It may be too much to expect that governments in the region will permit private
ownership of radio and television stations. But it is not unreasonable for these
governments to allow more access by opposition groups to government controlled radio
and television. Somalia, an oral society, permits the widest expression of views over
non-government radio stations. Of course, there is no effective government in a position
to control the stations. Somali radio journalists are also frequently subject to political
assassination by opposing groups.
There is little hope for real democracy to thrive in the Horn until each country
permits a wide degree of latitude for at least the print media. Countries like Kenya,
Nigeria and South Africa permit a relatively free press. There is no valid reason why the
countries of the Horn could not do the same.

Establishing an Independent Judiciary

There is little discussion about the importance of an independent judiciary in the

Horn of Africa. This admittedly is an institution that takes many decades to perfect. But
no country in the Horn of Africa has an independent judiciary and the exceedingly
modest progress democracy has made in the region reflects this fact. This is also an
institution where the international community could provide financial and technical
resources and partner with governments to improve the judiciary.

Respecting Constitutional Changes of Government


There have been frequent attempts, sometimes successful, to overturn

governments in the Horn of Africa through unconstitutional means. With all due respect,
I disagree with this approach even though I fully appreciate how difficult it is to change
governments by constitutional methods. An unconstitutional change of government in
any of these countries will only lead to a subsequent attempt to change it in an extra-legal
way. One unconstitutional change begets another. It is difficult to end the cycle. As
frustrating as it is to change governments in the region by constitutional means, this is the
only long-term solution.

Preventing Conflict over Nile Water

I want to conclude with a word of warning about the potential for conflict over the
use of Nile water. There are ten countries in the Nile Basin. Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea
are among them. Egypt depends on the Nile for 95 percent of its fresh water. All of the
water flows through Sudan before it reaches Egypt. Ethiopia is the source of about 86
percent of the water that reaches the Aswan dam. Egypt and Sudan have a treaty that
allocates about three-quarters of the water to Egypt and one-quarter to Sudan. The other
eight riparian states, none of whom signed the treaty, do not have legal rights to any of
the water.
As populations grow in the region and demands for water increase, this situation
cries out for equitable allocation of Nile water. On the technical side through organs like
the Nile Basin Initiative, there has been considerable progress among the riparian states
over more efficient use of the water. At the political level, however, there are still major
differences between the positions of Egypt and Sudan, on the one hand, and the other
eight riparian states, on the other. So far, the situation has not resulted in conflict. It is
important to take steps now to insure there is no future conflict over Nile water usage and

And that is my vision for the Horn of Africa. Thank you.