Human Security: Setting the Agenda for the Horn of Africa

John Siebert Armed Conflicts, Defence & Human Security

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2009 Volume 30 Issue 2

Achieving human security, briefly defined as “freedom from fear and freedom from want,” is the best guarantee that a state will have internal stability and peaceful relations with its neighbours. An important new publication by researchers from the region, Human Security: Setting the Agenda for the Horn of Africa, looks at the root causes of violent conflict from within a human security framework. The book was launched in Mombasa, Kenya in March 2009, at the final international conference of a three-year project on building a peace and security architecture in the Horn of Africa. Ploughshares Executive Director John Siebert attended.

The problem

In 1996 the states that make up the Horn of Africa—Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda—established the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). In their founding document they committed to:

Promote peace and stability in the sub-region and create mechanisms within the sub-region for the prevention, management and resolution of inter- and intra-State conflicts through dialogue. (Agreement [1996], Article 7[g])

Yet the Horn remains one of the most conflict-ridden areas in the world. It suffers from recurring wars between states, civil wars within states, and insurgencies supported by practices of habitual, mutual destabilization.

Current IGAD security structure

The emerging IGAD peace and security framework fits within the broader frameworks of the United Nations and the UN Charter and the African Union and its Constitutive Act. IGAD has developed some mechanisms to support its peace and security goals, including:

  • IGAD Program of Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution
  • Protocol on the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN)
  • IGAD Civil Society Forum
  • IGAD Women’s Desk
  • Ad hoc mechanisms and consultations such as the 2007 Mombasa Workshop: “Lessons Learned from the Sudan and Somalia Peace Processes.”

IGAD can be proud of its success in facilitating such efforts as the end of the decades-long civil war in Sudan through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. Consolidating peace and security more widely in the Horn of Africa, however, will require an enhanced IGAD security architecture that can address more fundamental causes of insecurity.

Political and civil society efforts

In 2005 IGAD initiated a formal process to address this gap between collective commitments to peace and security and their fulfillment. Its Secretariat engaged with member states, their citizens, and academics to create a strategy to develop and maintain a robust peace and security order in the region.

A parallel civil society research project was organized under the management of the Nairobi-based Africa Peace Forum (APFO), funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and with technical input from Project Ploughshares. At a series of roundtables over three years in which the IGAD Secretariat and member state representatives participated, a series of papers by scholars from the region were discussed. These papers became the chapters of Human Security: Setting the Agenda for the Horn of Africa.

This publication highlights the elements of a complex web of insecurity in this part of Africa, where

  • Human rights are systematically ignored or abused;
  • Good governance practices are the exception and citizens are discouraged from participating in politics and economic development;
  • Not only do the military, police, and state intelligence agencies frequently fail to protect and serve the interests of ordinary citizens, they are sometimes instruments of persecution;
  • Illicit small arms and light weapons have flooded conflict areas and fuel violence;
  • Because of local armed violence, many people have been displaced internally or become international refugees;
  • Resources have been exploited in ways that make conflicts worse;
  • Pastoralist communities, which occupy large areas of the Horn, are becoming increasingly poor; and
  • The role of women as victims of insecurity and as full-fledged partners in creating peace is too often ignored

The research indicated that the search for an effective and comprehensive peace and security architecture has been complicated by several characteristics of the IGAD subregion:

  • The absence of an external enemy or internal threat common to all member states;
  • The lack of a recognizable leading power or hegemon among IGAD states;
  • Few shared political values and goals and uniting historical experiences among IGAD states;
  • A range of governance patterns among IGAD members, from democracies of varying strengths to autocracies, and, in the case of Somalia, a non-functioning national state structure since 1991;
  • North African Arab and Sub-Saharan African social realities and political ties within and among IGAD states;
  • Ongoing IGAD dependence for many of its activities on the contributions of international donors rather than the commitment of time and money by the member states themselves;
  • Inherited colonial borders, which, while generally accepted, leave unresolved rivalries in multiethnic states and across porous national borders; and
  • Pervasive poverty.

A “human security” approach

The APFO-coordinated research and roundtable engagement with IGAD was premised on the need to examine the root causes of insecurity. Scholars participating in the project assumed a human security approach, understanding security threats to be rooted in economic, food, health, environment, personal, community, and political wants and needs. The focus was on the safety and security of the individual rather than the defence of borders and survival and security of states and regimes. Rather than achieving security through armaments, human security would be achieved through sustainable human development.

The scholars recognized that a well articulated IGAD peace and security strategy, based on human security principles, would not, in and of itself, provide a panacea for the complex and entrenched conflicts in the Horn of Africa. But, if properly structured, this strategy could catalyze and generate incentives for peacebuilding and disincentives for armed solutions, not only for states but for non-state actors as well.

The research reported in Human Security: Setting the Agenda for the Horn of Africa reveals a number of crucial characteristics of an enduring IGAD peace and security architecture.

Enhancing the role of non-state actors

A strengthened IGAD peace and security architecture should encourage the active participation of non-state actors in conflict resolution and peacebuilding programs. In recent years various international and regional instruments have recognized the positive contribution by civil society actors in conflict resolution and management and their capacity and knowledge in this area. A peace and security architecture must embrace and provide for the active participation of civil society, including women and academia, in conflict resolution and management. It could also evolve to provide a collective forum to identify international actions and policies that hinder peace and development in the IGAD member states.

Cooperation with international actors

A properly structured and resourced IGAD peace and security structure should include a mechanism by which member states can collectively anticipate and answer external challenges to maximum advantage. The Horn of Africa was the playground for proxy fights during the Cold War, and more recently in the “Global War on Terror.” An emerging international competition for natural resources—such as oil in Sudan, the strategic waterway of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, and the Nile River—promises a continued strategic interest and challenge from powers external to the IGAD states.

A gender-inclusive framework

Women must have a substantive role in an IGAD peace and security architecture. Although women experience the full impact of violent conflicts—as civilians and, increasingly, as combatants or in direct support roles to combatants—they are often excluded from the decisions that start wars and the agreements that end them. Women must be key partners in the search for and consolidation of peace.

Meeting emerging issues

Within an emerging IGAD peace and security architecture, room must be made for anticipating and meeting the security challenges of the future. Recently, electoral violence, transitional justice, piracy, terrorism, and the use of marine resources have emerged as key threats to human security in the Horn of Africa. In addition, the International Criminal Court and other special tribunals pose a challenge to peacebuilding efforts by IGAD. International criminal indictments are already playing a role in Uganda and Sudan and, possibly, soon in Kenya.


On the international scene, since the end of the Cold War, collective action to address violent conflicts and increase human security has borne results. According to the annually updated Project Ploughshares Armed Conflict Report, there has been a decline of approximately 35 per cent in the last decade in the scope and intensity of violent conflicts across the world. This downward trend in armed conflicts is also apparent in sub-Saharan Africa and, more particularly, the Horn of Africa. More negotiated settlements, such as the CPA in Sudan, are holding without a return to active armed violence. Greater roles for subregional organizations like IGAD, along with nongovernmental and civil society organizations that are involved in peacemaking and peacebuilding, have contributed to this positive momentum.

The prospects for a successful IGAD peace and security architecture rest with the ability of member states to increase incentives to stop military action in response to conflict, and to more adequately meet the basic needs of their citizens. A human security approach provides the best guarantee for a state’s peace and stability, internally and in relation to its neighbours.


Agreement Establishing the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). 1996.

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