Toward a Peace and Security Architecture in the Horn of Africa: Reaching Beyond Incredulity

John Siebert Armed Conflicts, Defence & Human Security

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2008 Volume 29 Issue 2

The notion that the African Union constitutes a regional security community may strike some with incredulity, considering all the challenges facing the continental organization and its (sometimes unfair) reputation of inefficiency.
— Musifiky Mwanasali

If the notion that the African continent shares “common security interests” is a cause for incredulity, then disbelief can only rise when a common peace and security architecture for the Horn of Africa is considered. The Horn remains the hottest conflict zone of Africa.

But this is exactly the task that the subregional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) currently is pursing on multiple tracks. The Africa Peace Forum (APFO) and Project Ploughshares are working together with IGAD on one of those tracks in support of its initiative to build a peace and security architecture for member states—Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda.

Since 2006 APFO has been heading a process of research and roundtables, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), to support a human security approach to addressing the problems that give rise to and sustain armed conflict in the Horn. There is clear evidence that even modest, poorly financed, and stumbling steps by subregional organizations like IGAD can add enormously to sustained peace, even when the member states are tearing themselves apart or are at each others’ throats.

Trends now point to internationally supported peacemaking operations and post-conflict peacebuilding initiatives as key factors in an overall global reduction of the number of wars. IGAD’s pursuit of a peace and security architecture is worthy of support because the potential benefits are so great.

The current situation in the Horn of Africa

How do you put a peace and security architecture in place when IGAD member states are in varying degrees of active armed violence, either within their borders or with each other, or are on the verge of it, or are supporting proxies engaged in it?

Before the most recent conflict between north and south in Sudan ended in 2005, an estimated 2.2 million people were killed and another 4 million displaced. There are estimates as high as 400,000 people killed and 2.5 million displaced in the current phase of conflict in Darfur that started in 2003. The north-south Comprehensive Peace Agreement has proven tenuous in implementation and may unravel.

Uganda is emerging from a 21-year struggle with the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Somalia has been without an effective national government since 1991. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought each other until Eritrea won independence, but on-and-off-again border wars continue. Djibouti, a coastal city-state, has internal tensions. In December 2007, Kenya exploded after its national elections; an uneasy unity government has restored a degree of order, but perhaps only temporarily. Roughly 8 million people are currently displaced in the IGAD subregion.

The characteristics of the IGAD security community

What is the nature of the peace and security architecture that IGAD is attempting to construct with its conflict-prone member states? It isn’t like NATO, which the West formed in the face of a common enemy to the East, with its “attack against one is an attack against all” ethos. There is no common external enemy driving this process in the Horn of Africa. It is more akin to the confidence-building talk fests and farseeing mechanisms of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that saw the West and East—starting in the 1960s through to the end of the Cold War—regularly engage in multilateral diplomatic exchanges on security, trade, and “human dimension” issues. These “confidence-building” measures are the default route in consolidating peace between opponents in so many long-term conflicts because trust is neither easily established nor consolidated.

A peace and security architecture in a subregion such as the Horn of Africa must necessarily be inclusive and aspirational, indigenous, modest and evolutionary, and embedded with incentives for positive behaviour; it must encompass bilateral relations within a multilateral context, cooperate with international actors of good will, and hold the promise of resolving conflicts without violence.

The APFO project

The three-year, IDRC-funded APFO project, “Toward a Regional Security Architecture in the Horn of Africa,” has central and peripheral goals. The primary goal is to provide evidenced-based research for building the architecture within a human security framework. The research—12 papers grouped in four clusters identified in an earlier project phase—that has been carried out by academics from the IGAD member states is also intended to encourage and strengthen civil society policy capacity within the subregion and to marry this expertise to decision-making. The IGAD secretariat chose to endorse and support the project, hosting the first roundtable discussion at its headquarters in Djibouti. Other roundtables were held in Kampala, Addis Ababa, and Nairobi. The papers will be collected and published as a book for distribution prior to a closing international conference that will discuss the findings and policy recommendations of the research.

Constructive, non-formal intervention by civil society is crucial in facilitating the consideration of new or alternative options, building popular support for those options, and assisting in their implementation. A longer-term goal is to democratize the security debate in the Horn and mobilize public discussion.

The project’s endorsement by IGAD facilitated direct participation in roundtables by diplomats from member states. This created some interesting and heated exchanges as researchers presented their documentation on the failings in the subregion with respect to good governance, respect for human rights, the role of women in ensuring peace and prosperity, the many refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), managing natural and human resources, properly accountable police and military forces, and the role of non-state armed forces. All these shortcomings create structural sources of instability and human insecurity, leading to violent conflict.

The traditional notion of security has a hard edge, with its focus on the military, strategic alliances, protecting borders, and repelling incursions from an enemy. A human security framework for IGAD is consonant with the organization’s roots in a strategy to stave off devastating famine in the subregion in the 1980s. Human security has been encapsulated in the phrase, “freedom from want and freedom from fear,” but traditional hard security considerations cannot be overlooked in a human security framework. Traditional security organs of the state are not eliminated; rather, the police, military, and intelligence services are reoriented to civilian, politically defined, and controlled ends.

Participation in the roundtables was further enhanced by the presence of officials from other African organizations, including the African Union, the East Africa Community (EAC), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

At times the project roundtables resembled a cross between a graduate seminar and a UN meeting, with researchers defending academic freedom and diplomats heatedly defending their countries against errors of fact and perceived biases in the research papers. Project organizers were challenged to explain how policy research could be used by officials in complex, ongoing political processes within an emerging multilateral organization such as IGAD. IDRC funding provided independence for the project to proceed without IGAD member state representatives being able to reject papers or coerce the researchers. Only time will tell if the project results are in fact used by IGAD to advance its peace and security architecture.

IGAD commitments and machinery

IGAD’s primary goal is to attain sustainable economic development for its member states. To date, it has taken an evolutionary approach to organizational development. Small but useful, IGAD is proving itself through successful initiatives across a range of sectors.
Elements of an IGAD peace and security architecture are already in place, starting with the obligations of all member states imposed by the UN Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union (2000/2001) to participate in advancing international collective security. There are also specific IGAD agreements and mechanisms that indicate the collective aspirations of member states for mutual security, including the Agreement Establishing IGAD (1996), the Protocol on the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) (2002), IGAD Capacity Building Against Terrorism (ICPAT), and the policy framework for the Eastern Africa Standby Brigade (EASBRIG) (2005).1

The 1996 Agreement Establishing the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development includes an objective to “[p]romote 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” (Article 7[g]).

Article 18(a) on Conflict Resolution states:

Member states shall act collectively to preserve peace, security and stability which are essential prerequisites for economic development and social progress.
Accordingly Member States shall:
a) take effective collective measures to eliminate threats to regional cooperation peace and stability;
b) establish an effective mechanism of consultation and cooperation for pacific settlement of differences and disputes;
c) accept to deal with disputes between Member States within this sub-regional mechanism before they are referred to other regional or international organizations.

IGAD is credited with playing an instrumental role in both the Sudan and Somalia peace processes. The IGAD Division of Peace and Security is mandated to coordinate the development of a regional peace and security strategy and oversee CEWARN, Disaster Risk Management, Refugees, and IDPs. Such tasks involve understanding and working with national-level mechanisms, monitoring and supporting post-conflict transitions, and consolidating and building on current mechanisms and experience. It is also responsible for a promotion strategy within the region. At its July 2007 Mombasa workshop entitled “Lessons Learned from the Sudan and Somalia Peace Processes,” recommendations emerged for a “Mediation Support and Facilitation Unit” as part of the IGAD Peace and Security unit.

Challenges in constructing an IGAD peace and security architecture

As if the conflict-prone nature of the Horn of Africa were not sufficient to frustrate the creation of an IGAD peace and security architecture, other challenges were identified in the research and roundtable discussions of the APFO project.

Africa is slowly moving from the principle of non-interference to non-indifference in the quest to create African solutions to African problems. The transition in 1999 from the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the current African Union (AU) marks this pivot from a fixation on the inviolability of state sovereignty to a willingness to consider intervention in the business of other states for the sake of peace or protection of vulnerable civilians.

Such a shift is no simple matter in the Horn of Africa, where the reiteration of acceptance of current borders has had both salutary effects in preventing violent conflicts, but has also increased the pressure by marginalized tribal or ethnic groups to access the resources of the centre or to claim power or the creation of new states that cut across colonially determined borders. These forces can be countered with a more participatory politics that allows for the use of national resources to allow marginalized areas to participate in economic and social development.

In taking a broad human security approach, IGAD is potentially pushing the limits of non-indifference that are currently acceptable to some of its member states.

Both the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—potential subregional role models on security issues for IGAD—have regional hegemons: South Africa and Nigeria, respectively. These states can single-handedly support and drive the creation of new subregional institutions and even military interventions to create conditions of peace and stability. The absence in the Horn of Africa of a regional hegemon that can tempt or coerce its neighbours to accept a coordinated plan of action on security matters considerably lessens the drive among IGAD member states to greater cooperation.

IGAD member states represent a split hegemon, with each possessing different types of national power and influence. For example, Ethiopia has an edge in military power, but Kenya has advantages in the strength and diversity of its economy, access to education, and such democratic pillars as a free press. Sudan has the largest land mass of any country in Africa and recently tapped oil wealth.

Even tiny Djibouti has an advantage in its strategic location for the transshipment of seafaring cargo. No single IGAD state can overwhelm its neighbours through the use or threat of use of economic or military power.

Over time this balance of relative strengths may be an advantage if interdependency and cooperation can be mustered for a stronger peace and security architecture that is not subject to the whims of a single hegemon.

The emphasis on early warning in a stronger IGAD peace and security architecture points to the inherent problem of early warning systems. While there are always many situations that send up warnings that could lead to a crisis, it is impossible to know in advance which warnings will indeed result in a crisis. Good intelligence must be married to competent analytic capacity and deployable diplomatic, defence, and humanitarian resources. Otherwise the frustration of misreading situations or being stymied in responding can compound failure rather than build support for IGAD.

A peace and security architecture can only be as good as the on-the-spot decision-makers from the member states and their willingness to agree on political objectives to guide activities, including humanitarian and military operations. A peace and security architecture alone cannot be the solution to the complex and entrenched conflicts in the Horn, but can only provide an opportunity and possible incentives for peacebuilding and disincentives for armed solutions, not only for states but non-state actors as well. Sustainable politics, diplomacy, institutions, and processes, within and among IGAD member states over time, must provide the alternatives to armed violence.

The commitment to formal democratic processes is not a panacea for conflict-wracked states unless they are building, or allowing the development of, a viable democratic culture. When capture of the state apparatus by a group or party represents a winner-take-all proposition, then losers or potential losers are forced into an irredeemable position.

Key components to this architecture are a substantive role for civil society and the promotion and enhancement of the role of women in processes to address conflicts and build institutions. The conservative or traditional societies found in many parts of the Horn may perceive women in a way that diminishes the contribution they can make in creating and preserving peace, not only at the community level, but at all levels up to the national level and such subregional forums as IGAD.

As UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security” indicates, women experience the full impact of violent conflicts, both as civilians and increasingly as combatants or in direct support roles to combatants, but often are excluded from the decision-making that starts and ends wars. Women must be key partners in the search for, and consolidation of, peace. IGAD has a women’s desk to assist its Secretariat in all areas of its work.

Financial constraints on the IGAD Secretariat and its member states have resulted in worthy initiatives that are articulated but not funded. While outside donors have often come to the rescue, to maximize ownership and participation IGAD must find ways to be self-supporting as well as self-initiating.

IGAD is not the only organization involving IGAD member states that is working on commitments and mechanisms for peace and security. There are overlapping mandates (and, potentially, jurisdictions) of subregional groups such as the EAC, which embraces the eventual establishment of a political federation of its member states, but does not include all IGAD states. COMESA also has a mandate to promote peace and security among its members.

Peacebuilding works!

A growing body of knowledge within the emerging international peacebuilding community reinforces the importance of pursuing a more substantive and effective peace and security architecture in the Horn of Africa. Both APFO and Project Ploughshares have tracked a decreasing number of armed conflicts in Africa, as in the rest of the world, in the past decade. At the 30th anniversary celebrations for Project Ploughshares in November 2006, Ambassador Kiplagat from APFO observed: “If 10 or 15 years ago you had examined a map of Africa and pinned red flags to indicate sites of conflict, you would have been shocked to discover that 34 of the 53 countries had red flags. The whole continent was, in many ways, aflame…. Currently, strictly speaking, on the whole continent there is really only half a red flag, in Darfur…. I’m not saying that there is peace all over. So there is one indicator of hope.” The Ploughshares Armed Conflicts Report for 2007 noted: “The 2006 total of 29 armed conflicts is the lowest recorded since Ploughshares began tracking armed conflicts in 1987.” The question to be answered is: why has the number of armed conflicts decreased?

The recently published Human Security Brief 2007 (HSRP 2008) focuses particularly on sub-Sahara Africa in analyzing statistical data on the number and kinds of armed conflict. It indicates several reasons for the decline in the number of wars:

  • “The share of global humanitarian assistance going to Africa doubled between 1999 and 2006—from 23 percent to 46 percent.” (p. 25)
  • “From 1950 to 1999 there were just 18 negotiated settlements—and nearly half broke down within five years. From 2000 to 2005 there were 10 such settlements—thus far not one has broken down.” (p. 30)
  • “[T]he number of SRSGS [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General] in sub-Sahara Africa increased from one in 1990, to 16 in 2006.” (p. 30)
  • “There are 65,000 peacekeepers currently stationed in sub-Sahara Africa—some three-quarters of the UN’s global deployment.” (p. 30)
  • “[M]yriad nongovernmental organizations … are involved in peacemaking and peacebuilding (p. 30)
  • “[A]d hoc groups of states … work together, usually in cooperation with the UN, to help stop wars and prevent them from starting again…. In 1989 there were just two Friends groups, but by 2006 there were 18.” (p. 30)

The HSRP (p. 6) concludes that the “surge of policy initiatives designed to stop wars (‘peacemaking’) or prevent them from starting again (‘post-conflict peacebuilding’)” is the key reason for the decline in the number and intensity of armed conflicts since the 1990s.

The mediation efforts of IGAD in Sudan and Somalia are part of this overall trend in peacebuilding activities. Strengthening IGAD’s sometimes faltering peace and security architecture can only contribute to what the world hopes will be a longer-term trend of declining violent conflicts and an associated decline in the number of deaths and displacements in remaining conflicts.


The aftermath of the national elections in Kenya in December 2007 offers an important if terribly sad affirmation of the utility of a human security framework for understanding and addressing violent conflict in the Horn of Africa.

While Kenyan politics have always been complex and uneasy, in the nation there were solid institutions, educational opportunities, and economic growth, if not equality. Kenya had room for dissent and a free press—structural advantages over its IGAD neighbours for addressing internal conflicts. Indeed, it provided diplomatic resources for solving other countries’ problems. Today Kenya has gingerly stepped back from the abyss of widespread internal conflict. Over 1,500 people were killed and more than 300,000 displaced after election results were disputed. On this occasion, international mediation and preventive diplomacy came to the rescue of Kenya in setting up a government of national unity.

Kenya was faced with no external military threat. The underlying tensions—land ownership, poverty and inequality, troubled democratic processes, tensions between tribal groups, the inappropriate exercise of police authority, human rights abuses, historical displacement of people—are all the stuff of human security. The primary diplomatic, not military, intervention in Kenya was by Africans, with the support of “Friends.”

IGAD’s pursuit of a peace and security architecture is worthy not because the results will be flawless and efficient, but precisely because every small improvement to peacebuilding processes in this conflict-troubled subregion adds to the international momentum to address and end armed conflicts.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge is to include in the form of this emerging IGAD peace and security architecture a process to anticipate the requirements necessary to resolve the conflicts of the future, and not just fashion mechanisms addressing the causes of current and past conflicts. Not only generals get caught fighting and losing with the techniques of past wars. Those intent on peacebuilding can also be stuck looking in the mirror while driving forward.



For further information see Monica Juma, ed., 2006, Compendium of Key Documents Relating to Peace and Security in Africa (Pretoria University Law Press).

Human Security Report Project. 2008. Human Security Brief 2007. Simon Fraser University.

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