Panelists propose solutions to conflict in Horn of Africa

By Roza Essaw,

In collaboration with the Horn of Africa Peace and Development Center, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies hosted the “Conflict Resolution in the Horn of Africa” event Friday in the Meadows Museum, bringing together experts on critical issues facing the region.

The Horn of Africa is the easternmost projection of the continent and includes countries such as Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The chair of the first panel, Semere Habtermariam, opened the discussion and declared, “the Horn of Africa is in a mess.”

Following Habtermariam’s solemn declaration, Kenneth Menkhaus, an expert on Somalia, began by discussing the famine, which he labeled as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

“Somalia is facing the biggest famine in 20 years,” Menkhaus said.

Other critical issues facing Somalia include lack of democracy, piracy and political fragmentation. According to Menkhaus, these internal crises have caused over 1.5 million Somalis to be forced out of their country.

“We are looking at a diasporized Somalia,” Menkhaus said.

“Eritrea’s history is short, but it is one filled with colonization, marginalization, annexation and increasingly as a narrative of injustice,” Semhar Araia, an expert on Eritrea, said.

Araia’s presentation honed in on the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict.

“Failure of Eritrea and Ethiopia to solve their regional differences has led to many problems,” she said.

Araia also outlined the Diaspora, which she believes has created a massive generational divide and eliminated discussions.

Moving forward, Araia called for better discussions on these problems and emphasized the need for international actors “to recognize the consequences of the stalemate” between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Ted Vestal, an expert on Ethiopia, coined Ethiopia’s problems in four elements: earth, water, air and fire.

“Ethiopia’s lands have been leased in vast tracks to 36 countries,” Vestal said. The takeover of vast acres of Ethiopia’s land fuels problems of high unemployment and poverty. Lack of clean water also adds to the health concerns, and Ethiopia also struggles with freedom of speech.

“Ethiopia is amongst one of the world’s top 10 online oppressors,” Vestal said. “The government exercises control of the net and spies on writers. The Horn leads the world in one category: the number of violent conflicts.”

The second panel focused on U.S. interest in the Horn, and all of the panelists agreed on one unanimous consensus: Africa is not a top priority for the international community. In fact, the Horn is the lowest priority for the U.S.

“The only time the Horn of Africa comes to U.S. attention is when there are problems,” Lange Schermerhorn, former ambassador to Djibouti, said.

While commending some of America’s successful humanitarian assistance, the panelists called on the U.S. to move away from a linear approach of thinking.

“We are always trying to impose our model,” Schermerhorn said.

According to the panelists, the U.S. needs to mobilize other international actors to help because there is very little the U.S. can do alone.

The keynote luncheon speaker Tibor P. Nagy, former ambassador to Ethiopia, stressed the need for “bottom top instead of top down approach” to solve many of these problems.

As the final panel came to a close, Berhanu Mengistu, an expert on Ethiopia, shared his lesson with the audience.

“There is a time to oppose and a time to be partners.”

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