chapter  5
36 Pages

Reconstructing and Defining the Post-Cold War State: The Horn of Africa

The two interventions of the United Nations in the Horn of Africa occupy opposite ends of the ‘peacekeeping’ spectrum in terms of techniques and objectives. The crises that precipitated them, however, had similar roots in the vicissitudes of global politics in the cold war and after. The Horn of Africa, bounded by the Indian Ocean to the east and the Arabian Sea to the north, occupied a position of special strategic importance in the ‘second5 cold war of the later 1970s and 1980s. More even than south­ern Africa, it became a cockpit of superpower rivalry. With the end of the cold war this external, quasi-‘imperiaP presence was suddenly with­drawn. What had become a major part of the structure of regional politics and diplomacy thus disappeared, with far-reaching effects on the states involved.In Somalia the consequence was state collapse, the emergence of a political vacuum within the national territory and a fierce multi-sided contest for control of the wreckage. The results of this, in terms both of human misery and of instability within an international system constructed from territorial states, provoked a major multilateral response. This sought, through vari­ous configurations, to impose order on the chaos that underlay the humani­tarian disaster, and, for the longer term stability of the nation and region, to reconstruct the Somali state. The effort, despite abundant resources and powerful motivation on the part of the external actors involved, failed comprehensively.The impact of the end of bipolar rivalries on Ethiopia was rather different, as was the character of the UN’s intervention there, five years after the end of its peacekeeping efforts in Somalia. In Ethiopia the state, with much deeper cultural roots than that in Somalia, did not disintegrate. It did, however, divide along an obvious historical fracture line. Initially this division, which

brought into being the new sovereign state of Eritrea, appeared to be entirely positive in both execution and consequences. An amicable separation of two post-revolutionary regimes of very similar ideological stamp was followed by the development of what seemed to be a model bilateral relationship cater­ing for the different requirements of each side. The collapse of this relation­ship, while obviously disastrous in its immediate consequences, nevertheless presented the United Nations with a much ‘easier5 responsibility than that in Somalia. It was one that derived from circumstances that were extremely unusual in sub-Saharan Africa. The requirement in the aftermath of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war was for a ‘classic5 peacekeeping force. Two armies of still stable and responsible regimes had disengaged from an inter-state con­flict over territory and required an interpositionary presence to occupy the space between them.The two peacekeeping experiences in the Horn, more than anywhere else perhaps, illustrated the essentially contingent nature of UN interven­tions in Africa. Success or failure turned on the dynamics of the conflicts themselves rather than the UN5s impact upon events. In Somalia, as in Angola, it was unlikely that the complex internal components of the con­flict could permit a successful multilateral intervention, however configured, mandated or equipped. In the Ethiopian-Eritrean situation a wholly ‘inter­national5 conflict had reached a point where the simple presence of a ‘legitimate5 external force was more or less sufficient to meet the needs of the peace process.