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What United States Horn of Africa Policy Ought to Be!
June 25, 2022

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD

The Horn of Africa is one of the most complicated and volatile geopolitical theater in the world, and this is due to a long history of contending regional and international rival powers that were subsequently locked in protracted conflicts in this region. By virtue of the complexity of the Horn of Africa affairs, thus, any global power, including the United States, that is involved in Horn politics will encounter challenges and its undertakings will be fraught with frustrations.

In order to ameliorate the challenges and frustrations, however, policymakers can rely on some brief history lessons of the Horn of Africa conflicts that I have attempted to address in one of my works, Horn of Africa Disaster Politics and Its Geopolitical Parameters: The nascent instability of the Horn is not a novice phenomenon; disorder politics has confronted this region since antiquity, the Jihad wars of the 16th century and the 19th century Ethiopia-Egypt (Ottoman) wars; the late 19th century Ethiopian-Italian wars of 1885, 1887, and 1896; and again, the last Ethiopian-Italian war from 1936 to 1941. These successive wars between Ethiopia and Italy resulted in immeasurable damages and sacrifices.

On top of the above-mentioned wars, throughout the second half of the twentieth century and beyond, the Horn was disturbed by guerrilla insurgency in Eritrea against the status quo in Ethiopia; the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA)-led guerrilla warfare against the northern Sudanese government; the civil war in Somalia; the TPLF wars against the central government of Ethiopia (1975-1991); and the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1998-2000.

This article will systematically analyze and critically examine Horn of Africa conflict politics, but it is focused on the Ethiopian war, and manifests rather a corollary of my view regarding what a US foreign policy ought to be with respect to Ethiopia and the Horn. However, at the outset, it should be clear that I will neither articulate stories of the Horn nor evoke pathos, but I would be interested in presenting successfully and powerfully constructive analysis of what a foreign policy should entail, and not on what it characteristically embodies cliche of what is and/or what was.

Put otherwise, I am proposing that American Horn of Africa policy should change and change for the better, notwithstanding the quaint myth of a gargantuan state or a superpower perceived as a power with panacea at its disposal for all problems. It is not immediately evident of what this possibility of change of foreign policy could amount to or could bear fruit and produce effects, and I do not think a glib answer is possible, but to the extent possible I will provide the change agents that I think are doable and/or feasible. ”

I understand that there are many astute, bright, and quick-witted diplomats within the State Department, but since history always suggests caution, these diplomats should be able to make changes regarding, for instance, the old adage of America has no permanent friends but permanent interests (borrowed from Lord Castlereagh or Henry John Temple), which may be tenable in the context of old-fashioned real politic that is now outmoded. Obviously, all nations worldwide are after their permanent interests but the US now should espouse what I call permanent friends with shared, common, and collective interests. This new vision could be attained due to 1) American political tradition of constancy and change; and 2) the level of complexity that requires to bring about change in foreign policy is felt by the Biden Administration, and to be sure Biden is flexible and far from being obdurate.

In a similar vein to the above thesis, I strongly believe that the US must cast aside its age-old heavy dependence on intelligence and drift towards what Solingen calls coalition and grand strategy. As Etel Solingen aptly put it, coalitions are omnipresent in politics; single actors can rarely specify an outcome and bind all other actors to it. Coalition analysis offers an analytical pivot that allows the simultaneous consideration of international and domestic political aspects of a grand strategy. Such a pivot enables the amalgamation of outside-in and inside-out effects. Thus, beyond dissecting the impact of international considerations on domestic politics, it helps us move toward a theory of how such considerations are converted.

A huge task is waiting for the United States to convert its considerations in the Horn of Africa by carefully studying the nature and characteristics of the multiple political actors and coalesce with those that can promote peace and stability in the region, and hence establishing a coalition of grand strategy. An effective coalition cannot be accomplished with the present two regimes of Eritrea and Ethiopia, governments that have brought destruction and death in most parts of Ethiopia and war of genocide in Tigray; they are bad fellas with dirty politics and their actions are detrimental to US grand strategy in the Horn. Therefore, the US should look unto other groups that can enhance the desired coalition; America should deal with new friends like the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces, a nine-group alliance* that are fighting for self-determination and preservation as well as promotion of the federal system by reforming the present constitution of Ethiopia (which by and large is emasculated under the Abiy regime). Additionally, the US should recognize that Ethiopia has lost its status of a key player in the Horn and Africa since 2018, the year of internal displacements, followed by conflicts and later by major wars. The United Front can bring peace and stability to Ethiopia and the Horn and regain Ethiopian role as a key player.

One of the US grand strategies in the Horn of Africa, thus, should be to export and introduce its federal system and democracy to the Horn countries, none of which has such twin noble systems, which are the envy of the world that we take for granted in the US. In order to attain this goal, what the US has attempted to broker peace between the various fighting factions in Ethiopia by dispatching envoys like Jeffrey Feltman, David Satterfield, and Mike Hammer is commendable. However, as I have noted above, if the US does not make a thorough study of the nature and characteristics of the Horn actors, its foreign policy could stumble into a wholly unpredictable situation, and it may even remain ambiguously suspended.

The US, of course, should never appease or placate dictatorial regimes like that of Isaias Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed who are responsible for the genocide in Tigray; instead of conciliating these criminal elements, the new US Horn of Africa policy should aim primarily at regime change, peace, and stability, and the latter agenda could ultimately benefit American security and national interest. The other benefit that the US could garner from such new policy is respect rather than fear from the Horn and other African countries. Now that HR 6600 and S 3199 are ratified and one of the objectives of this resolutions is to hold responsible those who committed crime against humanity, including genocide against the people of Tigray, the Biden Administration should have the courage to define the atrocities committed in Tigray as genocide because all elements of genocide as per the Geneva convention of 1946/1948 and the Rome Statue of the ICC have been committed in Tigray; and if the US and European Union call the Russian atrocities in Ukraine genocide, it logically follows that of Tigray is genocide as well.

The US should initiate a new political order of peace and stability rather than locking itself with other international actors like Russia, China, and Turkey, that have directly or indirectly contributed to the escalation of the war in Tigray and the conflict in Ethiopia as a whole. In this regard Li Peng’s view of a new political order is advisable; he says, The present-day world is at a vital turning point. The old structure has come to an end while a new one has yet to take shape. The world is moving in a direction of multi-polarization. World peace, national stability, economic development are the aspirations shared by the people everywhere.2

There is no doubt that Li Peng’s thesis of peace, stability, and economic development is appreciated by US policymakers and I truly believe that the US should make a paradigm shift from mere diplomatic ventures to implementing economic development in the Horn of Africa, and this is very handy for an economic superpower like the United States; I have argued in many of my speeches and class lectures that America can lead the world via economic development programs, including aid and trade. Moreover, as Benjamin Franklin argued in his‘pro-trade pamphlet so long ago in 1774, no nation was ever ruined by trade; two centuries and half after, Franklin’s visionary consideration is still relevant to the 21st century and it enhances good relations among nations and fosters peace and stability. However, neither Franklin’s nor that of Peng could be taken for granted and it is imperative that the US seriously consider Bill Clinton idea of a more stable and yet dangerous world. To be sure, at present, more than any other people on our planet earth, it is the people of Tigray and other Ethiopians that understand that our world is indeed dangerous.

In a hazardous world such as the Horn of Africa, the Kantian conception of universal brotherhood could not be realized because there are so many troubled spots in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. These spots are best explained by Henry Kissinger’s theory of linkages and they could go out of control if the US slacks over Horn affairs. Therefore, in order to monitor the inherent volatility of linkages, American diplomats and policymakers should employ what we call in political science bounded rationality, a capacity to enjoy options when constrained by human and organizational factors.

Incidentally, it was the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, who taught me United States Foreign Policy in the 1980s at Columbia University, and who is the author of a book entitled Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century, who was very emphatic on containment (insupportable now) and linkages (still defensible). There is no doubt that Brzezinski succinctly describes the danger zones of the world and the necessity of real politic to combat them, and the US may still pursue the advantage of real politic in light of the omnipresence of linkages, but real politic devoid of moral and ethical values is dangerous itself.

Contextually speaking, America should strike a balance between its national interests and diffuse reciprocity à la Solingen. Etel Solingen discussing the democratic process, credibility and ratification tells us that democracies undertake more credible and durable commitments, and this credibility can help democratic dyads rely on diffuse reciprocity, where the benefits from cooperation can be distributed over extended periods of time, rather than on quid-pro-quo basis.3

Cooperation in its most comprehensive sense should entail political, economic, and cultural ties with the Horn countries with the sole purpose of first restoring peace and stability and then enhancing economic development designed to uplift the populace of the Horn from poverty. This is what American Horn policy ought to be and it can be translated into material force by 'diffuse reciprocity.

One additional policy consideration that the United States must help facilitate as part of its Horn policy package is national reconciliation in Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn nations. This, of course, is going to require massive diplomatic efforts to bring together the warring factions to a round table. The preconditions for national reconciliation are ceasefire and relative peace, without which no reconciliation initiatives can take place. Secondly, national reconciliation cannot be realized meaningfully by government installed reconciliation commission such as that of Ethiopia. To begin with, the Ethiopian government presided over by Abiy Ahmed, discriminates contending parties that in principle should participate in the reconciliation process; if the latter is not inclusive, at the outset it is doomed to failure and in order to avoid such a disaster, US diplomats should reassure Horn nations that they can help and advice in matters of national reconciliation, which is part of a democratic political culture.

In order to have theoretical clarity on the conflict-ridden societies like Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Sudan, it is imperative that African leaders and American policymakers revisit Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, and Immanuel Kant. Hobbes is associated with the state of nature, a chaotic world where there are no rules and regulations and the redemption can come only via a Leviathan, an absolute ruler who could overcome the nasty, brutish, and short life. /font>

Cooperation in its most comprehensive sense should entail political, economic, and cultural ties with the Horn countries with the sole purpose of first restoring peace and stability and then enhancing economic development designed to uplift the populace of the Horn from poverty. This is what American Horn policy ought to be and it can be translated into material force by diffuse reciprocity.

Diametrically opposite to the Hobbesian prescription is the Kantian view, otherwise known as the universalist tradition and goes beyond state-state relations and rather underscores the significance of citizens of various states; it is in effect, people-people relations in an effort to forge a universal community of mankind. The Kantian theory of universal brotherhood was never tried, but it could perhaps materialize in the long haul when the Hobbesian curse ends and is replaced by a more humane global society. The Grotian prescription lies between the Hobbesian and Kantian traditions, and views global politics not as conflict-ridden (Hobbesian) or simply as universal brotherhood (Kantian), but as political theater of states best connected by trade. Unlike the naked, brute, and immoral Hobbesian states, however, the Grotian states are expected to exhibit (at least in principle) moral imperative and rule of law. In the long run, the Grotian tradition, thus, may serve as stepping and building blocks for the Kantian futuristic international relations.4

I conclude with two themes, namely ‘false image’ and ‘indecision and hesitancy’, that I believe could impinge on otherwise adroitly crafted foreign policy. A good example of false image is Robert Kaplan’s pessimistic prescription of the South and Africa are doomed to anarchy and chaos, which is unacceptable to me, and which should be rejected by American foreign policymakers and African leaders. On the contrary, the Biden Administration and the State Department, as part of their Horn of Africa policy, should appreciate Africa’s enormous potential despite the many stumbling blocks the continent has encountered and endured.

With respect to indecision and hesitancy, I have produced an editorial on March 2021, and this is what I reasoned then: “In order to promote its national interest, both in terms of preserving its strategic interests and security, the US has attempted to either monitor or end the conflicts through diplomacy and other means. However, America’s overall performance was characterized by indecision and hesitancy rather than exhibiting firm stand and/or coercive diplomacy.”5 By overcoming the problem of indecision and hesitancy and altogether dismissing the false image of Africa, the United States can successfully implement its new policy of the Horn.

The United States, as a matter of course, should seriously consider Africa’s initiative to end the conflict in the Horn and elsewhere in Africa; the Olusegun Obasanjo shuttle diplomacy between the Tigray Regional State and the Ethiopian Federal Government, for instance, should be endorsed and diplomatically backed up by the United States, because affirming and/or sustaining the peace initiative that could facilitate dialogue among the quarreling political actors will bring permanent stability to conflict-ridden spots. /font>


1.Eten Solingen, REGIONAL ORDER AT CENTURY’S DAWN: Global and Domestic Influences on Grand Strategy, Princeton University Press, 1998, P. 8
2. Li Peng, in William Clinton Olson, The Theory and Practice of International Relations, Prentice Hall, 1994, P. 108
3. Eten Solingen, op cit. P. 93
4. Ghelawdewos Araia, Global Political Theater and the Peripheral States of Africa, June 16, 2008: http://www.africanidea.org/political_theater.html
5. Ghelawdewos Araia, Indecision and Hesitancy could altogether Derail a Worthwhile American Policy Toward the Horn, Institute of Development and Education of Africa (IDEA) Editorial, March 27, 2021, www.africanidea.org/Indecision_and_hesitacny.html

*When the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist Forces assembled on November 5, 2021, at the National Press Club in Washington DC for a signing ceremony, they were only nine, but Wolita (Wolayta) is expected to join as the tenth member of the coalition. Officially, the group is known as the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederal Forces and the members are: Afar Revolutionary Democratic Movement;) Agew Democratic Movement; Benishangul Peoples Liberation Movement; Gambella Peoples Liberation Army; Global Kimant Peoples Right and Justice Movement/Kimant Democratic Party; Oromo Liberation Army (OLA); Somali State Resistance; Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF)

Ghelawdewos Araia is currently Adjunct Associate Professor at Africana Studies, Lehman College, City University of New York (CUNY); he is the author of Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition (1995) and Ethiopia: Democracy, Devolution of Power, and the Developmental State (2013); he is also the founder and president of the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA).