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Statement on the situation in the Horn of Africa

01 March 2007


  1. The greater Horn of Africa, which encompasses Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Djibouti has been the most troubled region of the Continent. The World Council of Churches has monitored, with growing concern, the developments in this region of strategic importance. In the Western Sudan region of Darfur, the conflict that has been taking place since early 2003 has shown little signs of improvement. While 7,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers are now deployed in the region, they are currently overstretched and lack sufficient resources. The Government of Sudan refuses to allow a UN peacekeeping force in the region. In Southern Sudan, while the North-South civil war was officially brought to an end in January 2005, the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has been facing many challenges. In Uganda, the August 2006 signing of a truce between the government of President Museveni and the Lord's Resistance Army held the promise of effectively putting an end to 21 years of civil war and devastation. Unfortunately, the peace talks held in Juba have now resulted in a stalemate. Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea over the resolution of the 1998-2000 border disputes still remain and have been mounting in recent years. In Kenya, sporadic tribal clashes, land dispute, etc. have taken place. At the political level, in the run-up to the Kenyan general election 2007, the current Constitution Review Process is facing a number of challenges. In recent months, the conflict in Somalia has taken centre stage following the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in the summer of 2006 and the subsequent intervention of external forces and internationalisation of the conflict. Following Ethiopia's military intervention in December 2006 in support of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the UIC has been driven out of Mogadishu, of which they had taken control in June 2006. as a result, the TFG has been able to start reasserting its authority. Nonetheless, the situation in Somalia remains volatile. Tensions remain high between the TFG and remnants of the UIC as well as between different Somali clans, threatening to impede the achievement of long term stability in the country as well as the region as whole. 

  1. Further complicating this situation is the tension between Ethiopia and Eritrea, both of whom are in turn allegedly supporting different sides of the Somalia conflict. Although violent conflict along Ethiopia-Eritrea border ended with the signing of the Algiers Agreement in 2000 and the ruling on April 13, 2002 by the Boundary Commission, the government of Eritrea has been on red alert for some time. Ethiopia and Eritrea have fought two bloody wars - first during the time of Eritrea's independence and in 1998 following Eritrea's claim to Badme land, and the second in the year 2002, around the time of the delineation of the border between the two countries by the United Nations Commission. The relationship between the two neighbours continues to be tense, especially following the defection from Ethiopia to Eritrea of about 100 military personnel led by a key military General and the support by Eritrea of groups opposed to the central government in Addis. 

  1. The motivations behind Ethiopia's involvement in Somalia, however, should not be simplified to a desire to wage a proxy war against Eritrea or for a quest for regional domination. Instead, Ethiopia, which was very hesitant to intervene militarily in Somalia, did so because of delays in the deployment of an African peacekeeping force in Somalia caused by lack of funds and the late lifting of the arms embargo. What finally triggered the intervention was the imminent threat posed by the UIC, which had assembled at the outskirts of Baidoa where the TFG had become confined. In addition, the situation in Somalia posed a very real internal security risk to Ethiopia. The UIC had indeed invited the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a group that threatens Ethiopia's unity and stability, to fight with them against the TFG. By doing this, the OLF hoped to later be able to use Somalia as a springboard for its campaign against the government in Addis. The UIC had also made various public statements proclaiming its support for the OLF. The Ethiopian government therefore had every reason to expect that a hostile government in Mogadishu would also support the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Union Western Somalia Liberation Front (UWSLF) that receive sanctuary and support from Somalia.  

  1. Any strong support for ONLF and UWSLF will revive Somalia's post independence goal of encouraging the Somali inhabited areas of Ethiopia to join it. Ethiopia understandably has therefore thrown its support behind the TFG, which does not favour such a policy. In addition, the UIC has at various times made statements to the effect that, as a fundamentalist religious group, they were interested in further expanding their influence in the region beyond their borders to include parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. The terrorist threat emanating from Somalia should not be underestimated. Illustrations of this include: suicide bombings, an assassination attempt on President Yusuf's life on 18th September 2006, attempts on the lives of members of the TFG Parliament, the assassination of an Italian Catholic Nun in September 2006, and the assassination outside a mosque of Somalia Minister Abdallah Deerow Isaq July 2006. Similarly, not only were foreign jihadists recruited into Somalia, but Osama bin Laden's Deputy, Ayman al-Zawahari, called on Islamists world-wide to join in a fight against the Somali government and its Ethiopian allies. Finally, the UIC had, in the fall of 2006, demonstrated its lack of commitment to a negotiated peace process by violating an agreement signed in Khartoum on 22 June 2006. The UIC indeed failed to comply with such an agreement by engaging in fighting and capturing new territory.  

  1. Two additional factors should be considered when attempting to understand the regional dimensions of the conflict. First, following Eritrea's independence, Ethiopia became a landlocked country. Currently, it relies mainly on Djibouti as its outlet to the sea while at the same time trying to explore other options, including Somalia and Kenya. Control of Somalia by the UIC therefore poses an additional threat to Ethiopia, as it will not be able to use Somalia's coastline, becoming even more vulnerable and dependent on Djibouti. The relationship between Sudan and Ethiopia are now relatively good, however with recent developments in Sudan, including the death of Dr John Garang, hard-liners have increasingly begun to assert their influence over the federal government of Sudan. They have always had a long-term view of expanding their influence beyond their borders and would likely be sympathetic to the ideology and theology of the UIC. This, in turn, could further threaten Ethiopia and the region as a whole through Sudanese support for the UIC as well as for the OLF in Ethiopia.  

  1. In light of all these factors, Eritrea is likely to be the one taking advantage of the situation in Somalia, which in fact poses no direct threat to its national security, in an attempt to weaken its long-time foe, Ethiopia. The government of Eritrea has made little secret of its support to the UIC. According to a 2006 UN Report, diplomatic forces estimate 6,000 to 8,000 Ethiopian and 2,000 Eritrea troops in Somalia that back and support their respective allies. The presence of such troops is likely to introduce more arms into a country that is already awash with them and act as a major network for the inflow and outflow of arms threatening the stability of the region as a whole. 

  1. The stalled Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process could have made some positive contribution to security and stability in the region. While it would not have had a direct impact on Somalia, an improvement in relations between the two countries would have led to increased collaboration within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which in turn would have assisted in the stabilisation of the region. Unfortunately, the peace process is intertwined with troubled political transition and growing authoritarianism in the two countries. The leadership in the two countries have effectively crushed dissent and have come down hard on civil society organisations and opposition political groups. In order to justify restrictions on political activities and to deny their people democratic accountability and the rule of law, the two governments have at times used the pretext of threats to national security to keep cross-border tension high. The reports coming from Eritrea also indicate a high rate of religious persecution.  

  1. The present developments have implications for the Greater Horn of Africa and pose a threat to international peace and security. Indeed, if the UIC was to take control of Somalia and in light of its links to Al-Qaeda, the country could become a breeding ground for radical Islamists groups' intent on waging wars against other governments. Somalia has always been part of the Horn of Africa's "conflict system." While the international community had stepped back from Somalia in the last decade, the current situation has led to renewed attention and involvement including from countries such as Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Britain, Italy and the United States. The US has, in the wake of Ethiopia's intervention, which it implicitly supported, launched a number of military air strikes with the objective of capturing those suspected to be responsible for the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to their Department of State, the US has three policy goals in Somalia: to remove the terrorist threat existent in Somalia and ensure against Somalia's use as a terrorist base to prevent developments in Somalia from threatening regional peace and stability, and to overcome the long-term governance challenges that terrorists exploit to make Somalia their base. Unfortunately, American involvement might have added to the impression of Christian-Muslim tensions in the region. While it may be incorrect to reduce the conflict to a mere contest between "Islamists" Somalia and "Christian" Ethiopia, this religious appendage appeals to both sides in terms of gaining patronage and favour of Muslim and Christian groups inside and outside the region.  

  1. The World Council of Churches and its member churches have a history of accompanying churches in Africa, including the Horn, in critical situations, providing pastoral care, humanitarian aid and assistance and working on issues of justice, peace and reconciliation. In September 1999, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in a Minute on Peace and Reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea stated: " the World Council of Churches and many of its member churches and related agencies around the world have been deeply concerned about the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea which has been raging with ever greater intensity since May 1998. We have grieved at the terrible, mounting toll of human life this war is again inflicting on people who have suffered so terribly and for so long from war, repression and abject poverty. Immediately after the outbreak of hostilities the General Secretary wrote to the leaders of the two countries, imploring them to stop the fighting and to resolve the border issue which was the immediate source of contention by peaceful means". The WCC, in support of its action, sent an ecumenical delegation that included representatives of All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) to the two countries as an expression of solidarity and support. Together with Norwegian Church Aid, the Council facilitated a series of meetings between the religious leaders of the two countries to promote a peaceful and negotiated settlement. 

  1. The present crisis in the Horn of Africa poses multiple challenges that have to be addressed by the international community, especially the UN Security council, the AU, IGAD and the League of Arab States The recent dramatic turn of events in Somalia, last December, has once again brought the country under international focus. The UN Security Council Resolution 1725 promoted by the United States was adopted by consensus despite hesitation by some members of the Council who cautioned against IGASOM's* potentially destabilising impact.  

  1. At present some fear that there are too many conflicting interests and little political will among external actors to exert sufficient concerted influence to stabilise Somalia. The African Union Peace and Security Council estimates that the a projected mission of 8000 troops in Somalia (IGASOM) would cost 160 million US dollars for six months deployment. To date, Uganda and Nigeria have firmly committed troops to such a mission while Burundi, Ghana and Malawi have also made pledges. Such commitments, however, fall short of the 8000 troops needed. The United Nations has sent a humanitarian assessment mission to Somalia's border with Kenya where thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have gathered to escape the fighting. The African Union (AU) has also recently sent a mission to Mogadishu to assess the situation on the ground and to prepare a safe environment for the planned peacekeeping force. Aid commitments have also been made by the US and the European Union for short-term humanitarian assistance and support to IGASOM. 

  1. An immediate action to stabilise Somalia revolve around the introduction of the AU Peacekeepers to replace the Ethiopians who are not welcomed by the Somali leaders, even though the Ethiopians were invited and accepted by the TFG and benefited from the tacit support of Somalis in Puntland and Somaliland. The main opposition to Ethiopia's intervention is seen to emerge from sections of the Hawieye clan in Mogadishu. Current efforts are also meant to encourage an inclusive political dialogue amongst its various political forces and clans. It is hoped that the process of dialogue and engagement will help broaden the TFG's base of support and pave the way towards democratic elections to be held in the country within the next few years. 

  1. The Churches in the region under the leadership of AACC and in cooperation with WCC and other international ecumenical partners like the Life and Peace Institute and Norwegian Church Aid have closely monitored the recent developments in the greater Horn of Africa through visits and consultations. Two major events have taken place in this connection - the first one was held in Nairobi on 24th and 25th October 2006 on the "Somalia Peace Process" and the second in Dar-es-Salam, 3rd and 4th February 2007 on - "Christian and Muslim Leaders Peace Initiative in Somalia". Both events indicate the growing concern among Churches and Christians on developments in Somalia that have serious implications for the region. Muslim representatives have also expressed concern over the current situation as well as indicated their willingness to cooperate with Christian religious leaders in dealing with the peace process in Somalia. 

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva, 27th February to 2nd March 2007: 

  1. acknowledges the role played by the religious communities in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the wider ecumenical fellowship to help resolve the border dispute between the two countries and encourages them to continue these efforts, and appreciates the work being done by the Churches and related agencies and commends them for their witness and their response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa, assuring them full support of the WCC and its member churches as they continue to be a prophetic voice in the region in general and in Somalia in particular; 

  1. calls upon the WCC to remain seized of this matter and in co-operation with AACC encourage and facilitate the establishment of a joint Christian and Muslim Peace Committee for Somalia; 

  1. expresses its concerns at the deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea and appeals to the respective governments of the two countries to foster dialogue with opposition political parties to establish democracy, human rights and the rule of law;  

  1. reiterates the need for the United Nations and the donor countries to impress upon Ethiopia and Eritrea, the need to reengage in efforts to resolve their long standing border dispute in a peaceful and amicable manner by complying with the ruling of the Boundary Commission, and appeals to the international community to focus its attention on Somalia and the Horn of Africa as a whole and for the United Nations Security Council to remain seized of this matter; 

  1. supports the TFG in its efforts to bring services to the people of Somalia and to build the institutions that are needed to promote stability, democracy, rule of law and development, and urges it to undertake a comprehensive peace and reconciliation process among the people as a whole, including moderate members of the UIC; 

  1. welcomes efforts by the Sudanese government towards reconciliation in the East of the country following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; 

  1. welcomes also, the signing of a truce agreement between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Government of Uganda and urges both parties to resume the stalled peace; 

  1. urges IGAD to undertake the task of healing divisions within its members and to work closely with the League of Arab States in order to strengthen its efforts in Somalia, and appeals to the international community and the Contact Group for Somalia to ensure that adequate funds are available for the stabilisation mission in Somalia; 

  1. appreciates the commitments of troops that have already been made and calls upon other countries in Africa to follow suit in order to bring the strength of the required levels of 8,000 troops and thus enable immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian troops; 

  1. calls for support for the people of Somalia displaced by the conflict, who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance and security, particularly the Somali refugees in Dadaab Camps in Kenya. In this connection it appreciates the assistance being provided by ACT International through its Rapid Response Fund to the Somali IDPs.


* IGASOM - Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mission in Somalia (U.N. Security Council Resolution 1725)