Conflict in the Horn of Africa: Background and outlook

This Brief Report describes the conflict in the Horn of Africa, which serves as a communications route to the Indian Ocean, Africa and the Middle East. The report describes the situation in Ethiopia, which has historically dominated the region and is now threatened by the drive to independence of Eritrea, Somali claims to the Ogaden, a region of eastern Ethiopia, and Arab interests in the region. Ethiopian-Somali relations deteriorated with the independence of Djibouti, which could choose union with Somalia, despite being economically dependent on Ethiopia. The superpowers have been drawn into the conflict, with the Soviet Union supporting Ethiopia, and the US supporting Somalia during the 1977 war. China has supplied aid and assistance to Somalia although Chinese presence in the region is diminishing. Considering the future, the Ethiopian Government’s approach rules out compromise with the Eritreans on secession. It is possible that initial Somali gains will be followed by defeat. Should the USSR support this aim and succeed the ramifications for the rest of Africa, and for Western oil supplies, could prove serious.