The Horn of Africa is one of the most complex, diverse, and conflict-afflicted regions in the world. While much of the region continues to be mired in violence and instability, it remains a nexus of global trading routes and is growing in geopolitical importance. The global community cannot ignore its fate.

The States

The Horn of Africa, situated in the easternmost projection of the African continent, comprises the countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti; the Greater Horn includes the adjoining states of Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan. Ethiopia is the historical power of the region and has enjoyed recent economic success despite its authoritarian government. Djibouti, though a beacon of economic stability in the region with its gulf ports, suffers from rampant unemployment. The other states in the region—particularly Somalia and South Sudan—are facing seemingly intractable challenges of state formation and development.

Regional dynamics

The Horn of Africa is marked by porous borders and interstate competition. The inability of central authorities to maintain control within their colonial-era borders has exacerbated ethnic conflicts and precipitated refugee crises. Moreover, states actively support neighboring governments’ rebel groups to strengthen their own regional power. Such instability has provided fertile ground for the growth of terrorist organizations.  

There are, however, signs of progress and regional cooperation. The African Union is establishing new infrastructure for African-led peace and security initiatives. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development is active in South Sudan’s peace process and negotiations. These security developments, coupled with economic development in some states, could set the foundation for future stability and prosperity.

Geopolitical Significance

The Horn of Africa has strategic importance to outside actors. The United States, France, and China have established overseas military bases in Djibouti to protect economic interests and neutralize extremist threats. The region promises to continue to grow ever important in geopolitics and global trade.

Recent Developments

Between the time that we recorded and published this episode, there were two developments that we thought we should note. 1) As speculated in the episode, the Somali election was postponed to a later date. 2) The Kenyan government is no longer closing the Dadaab refugee camp.

Dig Deeper

Take a look at some of our favorite articles that we came across while researching this topic:

About the Author
Grace is the Program Assistant for the Wilson Center’s Africa Program and received her M.A. from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, focusing on international development, conflict resolution, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Grace holds a B.A. in both Global Studies and Political Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Previously, she served as the assistant to the President and Executive Vice President of the Henry L. Stimson Center. Grace has traveled to Africa on multiple occasions, most recently to Kenya as a field manager for the health textiles manufacturer Vestergaard-Frandsen.