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Weak Economic Policies in Horn of Africa Fuel Conflict

Famine, piracy, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa are of increasing concern for international policy makers. A new Chatham House report, Hostage to Conflict: Prospects for Building Regional Economic Cooperation in the Horn of Africa, says that greater efforts to build economic integration and regional growth could tackle the root causes of the region’s troubles. To be successful, this approach needs to harness the power of informal trading markets and avoid a security dominated 'state-centric' approach. Unfortunately current efforts risk taking the opposite approach, and fuelling the very problems they seek to address.

This report, the culmination of a three year project involving intensive field research and wide ranging interviews with key regional figures, examines the economic dimensions of regional conflict and cooperation in the Horn of Africa, a vast area comprising Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and south Sudan, with a population of about 140 million people.

The report finds that regional economic integration is happening in the Horn of Africa, albeit in an ad hoc and chaotic way, outside the framework of formal arrangements. For example, the prolonged collapse of the Somali state has been an important enabling factor for informal trade; it has brought an entire national economy into the informal sector.

Currently, border communities are often left in an impoverished limbo and prone to conflict, but they could make a significant contribution to regional peace and security if their commercial potential were opened up. Yet current security led priorities risk undermining these important economic actors.

There are numerous examples of the free, unregulated movement of people and goods across borders and of the free, unregulated movement of capital, notably from Mogadishu to Nairobi. All of these 'freedoms' are regarded as problematic by the authorities. But they are necessary, not to say life-saving, for very many residents of the region. So while market forces and development imperatives propel the Horn of Africa into ever-closer economic integration, security concerns tend to drive events in the reverse direction. Growing efforts to address international manifestations of the region’s problems risk compounding problems unless they address these roots causes.

Notes to editors

Read Hostage to Conflict Prospects for Building Regional Economic Cooperation in the Horn of Africa

Launch event: Friday 25 November 17:00 to 18:00

The report is part of the Horn of Africa Project.

The report author, Sally Healy OBE is available for comment:

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