Change and Conflict in the Horn of Africa

Courtesy Reuters

AFRICA is no longer a minor if passionate theme of the Concert of Europe; it commands increasing attention in its own right. As time goes on, the course of African nationalism, and even the direction and pace of economic development, will be determined more and more by agreements and disagreements between African peoples themselves and by the balance of power struck within an African region. The newly complicated rhythms and unfamiliar instruments of inter-African affairs require the student to reach back beyond the partition of Africa to the shifts and accommodations made by the African peoples as they coped with warlike neighbors, new migrations or natural disasters. That is the purpose of this article: to explain the inter-relations of the indigenous peoples of one African region, the Northeast, and the difficulties they have in finding stable arrangements that will give them some sense of lasting security and independence.

In Northeast Africa two great peoples face one another: the Christian Amhara and other peoples loyal to the Ethiopian crown on the one side, and, on the other, the Moslem Somalis, divided by clan but culturally homogeneous. Both have a long history, remembered in song and saga, and occasionally in written records. Each is of mixed descent but today breeds an easily distinguishable physical type. Each has an unmistakable style of life which is well adapted in one case to a mountain environment, in the other to the thorn-bush grazing lands. Much draws them together, for they are twice related, through their common Semitic ancestry in southern Arabia and by intermarriage with the Hamites whom they subjugated, absorbed or decimated in the course of several centuries of successful raiding and expansion. Much divides them, including a record of formidable wars.

In Ethiopia, land tenure is such that war is the most effective way for a man to improve his lot. Among the nomadic Somali, each clan must periodically reassert its power to defend the traditional grazing area and water holes. It must keep

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