The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay

In This Review

The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay
By Christopher Clapham
Oxford University Press, 2017
256 pp.

Clapham has produced a sharp political history of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. (Unfortunately, his book largely ignores Djibouti, the fourth country located in the Horn of Africa.) He walks the reader through a complex story of uneven state building and civil war that begins in the nineteenth century and extends to the present. To explain the variation in political outcomes in the region, Clapham turns to geography. He contrasts the region’s highlands, where relatively high population density and fertile soil have produced agricultural surpluses that can finance a viable state such as Ethiopia, with the lowlands, in which pastoralism dominates and has undermined the establishment of state authority in Somalia. Clapham sensibly puts Ethiopia at the center of his narrative: with a large population and a relatively strong state, the country was able to fight off European attempts to colonize it and has long acted as the region’s hegemon, although its neighbors have always viewed it with great suspicion. The book deftly describes how Ethiopia has emerged from recent crises with a stable government (albeit one led by military rulers) and ambitions to become Africa’s first “developmental state,” fostering growth with major infrastructure projects that have the potential to dramatically change the region.