The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War, and the Business of Power

In This Review

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War, and the Business of Power
By Alex De Waal
Polity, 2015
220 pp.

This excellent introduction to the recent history of the Horn of Africa focuses on the Machiavellian maneuvering of the region’s elites. A well-connected, veteran observer of the region, de Waal is perfectly placed to untangle the domestic politics of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Sudans. He argues that politics in the region operates much like a market, with constant intrigue over the buying and selling of power and influence. This is a familiar analysis, but de Waal applies it well in explaining why the countries of the Horn have proved politically unstable in recent decades. Without the support of powerful organizations or mobilizing ideologies to back them, political entrepreneurs survive only if they can secure material resources and receive funding from external patrons, which they use to purchase political support—a recipe for instability. This book’s greatest strength is its regional lens, as de Waal reveals how elite alliances operate across borders. For a desperately poor area with awful infrastructure and vast expanses of desert, the Horn has produced a surprisingly globalized and cosmopolitan political ecosystem.

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