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Resource Conflict in the Horn of Africa.

Resource Conflict in the Horn of Africa, by John Markakis. Sage Publications, London, 1998. x+212 pp. 45.00 [pounds sterling] hardback. ISBN 0-8039-8847-8

This book originated in a seminar convened by the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1991. The intention was to produce a joint publication on resources, conflicts and co-operation in the Horn of Africa. Unfortunately, the submitted papers did not cover the full range of problems and contained inconsistencies of geographical definition, so that it was agreed to ask John Markakis of the University of Crete to compile the book. Considerable research was necessary on his part to add and bring material up to date, so that the book is essentially his, though with full acknowledgment of the use of a number of papers from the 1991 seminar.

The introductory theme is that areas where natural endowment is poor and depleted, and where little or no compensating development has taken place, are areas where conflict flourishes--the substance of conflict being intense competition over scarce and diminishing resources in the context of a rapidly expanding population. Many will hold the complementary view that political conflict reduces the ability of peoples to sustain traditional methods of adjustment to environment and conservation of its resources. It soon becomes evident that the author has no are to grind and he is to be congratulated on a remarkable overview of the complex relationships between peoples and their environment and the problems and processes at work in this very challenging region.

The Horn of Africa is defined here as bordered by the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, the East African highlands and the Nile basin, its extent encompassing major sources of water supply for the region. The countries considered in detail are Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti, whilst neighbouring countries are mentioned in discussion. Part One looks at population; regional resources; country by country resources; and the principles of food security. Part Two considers the conflict; regional movements; ethnic movements; and clan movements. Part Three looks at what is being done; and what can be done.

With the exception of Kenya, state action to protect the environment has yet to make an impact. Regional organizations can claim more success, viz the inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), which has produced plans for regional improvements in infrastructure and communications, the International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), and the Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign. The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA), was successful through and beyond the colonial period, but began to lose operational capacity during the unstable political situation of the 1980s. The author concludes that the threat to environmental security will not receive the attention it merits as long as the absence of peace and political stability remain the main life-threatening conditions in the region.

Looking to the future, the author focuses on the plight of pastoral peoples subjected to failed policies of sedentarization, or ranching, and to the hostility of ruling elites who regard them as security risks and potential subversives. He considers traditional forms of co-operation whereby pastoral societies could seek alignment with peoples inside or outside their group and receive hospitality in times of famine. Better understanding of the sensitivity of traditional systems to environmental risks has led to some reduction in the tendency for well-meaning westerners to introduce inappropriate development policies. Challenges in the management of Nile waters, in facilitating regional trade, and in development strategies which see the welfare of the majority of the people as the immediate goal, are also discussed. As for conflict, a plea is made for decentralization and the lowering of frontier barriers on a bilateral basis. Dramatic changes in the material conditions of the people of the Horn are ruled out for the forseeable future. With greater freedom to develop their own ways of doing things, and the removal of the crippling economic burdens imposed by the West, the most that can be hoped for is to prevent further deterioration in well-being. This is gloomy news, but the preceding chapters provide a rational, detailed and unbiased appraisal of the background that can but contribute helpfully. An expert on one or other part of the region may be able to fill in more detail than can be included in one book, but this survey will be useful and stimulating to experts and students alike. The only serious weakness is in the series of maps at the end, which help in the identification of regional and administrative sub-divisions, but include important errors of detail regarding the Kenya highlands--it would seem that the publishers have let the author down in this small respect.


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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:African Affairs
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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