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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Resource Conflict in the Horn of Africa
John Markakis

(London: Sage, 1998)
212pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: ISBN 08039-88478

Over the last three decades, the Horn of Africa, arguably the poorest region in the world, has been embroiled in, and continues to experience, spiralling conflicts, drought and famine, economic stagnation, and food and environmental insecurity. Resource Conflict in the Horn of Africa addresses the roots of these problems, assesses what has been done and suggests what could or should be done to reverse this trend of economic deterioration and regional instability.

The first part of the book, which is divided into three parts, focuses on the interplay between food security, environmental degradation and population growth. The wealth of information in this section alone makes the book an invaluable asset. However, the author's somewhat neo-Malthusian approach, together with his uncritical acceptance of the evidence for widespread ecological deterioration, will no doubt invite critical comment.

Part Two: 'Conflict' will be of particular interest to readers of this digest. In a detailed examination of the origins and forms of the different conflicts in the region, Markakis challenges explanations which root the cause of the conflicts in ethnicity: ethnicity was not a causal factor of conflict in either Eritrea or Southern Sudan, both of which involved regions inhabited by several ethnic groups which made common cause in the struggle for power, or in Somalia, where the opposing forces all belong to the same ethnic group. In those cases where ethnicity was a contributory factor, within Ethiopia proper and in the conflict that erupted in Djibouti in the early 1990s, ethnic identities and divisions only gained political expression as a result of political mobilisation by elites. Markakis' insightful analysis shows that it is, rather, the interaction of a combination of factors - the arbitrary imposition of colonial boundaries, the ethnocentric! nature of post-colonial regimes and the project of nation building (forced cultural assimilation), the prevalence of clientelist politics, limited and uneven economic development - which has prompted major challenges to the rule of the existing regimes, which to some degree also constituted struggles for control of the state and state resources.

Among the proposed solutions to regional instability discussed in the final section, is the need for a re-examination of the appropriateness of the imported concept of the 'nation-state'. A further, related (albeit not new) proposal, based partly on the recognition that conflicts, although internal in origin (except for the Somali invasion of Ethiopia in 1977), are rarely confined within state boundaries, and partly on the recognition of existing economic linkages and complementarities, calls for greater regional economic co-operation - trade, food security, free movement of peoples (especially pastoralists), and management of shared water and river systems. Arguably, greater economic integration will undermine historical patterns of mutual intervention in the affairs of neighbouring states and foster a greater commitment to regional peace. However, the re-emergence of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea since the publication of this book does raise questions, not only about the future relations between these two countries, but also about the prospects for regional economic co-operation.

June Rock, University of Leeds

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