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Political Dynamics To Conflict Management Strategies in the Horn of Africa

Hardly a day goes without the Horn of Africa dominating the news headlines. The ascendancy is usually in the form of issues related to geopolitics in the region. Factors ranging from Elections to Refugees and even the question around Climate Change, plague conflict management strategies in the region. Climate Change and the Refugee crisis has been discussed in the context of humanitarian catastrophes but not as a contributing factor to the shifting conflict systems in the regions and more specifically, the challenges of terrorism. The relationships between climate change and migration, and its interception to PVE activities intersect based on a model of analysis for programming developed by UNDP i. In the recent report from UNDP, a three-tier level activity grouping looks at the framing of programming activities that divides PVE specific activities (Pull factor focused activities), PVE – Related activities(Push factor focused activities) and those PVE – Conducive activities (larger development-focused activities); that look at a wider perspective.ii

As we aim to look at the big picture, this snapshot is a second piece reviewing some of the impacts to Preventing Violent Extremism initiatives in the region. It provides evidence of the importance of PVE – Conducive activities that may have a broader impact and their relationship to development in the Horn of Africa.


Violent extremism in the Horn of Africa region is the result of a plethora of complex and locally specific factors which include grievances against the state, identity issues, exclusion and inequality, marginalization, lack of opportunities and ideological dimensions. This phenomenon, which increasingly contributes to instability, needs further careful analysis at country-specific, local and at the regional level; with a focus on high-risk and sensitive areas such as cross-border regions, urban and migrant reception areas and migrant journey routes. Even though a clear trajectory from migration to terrorism and climate change may not appear; a relationship between the two issues abound as they both play a role in the conflicts of the region.

While famine is often associated with dangerous weather conditions, the Global Report on Food Crisis 2017 makes it clear that armed conflicts form part of the driving causes in nine out of ten of the worst humanitarian crises, thus emphasizing the close link between peace and food security. According to the World Bank, how a family reacts to environmental threats is contingent on the harshness of the change they experience, their particular vulnerabilities, and available assets. To cope, families adopt a myriad of adaptive stratagems including diversification of agricultural methods, non-farm work and using social sustenance systems. For example, in the current crisis, Somali diaspora systems are marshaling efforts on Whats-App to raise money for their clans and sub-clans affected by the famine. Nevertheless, when conditions deteriorate into protracted chronic situations (such as drought), groups are forced to recourse to “distress migration.” which is internal and temporary but also long-term but regional

So far, the data from the Horn seems to confirm this view, with much more internal displacement being registered than cross-border migration. Even so, it is impossible for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to continue cultivating their fields and provide for themselves. It is also often dangerous or completely impossible to get hold of external food aid. Low agricultural activity, large-scale crop catastrophes, and insecure transport routes as a result of the robbery and armed conflicts have also brought trading, which is so vital to an almost complete standstill in some areas and led to an explosion in food prices. It does not mean that cross-border movement does not happen. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda have received the largest influxes, leading to poor conditions in refugee camps, inability to successfully integrate with local communities and the refugees’ deprivation which may contribute to some of them decided to find an alternative. The United Nations declared a state of famine in some regions in Somalia and South Sudan; a situation compounded by violent clashes happening from time to time in these countries. Squeezed between the various fronts, civilians in many parts of South Sudan are escaping in the hope of regaining a bit of dignity. The UNHCR estimates that South Sudan has 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), with 1.59 million refugees in adjoining countries.

The large numbers of refugees also in their areas of confinement causes a higher risk of diseases like cholera and the likes. It is because of poor habitat and lack of proper sanitation and disposal of material. It creates a health hazard for the displaced persons thus creating a higher risk of contamination and contraction. Conflict and VE has also majorly imparted on the mortality rate of refugees as run to seek refuge to safer grounds. Most of the refugees lose their dear lives trying to flee from their war-torn areas/ countries. It has also contributed to broken families as most of the refugee’s loose contact with their loved ones while others get lost in the process of fleeing from conflict.

Kenya and Ethiopia have also experienced drought in some areas, especially the north-eastern part (Wajir and Mandera) of Kenya, because of armed conflict and Violent Extremism (VE). The constant conflict between communities hinders the ability for agriculture and agri-business activities to flourish thus causing drought within the said areas of conflict. The government has had to deal with a large number of refugees emanating from Somalia and other neighboring countries due to armed conflict and VE. The latest figures indicate that nearly seven hundred thousand people have been internally displaced since November 2016, while at least two thousand Somalis have crossed into Kenya in recent months, and a further four thousand have entered Ethiopia since the beginning of 2017, all in search of humanitarian assistance. It, in turn, caused economic strain on the Kenyan government as it had to cater for both its citizens and the refugees. However, earlier this year and since 2013, the Government of Kenya has sought to close Dadaab and send Somali refugees home. This position is fueled by security fears that are rooted in the idea that Al Shabaab is using the refugee population as its base of support to carry out violence inside Kenya. A substantial portion of Al Shabaab militants are currently believed to be recruited in here, including both nationals and immigrants/refugees. Earlier in the year, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six refugees were supported to return home in Somalia, a total of twenty-two thousand three hundred and fifty-one have returned since January. Beyond its role as a host of Somali and Sudanese refugees, Kenya is also a transit hub for mixed migrants from across the region, as well as a site of massive levels of internal displacement. It is a country of concern regarding trafficking and smuggling activity.

Climate change in the different areas has caused a trickle-down effect in various parts of the society, including the education system. The drought has impacted majorly on education, UNICEF reports that 79,807 children in Somalia are out of school and one hundred and seventy-five schools in Ethiopia have closed due to drought. Humanitarian aid has also been hampered especially in Southern Somalia where Al-Shabaab is still controlling. In these areas, most of the children who are now out of school are trying to move to other regions including Mogadishu where they hope to get support. Even as Somalia experiences the one of the largest famine after that of 2011 , new actors are also taking part to provide humanitarian support to the communities in need. Al-Shabaab has claimed to be providing support in the Lower Shebelle region. A pro-Al-Shabaab radio, Al-Furqaan has mentioned that they have coordinated relief in six administrative regions. New drought-related displacement in Somalia reduced in May 2017 and June 2017 as compared to previous months; however, the number of people displaced by conflict and insecurity in central and southern Somalia increased, with nearly eight thousand three hundred households approximately 50,000 people fleeing conflict during the two-month period, according to the UN. This increased movement may be seen as a threat especially considering that most of the movement is happening so close to the Kenyan border from the Somali town of Elwak. How can we differentiate between those who are looking for food and Al-Shabaab interests in the region; because the organization is still blocking aid to some areas where they have control.

Djibouti has seen less violent extremist activity than other countries in the region. However, increased inflow of refugees escaping conflict in neighboring Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere exacerbates possibilities of destabilizing Djibouti and creating tension among the Djiboutian communities , which have concerns about possible terrorist elements among the more recent refugees from Somalia and Yemen. On 24 May 2014, two Somalis conducted a suicide bombing at a restaurant frequented by foreigners, killing one Turkish national and injuring more than 20 locals and foreign nationals as punishment for the participation of Djiboutian troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia and the Western military presence in the country.

Ethiopia has extremely high levels of internal migration, with the main contributing factors including political instability, war, famine, drought, poverty, environmental degradation and economic decline. In Ethiopia: one hundred and sixteen, six hundred and sixty people have been displaced since the start of the year in Somali region alone, due to the ongoing drought and occasional conflicts. The conflicts causing displacement are attributed to increasing competition over diminishing natural resources. The conflicts in South Sudan and also in western Sudan, particularly in Darfur, have resulted in significant numbers of people moving into the larger cities of the country, and particularly around Khartoum and Omdurman.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre projected that in 2015 there were 3.2 million displaced people within Sudan the separation of Sudan and South Sudan has resulted in the loss of citizenship for many people of mixed heritage, leaving as many as half a million-people stateless. In Eritrea, devastating drought environments are described to be touching half of the country. Reports from IOM and UNHCR indicate that more than four thousand five hundred Eritrean refugees have entered Ethiopia since the beginning of 2017; with an estimated three thousand four hundred and ninety crossing in March alone.


Violent extremist groups like Al-Shabaab in the Horn, have acquired international status through recruiting and interacting with individuals across the borders. Apart from the porousness of the borders; creating an easy migration, their close ties have allowed these groups to recruit outside their home territories. These groups have also had the opportunity to hold territories like in the case of parts of southern Somalia and hinder the distribution of humanitarian support to those in need.

The major question now is that which involves the necessity of support from the local communities who are benefiting from the humanitarian side of Al-Shabaab. Whether or not they can sustain the process is not clear. However, this is playing into the sympathy recruitment from communities that see the extremist group as a solution to their problem. The other challenge in the region is related to migration and movement. Even though the literature in the region is skewed towards “Islamic” motivated forms of radicalization and recruitment, there are some structural challenges, including underdevelopment and climate change issues, which contribute to the push factors leading to migration and conflict. These structural problems have also been seen to form the fodder for narratives that are used by extremists to fuel the flames of terrorism in the region.

There is an interplay of conflict, development and violent extremism which calls for the significant strengthening of development and peacebuilding interventions by all stakeholders. It is recognized globally that the financial, material and humanitarian costs of investing in prevention are less costly than dealing with the security crises of Migration and movement or even Terrorism. Practitioners responses to violent extremism are usually outside of the well-established address around peacebuilding and conflict prevention, as well as sustainable development. However, the discussions around resilience from the environmental point of view could be applied in dealing with PVE – Conducive issues to provide solutions. Basing our arguments from the three-point circle developed by the UN, policy, and programs need to expand their reach to other avenues that cover PVE – Conducive areas that guarantee long-term gains and build resilience. Also, coordination of activities both at the national level and at the regional scale is essential.

Finally, the importance of research cannot be overstated. Research on different migration patterns, relationships with extremist groups, sharing of lessons learned; especially from Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration’s (DDR), and conflict management strategies. Through research and sharing of data, information can be included and used by different stakeholders who work with IGAD through the knowledge hub. It will provide a clear indication on connections between violent extremist groups and forced migration, transnational crime and other criminal activities. It will also provide indicators for early warning and response to various anticipated issues.

Policy Brief: 26th April 2019 - Systems Thinking to PVE in 2019
Engagement With Extremist Organizations: Putting Alshabaab into Context

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