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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: February 2013

6 - Conflict in the Horn, 1952–1993


Simultaneous with the struggle for Southern Africa was the Cold War battle for the Horn. Bordering on the critical Red Sea and Indian Ocean sea-lanes and in close proximity to Middle Eastern oil, Ethiopia and Somalia were both regional rivals and objects of competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the dynamics of decolonization established the framework for Cold War battles in North Africa, the Congo, the Portuguese colonies, and the white-ruled regimes of Southern Africa, superpower involvement in the Horn of Africa was primarily linked to postcolonial regional competition. Like African actors elsewhere on the continent, contenders for power in the Horn sought support from Cold War antagonists in order to promote their own national and regional endeavors. Although the effects of American and Soviet intervention were at times decisive, Washington and Moscow responded to African internal dynamics; they did not cause them.

African-superpower alliances in the Horn were complex and fluid. In the early 1970s, the United States helped sustain Emperor Haile Selassie's feudal order in Ethiopia while the nominally socialist military regime of Mohamed Siad Barre in Somalia was supported by the Soviet Union. However, by 1978, after a military coup in Ethiopia had brought a self-proclaimed Marxist regime to power and Somalia had attempted to annex Somali-inhabited territory in Ethiopia, Moscow and Washington had switched sides. Each had done so with reluctance, having initially hoped to maintain relations with both countries. Meanwhile, the collapse of Haile Selassie's regime had resulted in a surge of separatist movements among peoples subjugated by the Ethiopian empire. Most significantly, the nationalist movement in the former Italian colony of Eritrea, which had been annexed by Ethiopia in 1962, escalated its war for independence. Although the Soviet Union had long promoted the Eritrean cause, it withdrew its support after shifting its allegiance from Somalia to Ethiopia. Cuba, in contrast, supported Ethiopia in many capacities but refused to support its war against Eritrea.

Suggested Reading
For Ethiopia, two historical surveys are especially recommended. An exceptionally good overview is Zewde's, BahruA History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855–1991, 2nd ed. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001), which incorporates primary research, secondary literature, and firsthand experience by an Ethiopian scholar. Also recommended is Paul B. Henze's Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000), which covers ancient times to the 1990s and is informed both by extensive scholarship and personal experience.
Other recommended books focus on specific historical periods. Clapham's, Christopher S.Haile-Selassie's Government (New York: Praeger, 1969) is among the very best books on the subject. His Transformation and Continuity in Revolutionary Ethiopia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988) provides an insightful analysis of the revolutionary state and its program and is considered a seminal work. Other solid introductions to revolutionary Ethiopia include John W. Harbeson's The Ethiopian Transformation: The Quest for the Post-Imperial State (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988), which examines the imperial regime and those who opposed it, the revolutionary process, and the postimperial state; and Edmond J. Keller's Revolutionary Ethiopia: From Empire to People's Republic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), which provides a comprehensive analysis of the Selassie regime, the causes of the revolution, and its aftermath. Finally, Dawit Wolde Giorgis's Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1989) covers the end of imperial rule, the revolution and postimperial state, ethnic conflict and secessionist movements, and famine. Written by a military officer in Selassie's government who continued to serve as a high official in the revolutionary government, Red Tears provides a unique view from an insider who became a critic of the government.
For Somalia, two historical surveys are especially recommended. Lewis's, I. M.A Modern History of the Somali: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa, 4th ed. (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002) is considered by many to be the seminal study of Somali politics and society from ancient times through the early 1990s. David D. Laitin and Said S. Samatar's Somalia: Nation in Search of a State (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987), a state-centered study, surveys the precolonial and colonial periods but focuses especially on events after independence. For a concise, readable analysis of Somalia under Siad Barre, see Ahmed I. Samatar's Socialist Somalia: Rhetoric and Reality (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Press, 1988).
For Eritrea, several important books focus on the independence struggle. Iyob's, RuthThe Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism, 1941–1993 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993) traces the evolution of Eritrean nationalism over a half century, situating it within the regional and international political context. Written by a political scientist whose family was involved in the political and armed struggles, the book includes both insider and scholarly perspectives. Bereket Habte Selassie's Conflict and Intervention in the Horn of Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980), another insider and scholarly account, focuses on regional conflict, foreign intervention, and the Eritrean independence struggle. An attorney general of Ethiopia under Haile Selassie, the author participated in the underground opposition to the regime; the Derg's Commission of Enquiry into the wrongdoings of the Selassie government; and, finally, the Eritrean independence struggle as a member of the EPLF. Selassie's two-volume critical memoir is also highly recommended: Bereket Habte Selassie, The Crown and the Pen: The Memoirs of a Lawyer Turned Rebel (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2007) and Bereket Habte Selassie, Wounded Nation: How a Once Promising Eritrea Was Betrayed and Its Future Compromised (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 2010). Hagai Erlikh's The Struggle over Eritrea, 1962–1978: War and Revolution in the Horn of Africa (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1983), based on interviews and journalistic accounts in several languages, focuses on the development of Eritrean nationalism and conflicts within the nationalist movement. Finally, Dan Connell's Against All Odds: A Chronicle of the Eritrean Revolution, 2nd ed. (Trenton, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1997) provides the unique perspective of an American journalist who traveled with Eritrean guerrilla armies in the 1970s and made many subsequent trips to the country.
A number of books provide insight into American involvement in the Horn during the Cold War. Lefebvre's, Jeffrey A.Arms for the Horn: U.S. Security Policy in Ethiopia and Somalia, 1953–1991 (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991) uses declassified government documents and interviews to examine U.S. relations with Ethiopia and Somalia, focusing especially on the massive influx of weaponry and its societal impact. David A. Korn's Ethiopia, the United States and the Soviet Union (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986) examines the relations of revolutionary Ethiopia with the superpowers from 1974 to 1985. The American chargé d'affaires in Ethiopia from 1982 to 1985, Korn provides a detailed account of U.S.-Ethiopian diplomacy from the perspective of a high-level American government official. Marina Ottaway's Soviet and American Influence in the Horn of Africa (New York: Praeger, 1982), an authoritative account based on firsthand observations and scholarly analysis, focuses on superpower influence in Somalia and Ethiopia. From a vantage point on the ground, Ottaway argues that local people and governments were not simply manipulated by outsiders but had a great deal of influence over the course of events. For debate within the Carter administration concerning the proper response to Somali aggression against Ethiopia, see the memoirs of National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977–1981 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983), and Cyrus R. Vance, Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
Besides Korn and Ottaway (mentioned above), an important work on Soviet involvement in the Horn is Patman's, Robert G.The Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa: The Diplomacy of Intervention and Disengagement (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), which provides unique insight into Soviet policy, including conflict within the state bureaucracy over Soviet prospects in the Horn.
Cuba's involvement in Ethiopia is explored in Gleijeses's, PieroMoscow's Proxy? Cuba and Africa, 1975–1988,” Journal of Cold War Studies 8, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 98–146, which challenges the widely held view that Cuba's policy toward Ethiopia and Eritrea was subservient to that of the Soviet Union.
For a new assessment of Israel's relationship with Ethiopia, see Levey, Zach, Israel in Africa, 1956–1976 (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Republic of Letters, 2012).