The Horn of Africa is a geopolitical region that is often taken as a singular unit of analysis used to explain limitations, failures, intra and interstate security issues, and the plethora of societal calamities caused by political and economic instability. For many authors exploring the subject, geographical differences are considered a major determinant that challenged civilization and development, caused state collapses, and poverty. Historical writing has been influenced by such discourses of geographic determinism. Scholars reproduce such discourse and often write about the region through their pessimistic eyes and pens. The Horn is nearly described as the gate of Joseph Conrad’s Dark Continent.

This gloomy representation of the region serves to evoke political intervention from foreign forces in the name of spreading the gospel of democracy, saving humanity, and overall pacification. Through it, the Horn is portrayed as a natural place where the Whiteman’s burden gets fulfilled. The policy reaction, added with incessant reporting and tweeting from major international actors and institutions about events unfolding in Ethiopia (specifically the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam[GERD] the civil war in the north, and the 6th general elections) can only be understood as a continuation of the hitherto distortion and misrepresentation of the region’s image. Bombing the dam, shitholes states, dividing and dismembering Ethiopia, unending scenarios of doomsday interventions to save Ethiopians from Ethiopians are but a few examples of derogatory languages worth mentioning. The spread of fake news, pseudo-intellectual opinion pieces, offensive speeches, smear campaigns, tweets from many western leaders, journalists, and scholars inform us how the world remains the same as it is seemingly changing.

This discursive violence exposes the system and signifies the end of liberal internationalism. The world once again shows the death of a third party, the absence of a genuine egalitarian international community, and a disorder to its order. The coming back of past geopolitical dynamics, the unfolding of a new Cold War— now in the marketplace, the emerging multi-polarity altogether exposes inherent realities of coloniality, racism, hierarchy, caste system, and patriarchy embedded in the global system of international relations. The international responses to Ethiopia’s trio events, the dam, the election, and the war serve to expose the already existing feature of a deeply biased international order.

This gloomy representation of the region serves to evoke political intervention from foreign forces in the name of spreading the gospel of democracy, saving humanity, and overall pacification.

This global trend warrants an urgent response at regional or sub-regional levels. In this article, I question what must be done, at the regional level, to enable the dignified survival of people of the Horn within the chaotic international system of our time? I explore alternative politics as a response to the existing international system and ultimately advocate for the politics of solidarity that can be re-imagined and re-constructed centering on IGAD, a non-aligned movement, and pan-Africanism. I invoke black diplomacy to serve as guiding principles to this end. This prescriptive imagination is what I designate a decolonial turn in the Horn.

IGAD and Politics of Solidarity in the Horn

The Horn was a hub of civilization in the pre-modern period. It is a land crossed by the great Nile River basin and hosts a range of Great Lakes. It is also located between the Indian Ocean world and the Mediterranean civilization order. The ancient long-distance trade roots cross the region connecting the African continent with Asia via the red sea, Bab-el-Mandeb, and the Indian Ocean. Seen in longue durée, communities in the Horn were connected through these trade routes and managed to sustain their complex social and political fabric for centuries. Competing endeavors of state formation and political imagination were hitherto a historical engine producing war and cooperation among communities, polities, and states.

The colonial encounter that animated the modern state formations in the region late in the 19th century, interrupted the long process of human interaction of the pre-modern period. The modern states of the Horn of Africa then gradually produced as historical entities and as an anti-colonial process. The Horn, like any other region of Africa, is an anti-colonial space often imagined within politics of statehood, albeit the leaders of the region played key roles during the heydays of pan-Africanism. This anti-colonial spirit left a favorable seed that can be deployed towards decolonial world politics.

In the 1980s, the political elites of the region envisioned a new politics at the regional level and created the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD). This organization came into being as a product of the political imaginations of the leaders of the region; everchanging, at times expanding and shifting its objectives. When it was established in the 1980s, this supra-national entity used environmental crises like drought and desertification as its entry. The celebrated nation-state model of social organization could not allow the leaders of the region to deal with transnational issues such as drought and desertification. Therefore, IGADD was envisaged as an entity for a new politics of solidarity in the Horn.

The establishment of IGADD can be considered as a first attempt to define the Horn of Africa as an ecological region, defying the hitherto representation of the Horn of Africa as a land of difference: highland core, and lowland periphery, among others. Its foundation and survival justify the endurance of the dream, the goal, and imagination for solidarity politics at a regional level. Today the organization comprises states in the Greater Horn including Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.

Despite the narrow ecological objective, IGADD found itself as an avenue to address the peace and security concerns of the region. Such involvement was a product of a functional, gradual, and incremental confidence-building process initially triggered by ecological needs for regional cooperation. IGADD entered into the political sphere through the backdoor using the indirect, functional, and incremental approach. It was impossible for IGADD to ignore the intra and interstate conflicts in the Horn and operate only on ecological issues. Such involvement in the wider political sphere necessitated the revitalization of IGADD into a new organization called IGAD in 1996. The revitalization of IGAD heralded the expansion of the new regional politics in the Horn of Africa.

After its revitalization, IGAD was made to work on the three issues such as political, environmental, and economic cooperation. These objectives, therefore, defined the Horn of Africa as an ecological, economic, and security region. IGAD has created an alternative political space to manage the environment, the economy, and the security of the Horn. It began to serve as a new platform of solidarity for multilateral, transnational, and supranational politics.

In 2002, IGAD came up with a new special agency called the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) under the peace and security division. CEWARN, with its early warning

and early response system, has been working to contain cross-border conflict and promote peace connecting local, national, and regional actors. IGAD’s gradual and functional involvement in security issues was necessitated by political circumstances in the region. The organization has achieved relative success and now faces serious challenges within the intra- state political dynamics and from the international disorder. This historical condition necessitates revitalizing IGAD in line with a decolonial turn towards addressing internal crises within the region and improving world politics through collective and autonomous foreign policy.

Revitalizing IGAD: quest for de-colonial politics

Now the time has come for IGAD to work its role as an avenue for regional solidarity against internal and global crises, and provide further political alternatives to the states and communities of the Horn of Africa. As political circumstances in the 1980s motivated states to invent IGADD, and as the 1990s context necessitated the revitalization of IGADD into IGAD and the creation of CEWARN, the current state of affairs itself requires regional leaders to work towards authoring a new IGAD. The crisis within the international system, the ongoing political turmoil in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and the intra-regional dynamics affirm that the time has come to relaunch and reboot IGAD. This quest for the revival of IGAD is not solely derived from crises and disasters, rather it is driven by hope and the euphoria as an outcome of popular struggles and youth movement in the Horn of Africa on one hand and the unfolding crisis, the return of geopolitical competition in multipolar global disorder on the other.

Relaunching informs revival and revitalization too. The time is ripe for revival and the relaunching of IGAD towards a vibrant regional political-economic community in the Horn of Africa. These included measures towards strengthening people-to-people relations among others allowing visa-free travel to citizens of the Horn across the region, free flow of business and ideas without restriction, softening of the borders, the harmonization of policies, and facilitating grassroots people to people interaction which has survived for centuries, irrespective of tensions between states in the region. All these warrant IGAD to revive to serve as an umbrella towards regulating all these activities and ensuring the realization of the Horn of Africa political-economic community.

Supranational political projects such as IGAD can be seen as projects towards the long organic interaction between communities of the region. IGAD, as an alternative political site, should be able to return the economic and social interaction as well as combine the national interests of member states with an overarching regional and supranational interest. IGAD as supranational and multilateral space should expand the horizon of politics to solve the problems of the region and perhaps towards new politics of solidarity in the region and beyond.

IGAD, as an alternative political site, should be able to return the economic and social interaction as well as combine the national interests of member states with an overarching regional and supranational interest.

Regionalism, therefore, in the Horn is not just an auxiliary project but also an organic political process towards re-creating the Horn as a conducive home for numerous communities. How can the region realize this organic political imagination? This question will provoke us to think about how regionalism materialized in a region where modern state formation and colonial intervention previously took place. The history of regionalism elsewhere teaches us that the process is a long, gradual, and functional process that warrants the political commitment and involvement of many state and non-state actors, friendly states, and organizations outside of the region. The road IGAD has taken so far appears similar to these complex processes involving multiple actors in functional areas. The evolution of IGAD therefore can be conceived as a gradual and functional journey of the region towards a regional economic, ecological, and security community in the Horn of Africa. Now is a favorable time to further increase and intensify this journey towards strengthening organic solidarity and crafting new strategic integration against the exploitative world disorder.

Pan-Africanism and Non-alignment as Twin Principles

The guiding principles during the revitalization of IGAD must reflect the history of the people of the Horn, the predicaments they have encountered across time, and the mode of response from within as means of survival during their colonial past, and the subsequent postcolonial global new coloniality. This includes pan-Africanism and black diplomacy because the international system, as it exists, is not only hierarchical but also racial. The foundation of the existing international system is the exploitation and suffering of black people for centuries that is made all the more evident in the response of the international system to events in Ethiopia. This collective experience dictates collective political projects. The revitalization of IGAD guided through the philosophy and principle of pan-Africanism shall transfer the Horn to become a site for new emancipatory politics.

Another principle that must guide the revitalization of IGAD is the non-alignment. People and the states of the Horn must revitalize IGAD itself as a new center for rekindling the Bandung moment in our time. The return of the geopolitics and Cold War era mindset as main features of the new complex multipolar international disorder necessitates the rekindling of the Bandung moment. It is worth recalling that the people and states of the global south used the non-aligned movement as a response to the crisis of the postcolonial and the Cold War period. This movement and the principle of non-alignment have been redefined according to the dynamics of world politics. Now is the time to consider redefining and rekindling this movement from the Horn. The new global disorder, the projection of power to the Horn from different competing powers, the global Cold War with the complex multi-polarity make non-alignment an indispensable principle in re-launching IGAD. IGAD must capture the recent “No more” popular movement from below as a springboard to transform itself into a strong and vibrant regional community of the Horn of Africa. This, undoubtedly, will create the possibility to define the region’s place in world politics and even enable the region to contribute to the progressive transformation of the international order.