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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay

In March 2017, RVI Fellow Christopher Clapham published, The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay, with Hurst Publishers. In the Acknowledgements, Clapham describes the role RVI’s annual Horn of Africa Course has played in developing the ideas expressed in this book.

Why is the Horn such a distinctive part of Africa? This book, by one of the foremost scholars of the region, traces this question through its exceptional history and also probes the wildly divergent fates of the Horn’s contemporary nation-states, despite the striking regional particularity inherited from the colonial past. 

Christopher Clapham explores how the Horn’s peculiar topography gave rise to the Ethiopian empire, the sole African state not only to survive European colonialism, but also to participate in a colonial enterprise of its own. Its impact on its neighbours, present-day Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Somaliland, created a region very different from that of post-colonial Africa. This dynamic has become all the more distinct since 1991, when Eritrea and Somaliland emerged from the break-up of both Ethiopia and Somalia.

Yet this evolution has produced highly varied outcomes in the region’s constituent countries, from state collapse (and deeply flawed reconstruction) in Somalia, through militarised isolation in Eritrea, to a still fragile ‘developmental state’ in Ethiopia. The tensions implicit in the process of state formation now drive the relationships between the once historically close nations of the Horn.


Excerpt from the Acknowledgements

I have in addition two institutional debts. … The second is to the Rift Valley Institute, whose annual residential courses on the Horn, taking place in different countries in eastern Africa, provide a wonderful opportunity for scholars, aid workers, diplomats and other practitioners in the region to meet and learn from one another. It has been in response both to the need for me to articulate my own views on the subject, and to the amount that I have learned from other participants, that I have developed many of the ideas expressed in this book; and I hope that they will be of some use, not only to fellow academics, but to those who seek to put their understanding of the region to use in ways that will (I trust) benefit its peoples.

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