Conference name, dates, place

2007 International Conference on Ethiopian Development Studies (4th ICEDS) A Multidisciplinary Conference on the Challenges of Peace and Development in Ethiopia & the Horn of Africa, held in Kalamazoo, Michigan (WMU), August 2-4, 2007

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Presentation Date



The 46-year-old dispute between Ethiopia and Somalia has been commonly called a “border dispute.” Contrary to that description, it may be more appropriate to portray it as a dispute that has been driven principally by economic interests and by the effort to control scarce resources. Among these interests and resources are the following: the struggle for water wells and fresh grazing pastures for nomads; the insecurity Somalia feels about the Juba and the Wabi Shibeli rivers, as their sources are in Ethiopia; the discovery of gas and oil in the Ogaden; Somalia’s challenging geographic shape that makes communication between the north and the south cumbersome in transport terms, in the sense that a road through the Ogaden could reduce the distance by 50%; and Ethiopia’s long standing trade needs for outlets to the sea through Somalia's Indian Ocean ports. Furthermore, the uneven distribution of resources, environmental degradation, drought, desertification, and widespread poverty create propitious grounds for violence. Under such circumstances, economics is overlaid on ethnicity, and economic problems pass either for border disputes or for ethnic and religious conflicts between the two countries. Somalia and Ethiopia have not been able to resolve the conflict as speedily as possible so that both countries could attend to the many pressing social and economic problems that have been crying out for solutions. There have been diplomatic attempts - both bilateral and multilateral - to solve the problem, but in vain. Even military means have been utilized, only to result in creating more problems and the further impoverishment and suffering of the peoples of both countries. What about economic cooperation? It has never been attempted. It is an approach worth taking. The resumption of trade, communications, and other exchanges between formerly warring parties has been known to ameliorate historical enmities between states. Development cooperation could be conducted under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Joint financing of multi-purpose dams on the two rivers; cooperation in such area as agricultural research; education and public health; afforestation; settlement of nomads; integrated rural development; the building of roads and the common infrastructure for trade and other purposes; cooperation in the exploitation of gas and oil deposits ; and so on, could be carried out. Even some measure of development cooperation can open possibilities for political accommodation. And once the benefits of cooperation, however limited, are demonstrated, they can have multiplier effects to change perceptions, and open the way for increased cooperation and integration. The envisaged cooperation can assuage internal frictions, minimize external interference, especially now that of Islamic fundamentalism in the affairs of the two countries, and create propitious conditions to help address various bilateral questions, including the overlapping problems of nomadism and incessant drought, and facilitate the wide-spread mobilization of resources for growth and development. As the economies of the two countries evolve into modern surplus economies, the interdependence between the different regions for sources of supply and markets can be enhanced, and that would contribute to peace and stability. In time, the border would hopefully lose its significance and meaning. In order to understand the complex problems of the relations of the two countries, a brief appraisal of the historical background would be helpful.