Extremist groups in the Horn of Africa, many of them ethnically-based, have been active for decades.
The geographical feature we call the Horn of Africa on the eastern edge of that continent has played an important role in the history of humanity for a very, very long time.
Fossils indicate that it was perhaps the cradle of our species dating back millions of years ago. At the beginning of Islam in the 7th century there was a Christian kingdom called Aksum that was an important commercial centre and also a refuge for the first Muslims fleeing persecution in the Arabian Peninsula.
Today the region is split into three major nations: Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. All three have been the target of terrorist activity. The first is of course beset with Islamist terrorism in the form of Al Shabaab and an Islamic State (IS) affiliate. Ethiopia too has witnessed violence at the hands of groups such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), active since the early 1970s.
And then there is Eritrea
It and Ethiopia have not always gotten along and after a long history of acrimonious relations Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia only in 1993. The two neighbours engaged in a border war from 1998 to 2000 in which an estimated 70,000 people died.
Eritrea is also home to extremist groups. There is an organisation calling itself the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement (EIJM) that seeks to create an Islamic State in the country. In addition there was the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) that fought for national independence until it merged with the ruling party upon independence, rebranding itself the ‘People’s Front for Democracy and Justice’.
On the ethnic front – the Horn of Africa is riven with ethnic animosity – we have the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which, much like the EPLF, has been around for decades and purports to speak for the Tigray ethnic group. It is still active in both countries.
On this day in 2008, the TPLF was blamed by the Eritrean government for a roadside bomb that killed eight civilians heading to an engagement party.
On this day in 2008 the TPLF was blamed by the Eritrean government for a roadside bomb that killed eight civilians heading to an engagement party. And if you were to think that the group is yesteryear’s problem think again. Tensions in neighbouring Ethiopia are growing and despite the fact that the country’s president just won the Nobel Peace Prize “for his work in restarting peace talks with neighboring Eritrea and beginning to restore freedoms in his country after decades of political and economic repression”, all is not well.
The TPLF met in October and stated that the political situation in Ethiopia is a crisis situation and may worse. A spokesperson noted that it is not happy with the ‘campaign’ against the Tigray people and may ‘open war’ to protect its ethnic group.
I suppose the fact that the TPLF is part of the governing structure may seem like it has abandoned terrorism, much like the African National Congress once did. But is the use of violence for political ends not the very definition of terrorism? Great question. I wonder if any country lists the TPFL as a terrorist organisation?
When all is said and done it appears that the Horn of Africa is in for more extremism. You would have thought it has seen enough.