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The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa

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The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa

Money, War and the Business of Power

Polity Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Political entrepreneurs don’t care about state-building or public welfare. They’re all about building power.

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Innovative
  • Background


This study of the sometimes brutal politics in the Horn of Africa looks at the region’s startling body count from a new angle. Where outsiders see human rights violations and ethnic hatreds, researcher Alex de Waal sees a simple, if bloody, calculus: Human lives are little more than pawns in a larger game. Warlords attack government assets to stake their claims, and governments, in turn, massacre civilians in rebel-held territory as a straightforward statement of power. Not that de Waal excuses this sort of violence; he considers it barbaric. Yet his analysis helps make sense of the senseless. De Waal focuses his analysis on a few key nations in Africa, including Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. He also shines a spotlight on Somaliland: a rare example of peace and political stability in the Horn of Africa – perhaps because its lack of commodities and tax revenues means there’s little opportunity for kleptocracy. While de Waal delivers an important new perspective on politics in the Horn of Africa, his writing style is sometimes clunky and inscrutable. He often adopts a distant, bureaucratic tone, only rarely offering examples and details describing life in the Horn of Africa. Despite these shortcomings, getAbstract recommends this insightful book to everyone interested in African politics.


Selling Allegiances to the Highest Bidder

While it’s accurate to say that violence is part and parcel of politics in the Horn of Africa, the region also makes for an ideal case study in the “business of power.” There’s little pretext of democracy in this region, so allegiances can be sold to the highest bidder – or just the most ruthless one. Despite the high body count, political players in the Horn of Africa aren’t driven by ethnic hatred, although it can seem that way to outsiders. Rather, human life is seen as a simple commodity, and political loyalty is exchanged according to the laws of supply and demand. Killing a rival’s followers is a straightforward way to exert power or gain advantage – much as business competitors might cut prices to gain market share.

In the inhumane world of political entrepreneurship, murder, rape and other human rights abuses are, simply, normal ways of stating demands. The political entrepreneurs build personal power and money at the expense of public policy goals such as stability and prosperity. Human lives are mere fodder in this cutthroat “political marketplace...

About the Author

Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation and a research professor at Tufts University.

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