The Horn of Africa, is a peninsula in the East African region, that protrudes from the eastern edge of the continent of Africa. It lies South of the Gulf of Aden and Southwest to the Red Sea. It juts into the Arabian Sea for hundreds of miles and then into the Indian Ocean. The region of the Horn of Africa lies equidistant to the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer, consisting primarily of the mountains that arose through the faulting of the Great Rift Valley. The region includes the countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. The derivation of the name is due to its reminiscence to a rhinoceros horn.
Known by various names, in the ancient and medieval times, the Horn of Africa was also called as the ‘Bilad al Barbar’ (land of the Berbers), Somali Peninsula, the HOA, or simply called ‘the Horn.’ The ancient Greeks and Romans, referred to the Somali Peninsula as ‘Regio Aromatica’ due to the prevalence of the aromatic plants, and was called as the ‘Land of Punt’ by the ancient Egyptians.
Historically, prior to the rifting of the Gulf of Aden, separating the Horn region from the Arabian Peninsula, it was believed the Horn and Yemen was once part of the same landmass.
Despite its proximity to the Equator, the lowlands of the region are arid and semi-arid in nature. While the Bale mountains and Simien ranges receive 80 inches of rainfall per year, other regions face water scarcity. Rainfall forms the primary source of water. The highlands of Ethiopia, formerly rich in resources, attracted explorers looking for frankincense and myrrh. The peak of Ras Dashen, is the highest peak in Ethiopia, while also offering snow-capped peak-tops most of the year. This is an unusual occurrence in Africa.
Culture and Ethnicity:
Although comprising of four independent nations, the region is the birthplace of many ancient and modern cultural achievements in several fields including agriculture, architecture, art, education, music, and theology. The vast majority of people share an Afro-Asiatic ethnicity. The largest ethnic group of the region is the Oromo, with a population of 30 million individuals largely residing in Ethiopia. Research suggests that the people of this ethnicity have lived in the Eastern and North-Eastern region of Africa since the 1st century AD. The second most common ethnic group are the Amharas. The global population of the Amhara ethnicity is 25 million, of which 20 million reside in the highlands of Ethiopia. Additionally, the third-largest ethnic group is of the Somali people, with a population of 16-20 million. Most of this population resides in the country of Somalia followed by Ethiopia and Djibouti. Other significant groups include; the Tigrinya, the Tigrayans and the Afar.
Home to almost 220 mammals, the Horn of Africa region has remarkable species like Somali wild ass, the desert warthog, the hamadryas baboon, the Somali pygmy gerbil and the Speke’s pectinator. Among threatened species of the region, there are several; Antelopes like the Beira, the silver dikdik and the Speke’s gazelle. Other animals include Grevy’s zebra, spotted hyena, striped hyena and African leopard, black boubou, the golden-winged grosbeak, the warsangli linnet and the Djibouti francolin. The region features the largest number of Reptiles than any other. This is contrasted by the very rare existence of Amphibians in the Horn region.
The regions are also covered with 5,000 species of vascular plants, most of which are endemic. Due to the arid and semi-arid climatic conditions, the regions experience severe drought years, that complicates the agricultural practices carried out in the region
According to the IMF, the per capita GDP in 2010 was US $1061, while the total GDP was US $106.224 billion. The region depends mainly on key exports, with coffee accounting for 80%, and bananas & livestock accounting for 50% of the total exports. There are evident patterns of unofficial and undocumented trade between the nations of the Horn region, including trade of live cattle, camels, sheep, and goats from Ethiopia to the other countries of the Horn and the Eastern African region. This trade aids in lowering food prices, increasing food security, relieving border tensions and promoting regional integration and interaction. On the other hand, the governments complain of such practices as being hurtful to their revenues collection and foreign exchange reserves.
Much of the Horn’s trade is done with the Arab countries with the Arabian Peninsula, being in prime proximity. This helps strengthen the historically close economic, social and cultural ties.
Recognized as one of the most complex and conflicted regions of the world, the countries represent trends of poverty, political strife arising from national and local grievance, regional inter-state rivalries, water crisis, drought years, agricultural crisis, armed conflicts, ethnolinguistic disputes and religious radicalism.
The Horn has been the stage for strategic power struggles, ranging from the British empire’s demand to control the Red Sea, Egypt’s attempt to control the waters of river Nile, the cold war confrontation with Horn-countries becoming part of different power blocs and the relatively recent U.S. Administration’s ‘Global War on Terror.’ The struggle to establish new principles and an architecture for regional peace and security by the African Union, is in the backdrop of various events occurring over the years. The rise of Union of Islamic courts in Somalia, the Ethiopian invasion to install President Yousuf in power, U.S. Bombing to destroy Al Qaida and an unresolved war between Ethiopia and Eritrea have all been major causes of crisis in the region. This is furthered by the water crisis and the food shortages following the shift in the seasons. Weather related disasters have led to large displacements. The Cyclone Sagar brought strong winds and torrential rains which was unabsorbed by the parched earth resulting into floods and washing away of homes.
Against these patterns of economic and political crisis, the strategic importance of the region had led to advances being made by the world towards creating new economic alliances. The proximity to the busiest trade-route of the world, has also led increased global attention to the region.