Why the Horn of Africa needs more strategic peacebuilding This op-ed was originally published in the 17 October issue of the Daily Monitor (Ethiopia)

Over the course of the last decades, the governments in the Horn of Africa have signed a number of peace agreements, protocols and policy documents related to peace and security. The Intergovernmental Authority of Development (IGAD) has set up a Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) designed to prevent violent conflict; the African Union has an impressive Peace and Security Architecture built to respond to crises in the Horn and beyond. International donors have increasingly funded peace-building endeavors. A recent Life & Peace Institute report finds that at least 140 non-governmental organizations at local, national and international levels state that they work on peace issues in the Horn of Africa. In nearly all communities in the region, there are councils of elders, local peace committees or traditional courts to resolve communal conflicts on a daily basis.

This picture of the Horn of Africa is not visible enough as its rehearsed story is one of being among the most conflict-ridden in the world. Despite the structures, institutions and individuals that work incessantly for peace in the region, peacebuilding efforts in the Horn of Africa have not been the most effective or in proportion to the need on the ground.  Neither have they been able to forcefully counteract the simultaneous serious investments in the venture of war in the Horn.

This phenomenon begs the question – why. Why haven’t we (including my own organization) – peacemakers- and builders – at various levels of this region been able to make a visible difference in addressing the vast peacebuilding needs?

One way to answer that question is to point to the lack of strategic peacebuilding in the Horn of Africa. For too long peacebuilders in the Horn have been working in isolation of one another – African Union convening in Addis Ababa to manage the latest plight, NGOs struggling to implement their individual projects, elders mediating in remote locales, – all purportedly working towards the same goal, but to what extent are they collaborating and strategizing together? The reality of the region might suggest an unflattering response to this question.

If we think about it critically, it’s no longer enough to just “do good” and expect durable peace to emerge in due time. It’s not enough to add yet another well-meaning project, workshop, dialogue to the peacebuilding mix without a greater understanding of what is already ongoing, and how to relate one’s contribution to other initiatives and actors out there. This is why we need to make our efforts concerted and our activities strategic in the Horn of Africa. Strategic peacebuilding posits that resources, actors, approaches and levels of engagement should be well-coordinated and synced into an overarching framework. It adds another level to “doing good” to a state where activities and actors are actually coordinated and geared towards a defined vision.

Strategic peacebuilding requires innovation based on thorough analysis of the issues at hand and evaluation of what has already been tested and tried to address them. We have to dare to ask the hard questions. To date, have our methodologies worked and brought about change? For example, to what extent has the “training model” (i.e. capacity-building) to peace work translated to change on the ground?  What are the innovations for peace that could make our work more effective?


Strategic peacebuilding calls for peacebuilders who are willing to go ‘beyond business as usual’ and push the frontiers in terms of new and more effective ways to work for peace together. It demands we ask critical questions such as what is the overarching framework or vision for peace in the Horn of Africa that actors should align to? Have we set out clear yet comprehensive, aspirational yet pragmatic visions around which we can strategize our peacebuilding efforts?  How do we cope up with the dynamic nature of the region by tapping on our lessons learned and best practices as we move the peacebuilding field forward?

I know there are several of you out there, struggling with the same questions as I do. Let us be critically reflective on our peacebuilding journey so far. Let us take up the challenge together and find new and relevant answers to the perennial problems of the region.


By: Hannah Tsadik

Resident Representative, Horn of Africa Regional Programme