Book Discussion Series 9

The Real Politics of the Horn Of Africa

Alex De Waal

The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power is a book by Alex De Waal based on his ethnographic study of the contemporary politics of the Horn of Africa whose focus is to show how politics in the volatile, war torn countries of East Africa (i.e. Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia) is driven by money. Based on his long-time career in these countries both as a researcher and practitioner, the author recalls how the leaders of these countries run their governments, conduct their business, fight their wars, occasionally make peace, and sustain their power. The book analyzes Horn of Africa politics in terms of “the political marketplace,” an arena where politics operates much like a market. The author advanced the realist assumption that political actors and aspirants may have ideals and interest to pursue political agendas, but the quality of operating in a marketplace wherein power is transacted for material benefits reduces politics into a “market” given that the determinants of success become political business skills, and nothing else. The logic of the political market diminishes people to commodities and politics to interpersonal relations and bargaining over material rewards. Political ideologies, historical memory and ethnicity have no space in the political marketplace of the Horn. This makes the region, where politics is business and business are politics, a living testament about the triumph of the mercantile logic of the political marketplace overriding other ways of organizing political and social life.

By: Jemal Adem Muhamed (CIGA Senior Research Associate) 


Libya in Western Foreign Politics 1911-2011

Saskia Van Genugten

The argument in Libya in Western Foreign Policies (2016), authored by Saskia Van Genugten, is that despite the discovery of vast natural resources, throughout its history Libya has been seen as a peripheral state by the most powerful international players. Over the course of eight chapters, the author traces the political and economic development of Libya during different historical periods. The book compares Libyan relations among Western governments such as England, France, Italy and the U.S. The most provocative argument in the book is that Libya, itself with its given peripheral/no-belonging position, is a country always vulnerable to external influences. It is such because Libya has never been under the full protection of any serious global or regional power and that it has both a weak national identity and weak institutions. More than a century ago, western contenders clearly constituted the path of Libya as a state after it had been considered as the scraps of the “imperialist scramble for Africa.” While Britain focused on the eastern part of Libya (Cyrenaica), The French concentrated on the southern desert (Fezzan). Italy was the first power which established itself in the western part of Libya (Tripolitania). Italy was the least of the great European powers—treated as inferior to Britain and France. On the surface, Libya and its relationships to western powers ranged between conflict and consensus, while behind that façade a more suspicious and complex web of geopolitical and economic interests unfolded. The arguments of this book present a great challenge to those who bet on the existence of a liberal international system devoid of imperial ambitions and foreign interventions.

By: Imad Atoui (CIGA Research Associate)