Contested Margins, Complex Pathways: The Afar Triangle in the Horn of Africa

Future Agricultures Working Paper 94
Alan Nicol and Mosope Otulana
June 2014

The ‘Afar Triangle’ straddles Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Historically it has been at the centre of state building and contestation between state and society for over a century. The contemporary relevance of this area lies in the overlapping contestations of power, economic development and nationhood that continue to mark the present-day struggles of the Afar people. Understanding the challenges, dynamics, histories and continuities of this situation can help in providing future support to Afar development – across all three countries, but particularly in Ethiopia where the majority of the Afar live.

The paper traces key social, political and environmental issues and argues that the Afar Triangle, rather than a single contiguous shape, in fact represents many overlapping and contested ‘margins’ which range from areas of contested (political) control to territorial group identity, and from temperature gradients and rainfall isohyets to environmental and agro-ecological margins. These patterns determine the range and extent of Afar pastoral systems and their interactions with other, often competing, social groups. We identify key interrelationships between these margins and how they affect the security of Afar livelihoods, emphasizing the heterogeneity of experience, but also the major challenges that Afar pastoral systems continue to face.


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