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Nations of the Horn of Africa.
The Horn of Africa ( , , ) (alternatively Northeast Africa, and sometimes Somali Peninsula; shortened to HOA) is a peninsula in East Africa that juts for hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Seamarker, and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Adenmarker. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent. Referred to in medieval times as Bilad al Barbar ("Land of the Berbers"), the Horn of Africa denotes the region containing the countries of Eritreamarker, Djiboutimarker, Ethiopiamarker and Somaliamarker. As such, it covers approximately 2,000,000 km² (772,200 sq mi) and is inhabited by about 100.2 million people (Ethiopia: 75 million, Somalia: 10 million, Eritrea: 4.5 million, and Djibouti: 0.7 million). Regional studies on the Horn of Africa are carried out, among others, in the fields of Ethiopian Studies as well as Somali Studies.

Geography and climate

The Horn of Africa is almost equidistant from the equator and the Tropic of Cancermarker. It consists chiefly of mountains uplifted through the formation of the Great Rift Valley, a fissure in the Earth's crust extending from Turkeymarker to Mozambiquemarker and marking the separation of the African and Arabian tectonic plate. Most of the region is mountainous due to faults resulting from the Rift Valley, with the highest peaks in the Simien Mountainsmarker of northwestern Ethiopia. Extensive glaciers once covered the Simien and Bale Mountains, but melted at the beginning of the Holocene. The mountains descend in a huge escarpment to the Red Seamarker and more steadily to the Indian Ocean. Socotramarker is a small island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia. Its size is 3,600 km² (1,390 sq mi) and it is a territory of Yemenmarker, the southernmost country on the Arabian peninsula.
The Horn of Africa.
NASA image
The lowlands of the Horn are generally arid in spite of their proximity to the equator. This is because the winds of the tropical monsoons that give seasonal rains to the Sahel and the Sudan blow from the west. Consequently, they lose their moisture upon reaching Djibouti and Somalia, with the result that most of the Horn receives little rainfall during the monsoon season. On the windward side in the west and center of Ethiopia and the extreme south of Eritrea, monsoonal rainfall is heavy. In the mountains of Ethiopia, many areas receive over 2,000 mm (78 in) per year, and even Asmaramarker receives an average of 570 mm (23 in). This rainfall is the sole source of water for many areas outside Ethiopia, most famously Egyptmarker, which — in terms of rainfall — is the driest nation on Earth.

In the winter, the northeasternly trade winds do not provide any moisture except in mountainous areas of northern Somalia, where rainfall in late autumn can produce annual totals as high as 500 mm (20 in). On the eastern coast, a strong upwelling and the fact that the winds blow parallel to the coast means annual rainfall can be as low as 51 mm (2 in).

Temperatures on the Red Sea coast are some of the hottest in the world, typically around 41°C (106°F) in July and 32°C (90°F) in January, though east coast temperatures are somewhat cooler due to the upwelling of the current. As elevation increases, temperatures decrease so that at Asmaramarker, maximum temperatures are around 20°C (68°F), though frosts are frequent on cloudless nights. On the highest peaks of the Simien Mountainsmarker however, temperatures rarely reach 14°C (57°F) and can be as low as –10°C (14°F) on cloudless nights.


Ancient history

The Kingdom of Aksum (also known as "Axum") was an ancient state located in the north of modern-day Ethiopia and parts of Eritrea that thrived between the 1st and 7th centuries. Due to the Horn's strategic location, it has been used by the Axumites, Oponeans, Malaoites and others to restrict access to the Red Seamarker in the past.

The region was also a source of biological resources during antiquity. According to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, merchant communities in the Horn that had already been present by the 1st century were trading frankincense and other items with the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula as well as the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Roman, the latter of whom sent expeditions to the region for myrrh, dragon's blood or cinnabar and took these commodities back along the Incense Route. The Romans consequently began to refer to the region as Regio Aromatica. It is believed to also contain the fabled Egyptian Land of Punt.

In addition, the Horn was part of a network of ports that extended down the coast of Africa, from the Persian Gulfmarker as part of a larger and ancient commerce route along the greater Indian Oceanmarker rim.

Modern history

In recent decades, the Horn of Africa has been a region continuously in crisis. Ethiopia occupies a predominant position in the Horn because of its demographic importance: about 85% of the area's population live in this country. Large parts of the Horn of Africa were colonized by Italymarker: Eritreamarker (1880-1941), the Italian Somaliland (1890-1960) and a brief occupation of Ethiopiamarker (1936-1941). Britainmarker established in North Somalia (British Somaliland) and France in Djiboutimarker (French Somalilandmarker). Yet Ethiopia's history is largely marked by conflicts between Muslims and Christians for resources and living space, as well as between nationalism and Marxism-Leninism in modern times. The rest of the region also faces several concurrent problems: Somaliamarker is still caught up in a civil war which first began in the late 1980s, while Ethiopia and Eritrea regularly clash.

Moreover, the region is regularly stricken by natural catastrophe, such as droughts or floods that hit rural areas particularly hard. As a result, the region has some of the world's highest levels of malnutrition and is continuously threatened with a major humanitarian crisis. Between 1982 and 1992, about two million people died in the Horn of Africa due to this combination of war and famine.

Since 2002 The Horn of Africa has been a major focus of attention by the United Statesmarker, Francemarker, Italymarker, Germanymarker, and eleven African nations regarding the War on Terrorism.


Besides sharing similar geographic endowments, the countries of the Horn of Africa are linguistically and ethnically linked together, evincing a complex pattern of interrelationships among the various groups. Somali speakers, as well as being the majority in Somalia and Djibouti also comprise 97% of the Somali regionmarker in Ethiopia. Afar speakers are another group with a significant presence in three of the states: Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea. There are presently several relatively widely-spoken tongues in the region such as the Afro-Asiatic Somali, Tigrigna and Amharic languages, and dozens of other smaller language groups, such as Boro. Among the major ethno-linguistic groups of the region are:


The countries of the Horn of Africa have been the birthplace of many ancient, as well as modern, cultural achievements in several fields including agriculture, architecture, art, cuisine, education, literature, music, technology and theology to name but a few.
Ethiopian agriculture established the earliest known use of the seed grass Teff (Poa abyssinica), between 4000-1000 BCE. Teff is used to make the flat bread injera/taita. Coffee also originates in Ethiopia and has since spread to become a worldwide beverage. Ethiopian art is renowned for the ancient tradition of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian iconography stretching back to the wall paintings of the 7th-Century C.E.. Somali architecture includes the Fakr ad-Din Mosque, which was built in 1269 by the first Sultan of Mogadishu. Ethiopia, too is renowned for its ancient churches, such as at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lalibelamarker.

The Horn has also produced numerous indigenous writing systems, most notably the script known as Ge'ez ( ), (also controversially called Ethiopic) for 2000 years. It is an abugida script that was originally developed to write the Ge'ez language. In speech communities that use it, such as the Amharic and Tigrinya, the script is called ( ), which means "script" or "alphabet". In the early twentieth century, in response to a national campaign to settle on a writing script for the Somali language (which had long since lost its ancient script), Osman Yusuf Kenadid, a Somali poet and leader in the Majeerteen Sultanate of Hobyomarker and brother of Sultan Yusuf Ali Kenadid, also devised a phonetically sophisticated alphabet called Osmanya (also known as far soomaali; Osmanya: ҋҘ҈ґқҒҕҀ), for representing the sounds of Somali. Though no longer the official writing script in Somalia, the Osmanya script is available in the Unicode range 10480-104AF [from U+10480 - U+104AF (66688–66735)].
The Somali writer Nuruddin Farah has also garnered acclaim as perhaps the most celebrated writer ever to come out of the Horn of Africa. Having published many short stories, novels and essays, Farah's prose has earned him, among other accolades, the Premio Cavour in Italymarker, the Kurt Tucholsky Prize in Swedenmarker, and in 1998, the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In the same year, the French edition of his novel Gifts also won the St. Malo Literature Festival’s prize.

The music of the Ethiopian highlands uses a unique modal system called qenet, of which there are four main modes: tezeta, bati, ambassel, and anchihoy. Three additional modes are variations on the above: tezeta minor, bati major, and bati minor. Some songs take the name of their qenet, such as tezeta, a song of reminiscence.

In the field of technology, the Great Stele of Axummarker, at over long, was the largest single stone ever quarried in the ancient world.


Most residents in the Horn of Africa practice one of the three major Abrahamic faiths, religions that have an ancient presence in the region.
Ancient Axum produced coins and stelae associated with the disc and crescent symbols of the deity Ashtar . Axum became one of the earliest states to adopt Christianity following the conversion of King Ezana II in the 4th Century C.E. Islam's relationship with the region began when Bilal ibn Rabah ( ) or Bilal al-Habeshi a person of Ethiopian Habesha origin (born in Meccamarker c578 / 582) was chosen by the Islamic prophet Muhammad to be the first muezzin.

In addition, the history of commercial and intellectual contact between the inhabitants of the Somali coast and the Arabian Peninsula may help explain the Somali people's connection with Muhammad. Early on, a band of persecuted Muslims had, at the Muhammad's urging, fled across the Red Seamarker into the Horn of Africa. There, the Muslims were granted protection by the Ethiopian negus (king). Islam may thus have been introduced into the Horn of Africa well before the faith even took root in its place of origin.

Judaism also has a long presence in the region, most notably in the form of the Beta Israel community. Southern Ethiopia in particular is also home to many varieties of indigenous belief systems, such as the Sura people's acknowledgement of the deity Tumumarker.


In the modern era, the Horn of Africa has produced several world famous sports personalities, including long distance runners such as the world-record holder Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu Tulu, the first Ethiopian woman to win an Olympic gold medal and the only woman to have twice won the 10,000 meter Olympic gold in the short history of the event. Undoubtedly, one of the most successful runners from the region has been Haile Gebrselassie who was acclaimed as "Athlete of the Year 1998" by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). As well as numerous gold medals in various events, Gebrselassie achieved 15 world records and world bests in long and middle distance running, including world record marathon times in 2007 and 2008. Eritrea has also established the cycling event the Tour of Eritrea. In addition, Somali athlete Abdi Bile became a world champion when he won the 1500m for men at the 1987 World Championships in Athletics, running the final 800m of the race in 1:46.0, the fastest final 800m of any 1,500 meter track race in history. In recent years, the Somali diaspora also produced an up and coming football star in Ayub Daud, a gifted forward/attacking midfielder that plays for Juventus in Italymarker's prestigious Serie A. Zahra Bani, a Somali-Italian javelin thrower, has also garnered attention with her performances that so far have earned her adopted Italymarker a silver medal at the 2005 Mediterranean Games, as has Mo Farah, a Somali-British athlete that took gold for his adopted Great Britainmarker in the 3000m at the 2009 European Indoor Championships in Turinmarker.


States of the region depend largely on a few key exports:


The Horn of Africa is a Conservation International Biodiversity hotspot and one of the two entirely arid ones. However the Horn of Africa suffers largely from overgrazing and only 5% of its original habitat still remains. On Socotra, another great threat is the development of infrastructure.


About 220 mammals are found in the Horn of Africa. Among threatened species of the region, we find several antelopes such as the beira, the dibatag, the silver dikdik and the Speke’s gazelle. Other remarkable species include the Somali wild ass, the desert warthog, the Hamadryas Baboon, the Somali pygmy gerbil, the ammodile, and the Speke’s pectinator. The Grevy's zebra is the unique wild equid of the region. The endangered Painted Hunting Dog had populations in the Horn of Africa, but pressures from human exploitation of habitat along with warfare have reduced or extirpated this canid in this region.

Some important bird species of the Horn are the Bulo Burti boubou, the golden-winged grosbeak, the Warsangli linnet, or the Djibouti Francolin.

The Horn of Africa holds more endemic reptiles than any other region in Africa, with over 285 species total (and about 90 species found exclusively in the region). Among endemic reptile genera, there are Haackgreerius, Haemodracon, Ditypophis, Pachycalamus and Aeluroglena. Half of these genera are uniquely found on Socotra. Unlike reptiles, amphibians are poorly represented in the region.

There are about 100 species of freshwater fish in the Horn of Africa, about 10 of which are endemic. Among the endemic, the cave-dwelling Somali blind barb and the Somali cavefish can be found.


It is estimated that about 5,000 species of vascular plants are found in the Horn, about half of which are endemic. Endemism is most developed in Socotramarker and Northern Somalia. The region has two endemic plant families: the Barbeyaceae and the Dirachmaceae. Among the other remarkable species, there are the cucumber tree found only on Socotra (Dendrosicyos socotrana), the Bankoualé palm, the yeheb nut, and the Somali cyclamen.

See also


  1. J. D. Fage, Roland Oliver, Roland Anthony Oliver, The Cambridge History of Africa, (Cambridge University Press: 1977), p.190
  2. George Wynn Brereton Huntingford, Agatharchides, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: With Some Extracts from Agatharkhidēs "On the Erythraean Sea", (Hakluyt Society: 1980), p.83
  3. Robert Stock, Africa South of the Sahara, Second Edition: A Geographical Interpretation, (The Guilford Press: 2004), p. 26
  4. Michael Hodd, East Africa Handbook, 7th Edition, (Passport Books: 2002), p. 21: "To the north are the countries of the Horn of Africa comprising Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia."
  5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc, Jacob E. Safra, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, (Encyclopaedia Britannica: 2002), p.61: "The northern mountainous area, known as the Horn of Africa, comprises Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia."
  6. Sandra Fullerton Joireman, Institutional Change in the Horn of Africa, (Universal-Publishers: 1997), p.1: "The Horn of Africa encompasses the countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. These countries share similar peoples, languages, and geographical endowments."
  7. The Commerce Between the Roman Empire and India pg 229
  8. "once the ideological screen of common origin is pushed aside, a complex pattern of fusion and fission among groups is revealed" Ethnicity & conflict in the Horn of Africa By Katsuyoshi Fukui, John Markakis (p.4, Published by James Currey Publishers, 1994)
  9. cites Pop.8.3m, Somali speakers 7.8m (accessed 26 April 2009)
  10. cites 13 minority languages for Somalia, 83 for Ethiopia and 12 for Eritrea
  11. The agricultural systems of the world By David B. Grigg p.66(1974 C.U.P.)(accessed 22 April 2009)
  12. genetic resources of Ethiopia by Jan Engels, John Gregory Hawkes, Melaku Worede, p.365 (Cambridge University Press, 1991)
  13. Ethiopian Icons by Stansilaw Chojnacki p.20 (2000, Skira)(accessed 22 April 2009)
  14. at (accessed 22 April 2009)
  15. David Buxton, The Abyssinians (New York: Praeger, 1970), p. 110
  16. Rodolfo Fattovich, "Akkälä Guzay" in von Uhlig, Siegbert, ed. Encylopaedia Aethiopica: A-C. Weissbaden: Otto Harrassowitz KG, 2003, p.169.
  17. Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Somalia, The writing of the Somali language, (Ministry of Information and National Guidance: 1974), p.5
  18. Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage - Nuruddin Farah
  19. Abatte Barihun, liner notes for the album Ras Deshen, 2005
  20. University of Alabama
  21. Africa in the Iron Age, c500 B.C. to A.D. 1400 By Roland Anthony Oliver, Brian M, p.43
  22. *Bilal stands for "wetting, moistening" in Arabic.
  23. A Country Study: Somalia from The Library of Congress
  24. The Practice of War By Aparna Rao, Michael Bollig, Monika Böck p.64 (Berghahn Books, 2007).
  25. Gebrselassie Haile page on
  26. Painted Hunting Dog: Lycaon pictus,, ed. N. Stromberg]

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