On 10 November 2010, a new Afar Sultan called Hanfareh Ali Mirah was crowned in Ethiopia. What does it mean for the Horn of Africa?
There are around 1,000,000 Afar or Danakil people who live mainly in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea. As most Afar live in Ethiopia, the coronation of a new Sultan is fundamental because of the tensions between the Ethiopian government and the semi-nomadic Afar. It would be an understatement to say that after the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, the relationship between Addis-Ababa and the Afar has not been excellent.
Moreover, the Afar live in the border region between Ethiopia and Eritrea. To travel from Addis-Ababa to the Eritrean port of Asab, one has to go through Afar territory. A new sultan has a role to play in a precarious regional balance where Ethiopia and Eritrea are at loggerheads.
The coronation of this new sultan has also a consequence on neighbouring Djibouti. The latter was the last French African colony to be decolonised in 1977 and the relationship between the colonial and postcolonial government and the Afar has never been good either. Semi-nomadic Afar have been very often left out by Djibouti. The new sultan will have to play this role of a peacemaker between the national authorities and the Afar.
In the context of the 2011 drought, this new Sultan is the only “traditional authority” with an unofficial political role in the Horn of Africa. This might explain why delegations from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti but also from France and the European Union were present at his coronation.