Responding to Crises in the Horn

WPF Executive Director, Alex de Waal, has led several efforts to document and analyze the political and human rights crises in the Horn of Africa. His expert insights address what can be done to promote peace, justice, democracy and development. Since 2021, this work has focused on Ethiopia and Sudan.


Overview 2022

The crisis in Ethiopia has five key features.

  1. High-intensity polarized ethnic politics. The level of ethnic hatred, dehumanization and incitement to violence in the public sphere is extraordinary and terrifying
  2. The triumph of transactional politics. We have seen the decay of an institutionalized state and its replacement with an incipient political marketplace in which political allegiances are transacted on a material basis.
  3. The dismantling of the African peace and security architecture and instead the incorporation of the country into the security perimeter of the Middle East so that the key external actors are middle powers such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
  4. The weaponization of starvation. Rarely in modern history have we seen a systematic and rigorous use of starvation as a weapon of war and political control to match its use against Tigray. Not only have crimes of pillage and destruction of objects indispensable to survival been perpetrated at scale but there has been a remarkably thorough blockade of humanitarian aid and essential services.

WPF Activities and Outputs


  • Panel, “Finding a pathway to peace and dialogue in Ethiopia,” London School of Economics, March 3, 2022.
  • “Trauma, Collective Trauma and Refugee Trajectories in the Digital Era”, Friday, December 3, 2021. 12:00pm – 1:5pm EST
  • Tufts Hillel program on war in Tigray, November 17, 2021

Publications and Media

Blog posts: read essays on Ethiopia from the WPF blog, Re-inventing Peace.

Highlight from previous years


Overview 2022

During the past year, Sudan’s democratic revolution was decisively reversed by a coup d’état, mounted with the singular goal of protecting the privileges of the army, which had extended its corrupt tentacles throughout the economy. It was backed by Middle Eastern powers with a record of opposing democracy: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and discreetly also endorsed by Israel, which has developed close ties with al-Burhan after he took the decision to join the Abraham Accords and recognize Israel. International response was indecisive, but included suspending economic assistance, which means that Sudan’s economic crisis is deepening.

The coup has revealed the weakness of western, especially U.S., support for democracy in the face of a determined military leader with the backing of key U.S. allies in the Middle East. The underlying concern of the U.S. and Europe is with ‘stability’, apparently paying little regard to the way in which the established systems of military-kleptocratic governance in Sudan have proven a recipe for instability. The Sudanese army’s close ties with Russia became evident this year.

WPF Activities & Outputs

Advising and convening

  • Alex de Waal worked as an informal advisor to former South African president Thabo Mbeki. In his address to the United Nations Security Council special session on peacebuilding on October 12, during the month in which Kenya chaired the Council, Mbeki highlighted our 2016 report ‘African Politics, African Peace’.
  • Jointly with the U.S. Institute for Peace and the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Foundation, a discreet workshop in Johannesburg, hosted by Mbeki and involving a dozen senior policymakers from Africa and the U.S., to reflect on this crisis, in the wider global context, and think through possible initiatives.


  • Book event, “Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy,” Royal African Society, London, May 20.
  • Book event, “Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy,” Oxford African Studies Centre, June 21, 2022.
  • “Another Coup d’état in Sudan: An Exploration of the Prospects of Democracy and Human Rights,” Sponsored by Harvard Law’s Human Rights Program and the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World. (November 22, 2021).


Blog posts: read essays on Sudan from the WPF blog, Re-inventing Peace.

Testimony at the ICC

The ICC opened its first trial of a Sudanese official for crimes committed in Darfur on April 5. The individual in question is Ali Abd al-Rahman ‘Kushayb’, a militia commander accused of responsibility for massacres in Western Darfur in 2003-04. Alex de Waal was the first witness at the trial, and also the first expert witness jointly appointed by prosecution and defense in a case at the ICC. de Waal prepared an expert report and testified for three days (the transcript is available here).

Documenting the work of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel in Sudan, during the years 2009-13.

This project is funded by the US Institute of Peace and draws upon WPF’s archive of primary materials concerning work of the Panel in Darfur, during the secession of South Sudan and in seeking to resolve the conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan that followed. It is hugely detailed, recounting many factual elements in the story of this critical period in Sudanese and South Sudanese history for the first time.

The project is developed in collaboration with Dr. Willow Berridge.

Headshot Dr. Willow Berridge

Dr. Willow Berridge (July 2020-June 2022) is a Lecturer at Newcastle University, UK, and Research Fellow at the World Peace Foundation. She is a specialist in 20th century Sudanese history and her books include  Khartoum Springs: Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan (London: Bloomsbury 2015) and Hasan al-Turabi: Islamist Politics and Democracy in Sudan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017)

Highlight from previous years

Prospects for Democracy in Sudan: a memo series by Alex de Waal (2019)

  • Memo 1: January 26, 2019. This briefing addresses the challenge of democratization in Sudan today, in the context of the widespread protests against President Omar al Bashir.
  • Memo 2: March 13, 2019. This memo examines the prospects for a democratic transition in Sudan. Almost three months into a period of sustained popular protest, that began on 19 December, and following the State of Emergency (SoE) declared on 22 February, it covers both domestic and regional political dynamics
  • Memo 3: April 11, 2019. This memo examines the prospects for a democratic transition in Sudan. On the evening that President Omar al-Bashir was finally removed from power, it covers both domestic and regional political dynamics.
  • Memo 4: May 16, 2019. This briefing covers domestic and regional political dynamics and the prospects for democratization in Sudan. One month after the overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, there are major obstacles to the formation of a civilian government, and (more importantly) no inclusive elite pact.