The end of history? Conflict, displacement and durable solutions in the post-cold war era

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The changing physiognomy of conflict and displacement

The fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War at the end of the ‘80s briefly ushered in the hope of a new world order based on international law, humanitarian principles and democracy which would even spell the “end of history”, according to the US political scientist Francis Fukuyama. This would imply that the number of persons . persecuted or compelled to flee from armed conflicts would decrease and UNHCR and its sister organizations providing legal protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons, would slowly drift towards irrelevance.

But, as British professor Michael Howard pointed out, European analysts “... who had experience of history’s capacity to pick itself up off the floor and deliver powerful blows in the solar plexus, were rather less sure” that history would end. The transition from a Cold War order based on deterrence and spheres of influence to a new order based on universal democratic values and human rights spelling the end of history and conflict did not materialize.

Rather than an inevitable occurrence, this appeared more as a liberal variation of a millenarian hope previously nurtured by other political and religious ideologies. On the contrary, the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and its impact on client states around the world brought about new conflicts that signalled that the transition towards a new world order was far from being a fait accompli and was not going to be a painless process.

In the Horn of Africa the year of 1991 heralded a seismic shift in regional geopolitics with the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime in January in Somalia and of the Mengistu regime in May in Ethiopia. Somalia accelerated its spiralling descent into a Hobbesian hell of anarchy after the flight of Siyad Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991 and hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Kenya and Ethiopia.