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IGAD seeks rebirth, but will new officials do it?


EDITORIAL - The regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is seeking a rebirth that could help it surmount its weaknesses as an integration and peacebuilding organization.

The bloc of eight member states says it wants to be active on more fronts, by first ensuring that its change of leadership follows a regular pattern. It began last week when Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was elected Chairman, taking over from his Ethiopian counterpart, Dr Abiy Ahmed.

An IGAD dispatch said the choice of Hamdok was “by consensus,” suggesting a desire for unity rather than mere compromise was the motivation. Premier Hamdok, analysts think, could help revive IGAD.

“He was working with various international bodies and he is very familiar with donor communities. I think he knows how to tap into them,” said commentator Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad from Nairobi’s think tank Southlink Consultants.

“The new Chairman is going to change that narrative (of member domineering) and will focus on economic integration political stability and trust rebuilding among member states.”

But this decision had been preceded with lots of horse-trading with smaller or perceived inactive members like Somalia and Djibouti protesting alleged domineering by Ethiopia and Kenya.

Ethiopia had held onto the Chair since 2010, having taken over from Kenya. Kenya had held onto the Executive Secretary since 2008 when Mahboub Maalim was chosen. In November Mahboub was replaced by former Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu.

And for the last ten years, IGAD hadn’t sat for an Ordinary Summit for lack of quorum, reflecting either lack of concern or displeasure, from some members, with the way affairs, were running.

“It has often been a victim of national interest politics at the expense of its efficiency as an institution, prioritizing state security at the expense of human security,” argued Ms. Hawa Noor, a researcher on political violence, transitional justice, and conflict resolution; and currently a Marie Curie COFUND Ph.D. Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences in the Netherlands.

Past accusations of member states interfering with one another’s internal affairs, she said, made some countries stand out as domineering.

When this Summit was called, the key question was who will take over the Chairman’s mantle. Did Kenya and Ethiopia plan to swap roles? Had Dr Abiy abused his powers as Chair by unilaterally appointing an ES before endorsement by Summit?

“The organization was literally a rubber stamp and a tool for political influence for countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. IGAD still has the potential to become a regional independent player if it fixes the mess in its systems,” said Abdimalik Abdullahi a commentator on Somali and Horn of Africa geopolitics, peacebuilding, and governance.

“The new leadership should address the aspect of inclusivity as soon as possible; in terms of sharing leadership posts, arriving at political decisions and equal distribution of development initiatives.”

Dr Abiy’s office did claim Dr Workneh had been appointed after heads of state reached consensus in October during a tour of Addis Ababa to launch a public park. In Nairobi, officials said Kenya wasn’t contesting for any office.

“We were never a candidate for the Chair going into this Summit. It is an erroneous impression,” said Ababu Namwamba, Kenya’s Cabinet Administrative Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

“Kenya congratulates our new IGAD Chair, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and wishes him success as he embarks on steering our organization in this critical period of reforms. We will support him and the reforms fully.”

Formed in 1996 from the reformed Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), IGAD was meant to widen its focus from dealing with humanitarian issues related to climate change to general issues that affect integration and regional stability.

Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti were members. Eritrea(which refuses to rejoin the group) and South Sudan joined IGAD after gaining their independence respectively.

In its 23 years, IGAD officials think it has managed to reduce violent conflict in the region by encouraging dialogue. Officials also think it has been the basic focal point by outsiders in dealing with regional conflicts.

They cite Somalia, where IGAD drafted the proposal to establish the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom)which was endorsed by the African Union, Sudan’s transition to civilian rule and South Sudan mediation efforts.

Mr Nuur Sheekh, a political Advisor at IGAD, argued the recent rush for positions in IGAD was only reflective of a “healthy competition” between member states, though he did admit that the new team may need to work on the challenges.

“PM Hamdok has his work as Chairman of IGAD cut out for him. His excellent relations with all member states and his experience at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) will help with the integration. It is time for Eritrea to rejoin her rightful family too,” he argued referring to Hamdok’s former job as deputy Executive Secretary at ECA, based in Addis Ababa.

One reason IGAD was weak, argue analysts, is that it didn’t have instruments to enforce decisions or agreements, besides the fact that all member states belong to other regional economic blocs, except Somalia.

“IGAD has often relied on member states’ goodwill to preserve peace and security, and so the challenge of reducing it to an endorser of decisions, such as in Somalia due to conflicting interests and domination by Ethiopia,” Ms Noor told Garowe Online.

“It also lacked an effective mechanism to implement its own resolutions as well as follow-up strategies despite having good initiatives and policies.”

Within IGAD itself, some members like Ethiopia and Somalia felt they were paying up their annual fees (about $2.7 million a year) on time as others lagged.

While IGAD budget is about $115 million a year, member states only raise a tenth of this as the rest is contributed by donors such as the EU, US, UK ad the World Bank.

Last week though, IGAD tabled a new draft organizational structure as well as a draft establishment treaty. In its three decades of existence, IGAD was running on a charter; something experts argue made decisions difficult to implement.

“These reforms will see a new IGAD with specialized institutions effectively servicing the organization’s comparative advantage as a platform to respond to our problems,” Namwamba argued.

“We all yearn for predictability, certainty, and fidelity to the rules. Leadership transition, for example, will strictly be set by rules.”

Predictability is, however, not the only challenge IGAD will address. The key question is how to raise money. Will member states contribute to IGAD when they don’t send money to the African Union in time?

Perhaps, argues Noor, is that the fact that some leaders like Dr Abiy have shown public dedication to peace is “a good sign” IGAD can correct its mistakes.


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