EDITORIAL – The regional bloc, the Intergouvernemental Authority on Development (IGAD), is seeking a rebirth that can help it overcome its weaknesses as an integration and peace-building organization.
The bloc from eight member states says it wants to be active on several fronts by first ensuring that its leadership changes follow a regular pattern. It began last week when Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was elected president and took over the transition from his Ethiopian counterpart, Dr. Abiy Ahmed.
An IGAD consignment said the choice of Hamdok was “by consensus,” suggesting a desire for unity rather than just compromise was the motivation. Premier Hamdok, analysts believe, could help revive IGAD.
“He worked with various international bodies and he is very familiar with donor communities. I think he knows how to use them, ”said commentator Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad of Nairobi’s think tank Southlink Consultants.
“The new President will change this narrative (on membership dominance) and will focus on economic integration, political stability and trust rebuilding among member states.”
But this decision was preceded by plenty of horse-trading with smaller or perceived inactive members such as Somalia and Djibouti protesting against alleged dominance from Ethiopia and Kenya.
Ethiopia had held the presidency since 2010 after taking over from Kenya. Kenya had held on to the executive secretary since 2008, when Mahboub Maalim was elected. In November, Mahboub was replaced by former Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu.
And in the last ten years, IGAD had not met an ordinary summit due to lack of quorum, which reflected either a lack of concern or dissatisfaction from some members, with the way things were going.
“It has often been a victim of national interest policy at the expense of its effectiveness as an institution, prioritizing state security at the expense of human security,” said 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 from member states that interfere with each other’s internal affairs, she said, have made some countries appear dominant.
When this summit was convened, the key question was who would take over the chairmanship. Did Kenya and Ethiopia plan to switch roles? Had dr. Abiy abused his powers as chairman by unilaterally appointing an ES before approval at the summit?
“The organization was literally a rubber stamp and a tool of political influence for countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. IGAD still has the potential to become a regional independent actor if it resolves the clutter in its systems, ”said Abdimalik Abdullahi, a commentator on Somali and Horn of Africa geopolitics, peacebuilding and governance.
“The new management should address the aspect of inclusion as soon as possible; in terms of sharing leadership positions, reaching political decisions and equal distribution of development initiatives. ”
Dr. Abiy’s office claimed that Dr. Workneh had been appointed after heads of state reached an agreement in October during a tour of Addis Ababa to start a public park. In Nairobi, officials said Kenya was not fighting for any office.
“We were never a candidate for president at this summit. That is a false impression, ”said Ababu Namwamba, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
“Kenya congratulates our new IGAD President, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and wishes him success as he sets out to govern our organization during this critical period of reform. We will fully support him and the reforms. ”
Formed in 1996 by the Reformed Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), IGADD was to broaden its focus from addressing humanitarian issues related to climate change to general issues affecting integration and regional stability.
Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti were members. Eritrea (which refuses to join the group) and South Sudan joined IGAD after gaining their independence.
In its 23 years, IGAD officials believe it has managed to reduce violent conflict in the region by encouraging dialogue. Officials also think that it has been the basic focus of 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’s mediation efforts.
Sir. Nuur Sheekh, a political adviser at IGAD, argued that the recent pace of positions at IGAD only reflected “healthy competition” between member states, although he admitted that the new team might have to work on the challenges.
“Prime Minister Hamdok will have his job as chairman of IGAD cut out for him. His excellent relations with all member states and his experience in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) will help with integration. It is time for Eritrea to join its legitimate family, ”he argued, referring to Hamdok’s previous job as Deputy Secretary-General of the ECA based in Addis Ababa.
One reason IGAD was weak, analysts argue, is that it had no instruments to enforce decisions or agreements other than the fact that all Member States belong to other regional economic blocs except Somalia.
“IGAD has often relied on the goodwill of member states to maintain peace and security, and saw the challenge of reducing it to an approver of decisions, such as in Somalia due to conflicting interests and dominance of Ethiopia,” Ms Noor told Garowe Online.
“It also lacked an effective mechanism to implement its own decisions 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 their annual fees (about $ 2.7 million a year) on time, while others were delayed.
While the IGAD budget is around $ 115 million a year, member states raise only a tenth of this, as the rest is contributed by donors such as the EU, US, UK and World Bank.
Last week, however, IGAD presented a new draft organizational structure as well as a draft establishment treaty. In its three decades of existence, IGAD ran on a charter; some experts argue that it was difficult to implement decisions.
“These reforms will see a new IGAD with specialized institutions that effectively serve the organization’s comparative advantage as a platform to respond to our problems,” Namwamba argued.
“We all long for predictability, security and fidelity to the rules. Management transition, for example, will be strictly determined by rules. ”
However, predictability is not the only challenge IGAD will tackle. The key question is how to raise money. Will member states contribute to IGAD when they do not send money to the African Union in time?
Perhaps, Noor argues, is that the fact that some leaders like Dr. Abiy has shown public devotion to peace, is “a good sign” IGAD can correct its mistakes.