The Horn Of Africa States: The Fallacy Of IGAD – OpEd


The weather of the region, at last, prompted the countries of the region to create a regional organization in 1986 to coordinate their efforts with respect to addressing the recurrent droughts and natural calamities of the region, mostly droughts and environmental degradation. It was then called the Intergovernmental Authority for Droughts and Desertification (IGADD), but it was transformed in 1996 to Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). 

Unlike other regional organizations, it is not designed to coordinate the social, economic and political policies of the region and hence develop the necessary mechanisms to handle these matters, and hence the members of the group pursue their individual goals and objectives as single states. This is one of the markers of IGAD as an ineffective organization. The very reason for which the mandate of the organization was changed in 1996 was to involve the institution in coordinating the region’s policies with respect to peace, security and socio-economic development and hence integration. The political aspects of the region were ignored, which resulted in hampering its prospering as an integrative organization.

While not being an effective regional organization, it was received and admitted into the African Union’s emerging regional groups and continued to participate in the AU’s conferences and other continental activities with respect to integration initiatives of the continent. It might be worthwhile that some of the members of the IGAD are effective members of other regional groupings such as the East African Community. These include Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, and more recently Somalia, and hence dance to a different tune as opposed to the other members of IGAD namely, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan and Eritrea.

 While not owning the necessary mechanisms to mediate, intervene and handle regional issues, it plunged itself into the issues of Somalia’s internecine wars, South Sudan’s ethnic based civil conflict and indeed, Sudan’s civil war and obviously the institution, has failed in all these matters, once again demonstrating the irrelevance of the institution. All the members of IGAD were pursuing differing objectives with respect to each of the conflicts mentioned heretofore.

The interventions cited were all related to the region and should have been handled with care and with rules agreed among the members of IGAD, which indeed, do not exist. The members of the Group of IGAD deployed the empty African slogans that African problems should have African solutions. They do not even have mechanisms to solve regional issues let alone the large African continent. How could it solve these issues, and through which means and mechanisms?

The IGAD strategic development objectives, indeed, include “strengthening the transformative capabilities for the attainment of peace, security and stability”. This is a grand statement, perhaps designed to mislead and/or confuse the audience who could be the ‘financiers’, the AU, the regional populations, the casual reader, and even the researchers of public policies. The organization is not designed like other regional groupings whose general agendas include among other matters coordinating the groups policies with respect to customs and taxes, markets, monetary systems, political issues both internal and external, and even security matters. In the realm of logic, this only appears to be an equivocation statement without real substance supporting it.

How is it possible that IGAD does, indeed, include some of the most conflicted countries in Africa and in the world, when it is making such grand statements? They must be laughing at their own people. IGAD is, indeed, like many other African institution, a club of presidents and prime ministers and does not have the normal structures and objectives of a normal regional socio-economic political organization like SADC or EAC or ECOWAS. It does not involve its populations, academia, business community or even traditional elder statemen. It is an indirect instrument probably used to infiltrate the region for nefarious reasons, but it is, certainly, not a normal regional block.

Obviously, IGAD appears to be a hybrid organization bringing together countries that belong to differing socio-cultural regions. These include Swahili countries (Uganda and Kenya), Sudanese culture (South Sudan and Sudan) and Horn of Africa states countries (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti). They also belong to differing other groupings where Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan belong to the EAC regional block which is highly advanced in its economic and political integration. The actual Horn of Africa States consist of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and could probably include Sudan, should Sudan opt to join it.

Hybrid organizations do not go anywhere and become instruments where the strong exploit the weak such as happened in Somalia. This institution should be reverted to its original mandate of dealing with droughts, famines and environmental degradations. It should not be in the realm of politics and regional groupings of socio-economic business. 

It is where the necessity for the Horn of Africa States as a regional block is clearly needed to be formed and these should involve the countries of the Horn of Africa States, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti (the SEED countries), and perhaps Sudan, should Sudan wish to join, in the long run. But certainly, the core countries of the group should be the SEED countries.

Many pundits and experts point to the almost impossibility of these countries coming together. They cite the many intra-state conflicts of the region such as the Somali civil war which dates back to 1991, the Ethiopian civil wars which still continue to this day which led to the downfall of Mengistu Haile Mariam and emergence of Eritrea, the rise and downfall of Meles Zenawi and the current ones against Abiy Ahmed. They also point out to the inter-state wars like the 1977/78 war between Somalia and Ethiopia and Ethio-Eritrean war of 1998 to 2000, the continuing border rift between Djibouti and Eritrea where a brief armed confrontation took place, and many other incidents within the region.

The region currently and fortunately at that, does not have a hegemon. At one time, Ethiopia, as the largest in the region, was seen as a possible hegemon, but the country is busy on itself and appears to have no space to spread its wings. Recently, the Prime Minister of the country gave rise to some waves with regard to his country’s desire to have access to a sea outlet, but this only caused the littoral countries to rebuff the call. Ethiopia has already access to many ports of the region such as Djibouti, which it already enjoys, Berbera, which feeds it on a smaller scale, and she could have access to other ports. None of the countries of the region has denied its ports to the country.

With respect to development, all the four countries are considered as developing with some more fragile than others. The legal infrastructures are all mostly authoritarian although the constitutions may point to structured democratic systems. It is, however, tribal/ethnic based where loyalties generally reside in the place of the nation. This is a common weakness in the countries of the region, and where a regional construct could have helped remove.

Competency and skill play a secondary role in the filling of important positions, where preference to loyalty plays a pivotal role and this is only possible in the ethnic context as this is not costly for the politician in the region. They exploit it to the fullest. It also helps them avoid political assassinations, but they use other means such as imprisonment and/exiling opponents to cause populations toe the line. This would continue as in any other society, but this would be lessened should a regional construct be launched. Now, how should this regional construct be and what should it entail? Many people in the Horn of Africa States region understand a regional construct differently. Many assume that one country, usually the hegemon, currently considered to be Ethiopia, would absorb the others.

A regional grouping such as the Horn of Africa States “HAS” would not involve a hegemon absorbing the others. Countries have different sizes in terms of populations and territories, but size does not justify hegemonic tendencies. Politicians create hegemonic tendencies and tensions between countries. On the other hand, there would be cooperation among the countries of the region, not only in terms of economy but also in all matters related to people and culture, and hence eventually politics.

The HAS construct would emphasize that it should be a regional organization borne out of the desire of the region and not of the wishes and desires of others such as IGAD seems to be. The HAS would have to be funded by the countries of the region and should therefore have a heading in their budgets. This would make it less dependent for its operations on the funding of outside parties like the European Union as IGAD is today.

The HAS construct would involve only the Horn of Africa States countries and would not involve other African countries as is currently the case with IGAD. Different African countries, despite being all African, do also have differing goals. The Horn of Africa States does enjoy a historical context unlike any other African regional conglomeration and should therefore seek to revive and improve its historical relevance throughout history. Currently, only single countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti are presented and discussed. There is no emphasis on the important Horn of Africa States region which overlooks/controls some of the most important assets of the world such as the source of the Blue Nile, the Suez Canal Indian Ocean waterway and a vast agricultural and mineral base. It is also home to a growing youthful population of some 160 million, soon to grow to over 200 million, which represents a large market. The region also owns the longest coast in the African continent which stretches for some 4,700 km and hence entails a sizeable blue economy.

Why is there only emphasis on the differences between the individual countries and not emphasis on the shared assets of the region or the shared values? The populations of the region need to live in peace like those of any other region. This emphasis by pseudo-politicians on the tribal/ethnic base is unnecessary and cannot be part of the region’s 21st century. People of the region should be able to travel to each other, invest in each other’s countries, and share the bounties of the region through either labor or capital. This does not necessarily mean the countries of the region should merge. They can achieve this through common arrangements where each country remains ‘As Is”, but goods, labor and capital can cross borders with ease through arrangements to be made.

The Horn of Africa States region should not have to reinvent the wheel with respect to regional arrangements. They can deploy the already tested arrangements which work for others, but which can be amended/adjusted to meet local needs. In this respect, one should study and consider the European Union as a prime example of a system that can be deployed by Horn Africans to create a Horn of Africa States regional block. Here there would be a HAS constitution, sub-national constitutions based on the HAS constitution, common internal and foreign policies, common economic policies, monetary union and a common market. They do not weaken the nation state infrastructure but support it.

Negotiations with the “others” would be better and stronger for the benefit of the HAS region, and the region would become more attractive for investments from within and from without. The security architecture of the region would also improve and there would be less hurry on the part of others to the region as is the case currently.

A HAS construct would transform the headlines of the region drastically. Instead of droughts and famines, one would read and hear about new investment features in technology, oil and gas, new banking services and financial performance of corporations in the region. One would read about the growth of the economy of the region, improved health services, new hospitals and new medicines developed by scientists of the region to deal with the health issues of the region. One would read about new conferences and forums and about important visitors from other parts of the world and new arrangements and understandings with others instead of the hunger and call for assistance from the international community. It is time the regional leaders were kinder to their populations and to the world by coming together to create a new effective organization that is local and executive – The Horn of Africa States regional block (“HAS”) and walk away from the fallacy of IGAD.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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