Insights on IGAD’s role in the Horn from the Ethiopian Tana Forum essay competition winner | Addis Zeybe


Tana Forum’s special platform – the Tana Forum Annual Essay Competition – brings together African youth from across the Continent with their leaders, facilitating dialogues among young people, politicians, and experts interested in peace and security in Africa. 

The essay competition is aimed at obtaining views from the youth on the peace and security challenges its peers face across the continent. The competition is open to African nationals enrolled in higher education institutions based in Africa and in the diaspora. 

Applicants should either be a BA, MA, or Ph.D. student in a relevant field of study. The essays must be written either in English or French.     

The Tana Forum essay competition has its own theme for each year’s competition; “Managing Security Threats: Building Resilience for the Africa We Want” is this year’s theme. 

Tewodros Fisseha was one of the three finalists of the competition. He is from Ethiopia, Bahir Dar University. The other two were Humphrey Mream from Tanzania’s Ardhi University, and Novabadou Madjib from Chad’s University of N’djamena. 

Three papers were presented on the stage at the Forum, by their respective writers. 

Tewodros Fissha won this year’s competition with his paper entitled, “IGAD and the Meditation Role in the Horn of Africa”. The other two researchers were concerned with African environmental security. 

IGAD stands for Intergovernmental Authority for Development, founded in 1996, by Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, and Djibouti. 

In his winning research, Tewodros explored IGAD’s contribution to peace and security in the Horn of Africa, what’s lacking from its efforts so far and the challenges IGAD is facing in the current context. 

IGAD hasn’t come out as the expected conflict-resolving entity in the conflict-ridden Horn area, contends Tewodros. “This is mainly due to the weakness of IGAD’s secretariat, generated from its overall structure.”

The researcher explained that the structure of IGAD by itself gave more power to the Head of member states than the IGAD Secretariat. The Budget is also covered by member states as well as donors, this in turn having its own impact on IGAD’s mediation role in the Horn of Africa.

However, he recognized the organization’s roles; the 2005 Sudan Peace Agreement; the founding of the transitional federal government of Somalia after the collapse of Siad Barre’s government in 2004; and the maritime boundary dispute between Kenya and Somalia. 

Samuel Tefera (Ph.D.), lecturer at Addis Ababa University and an expert on regional affairs, disagrees with this. Samuel says since the principle of IGAD is cooperation among member states, it would not be a problem to give power to heads of member states, and the final decision should be made by them. 

After the International Court of Justice decided on the Somalia-Kenya maritime boundary conflict, with IGAD’s assistance, Somalia had shown interest in withdrawing from IGAD membership. 

Tewodros argues that this is a manifestation of IGAD’s lack of heft to deliver regional cooperation and integration. 

Tewodros recommends that IGAD should follow the model of the European Union to overcome impediments to regional integration. 

Tewodros added that IGAD’s regional cooperation concept is vital, but it has to be upgraded to regional integration which empowers both IGAD and its member states. 

Samuel also believes that IGAD needs to follow the European Union model to achieve regional economic integration and cooperation, though the union has political integration problems among its member states 

According to Samuel, IGAD is showing promising stances regarding economic integration as some of its member states are coming up with initiatives. Samuel believes Ethiopia is taking a lead in this.  

“Integrating member states through hydroelectricity power, the highway between Kenya and Ethiopia, a railway connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti, letting Safaricom (a telecommunication service) invest in Ethiopia, and allowing foreign Banks to invest in Ethiopia are the recent initiatives that are expected to create positive interdependence among the member states of the region,” Samuel says. 

This will prompt border security, which is one key element in securing peace across the region. 

Political integration is possible once business and economic integration is realized among the countries in the Horn of Africa, added Samuel. It is shown in the form of military, peace and security, drought resilience, and other crucial and high-level regional aspects. 

Related to the conflict in Northern Ethiopia, IGAD failed to play an impactful role apart from issuing alerts and statements, Tewodros states.  

“The conflict has the potential of spreading further around the region and affecting it as a whole. The African Union and IGAD were supposed to play an impactful role in resolving it.”

Samuel also agrees that IGAD should have played a more important role than just issuing statements which is a major weakness. 

He added that the case of Ethiopia must be the concern of IGAD first, with the African Union coming next in line, as the geographical proximity gives IGAD the mandate to act on it. 

IGAD hadn’t played its responsibilities regarding the Great Renaissance Dam negotiations as well, stresses Samuel.

Tewodros says, “There has been a trend of taking IGAD as a weapon for implementation of Ethiopia’s foreign policy, it might be the reason behind it. Since Ethiopia is a founder and the current secretary is from Ethiopia.” 

Samuel doesn’t see a point in this though, saying Ethiopia had an important role in the establishment of the League of Nations too. And history has recorded that the organization didn’t back Ethiopia when it needed it the most. 

Tewodros blames the institutional capacity of IGAD for its lack of implementing any key role in the war currently going on in Ethiopia. 

According to Samuel, the IGAD Secretariat needs to be strengthened in terms of budget and human resources to upgrade its role. He recommends the organization should have professional technical teams, with the right skill and experience. 

He indicates that IGAD outsources its common activities for consultancies when it should be done by the organization’s own team. This would give them a chance to enable the heads of member states to understand the problems that go on in respective countries. 

In recent years though, IGAD is going through a reform, strengthening its human resource and it should be encouraged, Samuel opines. 


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