The Igad executive secretary Mahboub M. Maalim spoke to The EastAfrican's Dicta Asiimwe the organisation’s peace efforts in the region, and the need for more unity among regional bodies.
Why is IGAD necessary?
The African Union previously asked this question and commissioned a study that recognised existence of eight regional bodies: Igad, East African Community, Economic Community of West African States, Southern African Development Community, Economic Community of Central African States, the Arab Maghreb Union, Community of Sahel-Saharan States and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.
I think they should have been collapsed into five. For instance, Igad should be merged with the EAC. But your question was why Igad exists.
One reason is that it has provided services that member states cannot deliver separately. We work on in-country programmes and then take out what, in our view, can be shared with neighbours for cross-border initiatives.
A recent case is our last summit in February in Nairobi where we regionalised solutions for handling of refugees. That is not an initiative which can be addressed sufficiently by an in-country programme.
Igad has also earned the trust of the international community. We mediate peace, deal with transnational crimes like terrorism, piracy, and security sector reform programmes.
We have also mobilised resources for countries that could not raise financing on their own.
One of our greatest strengths lies in our convening power.
Recently, we introduced SMS diplomacy, allowing Foreign Affairs ministers to text one other and agree in under an hour to meet the next day. If we need the heads of state to convene, we can do the same in a short time.
What did the Nairobi summit conclude on refugees?
The refugee problem results from several factors. A key one is the breakdown of law and order in countries like South Sudan.
It is unfortunate that a country like Uganda, which has showcased the best example on how to treat refugees can no longer afford to take in more.
In the past few months, there has been an upsurge in refugees to over 1.3 million, and Uganda may no longer afford to accommodate them. Imagine the burden on northern Uganda, where the refugee population is now higher in some of the towns than that of the locals.
In the past three years, we have been preoccupied with finding ways to stabilise South Sudan.
In addition to insecurity, we have been dogged by natural disasters like drought. Fortunately for Uganda, it rarely experiences drought.
However, drought is a serious phenomenon in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. In fact, it was perennial drought that forced half of the Somalia people seeking refuge in Kenya.
Their livelihoods were unsustainable and were compounded by a weak government that could not provide relief. We intervene through the Igad Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative, to lessen the people’s vulnerability and build their capacity to cope over time.
Are you succeeding in addressing the problem in South Sudan?
Yes we are. There have been meetings between Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Hassan Omar al-Bashir, Uhuru Kenyatta and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir.
This shows the level of commitment and political goodwill from the highest levels of government.
Has it not been slow because Igad and the heads of state are not united on what needs to be done?
This notion of disunity among our heads of state is wrong and unfounded. They have never disagreed on the peace treaty, humanitarian issues, accountability, justice and protection of citizens.
Recently, we received a press release about you restarting peace talks for South Sudan.
No. The Igad heads of state recently appointed a special envoy for South Sudan.
The envoy convened a meeting of experts from South Sudan comprising non-partisan independents, university lecturers, civil society teams, and researchers.
They had a two-day brainstorming session and made several recommendations. They rightly found that when the Peace Agreement was signed 18 months ago, the principal signatories came from the opposition, the government, and former detainees.
The dynamics have since changed. Many other parties have come into play. They concluded, however, that the Agreement will not be re-negotiated, but that the timelines of the implementation must be looked into.
Where does that leave rebel leader Riek Machar?
Dr Machar is in South Africa. There are groups that, originally, were aligned to him, such as the current Vice-President, Mr Taban Deng, who now represents the government.
Of course, there are groups in South Sudan who still owe allegiance to Dr Machar. Some of the questions asked by the experts were whether he will have a role to play.
If the heads of state feel they require him, such direction will be communicated by the highest decision-making organ.
But I am sure nobody is opposed to having the views of the constituency he represents being heard.
Is it true that President Museveni spearheaded an agreement between Rebecca Garang, President Kiir and others allowing smooth passage for Mr Kiir at the next elections?
Nobody is trying to ensure smooth passage for any one leader.
All our heads of state have tried their best to operationalise the Igad concession by asking different groups to soften their stances and support the Peace Agreement.
President Museveni has tried to build cohesion between SPLM factions. It is a political party disagreement that president Museveni and others are trying to patch up.
There are those who say President Kiir and Dr Machar should exit so that South Sudanese make a fresh start. Is this proposal on the table?
I do not know what such wishes are premised on because President Kiir and Dr Machar are South Sudanese who fought for that country for many years. Wishing them away would be simplistic.
However, the choice remains up to the people of South Sudan, not the mediators. Only South Sudanese can choose to live true to the self-determination they fought for, for over 50 years.
Background: Mahboub Maalim has strong record of achievement in the national and international arena. He has worked on water resource mobilisation and management, disaster and emergency coordination as well as food security.
Experience: June 2008: Executive Secretary of Igad, based in Djibouti addressing conflict and disaster management in the Horn of Africa, development activities and resolving the conflict in South Sudan and Somalia.
2005-2008: PS, Ministry of Water and Irrigation
2004 to Aug. 2005: Permanent Secretary Ministry of Special Programmes in Kenya’s Office of the President, coordinating disaster risk reduction programmes, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands Projects among others. He was awarded the Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (CBS) for his distinguished and dedicated service.