Djibouti feeling sidelined, makes hard tackle for Igad leadership

Saturday October 26 2019

Igad executive secretary, Mahboub Maalim. He was supposed to retire in 2016 after two four-year terms. FLE PHOTO | NMG


Kenya and Ethiopia are under intense pressure to relinquish the leadership of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which they have dominated for the past eleven years.

Djibouti, which has been eyeing the position of the executive secretary complains that the two countries have dominated the leadership of the development and security regional organisation and have allegedly swayed most decisions in the eight-member body in their favour.

Djibouti has reacted strongly to speculation that Kenya and Ethiopia want to swap the top positions in the regional body, with Kenya getting the chairpersonship and Ethiopia taking over the position of executive secretary.

The incumbent executive secretary, Mahboub Maalim, a Kenyan, was supposed to retire in 2016 after two four-year terms, having been elected to the position in June 2008.

However, sources from Igad say that the ordinary heads of state summit has not been held for the past eleven years.

Igad sources in Djibouti said that Mr Maalim had wanted to leave at the end of his two terms but the lack of consensus on the next holder of the office has delayed his departure by almost three years.


Former Ethiopian foreign minister, Dr Workeneh Gebeyehu, has been mentioned as the likely next executive secretary—a position coveted by Somalia also—But the Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya, Meles Alem Tikea, told The EastAfrican that he was yet to be officially informed of any candidate.

The post of the executive secretary has been held by Kenya since 2008 with Ethiopia having the chairmanship.

The first chair was the late Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, followed by Hailemariam Desalegn, and currently he position is held by current PM, Dr Abiy Ahmed.

The chairmanship was supposed to go to Sudan in 2016, but partner states feared that the indictment of the then leader, Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court could have led some Western donors to pull out support.

Kenya and Djibouti—previously close allies—fell out in August when Djibouti defied the African Union’s endorsement of Kenya’s candidature for a UN Security Council seat.

Djibouti continues to push for the non-permanent seat, by taking the campaign directly to other UN member states.

In 2017, Djibouti backed Kenya’s candidate for the African Union Commission Chair, Dr Amina Mohamed.

Eritrea’s protest

Djibouti and Somalia have been covertly lobbying for convening of the Igad ordinary summit for the appointments of the executive secretary and the chairperson. The last meeting concerning appointments was in June 2008.

Kenya was scheduled to host the ordinary summit by the end of October, and Ethiopia’s Dr Abiy—who is the current Igad chairperson—has been consulting other countries to reach a consensus on the next executive secretary.

Igad, which was founded by Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Uganda in 1986, later admitted South Sudan and Eritrea after the end of the war and independence respectively.

Eritrea, however, suspended its Igad membership in 2007 after the body issued a report accusing it of having ties with extremist groups in Somalia.

In 2011, however, Eritrea re-joined the bloc but again, in 2017, it suspended its membership in protest against Igad’s partisanship with then arch-enemy Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, international observers are concerned that Igad has not been effective in pushing for the implementation of the September 2018 South Sudan peace agreement.

Unlike the 2015 mediation that had Seyoum Mesfin as the mediator, the current Igad Special Envoy to South Sudan, Ismail Wais is accused by the opposition of being too close to the Salva Kiir government.

Igad has been struggling to refute claims that vested interests of partner states, especially Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan have been affecting its role in the South Sudan peace process.

Most international observers such as Ugandan academic, Prof Mahmood Mamdani said soon after the peace agreement last year that it was only meant to benefit Uganda and Sudan.

“South Sudan is on its way to becoming an informal protectorate of Sudan and Uganda. By formally acknowledging them as “guarantors,” the agreement recognises their strategic role in determining the future of South Sudan: Ugandan troops are physically present to support Kiir’s faction, and Sudan provides critical support to opposition groups, including those led by Machar,” wrote Prof Mamdani in an article published by the New York Times.