The desire by regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), to climb out of years of and wrangling is facing an early bump on the road, as Sudan raised suspicions about the organisation’s planned mediation team leaders.
On Monday this week, Igad, for the first time in 16 years had representatives from all its 8 countries after Eritrea rejoined the bloc following a near two-decade self-absence.
And according to Yemane Gebremeskel, the Eritrea Government Spokesman, the country is back in the Horn to play its useful role because it believes the organisation is now focused on common problems rather than backstabbing.
“Eritrea resumed its activity in Igad and took its seat at the 14th Ordinary Summit in Djibouti. Eritrea affirmed its readiness to endeavour, in conjunction with all Member States, to the rejuvenation and effectiveness of Igad and advancement of peace, stability and regional integration,” said Mr Yemane, also the information minister for his country.
“Eritrea added that it believes a dedicated focus on development; a leading role in fostering regional peace and security; a synergetic regional approach to external relations; effective self-financing; and finally, fidelity to its rules are vital ingredients for Igad's strength and success.”
When it quit the body, it accused then Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of using Igad to sabotage Asmara. Today, Ethiopia and Eritrea have reopened their embassies and relations have largely thawed under Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed.
Security of tenure
On Monday, the leaders of Igad had signed a new treaty meant to establish new structures of Igad including deputy Secretaries general and provide a definite term of office for chairs of the summit. In the past, chairs held on forever as long as the Summit did not nominate a new head of state or government to take.
Sudan, in spite of being at war, for example, had been chair since 2020.
“The Chairperson of the Assembly shall rotate in alphabetical order from among the Heads of State and Government of Member States. The tenure of office of the Chairperson of the Assembly shall be one year,” the new treaty says.
It lists the members as Eritrea, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti and Somalia.
Igad also listed the focus areas, slowly departing from the crisis-focused bloc to something that could grow integration. Areas of cooperation will include trade liberalisation and development, transport and communications, tourism, energy” — renewable energy development”, and agriculture and food security.
But there were immediate bumps. The public show of new harmony was in fact boiling under as Sudan protested being replaced as chair of the Summit.
Malik Agar, the Sudan deputy leader of the Transitional Sovereignty Council also protested a plan to mediate in the conflict, led by Kenya President William Ruto.
The Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Wednesday that that it “expressed its disagreement and objection to a number of paragraphs that were mentioned in the draft final statement of the summit due to the fact that they were not discussed and agreed upon, and the delegation called on the Igad Secretariat to delete them.”
“These paragraphs relate to changing the chairmanship of the Igad Committee, as the delegation demanded that President Salva Kiir Mayardit retain the chairmanship of the Committee and demanded the deletion of any reference to the subject of mediation.”
Being replaced as chair means Sudan will lose the powers to call for meetings of the Summit. But it also opposed Ruto’s leadership of a quartet of countries, accusing him of harbouring sympathies for the Rapid Support Forces, which has been fighting the Sudan Armed Forces since April 15.
Sudan said on Thursday, in another statement, that it notified the Igad regarding the need for South Sudan President Salva Kiir “to continue to chair the Quartet Committee that was approved by the summit in accordance with the objective considerations mentioned by His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni of the Republic of Uganda to the Igad Emergency Summit held online on April 16, 2023.”
At the time, Juba led the High-Level Delegation of Uganda and Kenya in the earlier troika that sought to travel to Khartoum but failed.
Incidentally, a Sudanese representative, Malik Agar, the Deputy Chairman of the Transitional Sovereignty Council of the Republic of the Sudan, chaired the Summit.
Agar replaced Mohamed Hamdani Daglo Hemedti, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces that has since April 15 been fighting Burhan’s Sudan Armed Forces.
During the summit attended by leaders from the 8 member states of Igad, and officials from associated organisations, Sudan is said to have rejected proposals for dialogue with Hemedti.
"Igad underlined the importance of consultation and coordination with the Government of the Sudan regarding all-inclusive efforts aiming at solving the conflict,” a communique said.
Ruto said a quartet of Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia will work with the African Union to help achieve peace in Sudan.
The official communique released, unusually more than 24 hours after the meeting, named Djibouti, rather than Somalia in the quartet.
This group was supposed to arrange, within ten days, a face-to-face meeting between Burhan and Hemedti “in one of the regional capitals”, and, within 2 weeks, secure a commitment for humanitarian corridor. An inclusive process towards a political settlement was to start within three weeks, it said.
“We have taken the decision… so that we can speak to them directly on behalf of Igad, with the view of stopping the war that is raging,” said President William Ruto at a press briefing in Djibouti, where the Summit gathered on Monday.
“Kenya commits to meet the two Sudan generals face to face to find a lasting solution to the crisis.”
Igad Executive Secretary, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, had maintained during the summit that that the bloc was most suited to deliver peace. But he conceded that conflict in Sudan is eroding Igad's previous efforts to bring peace to The Horn.
“As a result of the conflict, we are facing the prospect of “double displacement” of refugees and asylum seekers as well as the increased challenge of food insecurity in Sudan and our region, which has barely recovered from devastating drought,” said Dr Workneh.
The leaders committed themselves to closely collaborate and coordinate within the broader framework of the Core Group currently composed of the African Union, Igad, the UN, League of Arab States, European Union, Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK, USA, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan towards a single, coordinated, joined-up and comprehensive peace-building process Sudan.
But just how far that will go, with Khartoum, refusing the IGAD ‘roadmap’ for peace is yet to be known.
The Igad mediation schedule would have seen Ruto arrange for a face-to-face meeting, for the first time, between the two warring generals. As it is, the schedule cannot formally be changed unless the Summit revises it. But the meetings may not happen if parties do not even want to meet in the first place.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Permanet Secretary Korir Sing’oei said there had been no official protest from Sudan but did suggest only the Summit can revise the decisions.
“Both the inclusion of the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (of Ethiopia) to the Troika mandated to seek peace in Sudan Crisis and the appointment of President Ruto to lead the quartet was arrived at by the Igad Summit and can only be vacated by the Summit,” Dr Sing’oei said.
Another diplomat told The EastAfrican Sudan had indeed opposed the clauses, and especially the inclusion of Ethiopia with which they have a decades-old unresolved border dispute and Kenya, whose President has recently been critical of the warring factions.
Sudan feels the criticism should be directed at the RSF led by Mohammed Daglo Hemedti for attempting a ‘coup.’
A communique from the meeting was not released until a day later, an unusual incident that reflected on the kind of haggling that had gone on about the wording of the decisions.
Traditionally, communiques are released only on endorsement of the respective ambassadors of member states. Sudan argued some clauses had been inserted without deliberations or concurrence.
Sudan’s beef with Kenya, the diplomat said, is also in the fact that they already gave an ear to an envoy of the RSF earlier this month.
On June 3, President Ruto met with Rapid Support Forces political advisor Youssef Ezzat. But the RSF claimed the meeting was “part of a tour encompassing friendly nations, aimed to elucidate the evolving situation in Sudan.”
Ruto had earlier met with Agar in Nairobi last month.
“With a comprehensive understanding, Mr Ezzat provided President William Ruto with an insightful explanation of the war's causes and the prevailing circumstances, backed by accurate information regarding its motives and the responsible parties,” RSF tweeted of the Nairobi meeting.
Since April 15, their clash has led to more than 1,200 deaths, 800,000 displacements and serious property destruction. The sides have signed seven ceasefire deals, all broken within hours of declaration.
On Wednesday, Khamis Abdullah Abakar, the Governor of West Darfur was murdered as the war continued to expand to key strongholds. Sudan junta leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan blamed the Rapid Support Forces for the assassination. But the RSF itself condemned the killing. They also accused the army of being responsible for arming one of the parties to the conflict.