Date: Monday, 20 February 2023
Eritrea's Return to IGAD: A Promising Opportunity for Regional Integration
Horn Perspectives @horn_outlook | 20 February 2023
The decision by Eritrea to resume its participation in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) presents a promising opportunity to reinvigorate and reform the Organization and transform it into an effective vehicle for regional integration. That is why the announcement by President Isaias Afwerki during his visit to Nairobi drew plenty of praise across the region.
Eritrea suspended its membership in IGAD in April 2007 after Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia, which was contrary to the decisions of the intergovernmental organs of the Organizations not to deploy forces from neighboring countries. Until its fall by a popular uprising in 2018, the TPLF used the IGAD to as a tool to diplomatically pressure Eritrea and advance the Western agenda in the region. Although Eritrea formally decided to resume its membership in July 2011, its participation was illegally prevented by the TPLF. The ouster of TPLF from Addis Ababa and the signing of the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia removed the hurdle towards Eritrea's return to IGAD.
The return of Eritrea to IGAD provides an opportunity for the countries in the region to accelerate collective efforts to tackle the challenges for peace and progress—from conflicts and insecurity to underdevelopment and lack of regional connectivity, these threats have displaced millions of people and hindered efforts to promote sustainable development in the region. The revitalization of IGAD will allow for greater investment in regional integration to harness the region's vast human, natural, and strategic resources.
The over 230 million people, a large proportion of which are under the age of 30, provided the region with a vast pool of young talent and energy that can be harnessed to drive economic growth in the region. The Horn of Africa is also rich in natural resources such as fertile land, fisheries, oil, gas, and other precious metals, providing a significant source of income and investment. The over 6500-kilometer coastline can be leveraged to turn the region into a powerhouse for the global supply chain.
The wealth and strategic position of the Horn has always drawn the interest of external actors. In recent years the region has become a battleground for geostrategic competition, with various external powers seeking to establish a foothold in the region. The United States, the Gulf states, Russia, Turkey, European countries, and China are increasingly attempting to exert influence and pursue their interests. The revitalization of IGAD could assist the countries in the region in managing external interventions in a manner they do not exacerbate regional tension and conflicts.
Revitalizing IGAD won't be easy or linear. It will require practical ideas, consistent political will, and careful management of those whose interests will not be served in a peaceful, collaborative neighborhood. The countries in the region must first work towards resolving interstate conflicts and promoting fraternal ties. Bilateral relations between the countries in the Horn of Africa are at their best in decades. Still, disputes between Djibouti and Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, Sudan and South Sudan, and Kenya and Somalia have strained international relations in the region. It is crucial for the countries in the region to find peaceful solutions to their differences as this could reduce tension, and the risk of conflict as well as build trust, which is the most important currency for regional cooperation.
Secondly, the countries in the region must work towards resolving internal security challenges faced by nations such as Sudan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Somalia. Insecurity in any country has significant implications for everyone in the region and thus requires concerted efforts to address them. The year 2023 should be a starting point to kickstart regional peacemaking efforts, with countries putting in energy and resources to support those facing internal security and political problems.
Thirdly, promoting regional integration will require restructuring the IGAD and reprioritizing its activities. The current structure and activities of IGAD have largely been shaped by donor funding, which has reduced the organization's autonomy. As the saying goes, "he who pays the piper controls the tune." When the organization is entirely dependent on external funding, it becomes a tool in the hands of those who wish to control what happens in the region rather than an engine of regional cooperation. There is a need to make the Organization nimble and responsive to the changing needs of the member states. This can only be achieved if the countries in the region are committed to providing the necessary funding for IGAD. At the same time, the IGAD Secretariat should ensure that its activities and institutions are aligned with the ambition and commitment of the countries of the region.
The return of Eritrea to IGAD presents a promising opportunity for regional integration, and it is incumbent upon all to seize this moment to work toward a peaceful and dignified life for the region's citizens. By doing so, they can rectify the historical injustices of colonialism that tore communities apart and pitted them against each other.