The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is the regional organisation of seven East African countries, aiming to achieve regional peace, prosperity and integration. When member states fuel military action even while participating in peace talks, however, what can IGAD achieve? This paper assesses IGAD’s development and contribution to two major peace processes, in Sudan and Somalia. Despite a significant influence on the outcomes, IGAD is undermined by weak institutional systems and an entrenched political culture of military aggression across the region.
The Horn of Africa is exceptionally politically unstable, and a high proportion of IGAD leaders came to power through violent means. The regional culture tends to produce militarised ‘peace processes’. The use of force to achieve political goals is a regional norm, and member state leaders have frequently been driven from office.
A brief interlude of stability occurred during the period in which IGAD’s peace and security mandate was established, and the organisation appeared to be an ideal vehicle for achieving development, stability and integration. However the regional alliance structure which provided this basis disintegrated and reconfigured in rapid succession, massively undermining the autonomy and institutional strength IGAD required.
IGAD has nonetheless played a crucial agenda-setting role in directing African and wider international responses to conflict in the region. Despite institutional weakness and lack of authority over member states, IGAD successfully institutionalised donor support through the IGAD Partners Forum. IGAD’s nominal ownership of the peace processes helped to draw support from the West, and to secure the exclusion of interested secondary actors from outside the region. However:
- The region’s authoritarian political culture militates against IGAD attempting to play a proactive or autonomous role in peace and security.
- IGAD’s leaders have not recognised the limitations of the organisation’s remit or legal framework, often adopting bold initiatives outside its mandate.
- Member states seek to direct IGAD activity in pursuit of their own interests, compromising its neutrality.
- The peace processes in Sudan and Somalia were politically initiated and largely executed by member states, including lead regional mediators; IGAD had neither the institutional capacity nor the authority to lead or manage the process delivered under its name.
- The IGAD region lacks a clearly distinguishable lead country; Ethiopia’s recent efforts to secure this position appear to have only exacerbated regional tensions.
IGAD is far from providing an institutional basis for regional security. The relatively successful mediations in Sudan and Somalia stand alongside IGAD’s inability to prevent or resolve other violent conflicts in the area.
- To consolidate its role both regionally and internationally, IGAD must secure either actual success in conflict resolution (as in Sudan); or align its peacemaking activity with the interests of powerful external actors (as in Somalia and the global war on terrorism).
- Institutional strengthening is crucial if IGAD is to assert its autonomous position within the region. Without autonomy, IGAD’s authority may continue to be used to legitimise the regional policies of member states.
- Regional (and some extra-regional) powers who have dominated previous peace processes may be reluctant to provide IGAD with the means or authority to develop its independent conflict-resolution capability.
- Provided that member states recognise its utility, over the longer term IGAD has the potential to serve as the forum in which unequal relationships and localised hegemony might be managed non-violently.
- The intense mutual hostility between Ethiopia and Eritrea continues to poison regional relations and exacerbate other conflicts. IGAD’s success in finalising a peace settlement or normalising relations would remove a key obstacle to progress in developing an improved regional security framework.