What brings you to Kampala?
First, I am a citizen of this region. Second, since I assumed the position of executive secretary, I had never got opportunity to engage with the government and the President of Uganda to support me in my line of work.
Third, and which is perhaps more important; last year in March, the heads of state of this region, including President Museveni, convened virtually and discussed how to put in place a strategy to respond regionally to the Covid-19 pandemic.
So we identified vulnerable areas; the transboundary movements, truckers, and refugees—in this region you are talking about four million—to pay close attention to.
We organised about Euros70m (Shs310b), of which €60m (Shs266b) was secured from the European Union to help deal with the pandemic. We’re working closely with the heads of ministries of regional countries, including Uganda, to provide equipment and other much needed logistics.
The other was to brief the President about the peace and security in the region. As you know, the region has many challenges as well as opportunities: our member states have disputes: Sudan and Ethiopia, and Somalia and Kenya, so I came here to brief the President on the issues and ask him to talk to his brothers to find a solution.
What is your vision for Igad as the new executive secretary?
As a son of this region, my vision is to revitalise Igad; to reform it; to make it more vibrant, and we are doing a lot of activities. Igad relies on member states; if they want to make it great again they can do that.
The solution is to start with the revitalisation of the treaty of formation, harmonise policies, and then move to economic transformation. My vision is make Igad a platform for integration and once we have achieved that anything can happen. I don’t know how many miles I will walk, but we have to start somewhere.
Peace and security remain a big issue in the region, and as a former Foreign Affairs minister (of Ethiopia) this is an issue you perhaps engaged on widely. What plausible approaches do you have in mind?
There is no magic answer that I can tell you! As [former] Foreign Affairs minister you deal with bilateral issues of your own country, but as head of a regional body you have to deal with and serve interests of all member countries equally.
However, what I know it is only the leaders who have to realise that one country is as important as the rest and no country can live in isolation. The coronavirus pandemic has taught this to us. So working together is very important. We have to work closely; we have a population of close to 217 million people, but how can we harness the opportunities? And so when it comes to peace and security, we still have to collaborate on the solutions.
Is there political goodwill?
Yes, there is goodwill. But the instability and the political situation remains the biggest challenges in the road to integration. When we talk about integration sometimes people laugh but we have to start somewhere. The leaders, ministers, ambassadors are always engaging with the rest of the world as a region and the rest of the world is talking to the region. The issue is how we can keep this vibrant.
Fair enough. For the recent past Igad has been synonymous with the South Sudan peace process. How is the revitalised peace process coming along?
South Sudan remains an important issue and the commitment shown by the regional leaders is commendable. The revitalised peace agreement was signed, and the president and first vice president committed to it, and others lauded it and everyone promised to support it. The process is ongoing.
There was a deadlock on formation of the new government but the process of implementation of the agreement was not done according to plan. But through our envoy, we continue engaging the leaders because we cannot afford for the country to go back to war; it is a rich country that has a lot of opportunities; the population is hopeful, and the leaders have to recognise they need to go forward. We continue to push this agenda of the revitalised peace process.
North of South Sudan is Khartoum, which since the ouster of former president Omar-al-Bashir has been in the news for all reasons. How is it holding up and is there any hope?
Yes, we are very hopeful. The good development is the establishment of a new cabinet of Sudan. The cabinet is a combination of the yesterday forces that were fighting, and some of them were in the bush and some had been pushed outside of politics.
This inclusive government is commendable, and a great stride towards a stable Sudan. There are challenges—a long way to walk—but that’s good progress, and with the lifting of the sanctions, there’s hope.
Furthest to the east is Somalia…
We are re not quiet on that too. We cannot publicise everything, but we have been talking to all sides. While they are the ultimate deciders of the peace of their country, we are concerned about the escalating situation in Mogadishu and we continue to engage them because none of us wants the country to go back where it was.
As you foster peace elsewhere, a humanitarian crisis is brewing to the west of your motherland—Ethiopia. How is it being handled because Igad has been quiet?
Igad particulates in situations at the invitation of the leaders and governments. That notwithstanding, we unusually issued a statement calling for dialogue and cessation of hostilities when the conflict first broke out.
When the heads of state convened in December, prime minister [Ahmed] Abiy briefed the regional leaders on the situation during the virtual summit and they all offered their views.
We have been categorical that civilians should be protected and humanitarian assistance should reach timely. We continue to engage and work with the government of Ethiopia on the same.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) is an eight-country bloc in Africa. It includes governments from the Horn of Africa, Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes. Its headquarters are in Djibouti City. The member states include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.