Experts meet in Uganda over escalation of conflict in Horn of Africa

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Experts from member states of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) held a meeting here Wednesday to find ways to prevent a further escalation of conflict in the Horn of Africa.

Present at the meeting were experts from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda under the Conflict Early Warning Mechanism Committee of Permanent Secretaries.

Conflicts are decimating the lives of ordinary people in some parts of the region, Workneh Gebeyehu, executive secretary of the IGAD, said at the meeting. The tension along Ethiopia-Sudan border and developments in Somalia are all matters of great concern, he said.

Somalia is facing a crisis after the government mandate expired on February 8 without an agreement to hold long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections. The IGAD chief said all these active situations are unfolding against a backdrop of the perennial threat of violent extremism. The latest IGAD's Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism report, said Gebeyehu, shows that there has been a significant spike in violent incidents across the IGAD region.

"In 2020 alone, 10,000 of our brothers and sisters lost their lives in conflict-related situations. This is alarming, and it is no longer tolerable," he said.

"The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, unpredictable weather patterns and successive invasions of desert locusts that have threatened food and livelihood security also lead to conflict, he added.

Jeje Odongo, Uganda's minister of internal affairs, said the pandemic has had a devastating impact compounded by the locusts invasion, floods, landslides and conflicts, resulting in loss of lives.

"These challenges have kept the region in a vicious cycle of poverty," he said.

According to the experts, despite the precarious situation in some parts of the region, there is also progress towards peace and stability. Sudan has made strides towards peace and democratic transition with the signing of historic peace agreements and re-engagement with the international community, said Gebeyehu.

"Even in South Sudan, we are witnessing progress towards implementing the peace agreement, in spite of a number of existing challenges," he said.

The IGAD chief said the meeting will sharpen the bloc's conflict response strategies collectively "to react to evolving regional situations and more effectively, to address the existing peace and security challenges."

During the meeting, Gebeyehu urged member states to invest in conflict early warning mechanism. "Greater investment in conflict prevention and peace-building is without doubt the most cost-effective approach to save lives." 

"Regional cooperation on conflict prevention through early warning and response has never been more urgent. By safeguarding ourselves against future conflict, we are safeguarding our youth and the future of our region," he said.