Eritrea has pulled out of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) after a row with Ethiopia about Somalia. IGAD is the regional development organisation for east Africa which is now down to six member countries. The decision is a blow to co-ordinated efforts to pacify Somalia. The Eritrean government of Eritrea released a statement saying it was “compelled to take the move due to the fact that a number of repeated and irresponsible resolutions that undermine regional peace and security have been adopted in the guise of IGAD”.
Ostensibly allies, Ethiopia and Eritrea are locked in a proxy war in Somalia. Ethiopia backs the weak interim government; Eritrea sponsors the Islamic militants fighting to overthrow it. UN Security Council Resolution 1725 was raised to reaffirm “its respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and unity of Somalia”. The resolution commended the crucial efforts of IGAD to promote and encourage political dialogue between the Ethiopian backed government in Baidoa and the Union of Islamic Courts who ruled in Somalia’s rambunctious capital, Mogadishu.
IGAD was created in 1996 to supersede the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) which was founded ten years earlier. IGADD was a response to the droughts that crippled the Horn of Africa in the seventies and early eighties. The then six countries of the Horn (Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan) decided to take a regional approach to the problem with the help of the UN. IGADD was officially launched in 1986 with its headquarters in Djibouti.
After achieving some success in drought reduction and famine relief, IGADD’s mandate widened to cover other areas of regional development. Eritrea joined the organisation shortly after gaining its independence in 1993. The organisation received a new charter and a name change to in 1996 with the focus moving away from drought to development. IGAD had three focus areas: Conflict Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs; Infrastructure Development; and Food Security and Environment Protection.
But process in IGAD is now stalled. The lack of a functioning central government has kept Somalia out of any meaningful action. Sudan is preoccupied by its civil wars in the South and West (Darfur). Kenya and Uganda, meanwhile prefer to concentrate their energies on the East African Community EAC) which it shares with Tanzania with Burundi and Rwanda joining later this year. The EAC is a more stable bloc of countries and has an eventual goal of economic and political union between its members.
But the major impediment to any progress within IGAD is the ongoing dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Although the two countries are officially at peace since the Algiers Agreement of 2000, the UN was forced to demand Eritrea to remove its forces from a disputed buffer zone on its border with Ethiopia last October. Two months later, Eritrea protested when Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia to end the regime of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu. Eritrea had supported the Islamic Courts as a buffer against Ethiopia.
While the fighting still rages, the US accused Eritrea this week of providing funding, arms and training to insurgents battling Somali forces and allied Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu. Assistant US Secretary of State Jendaye Frazer called for renewed ceasefire talks to end the fighting but said "Eritrea has not been playing a constructive role in Somalia because they continue to fund, arm, train and advise the insurgents" she told reporters.
The fighting not only damages IGAD. It is also destroying Somalia. In the past month alone, nearly 1,300 people have died in fighting between government troops and their Ethiopian allies on the one side, and Islamists on the other. There have been over 300,000 refugees from the capital. But the world is not interested. A Somali intellectual said, "There is a massive tragedy unfolding in Mogadishu, but from the world's silence, you would think it's Christmas.”