IGAD navigates turbulent geopolitics: Oil dispute, diplomatic tensions, and Sudan’s exit introduce uncertainties for the region

  • 26 Jan 2024
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Brian Otieno

At first glance, the 42nd Extraordinary Assembly of the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) Heads of State and Government held on 18th January 2023, appeared to be a productive meeting. From the released communiqué, the Heads of State reaffirmed their commitment to work together in resolving emerging concerns in the region. While this was the case, it appears that there are underlying issues overtly playing out among member states. 

Uganda and Kenya are currently embroiled in an oil impasse that poses a threat to the peaceful co-existence between the two countries. Somalia and Ethiopia are embroiled in a dispute amidst calls to de-escalate the boiling tensions. Meanwhile, Sudan, expressing mistrust of other partner states, including Kenya, chose to withdraw from the summit. The once covalent bonds seem to be on a stretch, and from a regional geo-political standpoint, the times are indeed agonising for IGAD. These uncertainties are counterproductive for businesses as a matter of going concern. 

Kenya-Uganda oil impasse

President Museveni and President Ruto had a lengthy meeting on the sidelines of the IGAD summit aimed at solving the oil impasse that saw Uganda lodge a case against Kenya at the Arusha-based East African Court of Justice. Sources privy to the meeting had intimated conversations around a compromise but a deal was not communicated despite the two Heads of State having a presser together. It does look like both parties maintained their hardline stances, with those involved indicating that there is still room for talks.

The economic inconveniences to both Kenya and Uganda, if this impasse continues further, would be significant. Despite the clarity of the implications, it remains to be seen which country will blink first. Furthermore, what does this impasse signify for the existence of IGAD, given the optimism with which the body was established in 1996?

The Ethiopia-Somali diplomatic tensions

The continued diplomatic tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia that have perennially existed took a different upturn this month. Ethiopia signed with Somaliland, a region within Somalia. In the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Ethiopia officially recognised Somaliland, while Somaliland granted naval and commercial sea access on lease to Ethiopia for 50 years. Somalia has resisted this deal, citing it as an infringement on its sovereignty. Perhaps the dogmas of the quiet past could pose a challenge to the evident stormy present. Taking a cue from Dwight Eisenhower’s clarion call to the UN General Assembly during its 10th Anniversary, if the call between these two countries is still peace in this century, then it should be a conversation of peace of such new kind that all the two nations will think anew and act anew! IGAD needs to take a strategic lead on this!

Despite the calls by the Heads of State and Government and in the presence of the AU Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the big task lies ahead. Ethiopia and Somalia have a history of diplomatic tensions, and the current situation is no exception. The fundamental question arises: how far will this escalate, and what measures will IGAD implement differently this time to prevent the impasse from escalating as it has in previous instances? 

War in Sudan, and a bolt out!

Warring parties in Sudan were read the riot act by IGAD and given 14 days to work towards a resolution. The irony, perhaps, is how this will play out, more so with the letter sent to the current IGAD chair by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry suspending its membership with IGAD. This was after IGAD invited RSF head Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo to its meeting and accused the bloc of “violating Sudan’s sovereignty” and setting a “dangerous precedent”.

War in Sudan poses a threat to the region, and while a solution is key, the solution must be practical and responsive to the interests of the Sudanese people. For that reason, IGAD must look at the bigger picture and steer clear of diplomatic gaffes. To do so, the bloc needs to take a strategic and tailored approach towards this war.

In conclusion, established on the basis of the hallowed international law concept of pacta sunt servanda (agreements are binding and must be implemented in good faith), these are testing times for IGAD. For the bloc to fulfil its aspirations, IGAD members must introspect and confirm their commitment to the treaty establishing IGAD. Without this reassessment, the objectives of IGAD may remain a pipedream, making the bloc fail to work as was intended and raising questions about its effectiveness. Amidst these geopolitical uncertainties, businesses are operating in fear, which is detrimental to the economic growth prospects of member states.