Former executive secretary of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development Mahboub Maalim spoke with Fred Oluoch for The East African
After being at the helm of Igad for 12 years, how are you using your experience and contacts in continuing work for regional peace and security?
I still get to discuss and offer advice on current political happenings through invitations to different forums. Besides advising local and regional leaders and foreign missions, Igad and African Union officials also approach me for advice on peace and security.
Besides Somalia and South Sudan, what other threats to peace and security are emerging in the region?
Transnational crimes persist, especially terrorism as terrorist cells domiciled in Somalia increased with time. Piracy; illicit trade; illegal arms trade; human trafficking; money laundering and cybercrimes remain a challenge across the region. The complex political transition in countries like Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea are also emerging as new threats to security.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also stagnated diplomatic and political consultations that had been going on for long and driving peace.
The ripple effect of conflict in the Middle East has also caught up with the region, given the geopolitical competition for influence, which has led to the militarisation of the Red Sea (Gulf of Aden) area with countries competing to establish military bases.
Issues of climate change such as floods, drought, and locust are threatening food and human security. So I think the role of Igad is needed now more than any other time.
It is eight months since formation of a transitional government in South Sudan, but still security arrangements and total ceasefire remain a challenge. What is the way forward?
The Sant Egidio talks in Rome are very positive developments. That the warring parties have agreed to a ceasefire to promote peace was not possible for a very long time. It was difficult for South Sudanese to meet among themselves and agree.
Is it easier for South Sudanese to talk far from the influence of the vested interests of neighbouring countries?
You may say so because it was not possible for them to sit and agree before. The hundreds of times they met under Igad, AU, and other countries, they could not agree. However, the region had built a bridge and the factions now know they can meet. The region had laid the foundation for them to agree on their own.
Igad is accused of presiding over the peace agreement in 2015 but failed to enforce the implementation.
That is far from the truth. In 2014, there were nine extraordinary Heads of State meetings from 2013 when conflict broke out to the time when the 2015 peace agreement was signed. During the mediation, regional leaders met regularly to assist South Sudan. The question is the lack of follow–up in the implementation.
I am trying to dispel that notion. There is no way you can fail to follow up on implementation when you have put in time in the process. After the government was formed in 2015, there was a matrix of follow-up and implementation mechanisms like Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and the ceasefire monitoring process. Igad is trying very much to hold the government and other parties to account.
Insecurity in Somalia persists despite efforts by the world. Is there a need for a different approach?
Yes, there is a need for a new process. So far, $100 billion has been put in to improve security in Somalia with little success. I might not have what exactly is the new approach, but what I know is that it requires a new modus operandi that involves consultation. You can imagine after three decades and the money that has been put in, not much has changed. The answer is yes, there is a need for a new approach but with a lot of consultations involving Igad, the AU and the international community.
Somalia has elections in the coming months. What role can the region play to ensure a peaceful exercise?
Somalia is a sovereign state and therefore the region cannot do state functions in Somalia. But the region understands that the stakes in the elections are very high. The region can work with Somalia to ensure that the elections are held on time because if they are not, there will be a lot of problems.
The region can also work with Somalia to ensure that there is no extension of the term of the current government. The region can support Somalia to avoid external influence in the election. Somalia has been in a state of stagnation for the last four years; there is no constitution, no electoral system; no judicial system, while the federal system is still being contested.
Do you think Amisom’s phased withdrawal should continue as Somalia faces these crucial elections?
A lot of money has gone into supporting Amisom. The handover process must be gradual, and should only happen in the next four years. But at that time there will be another election.
Maybe the next administration will have an opportunity to work on the issue without pressure.
Any comment on the plans by the US to withdraw its troops from Somalia?
Withdrawal will harm US interests in the region, which has attracted a lot of geopolitical competition. After spending a lot of money in Somalia, the US would lose because others who have not invested as much in security in Somalia are waiting in the wings to come in. Also, the counter-terrorism project would be lost, and would mean the US would be abandoning its partners.
Ethiopia is facing internal political instability. Is it likely to impact on the region, especially Somalia and Kenya?
Ethiopia was a hallmark of stability, infrastructure development, and economic growth in the region. They achieved a lot within a very short time, and I believe the economic growth momentum is still in progress. However, there is some internal political contest that is not unique in the African context. My advice is for Ethiopia to choose losing decades of economic development and stability or embrace national dialogue.
When will Eritrea be re-admitted to the Igad community? What are the challenges?
I was not privileged to have Eritrea as a member of Igad for the 12 years I served. But the UN had lifted sanctions against and there had been talks at the heads of state and ministerial levels for Eritrea to resume its seat. By the time I left, Eritrea had not taken up the seat, but I hear whispers that Eritrea was pushing for revitalisation and reforms in Igad. Nothing wrong with that, but they should better do it from inside.