By fostering regional development projects, IGAD, the organisation of the eight countries in the Horn of Africa, is seeking to project a more positive image of a region known mainly for its natural disasters and conflicts. But the European Commission says a key country for the region, Somalia, still lacks political stability.
A delegation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development recently visited Brussels and held talks with the European Commission’s Directorate General for Development and Cooperation and the European External Action Service.
The main message of the IGAD representatives is that however difficult and marred by conflict, the Horn of Africa’s elites could be a driving force and by engaging in regional cooperation, replicating the process of reconciliation that historically has been at the basis of the European Union.
IDAG representatives told EURACTIV that the challenges only matched their ambitions to prove that engaging in regional cooperation and make sure that the local elites meet and develop relations of mutual respect.
The IGAD executive secretary, Mahboub M. Maalim of Kenya, said that the national approach that had prevailed in the post-colonisation period had become in many respects an obstacle to development. Moreover, he said that national positions are less likely to get the attention and obtain funding from Brussels, whereas regional positions carried more weight.
The organisation, which has traditionally assisted its member countries in responding to drought and food insecurity, is more and more active in transport, telecommunications and energy projects.
Technology has completely changed the old patterns, Maalim said, mentioning mobile communications and solar power.
Lack of visibility
Maalim admitted that IGAD lacked visibility in Brussels, but expressed the ambition to work for improving its branding, promising to return to Brussels in September with a delegation for several public events.
Claus Sørensen, director-general of DG Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, told EURACTIV the Horn was “one of the most fragile places in the world.” Its challenges include widespread poverty, climate change, and a post-colonial heritage that forces different ethnic and tribal groups to live together. Governance is also seen as a problem.
The Horn of Africa is also one of the world’s most conflict-prone areas:
- Somalia is struggling to build a functioning central government 22 years after the outbreak of a civil war in 1991;
- Ethiopia and Eritrea are at odds over multiple sections of their border;
- Somaliland is an unrecognised, self-declared state in Somalia, and Puntland is a region of Somalia which declared autonomy in 1998.
- Piracy in off the coast of Somalia has been a threat to international shipping and still requires an international naval presence.
- The delimitation of Lake Victoria and the use of its resources, the shoreline of which is divided between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, has been a source of instability.
- Relations between Sudan and South Sudan remain loaded with tension and genocide charges hang on several of the region’s leaders.
Centralised UN authority
In response to the challenges, the United Nations has decided to step up its efforts and are planning an “integrated mission”, which means putting political, security, development and humanitarian operations under a single official, Sørensen said.
But Sørensen said that integrating the humanitarian arm wasn’t necessarily the best way of strengthening assistance. He explained that his staff was telling him that in order to deal with South and Central Somalia, the militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab would be a factor “for many years to come”.
On 19 June, Al-Shabaab attacked on the UNDP compound in Mogadishu, a violent act condemned by IGAD.
“It’s not that they disappear and evaporate, they are there, they have their networks, they will continue to be in function, and if you want to assist the population, you have to work with them. So it’s better to keep the humanitarians a little bit outside the joint-operation,” Sørensen said.
The EU official said the Commission had committed to support the nascent Somali state by mobilising “massive amounts of money” and by agreeing that development and humanitarian operations would be coordinated.
“There is a commitment to offer assistance and it will be offered, if the conditions are ripe, because you need to have valid projects, you need to have partners on the ground, you have to have a minimum of security. What is missing is the stability surrounding the operation,” he said.