This opinion piece narrates about Tana High-Level Forum on Security (THLF)how once commended for being one of the best platforms to discuss African security issues turned out to be a town hall meeting and how it became easy prey for individual's interest.
Tana High-Level Forum (THLF) is one of the rare platforms which created the opportunity for African policy makers and academicians to meet and discuss contemporary security challenges of the continent. The forum was conceptualised and implemented by Mulugeta Gebrehiwot who is also the founder of Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) which is located at the Addis Ababa University. This noble idea of discussing Africa's peace and security challenges with policymakers, renowned scholars and eminent African personalities was supported by Meles Zenawi, the late prime minister of Ethiopia and Professor Andreas Eshete.
The city of Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara Regional State, was selected to host this annual event. One of the peculiar features of THLF is the format of the discussion; issues are discussed in a very semi-formal atmosphere, without strictly observing protocols. The other distinguishing feature of the Forum is the selection of participants. It is solely based on who can contribute substantially to the theme of the year. The other unique feature of the Forum is the number of members which is limited to ensure the quality of discussion. After the first THLF six years ago, the event has been able to attract the attention of many continental, regional, and international development organisations. Even donor communities and the private sector have expressed their interest. The THLF is also able to enjoy the political backing of the local government.
However, after successfully running for three consecutive years, concerning the quality of discussion, super moderators and sufficient time for participants to enrich the discussions, THLF started to lose its standard. The decline of THLF began to show immediately after the leadership change at the host institution of IPSS, which serves as a secretariat for THLF.
The spiral is manifested in many aspects. Regarding the number of participants, the new leadership at the Secretariat used the platform, as an event of reunion with their former colleagues and extended invitations to the event as a kickback to influence and to build their personal network.
Selection of participants is made based on their cunning calculation of targeting those whom they consider are influential at the national and continental level. Every bit of THLF activity including Master of Ceremony, moderators and expert selections are measured based on the above criterion. All these reckless decisions are made at the expense of the government and partners resources, above all by betraying the trust of all the members.
As a result of the untamed interest from the new leadership of IPSS, the THLF once used to be a place to discuss the African security agenda splendidly. It has now turned into a photo opportunity with famous politicians and prominent personalities that come from different parts of the world. Consequently, the three-day event proved to be a lavish holiday destination at the beautiful lakeside of the Avanti-Blue Nile Resort Hotel. It was a good time for the participants that were invited by the leadership because they can link them up and promote them instead of their ability to contribute to the discussion at hand.
The hall, which was known for enriched and stimulating discussions was replaced by a scene where some participants were taking a nap from the previous night. These are the same participants selected by the Secretariat's covert interest. Most of them pretend as if they are attending the discussion actively by nodding their head which struggles from dozing. The overall picture of the last year THLF edition was beautifully captured by the former THLF Technical Committee Member Alex de Waal (Prof.) in the article entitled The Tana Security Forum: In need of a reboot which was published on the African Argument "The Fifth Tana Forum convened last weekend. It was a complete contrast: dull, repetitive and formal. There were about 200 people there, packed in rows listening to speeches. Almost everyone wore a tie. Protocol and formalities triumphed. The agenda was packed so that no sooner had one panel been rushed to its conclusion than it was time for a ceremony or a break. There were perhaps half a dozen questions from the floor throughout the two days. The high-level participants were whisked away to their suites between sessions and didn't mingle with the participants... ..Tana has become boring. People attend, reluctantly, because they see it as a good networking opportunity. The sessions themselves are dull: most of the time is taken up by entirely predictable speeches."
As the saying goes, "there is always room for improvement", the leadership at the IPSS should go back to their senses and let the THLF serve its initial objectives rather than serving their agenda and shortcut for career development. Once again, let the forum be a place to discuss African Security issues candidly and splendidly, rather than making the event a hostage for the narrow personal interest of the two notorious THLF secretaries namely, Kidane Kiros and Michelle Ndiaye.
Tesfaye Girma Is a Peace and Security Consultant. He Can Be Reached At Tesfayegirma386@gmail.com