East Africa: IGAD Boss Eyes Closer Ties Within Bloc

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) is in a renewed push for the integration of the eight-member bloc, amid talk of a new grouping of the Horn of Africa.

Igad's new executive director Dr Workneh Gebeyehu said the free movement of goods and people across the region is top on his agenda as he begins his four-year term.

A conference convened by the Igad secretariat in Khartoum next month is expected to lay the foundation for the bloc's integration agenda.

"Igad should work seriously on the integration issue; it is one area that we lag behind," Dr Gebeyehu told The EastAfrican in an interview in his office in Djibouti recently. "Every citizen in the Igad countries should have a right to move across our borders without a passport. Goods too, should move freely," he said.

Igad members are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda. Since inception in 1986, decades of conflict in the region have left the bloc focusing largely on peace and security. Only recently did Igad begin to focus on other areas including infrastructure.

"Igad is not visible in the eyes of citizens of member countries. We are going to put in place different structures that will bring it closer to the public at the grassroots level" said

The organisation is seeking to mirror the successes of the East African Community's Common Market Protocol, which allows for the free movement of goods, people, labour, services and capital.

Citizens of the six-member bloc require just a national identity card as a travel document to cross borders. But disagreements on policies governing goods, services and labour are slowing down integration.

The real test for Dr Gebeyehu however, will be addressing the lack of commitment among member states, disputes within the bloc, as well as aggrieved members such as Eritrea, which is non-committal and is leading the push for the formation of a new regional bloc alongside Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti.

With Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan as active members of the EAC, a new bloc in the Horn means all the Igad member states -- except Djibouti -- are also members of other regional blocs.

"Being a member of Igad and EAC is not contradictory," Dr Workneh said. "The countries that are members of EAC are also neighbours of Igad, and it means they have stakes in both but have to fine-tune priorities. Calls for a new bloc is inevitable."

Dr Workneh's appointment in November was preceded by power play behind the scenes, creating the perception that Igad is largely controlled by Kenya and Ethiopia that are considered stronger members.

He took over from Kenya's Mahboub Maalim, who had led the organisation from June 2008 during which time Ethiopia held the chairmanship.

Before the Heads of states settled on Dr Gebeyehu. Djibouti, which was eyeing the position too, protested the "dominance' of the organisation by Nairobi and Addis Ababa, that allegedly swayed decisions in their favour.

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