Diplomatic Uses for IGAD in Sudan’s Referendum Period

Tasneem Jamal Defence & Human Security

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2010 Volume 31 Issue 2

Having just come through its first nationwide elections since 1986, Sudan now faces the last major hurdle in the six-year transition period mapped out in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA): a referendum on Southern Sudan independence planned for January 2011.

Much attention has been focused on the measured public diplomatic pressure being applied by US Special Envoy Scott Gration on the regime of Sudanese President Bashir to maintain the peace and to respect the anticipated choice of independence by the Southern Sudanese. Less attention has been given to the key role of countries in Sudan’s immediate neighbourhood that recently revived the use of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as a strategic diplomatic channel in their dealings with Sudan.

IGAD is the little known subregional intergovernmental body in the Horn of Africa to which Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia belong. For the most part IGAD is an underfunded shell organization struggling to advance limited common goals among a conspiratorial and conflict-ridden group of member states, all found near the bottom of the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (Siebert 2009). That shell is occasionally filled with diplomatic activity, when it suits some of Sudan’s IGAD neighbours – for example, when they want to mobilize pressure on Khartoum to allow the referendum to proceed on schedule.

IGAD in Sudan

A recent report from the International Crisis Group (2010) reviews the interests and roles of the nine countries that share borders with Sudan as the CPA moves toward its referendum apotheosis in 2011. It notes that IGAD sponsored the CPA negotiations, with US pressure visible in the background, but that it was Kenya that provided the negotiator in the person of Lieutenant-General Lazarus Sumbeiywo and it was then Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi who forced the main Sudanese protagonists to the negotiating table. While widely acknowledged to be covertly aiding the southern Sudanese, Kenya could address its direct interests in achieving peace in Sudan by using the IGAD shell.

Once the CPA was signed, IGAD effectively went into dormancy on Sudan. Then, in October 2009, IGAD suddenly shifted back into prominence when the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), headed by Salva Kiir of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), requested that IGAD refocus on the implementation of the CPA. “The primary aim was to re-engage the body that had negotiated the peace process and keep its member states’ eyes on the CPA process, the elections and, most importantly, the self-determination referendum” (ICG 2010, p.18). The IGAD summit meeting on Sudan, held March 9, 2010 in Nairobi, confirmed IGAD involvement and commitment (IGAD 2010).

Regional bodies such as IGAD, the Economic Community of West African States, and the Southern African Development Community are playing increasingly important roles in peace processes in Africa. Even if plagued by a lack of resources and spotty support by their members, they gather together those players—near neighbours—that usually have the most at stake in resolving the conflict. The flipside of the coin is that these players may also be parties in the conflict, either directly or by providing support to proxies. At the end of the day, however, those nearest (even if not dearest) need to be party to the peace if it is to be sustained.

After the Sudanese themselves, no one has a greater stake in post-referendum peace in Sudan than Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia. In the most recent phase of Sudan’s north-south civil war between 1983 and 2005, these three countries suffered the most from the spill-over effects of Sudan’s turmoil with massive refugee influxes, disrupted regional trade, and increased insurgency in their own countries, supported by Khartoum. The implications for these countries of possible renewed nationwide turmoil in Sudan do not have to be imagined, only remembered. Unless the Sudanese and these immediate neighbours own and reinforce the constituent parts of the Sudan peace process, all the help in the world from others will likely be wasted.

A useful role

In the past IGAD has proven to be a useful diplomatic channel, particularly when these neighbours of Sudan needed a local multilateral channel to advance interests at odds with those of the Bashir regime in northern Sudan. By using the multilateral IGAD, the bilateral diplomatic face-to-face is avoided, thus allowing all sides to save face.

IGAD’s orphan-like status between periods of perceived usefulness is an impediment to sustainable peace in the Horn. IGAD is kept alive largely through the efforts of the small secretariat at IGAD headquarters in Djibouti, which struggles to maintain, let alone expand, its relevance and services.

Should international support for IGAD be increased? The European Union, the German development organization, and others have provided financial and management assistance to strengthen the IGAD secretariat. At the same time, IGAD member states have failed to pay their minimal dues and often ignore it. As a result, in spite of the African Union aspiration to find African solutions to African problems, doubt has been cast on their stated collective aspirations to build peace and security in the Horn of Africa through IGAD.



Intergovernmental Authority on Development. 2010. Draft communiqué of the 14th extra-ordinary session of the IGAD assembly of heads of state and government on the Sudan peace process. Nairobi, March 9.

International Crisis Group. 2010. Sudan: Regional Perspectives on the Prospect of Southern Independence. Africa Report No. 159, May 6.

Siebert, John. 2009. Human security: Setting the agenda for the Horn of Africa. The Ploughshares Monitor, Summer.

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