Interview: IGAD Special Envoy in Khartoum Lissane Yohannes

       “Extensive understanding and cooperation between the IGAD and the international community”

Interviewed by Salma Ismail for the Sudanese Media Center (SMC)

Q. Many have heard of the IGAD but are not sure what it is exactly. Can you explain exactly what it is?
A. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development was established in 1996 by the presidents of the Horn of Africa. It succeeded the earlier Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), a multinational body founded in 1986 by Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. The objective was to focus on development and environmental control especially the drought that came quite frequently to the sub-regional countries.
Later, the political dynamics changed in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea became independent, the defunct regime of Ethiopia led by Mengistu Haile Mariam was ousted, and Sudan in 1989 took another course. As a result of these new political dynamics in 1991, the Horn of Africa leaders thought about how IGAD should be revitalized. So in 1996 the two Ds were removed and it became the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. That means for the Horn of Africa members there must be prevailing pace and security, in order to ensure economic development, then the prerequisite is to ensure peace and security in the sub region.

Q. How is the IGAD able to ensure peace and security between these eight countries who are not always on the best of terms?
A. The Authority is structured in a manner that it has the summit leading it. Then it has the council of ministers and the IGAD headquarters which is based in Djibouti, has different divisions. One of them is the peace and security division. Through this peace and security division, the IGAD has been playing a very important role in bringing about peace and security in the sub-region. For example, in Sudan, the conflict was solved with the help of the IGAD. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is the baby of the IGAD. So technically speaking the IGAD is regarded the midwife of the CPA. Now the CPA was signed and implemented. For the past nine years I have been here overseeing the implementation of the CPA. My job is basically to look into the full implementation of the CPA.


“Very unfortunate that the agreement of August 2015 has not been implemented”

Q. What about the CPA pending issues, which are often a source of tension between the two countries such as border demarcation.
A. Yes there are some pending issues in the CPA. There’s border demarcation, the final status of Abyei, the final resolution of peace in the two areas-Blue Nile and South Kordofan
There are five significant areas. These are small areas in terms of the land that they have but they are nonetheless contested between Sudan and South Sudan. So because of that, the delineation could not be complete. Eighty to ninety percent of the border is delineation. So it’s a matter of demarcating the border. But you are taking me away from your first question.
So IGAD is playing this important role of addressing conflicts in the sub-region. A case in point is the South Sudan situation. In addition, to the conflict in Sudan and the SPLA.
The fact that I have an office here is an indication of the commitment f the IGAD to ensure peace in Sudan. The Darfur problem, the two areas issues, and there are eight agreements signed between Sudan and South Sudan under the post referendum arrangements which have not been implemented yet.
As an office here, I am personally involved in the mediation that is led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. I am a core member of that panel representing Sudan and providing support to the mediation process.
IGAD is highly involved in bringing about not only peace and security but also it’s involved in development issues as well. There are different branches in the IGAD that look into agriculture, that look into the economy. There are many departments which are quite active addressing a lot of issues.

Q. Since we came to the issue of South Sudan, what is the IGAD doing to address the recently announced famine in South Sudan?
The IGAD led the negotiation process in South Sudan. There were three special envoys that led the process of mediation. An Ethiopian Special Envoy, a Sudanese Special Envoy and also a Kenyan Special Envoy. These three special envoys led the process of conflict resolution in South Sudan. An Agreement was signed in August 2015. It’s very unfortunate that the agreement has not been implemented. It’s very unfortunate. The IGAD led those efforts and was successful in bringing the parties in conflict together.

Q. What about the agreement signed to allow a regional force to be deployed in South Sudan? Where is that agreement now?
A. I am afraid I’m not the right person to answer that question. But what I can say about that is that South Sudan has agreed to allow regional forces to be deployed. At first it was reluctant to do so. Later on it appears that South Sudan has accepted. In practice nothing has taken place and I do not know the reasons.

“The most important issue for IGAD to enable it to do its work is the financial situation”

Q. There was a wave of criticism pointed at the IGAD for failing some issues in the region. What do you say to the critics?
A. As far as I know, I do not know where the IGAD has failed. If the IGAD has failed, that means the member states have failed. IGAD is an authority created, established and representing the member states in the Horn of Africa. I don’t know why people think the IGAD has failed. Perhaps the most important issue for IAGD to enable it to do its work is the financial situation.
Financially IGAD may be weak because member states do not necessary pay their dues on time, which may be a major problem for IGAD.

Q. Can we say that you are encouraging member states to live up to their financial responsibility in a timely manner?
A. That is the task of the executive secretary who for obvious reasons would interact with member states in order to fulfill their duties. This is not only an IGAD problem but also an African Union problem. The AU also suffers from exactly the same problem. Member states of the African Union do not pay their dues on time. So there are a lot of countries that have arrears. By the same token there are member states of the IGAD that have arrears.

Q. What is the relationship between the IGAD and the African Union like?
A. You must know that the IGAD, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) , Southern African Development Community (SADEC) are regional economic cooperation that are fully in tandem with the African Union. So we have great cooperation with the AU. Essentially we may sound separate but we are not.
IGAD is regional economic community of the African Union.
On the ground as we speak we have a very extensive cooperation between the AU and the IGAD. In Khartoum the AU has a liaison office, and together with my office here-the office of the Special Envoy- we work together, we cooperate; collaborate because we are created for the same objective of the African Union. Economic integration followed by political integration.
It’s the same house. It’s the same family.

Q. Can you tell us about other arms of the IGAD, for example the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU-IGAD)?
A. The IPU is one of the external wings of the authority that brings the parliaments of member states of IGAD together on several issues and they meet quite frequently. It raises and addresses issues in order for the union to ensure on the one hand that there is the parliamentary cooperation. On the other hand parliamentarians are representatives of the people. Obviously people convey their concerns and issues to the member of parliaments.
So parliamentarians of the IGAD member states meet and discuss issues of concern. The IPU-IGAD is one of the successful wings of the IGAD. It needs to be encouraged and enhanced to do better. So far it’s doing very well. And It’s one of the exemplary ways of cooperation of IGAD member states.

Q. To what extent does the international community support the efforts of the IGAD?
A. This brings us once again to the CPA time. Although was the IGAD that did everything, to bring peace in Sudan, it was very essential at that time for the international community to support IGAD for various reasons. One of which is that the IGAD certainly needed financial support.
Secondly, the IGAD would have needed a lot of political support to be able to bring the parties together and agree to resolve the crisis. The TROIKA; Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom, supported the IGAD peace process to the end. Other members of the international community and international agencies also rendered their support to the IGAD. So the CPA was signed with the full support of the international community and now we see what has happened.

Q. What about IGAD efforts now in South Sudan?
A. For the South Sudan crisis the IGAD was also supported by the international community. In fact the agreement is ‘IGAD-plus agreement’. The IGAD on the one hand and on the other hand, the members of the international community including the TROIKA and a number of other countries were involved in bringing the government of South Sudan and the SPLA together in agreement. So on the ground there is an extensive understanding and cooperation between the IGAD and the international community.

Q. Would you like to add anything?
A. Yes. This is my ninth year here. As an IGAD envoy I interact with members of the Sudanese government including President Al Bashir. I have been received well. I am treated well and I enjoy an immense respect here. I also have good relationships with the political parties. My job is mediation and I have interacted with civilian and with armed groups and all members of the society. I enjoy the time I have spent in Sudan.
It is my fervent hope that I have contributed to peace in Sudan.