A regional approach to the Horn of Africa: The expanded mandate of the AUHIP

The African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) in its 539th meeting held on August 25, 2015, recognized the need to promote a regional and holistic approach to the challenges of peace, security, stability, and development in the region and expanded the mandate of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) headed by President Thabo Mbeki to include the initiation of regional dialogue to promote such an approach. This realization of the AUPSC is a major step in recognizing the regional dimension of the challenges in the region

AUHIP’s main mandate has been Sudan and South Sudan but that recent events show that the problems of those two countries can only be addressed in the context of a regional approach; for example, the South Sudan civil war shows that its resolution can be an uphill drive if the neighbors are not in agreement. Furthermore, there are broader policy harmonization issues that the AUHIP might engage.

Over the last decade, intervention by regional and international players to mitigate conflict situations in the region has been intensive. For example, one of every four of the United Nations peacekeepers (blue helmets) in the world is deployed in Sudan and South Sudan. If one also includes the African Union Mission in Somalia (green helmets), then, globally, one of every three peacekeeping soldiers is currently deployed in the region. The region has seen many mediation interventions over the last decade. Sudan alone has seen several: The mediation for peace in Darfur initially launched and managed by the African Union and later jointly taken with the United Nations; AU-mandated mediation to oversee the peaceful separation of South Sudan (AUHIP); the ongoing IGAD-mandated mediation to bring peace in South Sudan. Further, there are the continuing IGAD/AU/UN political missions to effectively bring back a state in Somalia; the UN supported AU political mission in Kenya to manage the 2007 post-election crisis in Kenya; and the LRA mediations sponsored by the United Nations. These are the most prominent mediations and political missions of the decade in the region.

Without disregarding the importance of the results brought about by these mediations and political missions, all of them are reactive and focused at the individual conflict cases. Given the regional character of some of the conflicts, a comparable regional approach has been in short supply. Most of the conflicts in the region are not the intra-state conflicts they appear to be; there is frequent regional engagement in conflicts whereby outside actors support one or the other proxy. It is also clear that some of the low level local conflicts (the Karamojong, the Somali conflict clusters for example) have regional dimensions. These conflicts can only be averted if the states harmonized their policies to the control and management of small arms, cattle rustling and ways of managing it, human and animal disease control policies and other similar borderland governance issues.

There is a massive movement of migrant and refugee populations in the region. A World Bank 2011 report indicates that a total of 3.8 million citizens in the Horn of Africa had left their countries in the last decade and only a third of them managed to travel out of the region, with the remaining staying within it. The numbers have increased since then. The three highest refugee hosting countries in the horn (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sudan) for example are hosting a total refugee population of over 1.5 million according to 2015 UNHCR reports. The policies and practices of the member states towards these moving populations are varied. In the absence of transnational citizenship these moving populations end up being ‘nomads traveling without any rights on their backs’ as they lose their residency and employment rights once they cross the boundaries of their national origin. There is a dire need for the region to come up with a harmonized policy on how to manage issues of migrants and moving populations as this issue affects the welfare of their citizens and is a serious concern for their security.

The region has shared natural resources but mostly without proper governing regimes on how to use and manage them. The management of shared water resources, for example, is a prominent issue that has high stakes for regional stability. With the exception of the ongoing negotiations for the management and use of the Nile waters, there is no other regional regime that is under development to proactively manage this issue.

Three of the IGAD member states (Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan) are landlocked countries that access the sea through states with coastal boundaries. With the exception of the International law of the sea that provides the broad principles and guidelines on the right to access the sea and to use sea borne resources, there is no single regional regime while the issue has been a point of tension at times underlying cause for inter-state conflicts in the region. The land locked countries do have bilateral agreements of varying natures with coastal states on transiting through and using their ports. However, the wider region requires a consolidated, long-term oriented regional regime to govern this relationship including a regional mechanism to resolve disputes around this issue.

Ethiopia has a huge potential for clean energy with an estimated potential hydropower capacity of 45,000 MW from its waters. This potential goes well beyond 60,000 MW if the potential for wind and thermal energy are included. The country is now investing largely to make this potential a reality and is looking for the export of energy to the neighboring states. It has already signed bilateral power purchase agreements with Djibouti, Sudan, and Kenya. The effective materialization of these projects will definitely provide a huge boost to the economic ties and development of the states. This makes it timely to think of a regional regime to govern the production and marketing of power. Such a regime could provide ample opportunity to mobilize capital requirement to exploit the potential from the region. It can also help to proactively prevent conflicts and tensions that might arise around the production and marketing of power in the region.

The new expanded mandate of the AUHIP can allow it to initiate regional conferences and dialogues to address such issues. This new initiative can also look into the bigger issue of developing a joint IGAD position on how to handle threats from outside the region, such as those from across the Red Sea. Once begun, it can also help improve the trust between member states and accelerate regional stability, economic development, and sustainable growth.

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