Services at the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) could be crippled following a stalemate on who becomes chief executive officer and chairman of the bloc.
Normally a calm organisation focusing on Horn of Africa’s political scene, members seeking to lead Igad for the first time since its formation in 1996 are agitated.
The spark occurred 10 days ago when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the current chairman, appointed his former Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu as the executive secretary.
Workneh is supposed to take office on November 1, according to details contained in the appointment a letter.
Member states complain that the decision did not follow laid down procedures.
Igad’s eight members are Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan and Sudan.
The letter from Abiy said there had been consultations with other heads on October 10 when leaders landed in Addis Ababa to witness the reopening of Unity Park.
A day later, Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the region, largely as Igad chairman.
Igad has, for the last decade, been influential in regional security and political matters.
It drafted a proposal that created the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), following an endorsement by the AU Peace and Security Council.
It has also been a mediator in the South Sudan peace talks, leading to a number of ceasefire agreements even though most were broken.
Some officials in the region told the Nation that Workneh’s appointment did not follow consultations.
“We think the appointment of the executive secretary should have waited for the summit,” a Kenyan diplomat familiar with the tussle said.
He added that the decision would not augur well on membership of the bloc as it means Ethiopia is not willing to let others take part in the leadership of Igad.
The executive secretary is technically the CEO of the regional bloc and is appointed by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government for a four-year term, renewable once.
The current holder, Mahboub Maalim, a Kenya, overshot his two-term limit by two and a half years.
This was after the heads of state failed to agree on who to appoint.
Maalim took over from Sudanese Attalla Bashir in 2008.
With Ethiopia chairing the bloc, Somalia, Djibouti and Uganda nominated candidates for the executive secretary position.
Decisions on chairmanship and executive secretary are often endorsed at heads of state and government summits, after which appointees are notified.
Interviews with other diplomats in the region raised the same complaint.
Ethiopia has chaired Igad since 2010 when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki handed the mantle to PM Meles Zenawi.
Zenawi died in 2012 but the chairmanship has continuously been held by his successors Hailemariam Desalegn and now Abiy Ahmed, despite it being rotational.
In fairness, there were no complaints before, probably because those interested now had other targets.
A Somali diplomat told the Nation that the rotation policy “seems to have been discarded years ago”.
There have been no regular summits for heads of state and government for nearly 10 years, he added, except extraordinary meetings often called to address emergencies like the war in South Sudan or the situation in Somalia.
Igad bureaucrats, however, told the Nation that there are no wrangles but “competition”.
“It is an honest conversation aimed at reforming the organisation so as to serve interests of Igad member states citizens better,” Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, a senior political adviser at Igad, said.
“Of course, lobbying for this by member states is not unusual. Uganda, Somalia and South Sudan nominated candidates but it seems there’s consensus for Ethiopia to occupy the seat.”
“Abiy made it clear last year that Igad needs to be reformed and that Ethiopia will give up the chairmanship. At no time did he tie this to taking the executive secretary position.”
He added that previous leadership choices were competitive, but the council of ministers and the summit often reached consensus on who to pick.
Igad superseded the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), which was formed in 1986 to deal with natural disasters.
The new bloc was to generate an identity and be in charge of resolving regional crises.