An Ethiopian has taken over the mantle of regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), calming weeks of wrangles that had threatened to stall programmes for the eight-member association.
But Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, a former Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, faces the challenge of unifying the bloc’s members, bringing in Eritrea and raising funds for a bloc that has often relied on donors for most of its programmes.
Outgoing Executive Secretary Mahboub Maalim, a Kenyan diplomat, handed over to Dr Workneh on Thursday.
Mr Maalim completed his two four-year terms in 2007 but had to extend his service as the bloc searched for his replacement.
“He won the donors’ trust because of prudent use of funds. He is both effective and efficient,” Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, a Political Advisor at Igad, said on Mr Maalim’s tenure.
The Executive Secretary is technically Igad's chief executive officer and is appointed by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government for a term of four years’ that is renewable once.
The new Executive Secretary on Thursday met ambassadors from Igad countries including Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan.
Eritrea, a founder member of Igad, has often been on and off, suspending itself in 2007 before returning in 2006, but still failing to attend most meetings.
Regarding the new appointee, Mr Sheekh said, “[He] has impressive networks among the donor and diplomatic communities.
"His first task is to chair the Council of Ministers on South Sudan in Addis Ababa this week. He will also be consulting the chair of Igad on the dates of the historic ordinary summit of heads of state and government, where a new chair will be chosen.”
Dr Workneh’s appointment will, however, need a formal approval from the Igad Summit, composed of heads of state and governments from member states.
The last such ordinary summit happened in 2010 when Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki handed chairmanship to then Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi.
Since then, Ethiopia has continuously held the chairmanship through its three successive Prime Ministers, Mr Meles Zenawi, Mr Hailemariam Desalegn and the incumbent, Dr Abiy Ahmed.
Dr Workneh’s appointment it means Ethiopia now holds the two key positions at the same time, a situation that could compel Dr Abiy to convene an urgent ordinary summit to resolve the matter.
Sources at the Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated Nairobi wanted to be chairman as member states haggled for positions.
Uganda, Somalia and Djibouti had also contested for the executive secretary office but Dr Abiy claimed leaders had “reached consensus” on the Ethiopian diplomat.
One argument fronted by both Addis Ababa and Nairobi’s domination of the bloc is that they are the largest contributors to the Igad budget and currently have no arrears. The two pump in at least $2.7 million each per year.
Formed in 1996, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa superseded the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (Igadd), which was founded in 1986 to deal with natural disasters.
The new bloc was supposed to generate a regional identity and be in charge of resolving regional crises ranging from civil wars to natural disasters, and enhancing economic and regional integration.
Normally a calm organisation focusing on the Horn of Africa political scene, the bloc headquartered in Djibouti has recently attracted agitation from members seeking to lead it for the first time since it was set up.
IGAD, which has been mediating crises in Sudan and South Sudan, also focuses on helping civilians in times of disaster. But it is heavily donor-dependent.
This year, it received a windfall in technical cooperation grants comprising $16 million, $2.33 million of which came from the European Union.
The programme is to be implemented by the German Agency for International Development (GIZ) through direct support to the Igad Drought Disaster Resilience Initiative (IDDRSI) strategy. The programme runs until December 2020.
The German government also offered $22.6 million for Igad’s Regional Migration Fund (RMF). The Germans have been Igad's main donors for the last decade.