Eritrea rejoins IGAD with strengthened ties to Kenya

Nairobi (Caasimada Online) – For decades, the relationship between Kenya and Eritrea has been strained, with tensions rising to the point of a mid-flight redirect of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plane in 2015. 

However, President William Ruto seemed to break this trend when he responded favorably to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s advances during the early stages of his presidency. 

The two leaders recently held a joint press conference and discussed regional integration, trade, and regional security.

Regional Integration

At the joint press conference, Presidents Ruto and Isaias discussed regional integration’s incongruity and “contradiction” while borders continue to be erected.  

President Isaias stated, “Any meaningful bilateral cooperation must be viewed in the larger context of regional integration. We cannot achieve bilateral cooperation without integration, which has been a long-standing pursuit for decades.” 

President Isaias expressed no doubt in Eritrea’s decision to rejoin the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) after having boycotted the regional bloc in 2007 due to a perceived bias.  

President Ruto expressed delight at the reaffirmation of President Isaias’ commitment to rejoining the IGAD family. Despite tensions between member states, such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Somalia, the countries have agreed to engage in dialogue. 

Potential for economic collaboration 

President Ruto spoke of the immense economic potential for collaboration between Kenya and Eritrea and the need for structured engagement in light of the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area. 

Visa requirements have been abolished between Nairobi and Asmara, mirroring a decades-old agreement between Kenya and Ethiopia. 

Despite IGAD not being traditionally a trading bloc and its commerce numbers being low, this may be attributed to a lack of functioning arrangements and the prevalence of illegal trade, which is estimated to have reached $2.2 trillion last year. 

IGAD views technology and commercial connections between its member states as crucial in reducing conflict and reuniting the regional bloc.

Stabilizing the Region 

During their December 2022 meeting, Presidents Ruto and Isaias discussed trade and regional security, leading to the gradual withdrawal of Eritrean troops in Tigray and pushing the TPLF to surrender their weapons.

The two leaders also spoke of stabilizing the region, but IGAD has faced challenges in finding permanent solutions.