Borderline Peace

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa, Chief Technical Advisor of the Ethiopia and Kenya Cross Border Program at the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in Nairobi
Dr. Asfaw Kumssa, Chief Technical Advisor of the Ethiopia and Kenya Cross Border Program at the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in Nairobi

On December 2015 Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President Uhuru Kenyatta attempted to tackle youth unemployment by signing a deal to create energy, mining, and livestock related jobs along their border. Ethiopia and Kenya have historically had a symbiotic relationship, although recently there have been some tensions among ethnic groups due to lack of land and water. To alleviate this issue the two countries started the Ethiopia Cross Border program. However, the cost for that is over USD 200 million. So far a grant has come from the European Union for eleven million euro. Dr. Asfaw Kumssa, Chief Technical Advisor of the Ethiopia and Kenya Cross Border Program at the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in Nairobi, wants this endeavor to become reality so diplomatic and trade relations along the border region will improve. Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat down and spoke with Dr. Asfaw Kumssa to learn more.

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa has a PhD in International Studies, specializing in International Economics (University of Denver, CO, USA). He has published a number of books and articles in urban and regional planning; climate change; globalization; capacity building; human security and conflict; refugee issues; police corruption; social development; transitional economies; and other development related subjects.

Capital: Before we get into the potential of the new program tell us about the historical relationship between Ethiopia and Kenya.

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa: Ethiopia  and Kenya have long history of cordial economic and political cooperation in the field of trade, security and other fields such as; The Special Status Agreement signed  on November 21, 2012 between the Government of the Republic of Kenya and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia  on Areas of Agreed Priorities.

Both countries wish to further strengthen their partnership and cooperation in the field of cross-border programs. In this regard, since 2014, the Governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, in partnership with IGAD and the UN County Teams of Kenya and Ethiopia, and with support from partners, have embarked on an innovative, integrated program to bring about sustainable peace and transformative development in the border regions of Marsabit County, Kenya and Borana/Dawa Zones, Ethiopia.

As it is well-known, the national boundaries of most African countries were artificially carved out during the colonial era, dividing and separating groups and communities who had coexisted for centuries. The Gabra, Borana, Burji, Sakuye, and Garre live both in Ethiopia and Kenya and provide a vivid example of how the forced separation of communities can lead to instability and conflict.

However, despite this artificial separation, the relations and links between communities from the same ethnic group but who now live in different countries have continued to flourish in many aspects, including trade in goods and services, use of common natural resources; and participation in social and cultural activities.

Capital: Almost one year has passed since the leaders of Ethiopia and Kenya agreed to develop their cross border areas by using untapped energy, minerals and the meat and livestock trade to create  jobs for the youth living in the area.  Is there any progress that has been made so far?

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa: Since the program was launched, the narrative of the region has dramatically changed. Peace has prevailed and radicalization of the youth has been immensely reduced. Thirty five local peace committee members, comprised of different ethnic groups, have been continuously working on maintaining peace and committed themselves to peaceful coexistence, to live in harmony with each other. This was conveyed to the UNDP Administrator, Ms. Helen Clark and other government and UN officials who visited Moyale on 25 August 2016. The elders also testified to the fact that the number of young people who are radicalized and tempted to join Al Shabaab has declined.

Following this successful and informative visit, the UNDP Administrator commented “I believe this joint cross-border program has the potential to be replicated in other parts of the Horn of Africa. Programs like this can help overcome the barriers borders created and lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development’’. The Isiolo-Merille-Marsabit-Moyale road, which is partially financed by the European Union and African Development Bank, is now completed and will be a game changer as it will link Kenya to Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, and promote cross border trade.

There is a growing recognition of the need to transform the border regions from being “barriers” to becoming “bridges” in order to give communities on both sides of the border opportunities for better cooperation, and bridge isolation gaps so as to improve their livelihood and socioeconomic conditions; effectively managing and conserving their resources, and strengthening their cultural understanding and trust, which ultimately brings about sustainable peace and development.

This unique and innovative program has a great potential for replication in other parts of the Horn of Africa such as the Mandera Triangle and the Karamoja Cluster, and can also bring about sustainable cross-border peace and development, besides helping to curb illegal migration and enabling effective management of trafficking of human beings and small arms. The region has great socioeconomic potentials and opportunities for development. First, the region has large numbers of livestock which could be harnessed for meat and dairy products. Second, the cross-border trade between the border communities could generate tremendous revenue for both countries. Third, the region’s diverse and rich culture and heritage in its historical and geographical sites present a huge tourism potential. Fourth, clean and renewable energy is set to have a positive impact on the environment, health, and biodiversity of the region. A good example is the recent investment by the Kenyan government in the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project which is expected to generate 330MW of power.

Capital: A high level Joint workshop was held on Dec 19, what was the topic of that meeting? Were any agreements made?

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa: The delegation from the Ethiopian and Kenyan Governments met in Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa to discuss further prioritization of strategies of the program and also agree on the project management modalities as well as alternative sources of funding.

This workshop was officially opened by H.E. Kassa Teklebrhan, Minister for Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs, Ethiopia and H.E. Mwangi Kinujuri, the Cabinet Secretary of Ministry of Devolution and Planning of Kenya.

The project will be managed by a steering committee composed of the representatives of the two governments, the UN country teams of Ethiopia and Kenya, IGAD and representative of the local governments of the two countries. The project will be supported through the financial contribution of donors, the two governments, and the UN (through parallel funding mechanism).  We expected the two countries to sign a financial deal but they extended the talks by two weeks .

Capital: What were the concerns of the people living along the border?

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa: There are  limited livelihood options in the region combined with dwindling natural resources, land degradation, ethnic conflicts, proliferation of small arms and historical marginalization. Communities have been forced to fight with each other over control and access of grazing and watering points with dire consequences. Lives and property have been lost in these feuds with many others displaced on either side of the border. In an effort to address these challenges, an innovative, comprehensive and integrated cross-border program was initiated by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, in partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations. The rationale for focusing on this vast and fragile cross-border area is the fact that it has been a herd of instability: remote from the respective centers (Nairobi and Addis Ababa), it is characterized by a poorly developed physical infrastructure, human and armed trafficking, low literacy and high poverty levels. All the development indices in this cross-border area are significantly lower than the national averages of Ethiopia and Kenya, respectively. Access to basic services such as clean water, adequate health facilities and electricity remains a challenge. Pastoralism is the dominant economic activity and the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population along the Ethiopia-Kenya border areas.  Yet it is highly vulnerable to climatic events such as drought and poor natural resource management. Scarcity of resources leads to frequent conflicts among pastoralist communities over water and grazing land. These conflicts are exacerbated by ethnic rivalries, political incitement, the collapse of traditional governance systems, limited state presence and inadequate policing, and an influx of illicit arms from neighboring countries. As a consequence of frequent conflicts and inter-ethnic disputes, a large number of households have been displaced from their original settlements. Irregular migration and human trafficking across the Marsabit-Moyale border are also of concern as they feed off and add to a climate of lawlessness and insecurity.

This program aims to address this gap and to put emphasis on supporting and building the capacity of local governments and communities on a cross-border basis, including to develop early warning and response systems for man-made and natural disasters. It is based on the premise that improved cross-border cooperation creates opportunities for safe movements of people; enhanced trade, investment and tourism; shared use and effective management of natural resources; conflict prevention and peace building; and investments in improved infrastructure and services.

The objective of this programe is in line with the initiative launched in October 2014 by the UN Secretary General and the World Bank President, which was aimed at boosting economic growth, reducing poverty and promoting business activities in the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda) through, among other things, cross-border cooperation.

Cross-border cooperation within a shared geographic area and other economic interactions creates opportunities for (a) trade, investment and tourism; (b) effective management and use of natural resources; (c) improved infrastructure; and (d) facilitating cross-border movement of people. In this regard, the ever-increasing competition for, and conflict over, the use and management of resources in border areas, such as pasture and water, lakes, rivers, among other resources, has increased the need for cross-border and area-based development strategies and cooperation.On the other hand, if not planned and managed properly, cross-border relations could also result in an increase in conflicts, proliferation of small arms, human and drug trafficking besides general instability that leads to loss of lives and property

IGAD and the UN are also involved in the program, how are they contributing?  

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa: IGAD, as  regional body, will facilitate and support projects/activities which are cross-border and regional in nature.IGAD will also be represented in the Steering Committee and provide over all policy guidance and advisory services. The UN, in collaboration with its development partners, is endeavoring to unlock the potential of the region through provision of technical assistance. The UN has provided the necessary technical support and equipment to Moyale hospital which is serving both communities from Ethiopia and Kenya to improve its health services, especially in maternal health care. With the support of  the UN a “Biashara Centre” – a business incubator centre – was opened in Marsabit Town to empower the youth and address the problem of youth unemployment and promote SME. A similar centre will be opened either in Yabelo or Moyale,  on the Ethiopian side. The UN County Team also assisted  Marsabit County in undertaking a mid-term review of its County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) and also mainstream SDGs into the Plan. The revised CIDP which aims providing policies and strategies as to how to improve the living standard of the people of Marsabit through employment creation, reduction of poverty and creation of wealth was launched on 25 October 2016.

In collaboration with UN Women, the UN Country Team will soon launch a “He for She” initiative to empower women and address the problem of gender inequality and enhance women’s participation in the development process in both regions.

Capital: In East Africa the border areas are known for conflict, what can be done to stop this?

Dr. Asfaw Kumssa: Conflicts, in the border regions of the Horn of Africa, have disrupted the production systems, contributed to displacement of people and deepened poverty. Deepening poverty, in turn, along with global climatic changes and rapid population growth, intensifies  environmental degradation and the scarcity of vital resources such as land and water. Therefore, addressing the issue of conflict should be linked to improving the livelihood of the communities and reducing poverty through transformative economic programs. We should also strengthen peace committees and revive traditional conflict management institutions while at the same time strengthening  the cooperation between the countries of Horn through similar programs. It is important to note that the same people live in the border regions and therefore addressing their common challenges will bring sustainable peace in the border lands.