Strengthening resilience in borderlands communities in the Horn of Africa

  • Client: Pact Kenya
  • Location: Kenya’s borders with Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda

The challenge : Strengthening resilience in Kenya’s complex borderlands regions

State borders and the borderlands that surround them are vulnerable to a multitude of stresses – from armed conflict, drought, political transition to mass displacement. Such areas can exist in a near-permantent state of unpredictable tensions, amidst a struggle of interests, actors, dynamics and networks. For the people who live there, the threats to life and livelihoods are many.

Complex environments such as these also make life extremely difficult for policymakers and implementers. Identifing promising interventions and entry points is hard. Even more challenging is to understand the wider impacts of such initiatives beyond the narrow confines of their core aims.

The development organisation Pact implement a number of cross-border programmes in Kenya designed to strengthen peace and stability: PEACEIII funded by USAID, as well as the EU-funded SEEK and RASMI. Beyond the impenetrable acronyms and lengthy logframes, anecdotal evidence had emerged of wider benefits for the communities they support. The critical question arising is whether these stories of improved resilience could be supported by clear evidence. And if the evidence existed, what were the implications for cross-border programming?

The development organisation Pact implement a number of cross-border programmes in Kenya designed to strengthen peace and stability.

Our work : Examining the nexus between peacebuilding and resilience

Wasafiri has been working to understand and tackle conflict ecosystems in East Africa for over a decade. We were commissioned by Pact to look into the stories of change emerging from their programming with three particular objectives;

1. To advance a theoretical framework through which resilience in cross-border or borderlands settings can be examined.

2. To identify those outcomes of Pact’s cross-border work which have strengthened various forms of community resilience in Kenya’s border zones.

3. To assess how integrated and adaptive programming can strengthen the resilience of borderlands communities.

In response, we employed a variety of participatory, ethnographic, and system-based approaches across three very different contexts; Kenya’s Turkana county and Uganda’s Karamoja region, the border between Lamu county and Somalia’s Ras Kamboni district, and Moyale, which straddles the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

The outcome : The case for integrated, adaptive initiatives to strengthen local resilience

Our work revealed the highly political nature of living and working in the borderlands, in that communities exist within a messy system of competing political, economic and social dynamics that constantly threaten to disrupt progress towards greater stability.

By extension, we found that resilience toward conflict and insecurity, economic or environmental shocks could not be understood in isolation – to do so is to impose false and dangerous dichotomies – and nor should they be approached in programmatic silos.

We found six key factors supporting (or undermining) resilience for borderlands communities; cross-border trade; border security; natural resource management; centre-periphery politics; cross-border social networks; and the presence of border-adjacent infrastructure and state services. We also found that these factors coalesced in crucial feedback loops which could strengthen various forms of resilience.

This led us to conclude that there was truth to the stories we had heard; that there are strong, well-evidenced arguments for better, more integrated programming, founded upon peacebuilding, and which stand to improve life for people living in East Africa’s borderlands.

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