* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Horn of Africa is often synonymous with extreme poverty, conflict, demographic pressure, environmental stress, and under-investment in basic social services such as health, education, access to clean water and infrastructure.
In Kenya’s Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir and Mandera counties, for instance, between 74% and 97% of the people live below the absolute poverty line and literacy rates and school enrollment rates are well below the national average. Conditions here are rife with flashpoints for potential conflict over natural resources and access to limited government services, and all too fertile for discontent, radicalization, violent extremism and recruitment of adolescents and youth into armed groups as an economic survival mechanism.
Confronting the challenges of radicalization and terrorist threats in the region calls for a focused strategy on a compendium of socio-cultural, economic, political and psychological factors. While extremism and related violence have traditionally been driven by exclusion and poverty, this paradigm is no longer adequate. As shown during the attack at Kenya’s Garissa University, not all extremists are uneducated or from poor families.
Complex, interlinked and rapidly evolving circumstances have brought about the need for a raft of interventions geared towards fostering sustainable peace in the border areas. One of the most promising initiatives to-date involves establishing social and economic interdependence across border communities.
This is the powerful rationale behind the pact between the Governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, who established a cross-border programme which straddles Marsabit County, Kenya and the Borana/Dawa Zones of Ethiopia known as the “Integrated Programme for Sustainable Peace and Socio-economic Transformation.”
This initiative was launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Executive Secretary, Ambassador Mahboub Maalim. A short video.
The programme, which is implemented in partnership with IGAD and the UN Country Teams of Ethiopia and Kenya, aims at preventing and mitigating potential violent conflicts and extremism in the borderland areas through conflict prevention mechanisms, addressing the root causes of violent extremism and focusing on the humanitarian, security and development nexus.
To take this programme another step forward, the Kenyan and Ethiopian Governments signed the programme document on 22 June 2017.
To galvanize support for the programme, an event titled “From Barriers to Bridges: The Ethiopia-Kenya Cross-Border Programme” was organized on 10 July 2017 at UNDP New York. It was co-chaired by the Permanent Representatives of Kenya and Ethiopia to the United Nations.
Taking stock of the programme to-date, one cannot help but marvel at how far the two countries have come and what can still be achieved. As confirmed by local community elders, local conflicts have diminished and the programme has achieved impressive results in reducing the allure of extremist groups such as Al-Shabaab among local youth, ever since joint interventions by the Government of Kenya, the UN and civil society partners started in 2015.
There have been significant socio-economic gains as well. The Isiolo-Merille-Marsabit-Moyale road, which is partially financed by the European Union (EU), is now complete and is expected to be a game-changer in enhancing integration, connectivity and promoting trade between Ethiopia and Kenya.
The World Bank has also embarked on a huge infrastructure development programme to link Isiolo with Mandera. The EU is already proposing that the Ethiopia-Kenya cross-border programme be scaled up to include the Mandera Triangle, the Omo and Karamoja clusters.
These are all welcome developments for a region with substantial development needs and considerable potential. The areas involved are home to more than half of Kenya’s livestock, which can be harnessed to create bigger and better agro-business industries.
The region’s diverse and rich culture and heritage, evidenced by local historical and geographical sites, can be an asset in developing eco-tourism. There is also a latent resource for clean and renewable energy exploitation, as proven by the recent launch of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which is expected to generate 310MW.
The recent discovery of major groundwater aquifers and massive oil deposits in Turkana provides further reason for optimism.
Cross-border trade could have a positive ripple effect. It is poised to generate tremendous revenue for both countries, reduce risks of conflict, facilitate prevention of violent extremism efforts (particularly if tied to approaches that aim to strengthen social cohesion and societal resilience as well as paying attention to the social/cultural/political dimensions that drive radicalization and extremism), and improve livelihoods, especially among the marginalized and poor communities to expedite the achievement of a core goal of the SDGs - ending poverty by 2030.
The UN Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Africa Mr. Abdoulaye Mar Dieye has said, “The Ethiopia Kenya Cross Border Programme has a high peace and development return. If we invest in the region we can boost development and reduce insecurity. This Cross Border Programme is a regional public good. It resonates far beyond Kenya and Ethiopia and can serve the entire continent".
The Kenya Ethiopia cross-border programme may well hold the key to an innovative approach to operationalizing Mr António Guterres, the UN Secretary General’s prevention agenda by addressing marginalization, radicalization and prevent violent extremism using human development and economic growth to spur peace.
Norway’s Ambassador to Kenya, Victor Ronneberg says. “this programme is a testimony of the UN’s convening role, to spur dialogue & engagement & reiterates the primacy of multilateralism even more in this day and age.”
The momentum has to be maintained and should not falter due to absence of resources. It is therefore critical for the international community to strongly support this initiative.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Follow him on twitter.