East Africa’s borders are especially complex regions: To varying degrees, the regions border zones are extremely porous. This porosity can act as a source of resilience for border communities by facilitating cross-border trade, social connectivity, and greater access to services. However, the same conditions have also been conducive to the proliferation of conflict actors, which presents a significant threat to states and communities in the region.
Despite the unique characteristics of each country/region, conflict dynamics are highly interconnected and dynamic. While many border zones in the region may appear relatively stable from an outside perspective, this appearance of stability masks a hotbed of activity by violent groups linked to criminal and trafficking activity, political insurgency and violent extremism.
Border zones urgently require our attention and better-informed responses: Over the next decade, political transition, population growth, evolving transnational security risks and climate change will have a huge impact on all aspects of life – security, stability, development and humanitarian – for the Horn of Africa region. Working on the borders, as part of wider regional engagement, is crucial. Borders create a microcosm of competing political, economic and social dynamics; the failure to manage cross-border dynamics presents wider threats to stability. Conversely, strengthening the resilience of borderlands communities presents opportunities to enhance local and regional cooperation,
Yet to date, efforts at strengthening borders have struggled to achieve lasting impact: For better and for worse, new actors and institutions are increasingly turning their attentions to the region’s borders. Despite worthy intentions, there remains a tendency to intervene from narrowly defined agendas which can lead to counterproductive efforts. For example, the flood of migrants to Europe has driven policy-makers to tackle irregular migration across borders while economic and trade organisations have been keen to promote cross-border trade, at the same time the spread of violent extremism has prompted regional and Western governments alike to regard borderlands principally as a security risk.
Tackling such singular issues through unilateral interventions which fail to consider borderlands as a complex, multifaceted system risks unintended harm with potentially regional consequences.