BWIRE: Cross border movements and conflicts require more than security interventions

BWIRE: Cross border movements and conflicts require more than security interventions

By Victor Bwire

The questioning of eleven Members of Parliament from North Eastern Kenya by police on Sunday on return from a visit to Somalia once more raises the issue of the absence of cross border structures to solve cross border issues to the detriment of the security and development in such areas.

For a long time, cross border issues have been securitized, and the local communities are rarely involved in looking for solutions where even in some circumstances, the matters could simply be across families or clans that were divided by the colonial boundaries over use and or access to resources.

I see a number of people including MPs, Governors MCAs, Public Officers and members of the public alike, crossing borders seeking leisure, treatment, food, or merely visiting relatives across the border in Busia, Migori, Bungoma, West Pokot, Kajiado and Coast with ease.

The disquiet and the harsh exchange that followed the incident, which comes in the wake of tensions along the Northern Frontier region and increased terror attacks goes a long way how our countries largely focus more on border security, military presence, intelligence cooperation or peacekeeping when such matters arise.

The thinking is that solving conflicts affecting border communities are “hard security” matters that must be left to the State.

That civilians can be involved in such matter’s rattles people, yet the African Union in 2014 ratified the Niamey Convention (Cross Border Collaboration), which calls for peace through greater cross-border cooperation thus acknowledging the importance of an integrated approach to dealing with such issues.

Studies have shown that addressing peace-and security challenges related to borders requires both “hard” and “soft” approaches and only investing in securitized and state-centric responses will not be sustainable in the long-term if the buy-in of borderland communities for border policies is not in place.

A change in tact, as provided for under the Niamey Convention is inevitable to solving such cross-border conflicts and tensions in the Great Horn of Africa.

The region has a long history of contested identities, territories and unresolved/ongoing conflicts, presenting one of the most complex conflict systems in Africa where its borderlands have experienced centuries of marginalization and alienation from the centre.

It is also a region that continues to be an epicentre of securitized borderlands due to unresolved border conflicts and spill-over effects from porous borders such as violent extremism, human trafficking and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons which continue to threaten both human- and state security.

Not interestingly and because of these historical and contemporary reasons, the IGAD sub region – more so than the other sub regions like ECOWAS – lags behind in realizing the continent’s cross-border collaboration ambitions, and wider integration aspirations.

What’s so difficult to use the cultural similarities and cross blood bonds within the the three countries in East Africa to justify and push for the signing of the Niamey Convention in East Africa?

Already the AU has set aside funds for such initiatives and given the poverty levels around the region, countries need to use the more recent and tested integrated approaches to solve such problems, prioritizing involvement of local communities and their leadership structures.

Countries in the region need to signing and domesticate the AU Convention as it has elaborate mechanisms including the creation of local cross border community leadership structure that will be very instrumental in conflict resolution within the countries and minimize harm to the local communities.

The threats to border peace within the region ban cross border trade by any one of the countries in the Great Horn of Africa is always a big blow to development efforts in the region, which already is facing other challenges including poverty, climate change, locust’s invasion among others.

While the convention was adopted in the twenty-third ordinary session of the Assembly of AU Heads of States 2014, to date it has not achieved the numbers required to make it functional, significantly undermining the legal bearing of the Convention as it will enter into full force upon fifteen-member state ratifications.

The current framework on cross border security that is in operation is the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) Roadmap 2016-2020 that has five thematic priorities, out of which the first is conflict prevention, including both direct and structural conflict prevention dimensions.

Under this priority, APSA has largely focused on setting up conflict early warning systems at regional and continental levels and engaging in direct prevention in the form of preventive diplomacy through e.g. special envoys and the Panel of the Wise.

The author is the Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya