Cross-border areas are usually located far from national capitals, at the periphery of the countries. In the pastoral context of the drylands of the Horn of Africa region, where there are high levels of human and livestock mobility, borders have little significance and meaning to the populations living in cross-border areas, as international borders do not follow ethnic or ecosystem lines. The inhabitant populations move (or would prefer to move) freely across the borders; and, therefore, it is essential to take these cross-border movements and dynamics into consideration when planning or implementing development programs in cross-border areas.

While cross-border programming may also be required across intra-country borders, ecosystem borders or ethnic boundaries, the discussion in this paper is focused on international borders. Unless stated otherwise, ‘border’ is defined as a boundary which is geographically located between nations; and a ‘cross-border area’ is an area that stretches across a boundary and is under the jurisdiction of two or more nations.

The imperative of cross-border cooperation

Whereas each individual country may have its own specific national priorities and programs, the development of cross—border areas cannot be tackled through national programs alone, as it demands cross-border collaboration and involves coordinated interventions. Thus while decisions and actions by national governments are usually based on national priorities and outlook, these decisions often affect counterparts beyond the national borders. If one country has better facilities or resources (e.g. water and pasture) and services (schools, hospitals, security, etc), it will most likely lead to people in neighboring countries and their livestock flocking in to seek safe havens and better-served locations from which problems of overgrazing, transmission of trans-boundary animal diseases, conflicts, etc, may occur. There is need to jointly consider the implications of proposed actions and how these can be leveraged by all concerned stakeholders to ensure mutual benefits and cost-effectiveness, particularly for communities living on either side of a common border.

Cross-border cooperation recognizes that changes on one side of the border can have spillover effects, positive or negative on the other sides of the border. It facilitates the possibility of ecosystem-based management, which is an effective approach that recognizes the full array of interactions within an ecological zone, in a collective and holistic manner, based on considerations of the requirements, available resources and development possibilities of the cross-border area in question. By working together, communities in cross-border areas can jointly identify and address the specific challenges that they share while exploiting opportunities presented by the cross-border area that they share. Cross-border cooperation facilitates the generation of social capital, trust and mutual understanding among the communities on all sides of the borders. Such cooperation contributes to the stability and prosperity for all involved parties.

Challenges of cross-border cooperation

Development of border areas is often complicated by the cross-border interactions and situations that require special arrangements to be made between the authorities in the respective host countries. First of all, most cross-border areas are composed of either geographically- or geologically-dynamic features such as mountains, rivers or lakes, which form a physical means of separation between communities but can also provide rich natural and environmental resources in these cross-border areas for mutual exploitation. Rational utilization of shared natural and environmental resources usually becomes more difficult in cross-border areas than in areas under the jurisdiction of a single authority. Management of cross-border resources becomes increasingly difficult and inefficient with respect to the number of independent stakeholders involved. This is because of the uneven distribution of production factors within each cross-border area as well as the non-cooperative mechanism resulting from two or more political, economic and cultural stakeholders within each cross-border area.

The important link between natural resources management and social relations between clans and ethnic groups has often been downplayed. Pastoralist groups must move, and in doing so they inevitably move into each other’s territory, sometimes in competition for resources. Natural resources management is thus intimately linked with the management of the relationships among pastoralist clans and ethnic groups. These relationships do not take place in an institutional vacuum but depend on rules, behavioral norms and principles to maintain and restore collaboration within the competition and to provide a framework for managing conflict over pastoralists’ divided-but-shared resource base.

In particular, normative principles of reciprocity and mutual cooperation have customarily guided and informed sharing mechanisms among clans and ethnic groups, both within and across the international border. Granting access to water and pasture to needy members of another clan or ethnic group is ultimately viewed as an ethical obligation and is seen as insurance against the future, since it is expected that the same support will be returned during times of stress: it is the pastoral tradition of sharing.

The Karamoja Region

The Karamoja region refers to an area of land that straddles the borders between South-Western Ethiopia, North-Western Kenya, South-Eastern South Sudan, and North-Eastern Uganda. The region is composed of semi-arid savannah, grading into wooded grassland to the north and northwest and semi-desert to the south and southeast. Rainfall is generally unpredictable and localized, making agriculture an unreliable subsistence strategy. The region has, in the past, experienced a host of challenges, including a persistent drought that has been closely associated with food insecurity, chronic poverty, protracted competition and conflicts over cattle and access to pasture and water resources and unwarranted loss of human life, as well as cross-border incursions.

The Karamoja region is populated by at least 13 pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities (including Bokora, Dessenitch, Didinga, Dodoth, Jie, Matheniko, Nyangatom, Thur, Pian, Pokot, Tepeth, Topotha, and Turkana) who share a common language, culture, and way of life.  These communities face common challenges and are often interconnected through, inter alia, natural resource sharing, livestock movement, regional trade and trans-boundary human and animal diseases. The development of the Karamoja region is complicated by one of its defining features – the fact that it is a cross-border area: a geographic location that is shared between 4 countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda), inhabited by communities that are characterized by their interaction and interconnectedness through various unifying factors (e.g. social, ethnic and linguistic unity; sharing complementary natural resources, livestock movement, infrastructure and trade). The communities of the Karamoja region are affected by the challenges of occupying the same space, especially as all of them are vulnerable to various shocks and stresses, such as conflicts, drought, trans-boundary human and animal diseases. These unifying factors, including challenges in water and pasture availability, poor markets and inadequate infrastructure underscore the inextricable linkage of communities with a common destiny whose development cannot be tackled through national programs alone. Such a cross-border situation demands that special arrangements and considerations are made by the authorities in the respective host countries. Addressing issues of cross-border development calls for well-coordinated responses at the local and regional levels.

For example, the livelihoods of communities that inhabit Karamoja depend on pastoralism. They frequently move their livestock across the common border in search of pasture and water, and livestock from both sides of the border frequently make contact. Despite being treated and regularly tested on the Ugandan side of the border, herders observed that animals were increasingly contracting illnesses and dying after making contact with untreated and untested livestock, mostly from across the border in Kenya.  In light of these challenges, a meeting was organized in 2011 by veterinary officers from Uganda and Kenya along the border. However, it became evident that they were not allowed to work together without the accord of their respective Ministries. With support from the European Union and FAO, a cross-border animal health memorandum was agreed, providing a platform for governments and technicians to meet and synchronize activities in the two countries, such as vaccination campaigns, surveillance and disease control.

This example highlights the need for special arrangements to facilitate cross-border cooperation. While each individual country may have its own specific national priorities and programs, it is evident that cross-border collaboration and coordination, guided by appropriate institutional arrangements is imperative when considering cross-border development. A ministerial meeting on peace, security and development in the Karamoja region attended by ministers in charge of security from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, which was convened under the auspices of IGAD and held in Entebbe, Uganda, on October 2013, highlighted the importance of international cooperation as a prerequisite for successful development in cross-border areas and called for the introduction of innovative cooperation frameworks and mechanisms to facilitate cross-border development. In the Ministerial Communiqué released by the meeting in Entebbe, the IGAD Secretariat was tasked to address the challenges of cross-border implementation of projects aimed at building resilience within the framework of the IGAD Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI). To this end, it was agreed that there would be the need for the establishment of an IGAD Coordination Office to coordinate and facilitate the activities undertaken in the development of cross-border areas, such as the Karamoja Region.

A regional workshop held in Nairobi on 25th April 2016 provided an opportunity to build a common understanding on how to plan and implement resilience-enhancing investments in cross-border areas of the IGAD – region; reviewed aspects of cross-border cooperation and discussed the modalities of cooperation in the management of interventions in cross-border areas. The workshop identified the challenges and opportunities that affect development; and examined proposals for the establishment of a cross-border development facilitation unit.

Establishing the Karamoja Cross-border Development Facilitation Unit (CBDFU)

The IDDRSI Platform Steering Committee and General Assembly meetings held in Nairobi, 27 – 29 April 2016, recommended that IGAD should establish a Cross-border Development Facilitation Unit in Moroto, Uganda to serve the Karamoja region (shared by Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda). The Nairobi IDDRSI Platform meetings urged IGAD to approach Member States and Development Partners with the request to put in place the necessary resources required for the functioning and sustainability of the Unit at Moroto; and called upon IGAD, in consultation with the affected countries, to identify cross-border areas targeted for the implementation of IDDRSI, where other CBDFUs would be established.

In view of the widely acknowledged necessity for cross-border cooperation in the implementation of IDDRSI; and within the framework of the recommendations and collective decision made by IGAD Member States and development partners, IGAD, with the support of BMZ/GIZ, established a Cross-border Development Facilitation Unit in Moroto to facilitate cooperation in the implementation of IDDRSI, among the 4 countries (Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan) that share boundaries in the Karamoja Region. The Cross-border Development Facilitation Unit (CBDFU) established in Moroto, Uganda in February 2017, becoming the first of several other such units that, in due course, will be established in other cross-border areas (locations to be decided by IGAD in consultation with the affected countries and development partners), with each unit has the functions listed below.

Functions of the CBDFU

  • Liaise with the affected national and local governments in the planning and execution of activities related to the implementation of IDDRSI;
  • Coordinate the formulation of cross-border integrated development plans;
  • Provide harmonized and coordinated support in knowledge management, programming and capacity building activities and other technical support to local and national governments and non-state actors, as may be required in the implementation of IDDRSI;
  • Provide the coordination and linkage between the regional, national and cross-border area coordination centers, through the IDDRSI Platform Coordination Unit, reporting to the affected countries and the IDDRSI Platform Steering Committee and General Assembly.

 Implementation of resilience-enhancing projects in the Karamoja region

IDDRSI is an example of a program that embraces and enhances the cross-border development approach. IDDRSI projects comprise harmonized, multi-sectoral, holistic interventions in seven priority Intervention Areas that require cross-border cooperation among neighboring countries for effective implementation. IDDRSI is thus a framework of national action backed by regional thinking and an essential element of cross-border engagement, which has become a significant feature of the development discourse in the IGAD region. For the implementation of IDDRSI, the IGAD Member States developed programming frameworks in the form of Country Programming Papers and Regional Programming Paper with a special focus on national projects and regional or cross border interventions respectively.

Cross-border cooperation in the implementation of IDDRSI is made imperative by the recognition that the development of entire cross-border areas, as single ecological zones, is more preferable and cost-effective than independent, often uncoordinated actions executed under multiple jurisdictions on parts of the cross-border area. IGAD coordinates regional interventions to build drought resilience in the Horn of Africa. Under this mandate, IGAD convenes a series of high-level and technical consultation meetings to prepare comprehensive investment programs for the inhabitant vulnerable communities of the region. These consultations have involved governments, regional economic communities, civil society organizations, development partners, research institutions and academia.

Against the background described above, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda are implementing cross-border resilience-enhancing projects within the framework of IDDRSI including the Regional Pastoral Livelihoods and Resilience Programme. The projects are funded by the World Bank and are being executed in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Another regional effort is the Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Program, which is financed by the African Development Bank and is being implemented in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan.

Looking beyond the Karamoja ecological zone, there are plans aimed at building the resilience of communities inhabiting cross-border areas, which will be implemented with the support of different partners, including the German Development Bank KfW, European Union Commission, African Development Bank, World Bank, USAID, Sweden and under the general coordination of IGAD.