Borderlands across the Horn of Africa are isolated, poor, and insecure, yet they hold real economic potential driven by a wealth of natural resources and some of the world’s most rapidly growing economies.
According to a recent World Bank report, “From Isolation to Integration: An Overview of the Borderlands of the Horn of Africa,” the pathways to economic prosperity in the region are hampered by isolation, conflict, displacement, poverty and rapid population growth, mainly within the borderland clusters of Karamoja, Borana, Somali/Mandera, and Dikhil. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has identified these areas as having historically suffered from underinvestment and whose challenges and vulnerabilities cannot be tackled by national action alone.
Currently, population growth within the Horn of Africa averages 3% a year and the population are expected to double every 23 years, the report notes. Such rapid population growth coupled with a bulging young population poses a challenge for sustaining incomes and livelihoods and slowed poverty reduction efforts in already marginalized borderland regions.
The report outlines some of the key constraints in the borderlands, including limited access to infrastructure, social services, and livelihoods, and hybrid, often weak, governance systems. The drivers of fragility, including climatic crises and violent extremism operate across national boundaries, as do the means by which people cope. Freedom of movement for people and goods is essential for intercommunity trade, livelihoods and survival. Yet it is often restricted by some states for security reasons. Regional collaboration is essential to deal with cross-border issues.
”Given the various drivers of fragility in the Horn of Africa, including high levels of poverty, environmental degradation, weak formal and informal institutions, conflict and forced displacement, there is an urgent need to invest in the systemic resilience of the region and importantly the borderlands, to enhance their capacities to prepare for and respond effectively to shocks and stresses, and to achieve development goals,” said Varalakshmi Vemuru, Lead Social Development Specialist at the World Bank and Lead author of the Report.
By highlighting the need for a borderlands approach, the report encourages policymakers to prioritize the particular histories and contexts of border regions and the communities living in them. The borderlands approach seeks to address the drivers of fragility in the Horn of Africa through facilitation of mobility and trade as central to livelihoods in the region.
The report highlights a few principles to deepen resilience through mobility and trade in the region. It recommends prioritization of the poor and vulnerable, particularly youths and women to further enhance household incomes within borderland communities. Integration of citizen engagement within development projects in borderlands may help institutionalize a community-driven approach to promote participation, accountability and transparency.
The report also notes that cross-border initiatives need to be multisectoral and must address livelihoods, institutions, and stability/security. Central to this response is a call for regional integration through additional support to existing development initiatives including those formulated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union on borderlands, to strengthen platforms for dialogue as well as technical capacities. These should target policies to enhance trade and mobility, shared management of land and water resources and shared cross-border development planning plus investments in infrastructure and socio-economic services.