To build peace in the Horn of Africa, Pact focuses on climate change

June 2, 2022
A Pact-supported peace dividend project at Kenya's Lake Turkana helped bring together fishers from cross-border communities. Credit: Pact

As it is across much of the world, climate change is significantly affecting weather patterns across the Horn of Africa, resulting in more unpredictable rainfall and more extreme weather events, including droughts, flooding and invasions of weather-dependent insects like locusts. These events raise the region’s vulnerability to serious food shortages and competition over other increasingly scarce resources.  

Pastoralist communities that rely on water and pasture resources experience the consequences of climate change particularly acutely, as extreme weather events and changes in land use force them to trek further afield to find life-sustaining necessities. Over time, these stressors have raised the risk of violence between communities. For example, as the borders of Lake Turkana continue receding from Ethiopia toward Kenya, nomadic communities follow those shrinking borders across territory, and boundary disputes become more frequent. The waning availability of fishing grounds is also likely to become a salient driver of conflict between Ethiopian and Kenyan fishermen.   

Noting these trends and challenges, Pact’s Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management and Integration (RASMI) and Selam Ekisil (SEEK) programs designed and advanced peacebuilding activities to mitigate the risk of conflict motivated by environmental shocks. For example, in 2020, RASMI engaged community partners on both sides of the Kenya-Somalia border in a range of conflict-resolution trainings and trust-building activities. With these foundational skills, the Murule community of Kenya and Marehan community of Somalia signaled their willingness to negotiate an agreement to manage disputes over the use of natural resources that previously propelled them into conflict. RASMI supported the negotiations to make the accord a reality, and it has since diffused several potential conflicts over land and water resources and improved relations between the clans.

Pact’s experience demonstrates the strategic value in peacebuilding programming that directly addresses environmental realities as drivers of conflict and as opportunities to creatively leverage joint effort, participation and cohesion.

RASMI and SEEK also have promoted cooperation to address environmental drivers of conflict through peace dividend projects that incentivize and sustain peaceful relations and non-violent behavior. For example, RASMI implemented a “trees-for-peace" initiative in July 2021. More than 100 women and youth throughout communities across the Kenya-Ethiopia border planted 3,000 seedlings and have been regularly watering them since. This activity motivated people from rival communities to develop and sustain a shared interest and to build social capital and cohesion. As the RASMI project came to a close recently, community members expressed plans to continue taking care of the trees as one way of collectively addressing climate change challenges. Importantly, the trust that the youth and women built while planting and sustaining the trees also enabled them to share information with one another, including related to the risk of potential and imminent conflicts that created the basis for a community-level early warning information sharing network.  

“Looking back four years ago, we could not imagine meeting with our neighbors from Ethiopia to plant trees to conserve the resources that drive us to conflicts in the first place,” one trees-for-peace participant said. “RASMI helped us to regularly meet with our neighbors from Ethiopia and dialogue on peaceful resource sharing and the ways to conserve the little we have by planting trees to stop frequent droughts, which is one of our biggest challenges here.” 

Given the history of competition over natural resources throughout the Horn of Africa and the persistent, tangible consequences of climate change, communities throughout the region are likely to increasingly experience conflict that is motivated or exacerbated by environmental shocks and stressors. Without diligent attention to these dynamics, pastoralist communities may be forced to abandon their lifestyle relying on land and water resources, which would have significant economic consequences. Pact’s experience demonstrates the strategic value in peacebuilding programming that directly addresses environmental realities as drivers of conflict and as opportunities to creatively leverage joint effort, participation and cohesion. Climate change will remain critical to comprehensive conflict prevention initiatives and must become central to integrated development efforts. 

For more information about Pact’s conflict and peacebuilding programming, see this blog series