As the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, governments are hard-pressed to return their countries to some sense of normalcy, even as the virus continues to spread. In Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, authorities are relaxing travel restrictions – a move that has been followed by a sharp rise in new infections, which is expected to worsen in the coming months.
Beyond health concerns, social, economic and political impacts are hitting hard a region known as the Mandera Triangle – where the borders of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia meet. The area is already marginalized, with less infrastructure and fewer basic social services than many other regions. Insecurity stemming from violent extremism, ethnic conflicts and the recent desert locust invasion are further stressing resilience in Mandera Triangle communities.
After Kenya’s government set border movement restrictions, there were many reports of law enforcement agencies using excessive means to enforce the new rules. This strained police-community relationships and hampered the government’s efforts to initiate rights-based policing, which is critical in countering violent extremism. While the community often views policing as the sole responsibility of state security agents, in fact police-community partnerships are critical to nipping crime and extremism in the bud and upholding the rule of law.
To help build trust between the community and state security providers and to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on peace and security, partners in the RASMI project took action. Funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa, RASMI (the Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management and Integration project) is using a conflict systems-based approach to promote peace-building, conflict management and conflict resolution capacity at the community and cross-border levels in the Mandera region. Led by Pact, it is part of the EU's program for Collaboration in the Cross-Border areas of the Horn of Africa.
In early August, in Mandera Town, Kenya, RASMI held a dialogue between security forces and community members about rights-based policing and conflict early warning and response. The event helped to build social cohesion and security in the Mandera Triangle by strengthening the coordination among local peace and security institutions to effectively respond to conflict and insecurity, while also building community awareness about citizen policing.
“We want to see community involvement and participation in policing matters so that security can be improved in the cross-border areas,” RASMI program officer Abdimunim Haji Dahir said at the event. “Security is a collective responsibility, and we must all do our part to ensure that criminals and extremists have zero opportunity to take advantage of the Covid-19 shocks to expand their extremist agenda.”
Mohamed Ibrahim, a community policing member in Mandera, said, “Although residents are willing to support the police in maintaining law and order through information sharing, the negative attitudes and perceptions they hold of security personnel – who are mostly non-local – demotivate these efforts. Meaningful police-community partnerships can only be achieved if the government instructs state security chiefs to fully adhere to codes of ethics.”
At the heart of an effective early warning and response system is information. It is critical that community focal points and community policing units are established, and residents must be encouraged to report crime in a timely, reliable and honest manner, with security officials responding appropriately. Consistent coordination among state authorities, community organizations and civil society goes a long way in bolstering effective service delivery and sharing challenges and lessons learned. This is why RASMI fosters trust through dialogues.
“The government appreciates and respects community contributions to managing peace and security, but the major problem is lack of timely and consistent sharing of information,” said Mike Wangila, Mandera’s deputy county commissioner. “We need timely information, and we shall respond without delay.”
RASMI is following the dialogue with interventions to increase community participation in enforcing peace and security and to examine the conduct of police officers, especially with respect to human rights abuses. This includes public rallies to encourage policing partnerships as well as enforcement of disciplinary protocols against rogue police officers.
Despite new challenges posed by Covid-19, RASMI is working hand in hand with communities to stop crime and terror incidences. Pact and its partners will evaluate progress during a follow-up dialogue in November, and successful interventions will be replicated in Ethiopia and Somalia to harmonize approaches across borders.