From peace champions to health champions: 'Boundary partners' in the Horn of Africa fight Covid-19

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From peace champions to health champions: 'Boundary partners' in the Horn of Africa fight Covid-19

Since 2017, Pact's RASMI project has worked to build peace in the shared border areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, known as the Mandera Triangle. The region has long experienced armed conflict, extremism and political instability. RASMI, which stands for Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management and Integration, uses a conflict systems-based approach to promote peace, conflict management and conflict resolution capacity at the community and cross-border levels. 

A key component of RASMI are local volunteer influencers who drive change within communities and ensure that the project's results will last. Known as "boundary partners," these influencers include 175 women, youth, religious and traditional leaders, peace committees and local government representatives. Together they have built far-reaching networks capable of sharing early-warning information on conflict and quickly mobilizing de-escalation efforts to stem possible violence. When a new threat emerged – Covid-19 – these boundary partners and their networks stepped up to play an invaluable role in responding to the pandemic in the Mandera Triangle. 

“A major part of peaceful cohesion among our diverse communities is making sure our people acquire the right information to effectively mitigate shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic," says Mohamed Ibrahim, an elder from Mandera.  

Zakaria Abdinur, a local youth leader, says RASMI prepared boundary partners to do just this. “Our long-running engagement with RASMI as key change agents of the community prepared us to easily incorporate health messaging, thus contributing to both community health and upholding peaceful coexistence.”      

When Covid-19 struck the region in March, boundary partners quickly transitioned from peace champions to health champions, spearheading social cohesion discussions and educating their communities about how to prevent the spread of Covid. RASMI engaged 83 boundary partners in a variety of activities to raise awareness, making sure to collaborate with public health officials from local government-established Covid-19 taskforces.

Awareness campaigns included radio, roadshows, billboards and banners that proved especially effective in sharing Covid-19 messages. Call-in radio talk shows reached an estimated 165,000 listeners across the Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia cross-border areas over the course of a month. The shows offered listeners a chance to ask questions and gave experts an opportunity to dispel Covid myths, including that the virus cannot survive or spread in hot areas and that it is just a variation of the common cold – both untrue. 

RASMI boundary partners and local public health officials take part in a Dawa FM radio talk show to raise awareness about stopping the spread of Covid-19. (Photo: RASMI)

“In our experience, messages delivered verbally or through voice recordings have a greater impact on audiences than written ones," explains RASMI project manager Abdimunim Dahir. "RASMI is also cognizant of varied literacy levels. Use of local languages in awareness interventions is paramount, and radio and roadshows mean we reach more people in a short amount of time.”

The Star FM, broadcasting in Somali language, and Dawa FM, broadcasting in the Borana/Garre dialect, were strategically selected to reach various audiences across the region. In addition to talk shows, the radio stations aired public service announcements three times a day to build Covid-19 awareness.

Through roadshows, boundary partners reached more than 15,000 residents across three countries. They traveled with public health officials in vehicles mounted with public address systems and draped with banners displaying Covid-19 and peace messages. They made just under 130 stops at health centers, markets and shopping centers, sharing information on the virus and government measures to mitigate the pandemic, notably curfews. Police officers took part in several caravan sessions to assuage fears of personal harm or property destruction during curfews. The caravans also gave communities an opportunity to ask local officials for personal protective equipment such as masks.

RASMI boundary partners reached more than 15,000 people in three countries with caravans sharing Covid-19 information. (Photo: RASMI)

Behind the scenes, groups of boundary partners worked tirelessly to create accurate, properly translated messaging and content, including recorded voice messages that were shared on Facebook and WhatsApp.

“The messages were educational and provided correct details about the virus," says Abdirahman Mudow, an elder from Mandera. "This was helpful, and more messages in local dialects are needed to continually educate the community with these important health messages.”

 

Funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), the Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management and Integration (RASMI) project adopts a conflict systems-based approach to promote peace-building, conflict management and conflict resolution capacity at the community and cross-border levels. It is part of the EU’s program for Collaboration in the Cross-Border areas of the Horn of Africa, providing over 60 million euros of investment to prevent and mitigate the impact of local conflict and to promote economic development and greater resilience in four cross-border regions.

 

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