With support from Pact, communities along the Kenya-Ethiopia border work together to end raids, build peace

September 6, 2022
A community in Hamer, Ethiopia, holds a conflict rapid response dialogue. Credit: SEEK

It was a dangerous situation that could have ended very differently for communities along the Kenya-Ethiopia border that have long been at odds. In the spring, a group of Dassenach youth stole a herd of camels, goats and sheep belonging to the Gabra communities of Buluk. Reliable sources said it was revenge for an earlier attack by the Gabra.

In the past, such raids have led to violence, but this time was different. Government officials on each side of the border who learned of the thefts decided to work together on a solution. They mobilized village elders and local administrators to track down 12 stolen camels and return them to their owners with help from Ethiopian officials. The camels were successfully handed over in North Horr soon after they were taken.

The cooperation was made possible by the Pact-led SEEK project, funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa. SEEK uses a conflict systems based approach to address the multiple causes of conflict in cross-border areas and to promote peace building, conflict management and conflict resolution capacity at the community and cross-border levels. The project strengthens systems and institutions to peacefully manage and resolve conflict on the border of Southwest Ethiopia and Northwest Kenya.

Among other activities, SEEK hosts dialogues to help once-rival communities build trust and understanding to peacefully resolve problems such as disputes over animals and natural resources. SEEK also trains and supports “boundary partners” – local volunteer influencers who drive change within communities and ensure that the project's results will last. Boundary partners include 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.

SEEK has helped to build far-reaching networks for sharing conflict early-warning information and quickly mobilizing de-escalation efforts to stem violence.

The returned camels. Credit: SEEK

“The swift coordination enabled us to track and return the camels to their owners,” says Samuel Siyel, a village chief on the Kenya side of the border. “Our Ethiopian brothers have demonstrated a lot of goodwill that we all must emulate.”

Three weeks later, the relationships and cooperation that SEEK has fostered were tested again. Siyel and other local Kenyan officials received information that Dassenach youth were planning another livestock raid against the Gabra, directed by their elders from the Omorate and Bubua areas. The local Kenyan officials decided to visit the spot where the youth were gathering to mount their attack. The youth scattered, and then the Kenyan officials reached out to their Ethiopian counterparts who agreed to help. Together with two local boundary partners, they held cooperative talks and then visited the youth raiders where they successfully persuaded them to stop their attacks.

“This is a great example of how raids and violence can be averted when there is trust and systems for peacebuilding in place,” says Pact’s Elizabeth King’au, a SEEK program officer. “Bearing in mind the historical enmity, these actions were significant. The demonstration of goodwill from the government, elders, residents and even the youth who admitted their part shows that this is a community ready to embrace peace.”