Peace, security and development through joint governance of borders

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By Esayas Abebe

In ever challenging times, cooperation in global governance brings a glimpse of hope in jointly tackling shared challenges. Regional integration has demonstrated its assets but also showed its limits especially considering complex issues such as mass migration and the COVID 19 pandemic. Governing State borders has emerged at the forefront of managing such occurrences. It is not only at the regional and national levels that border governance, which encompasses a wide variety of tasks and actors present at the borders, is important. It also bears a heavy weight at the local level. For grassroots population, especially in border areas in Africa cross border cooperation becomes a matter of survival. This is especially true when the effects of climate change turn daily live into a struggle and a competition for resources and limited State presence turns border areas into fertile grounds for cross border criminal activities threatening security and stability of the regions and undermining the regional integration efforts.

In this regard, border governance measures, especially coordinated border management (CBM), can deliver positive results in preventing clashes and insecurity in the border regions. Furthermore, the current pandemic has tested CBM measures worldwide. We can therefore learn about focusing on what is connecting us (borders) to make stable regions and strive together. Or, as the motto of the African Union Border Program[1] (AUBP) goes, transforming borders “from barriers to bridges”.

At the early stage of independence, African leaders prioritized political integration strengthening cooperation through Regional Economic Communities. This formal cooperation between states had been hesitant at the local level between communities divided by arbitrary borders. Socio-cultural and historical relations between these communities, no matter how legitimate, appeared informal to States. The mismatch between legitimate borderless relations among communities and legal sovereignties undermine social cohesion and distort trust between them and border officials especially in fragile contexts.

Clearly defined, well-functioning and efficient borders are the foundation to prevent border related disputes and conflicts as well as for regional mobility of people, goods and services. The German Federal Foreign Office, via its implementation agency, GIZ[2], strives to support the African Union, Regional Economic Communities and African States in their border governance efforts, with a focus on cooperation and conflict prevention.

Regional and national policies cannot be comprehensive without the key involvement of border communities who become key stakeholders in implementing such policies. Therefore, the cooperation on border governance needs to increase the focus on cross border cooperation from below, at the grassroots level. Facilitating the communities to engage with each other contributes to stabilizing the border regions, building trust in each other, putting a human face on the neighbor instead of seeing them as a threat or competitor, seeing the border as an opportunity to open to the world rather than a limitation thus advancing regional integration. The project presented at the Paris Peace Forum 2020 by the GIZ support to AUBP demonstrates how simple initiatives of joint access to basic infrastructure (in this case water) by neighboring communities in vulnerable areas in the Sahel region contributed to them identifying their joint interest and protecting it by cooperating in securing the border areas against common threats.

Global governance can only be real when actual citizens identify with it. Giving border governance especially at the local level, its due attention certainly contributes to safer region regions ready to open for regional integration with all its socio-economic benefits. As such, it is crucial that the topic remains on the agenda of relevant stakeholders and we remain committed to advancing on it.

[1] https://www.peaceau.org/en/page/27-au-border-programme-aubp

[2] https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/15759.html

Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.

Mr. Esayas Abebe is currently the head of Program of GIZ support to AUBP and Silencing the Guns Program. He previously held the position of Executive Director of GIZ International Services in Ethiopia for almost 10 years with a heavy impact on infrastructural development in Ethiopia. Mr. Abebe has been active in different part of west and central Africa in different capacities in international cooperation and development. He holds a master’s degree in engineering.

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