11 February 2021, Lodwar, Kenya – Pauline Lokol, a cross-border trader living in Loima, Turkana County, sells beads in Lokriama, a town located on the Kenya-Uganda border. Sometimes she receives money in exchange for the beads; other times she might accept a goat as payment. Despite a degree in Development Studies and losing her job at an oil company at the start of the pandemic, Pauline never gave up. Her income from her business now supports many of her family’s needs, most importantly, the education costs for her five children.
Pauline is just one example of the life experienced by over 270 million Africans living in borderland regions, whose combined population is larger than any single state on the continent.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today launched the Africa Borderlands Centre (ABC) in Lodwar, Kenya. The Centre is a new initiative aimed at providing research, policy analysis and programming dedicated to Africa’s borderlands. The ABC will also work with borderlands influencers and leaders to co-create ‘innovation challenges’, aimed at transforming security, economic and environmental vulnerabilities in the borderlands into opportunities for inclusive development.
The launch event was organized in Lodwar, a northern Kenyan town strategically selected for its proximity to the borders with Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. Artists, activists, local stakeholders as well as several international and national officials from UNDP, the Government of Kenya, and the International Authority on Development (IGAD), attended the launch ceremony, which was hosted by His Excellency Josphat Nanok, the Governor of Turkana County.
“The Africa Borderlands Centre will establish a new paradigm for borderland development, representing our most promising chance to achieve the 2030 Agenda in Africa,” said Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Africa. “UNDP will strive to elevate borderland communities, majority of whom are women and youth, to increase their access to jobs and social protection, thereby supporting them through post-COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery. We must build forward better.”
Borderland regions in the Horn, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin are facing the triple threat of conflict, COVID-19 and climate change. In light of the vulnerabilities revealed by COVID-19, including the increased loss of livelihoods among these marginal communities, innovation has become a critical tool to create value and address complex socio-economic fallout, particularly for vulnerable women and the youth. The Centre will support borderland communities, especially those who are marginalized, to build their resilience and improve their livelihoods.
In his remarks, Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, IGAD Executive Secretary, recalled that “When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will”. “In other words, integrated trade is one of the best deterrents of conflict. For us at IGAD and the communities we work with in cross border areas, we firmly believe that sustainable state-building must fully and deliberately account for and accommodate borderland areas”, he added.
“This UNDP borderlands development centre is therefore a critical addition to ongoing efforts and initiatives in the IGAD region for a more inclusive approach that pulls borderlands from the periphery and brings them closer to the centre of policy and development. This new approach is vital to pushing back the boundaries of underdevelopment and transforming borderlands into frontiers of prosperity and integration,” Dr Workneh continued.
Pauline’s biggest concerns are the ongoing tensions and occasional violent clashes between Kenyans and Ugandans along the shared border. “Sometimes we have peace, that’s when we do business,” she said, adding that women-owned businesses suffer disproportionately when there is insecurity due to fear of travelling to the border. Pauline hopes that the government will establish police posts along the border to guarantee safety and create platforms for dialogue between the two communities.
Female cross-border traders constitute more than 75 percent of the trading population in Africa. Women in general experience the full force of under-development in borderland regions, with many performing multiple work roles at home and in the informal economy. The ABC will partner with peripheral communities in the borderlands to become a part of, and not the exception to, the development successes often celebrated by African countries. Further, authentic borderlands knowledge shall be curated to increase access to job, social protection and prosperity for women and youth.
UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet. Working with the AfCFTA Secretariat, the AU Commission, development partners and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), UNDP directly supports the implementation of the AfCFTA by contributing to enhancing the capacity of Africa’s SMEs to trade across borders and removing non-tariff barriers to trade.
Kareen Shawa, Communications Specialist, UNDP Africa Borderlands Centre
Michelle Mendi Muita, Communications Specialist, UNDP Regional Programme