The main purpose of this Cross Border Study is to provide a mapping and analysis exercise of four cross border areas linking Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea. The field research took place during July and August 2016, and involved eight researchers in four cluster areas:

  • Cluster 1: Southwest Ethiopia-Northwest Kenya
  • Cluster 2: Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia
  • Cluster 3: Western Ethiopia-East Sudan
  • Cluster 4: Eastern Sudan-Northwest Ethiopia-Eritrea


The researchers collected the majority of the primary information on their respective clusters through semi-structured interviews and discussions with key informants and stakeholders. This was complemented with a review of documents collected from the field and researched online. The key research themes centred around migration and instability, as well geographic and demographic information, socioeconomic and political context, infrastructure and other key resources, sources of vulnerability, and existing interventions in the area.

Cross border areas are, by their nature, challenging contexts in which to work, and the researchers faced a number of obstacles in carrying out their work. Most notable amongst these were issues of security and access, as well as difficulties around getting some authorisations on time. The relatively short timeframe allocated to this project also presented a major challenge.

General findings

Common across all four border areas is low population density and limited infrastructure capacity, both typical of peripheral border areas. Water, livestock and land for farming and grazing are the main natural resources identified in the cross border clusters. Resource scarcity is widespread and caused by a combination of man-made (state-sponsored development projects) and natural (climate change and droughts) pressures. Most of the vulnerabilities identified in the study are also associated with resource scarcity. Livelihoods across the study area tend to be undiversified and reliant on scarce natural resources, and are therefore vulnerable to shocks and pressures. These vulnerabilities could be alleviated through better sharing of resources both across and within borders, and between local communities and commercial entities, as well as by initiating targeted interventions to build resilience, strengthen local infrastructure and improve access to basic services.

Economic activities in the four clusters tend to provide low levels of income; they are informal and dependent on natural resources. Pastoralism and agriculture are common to all the clusters (in varying proportions), and other informal employment opportunities were also identified in some areas. Trade in goods and animals, and relatively lucrative smuggling and trafficking networks are also a feature. In nearly all areas, a lack of adequate investment and targeted interventions undermines the productivity and profitability of these economic activities.

Instability is common to all the study to varying degrees, and manifests itself in a number of ways. It can take the form of clan conflict, as rival groups compete and fight over scarce resources (especially land and water), but also trade and political power. Instability is also linked to protracted conflict between government and rebel forces, as in Blue Nile State in the Western Ethiopia-East Sudan cluster. In the Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia cluster, instability is frequently generated by violent attacks associated with Al-Shabaab. In this context, a number of different groups and actors are involved in conflict, and instability is taking place at local, regional, national and international levels.

Migration also occurs across the research areas, but in different ways, involving different people and to differing extents. Generally speaking, migration is more prevalent in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 than in Cluster 1, which has ceased to be an important migratory corridor since 2012. The research identified a wide range of migratory practices, including transhumance, labour migration, irregular migration, forced migration, displacement, mig ration for education and health purposes, family reunification, politically motivated migration, migration for flood retreat agriculture and community resettlement. In this context, the drivers of migration are multiple and often overlapping. They include: resource scarcity, development projects, conflict, natural disaster, coercion, unemployment, a lack of basic services, culture of migration, political participation, and so on. While the demographic profile of migrants (particularly in terms of their age, gender and access to resources) varies across the study areas, the research found that labourers, young people and pastoralists typically made up the majority of those moving.

A number of interventions are being carried out by NGOs, UN and governments in the cluster areas. Initiatives and activities that have achieved the best results have tended to be those that: adopt a cross-border and conflict-sensitive approach; involve and build on traditional institutions and practices; balance commercial interests and community needs; integrate peacebuilding; take a market approach; and support already-existing mechanisms. Based on this, a list of suggested project interventions has been provided for each cluster area, full details of which can be found in Section 4.

ClusterSuggested Interventions
Cluster 1: Southwest Ethiopia- Northwest Kenya)Land and water resource mapping.Integrated water management interventions at local, national and international levels.Integration of peacebuilding into development works.Rangelands rehabilitation.Joint fishing zone.Regional tourism sector.Commercial agriculture and agro-pastoralism integration.
Cluster 2: Kenya- Somalia-EthiopiaPeace building activities.Cross border livestock disease control programme.Resilience activities that target the impact of drought on livestock and pastoralist livelihoods.Integrated water management interventions at both a localised and regional level.Renewable energy projects.Support to technical training institute and a teachers training college.Irrigation schemes.Surveillance of livestock diseases.
Cluster 3: Western Ethiopia-East SudanCommunications campaigns, job creation, technical and vocational training, and business loans to discourage irregular migration.Community resilience programmes.Support to victims of irregular migration.Government capacity building and provision of equipment for better migration management.Cross border interventions linked to security and policing, but also socioeconomic activities, such as livestock, health and agriculture.Peacebuilding activities between refugees and hosting communities, and better integration of refugee and local development projects.
Cluster 4: Eastern Sudan-Northwest Ethiopia-EritreaPublic awareness campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of irregular migration amongst migrants and especially the youth.Interventions that foster employment opportunities and economic empowerment, whilst also strengthening livelihoods and building community resilience.Support to state infrastructure and capacity to ensure the proper implementation of policies and regulations designed to combat trafficking, smuggling and irregular migration.Promotion of national and transnational cooperation and joint, cross- border interventions to tackle issues of smuggling and trafficking. Regularisation of the employment and movement of farm labourers in order to better protect the rights of workers, reduce employer-employee tensions, and capitalize on the benefits accrued by foreign employment exchange services.Protection and support services for intercepted or stranded migrants.

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Image source: UNHCR Ethiopia/ Somali refugees / J. Ose / June 2012

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