Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia have inked a Sh1.7 billion partnership project aimed at enhancing security at the common porous borders.
The three-year partnership, Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia borderlands project, ‘Deris Wanaag’ Programme which translates to ‘Good Neighbourliness’, aims to find lasting solutions to the perennial insecurity and instability in the Horn of Africa nations, in an effort to open up the borders of the three countries, as well as address societal issues.
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua launched the programme initiated in partnership with the United Kingdom government in Mandera County, hailing it as one that would "enhance the peace process" around the borders and a pragmatic approach to the region's socio-economic challenges.
"This project is a strategic investment for Kenya and people of the horn of Africa... a stable Somalia and Ethiopia contributes immensely to a stable Kenya," Mr Gachagua told a meeting of community leaders in Mandera also attended by Ethiopian and Somalia senior government officials and UK High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott.
Moments earlier, the DP led Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki and other players in launching the UK-funded project at the Ethiopia and Somalia borders.
The programme will support the formulation of effective policies and programming informed by an understanding of the conflict and violent dynamics, structures and actors, aiding in the war against terrorism.
The funding will also address community needs in order to mitigate against drivers of instability and violent extremism and strengthen formal and informal mechanisms, including cross-border mechanisms to build resilience across borders.
"We are home to more than 2.5 million refugees, most of whom are from Somalia... insecurity impedes development and education. Children learn to pick the gun instead of the pen. Fear for their lives keeps teachers away," Gachagua said.
"We must silence the guns for our industries to roar back. We must silence the violence for socio-economic prosperity."
The DP assured that the government would implement measures to eradicate conflict, such as improving road and water infrastructural networks, as well as enhancing education.
Prof Kindiki lauded the inclusion of other partners in seeking a binding solution to the insecurity that affects Kenya's northeastern region.
"Today... we initiate a programme that will assist us in building our resilience as this region in the areas of trade and business the physical integration of our people and, more importantly, to maintain peace and stability as a prerequisite for business," he said.
"This project will proceed subject to three partner states sitting and agreeing on an action plan and detailed activities so that we leave no one behind," he added.
Ms Marriott said that such a partnership could help communities in fighting terrorism and violent extremism, as well as finding solutions to the region's recurring drought.
She said that the programme would operate on three levels: the national governments, sub-national governments and communities.
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"You don't just share a common border, your communities living together are bound by a shared heritage and a shared destiny," said Marriott, adding that the project was based on research of existing activities among the cross-border communities and promising to rally other partners in supporting it.
Other aspects to be addressed, the envoy said, include children safety, with Gachagua making a case for a concerted effort against female genital mutilation that is rampant in the horn of Africa region.
Mandera Governor Mohamed Adan Khalif said it was important to open Kenya's borders with Ethiopia and Somalia in order to achieve economic and social prosperity, even as he also stressed on the need for peace.
"Our regions cannot progress without peace and unity. By working together, we can foster peace, security and stability," Mr Khalif said.
Somalia's Minister of Security Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh said his country was "strongly committed" to the cross-border partnership, which he lauded as one that would enhance security and ensure the region's stability.
"This project accords us the opportunity to reflect on our cooperation and partnership and also enhance our relationship," said Sheikh, a message shared by his Ethiopian counterpart.
In a press statement, UK Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said the programme will tackle the root cause of terrorism, tackle the growing threat from regional Daesh affiliates, fight serious organised crime, and tackle the flow of dirty money.
“Our security partnership is growing ever stronger. I’m delighted to be able to announce this new Borderlands programme, which will tackle the root causes of instability to help end the scourge of Al-Shabaab,” he added.