Finding solutions to cross-border conflicts in East Africa’s Karamoja region

By Cyril Ferrand, FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa Resilience Team Leader

A group of boys listen to speakers denounce a recent spike in violence after a deadly cattle raid shook the Karamoja region after years of relative calm. ©FAO/Ariel Sophia Bardi


In the Greater Karamoja Cluster, which encompasses the border areas between Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, pastoralism is the principal livelihood. Pastoralist groups traditionally relied on cross-border, interdependent relationships and the symbiotic sharing of knowledge and resources.

But frequent and persistent droughts driven by climate change have worsened intercommunal tensions and disputes over natural resources, straining pastoralists’ ability to move their herds beyond their communities’ own lands. The resulting food insecurity has been compounded by transboundary animal diseases and the eruption of conflicts within countries and across borders.

Since 2008, FAO and partners have worked with communities and national and regional institutions to establish sustainable cross-border sharing of natural resources and coordination of animal movements, including associated services such as vaccinations and health checks.

Our work has encouraged the re-adoption of traditional pastoralist institutions and customary practices. The results include a cost-effective increase in resilience of pastoral communities, sustainable social transformation, conflict prevention and mitigation, strengthened livelihoods, and ultimately promotion of greater stability and peace.

Improving pastoralists’ resource sharing helps boost peace and food security. ©FAO/Ariel Sophia Bardi.

Finding a sustainable solution

FAO recognized that local communities had a traditional practice of using mobility as an instrument to manage natural resources such as land and water, but that it had broken down. Building on this, the team designed a people-centred, negotiation-based approach.

FAO and its partners began by identifying traditional institutions and territorial stakeholders, analysing the roles and responsibilities of local authorities, and assessing power imbalances.

The use of pastures and water for livestock was then negotiated and coordinated between the different groups by impartial facilitators, information was shared with all users and decisions were documented using maps and written agreements.

The pillars for the project’s success were community-managed disaster risk reduction (CMDRR), participatory natural resource management (PNRM), community animal health workers (CAHWs), and livestock and pastoral field schools (PFS) or ‘schools without walls’. The team also recommends that conflict-sensitive programming is incorporated in future iterations.

The main success factor is joint ownership of the process by stakeholders at all levels: local, national and regional.

A community peace meeting in Karamoja District, Uganda. “We should keep having these peace talks, and not go back to the time of the guns,” one of the participants said. Photo: ©FAO/Ariel Sophia Bardi

Lasting impacts

The resulting reduction in border conflicts has enabled traders to cross between Kenya and Uganda more frequently and safely. As a result, cross-border trade in livestock, grains and other commodities has increased.

The agreements for sharing natural resources have created new grazing opportunities and reduced the vulnerability of livelihoods to droughts. Livestock and human health have improved.

Links between communities and local governments have been strengthened which has allowed community plans to be integrated more easily into local government planning, thereby improving local resilience and disaster preparedness.

A dialogue platform, where communities mediate disputes, conclude peace agreements and formulate joint grazing policies to avoid future conflicts, has been adopted and nurtured. Work undertaken by FAO and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) on cross-border movements between Kenya and Uganda allowed pastoralists from Turkana in Kenya to escape the 2017 drought and move into Uganda to access grazing lands without causing conflicts with the local Karamojong people. The Governments of South Sudan and Ethiopia have both since joined the agreement, with all four countries signing a Memorandum of Understanding on cross-border animal health and sanitary measures in the Greater Karamoja Cluster in July 2019.

Replicating in other locations  

FAO recommends anchoring any intervention into regional and national strategies and policies by collaborating with strong and effective regional institutions, such as IGAD.

The most important requisite to diffuse and upscale the practice of cross-border resource sharing is political: the conclusion of successful cross-border resource sharing agreements requires long-term political commitment. It is therefore essential to bring on board the right local, national and possibly regional institutions with the right political clout and convening power.

Learn more

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This project was of the winning practices at the Expo 2020 Dubai Global Best Practice Programme

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2. Zero hunger, 10. Reduced inequalities