Reducing Armed Conflict on the Ethiopia-Kenya Border


Armed conflict between communities living near the Ethiopia-Kenya border was reduced and the risk of interstate conflict was significantly reduced.

The Ethiopian-Kenyan frontier is a sparsely populated and remote region, historically home to a mix of nomadic pastoralist populations (such as the Turkana and Dassenach) for whom the international border traditionally meant little. This ambiguity made the region a strategically important location for troops of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) as they conducted their insurgency against Ethiopian security forces. This led to multiple clashes inside Kenyan territory, including incidents that led to the deaths of Kenyan civilians.1 This pattern of violence took place alongside ongoing low-intensity conflicts between the local population over livestock, pasture, and water. Over 100 people were killed in such disputes between 2002 and 2004. Further clashes took place in 2010 and 2011, with a particularly bad clash taking place on 1 May 2011 when around 30 Turkana from Kenya were killed by some Dassenach after entering Ethiopia to trade at a market.2 This led to retaliatory attacks, and people who happened to be on the wrong side of the border (around 70 in total) were taken hostage by both communities.3 The crisis posed a major threat of escalating into a major conflict between the two peoples and threatened to sour bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Kenya, while the pervasive instability in the frontier region represented a constant source of low-intensity armed conflict.

The 2011 crisis was defused by local government and civil society organisations on both sides of the border. Ethiopian militia and police escorted the Turkana still in the country back to Kenya, local peace committees and NGOs organised a forum for dialogue between the two groups, and the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) units of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development within each country organised a conference with local stakeholders on the incident.4 This calmed the immediate situation while bilateral ministerial meetings and CEWARN initiatives worked to develop a lasting solution to the instability along the frontier. This resulted in the creation of a bilateral cross-border programme aimed at strengthening local capacity to prevent conflict and promote sustainable peace. In practical terms, these measures established peace committees including members from both communities, strengthened capacity of local administrations, and increased border patrols. In 2018, the EU and UN began supporting the initiative.5 When the area was hit by devastating floods in 2020, the two communities negotiated a resource-sharing agreement through the mechanism of the peace committees rather than engage in violent competition for resources, as they had when facing previous crises.6

1 BBC. “The Somali connection.” BBC News. (23 July 1999) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2021)

2 Alex Thurston. “Turkana-Merille Fighting: A Deadly Cycle in Kenya and Ethiopia.” Sahel Blog. (6 May 2011) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2021)

3 Fromothermedia. “Ethio-Kenyan border: Turkana, Dassenech/Merille Fighting.” Horn Affairs. (15 May 2011) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2021)

4 Ibid.

5 UNDP Kenya. “Cross-Border Cooperation between Ethiopia and Kenya for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding in the Marsabit-Moyale Cluster.” UNDP Kenya Projects. (UN, 2021) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2021)

6 Pact. “‘We have to feel our neighbors’ pain’: On the Kenya-Ethiopia border, feuding groups unite after crisis.” Pactworld Features. (23 November 2020) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2021)

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Horizontal (non-state) intrastate conflict, Risk of an interstate conflict

Type of Initiative

Peace infrastructure, Stabilising international borders

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

Local people and organisations, the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments, and the EU, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and UN.




More Posts

Corrections or comments about this article?