PSC Interview: Creating peaceful cross-border spaces

The PSC Report asked Ambassador Aguibou Diarrah, head of the African Union's Border Programme how clearer demarcation of borders could prevent conflicts.

African borders and their lack of clear demarcation have been identified as one of the root causes of conflict on the continent. The African Union’s Border Programme (AUPB) works toward reducing this conflict risk.

The PSC Report spoke to Ambassador Aguibou Diarrah, head of the AUPB in the Peace and Security Department.

What is the Border Programme all about?

The aim of the programme is the structural prevention of conflicts. We are constantly faced with the need to solve violent crises, but the aim is to prevent them, to anticipate conflicts.

This programme is based in the conflict prevention division of the Peace and Security Department. It has four main pillars. The first is the demarcation of borders, which for a long time has been the cause of conflict between countries, notably between Mali and Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Cameroon, Chad and Libya, and between Ethiopia and Eritrea. These are cases where the demarcation of borders causes the problems, and that’s why the heads of state [of the AU] decided to start this programme.

The demarcation of borders has for a long time been the cause of conflict between countries
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The second pillar is cross-border cooperation. One has to go beyond demarcation and work towards the gradual integration of countries through stronger cooperation across frontiers. The third pillar is capacity building. The aim is to train staff so that borders are managed more effectively. Finally we also work towards creating partnerships with other institutions and on mobilising resources.

What are the benefits of this programme in terms of peace and security?

The programme is about prevention. The benefits are the creation of a peaceful environment between states. Instead of states’ entering into conflict with one another, we promote negotiations. For example, we managed to create a space for dialogue between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan.

We are also busy creating a space for dialogue between certain West African countries. Everywhere you find latent tensions, this programme could be used to achieve a peaceful outcome.

We managed to create a space for dialogue between Sudan and the newly independent South Sudan
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How can the programme deal with the migration crisis that is so much in the news at the moment?

Migration is a process to be managed, not a problem to be solved. You don’t solve migration, it is a phenomenon that has existed since time immemorial. The starting point of our programme is cross-border cooperation. The Niamey Convention could be an effective tool to promote development because the border is the culmination of movement by people towards new horizons.

If we can establish good cross-border cooperation, we create a dynamic between states. If we can get states to work together to establish health and education services at borders we can limit illegal migration.

Legal instruments can also be crucial in regulating migration. The relations between states and between cross-border communities can have an impact on curbing illegal migration. Working together to pool resources and in border activities can help to keep young people – the candidates for migration – from migrating. States have to ratify the convention and commit to getting involved, collectively, to stem illegal migration.

How do you judge the impact of the Border Programme, after 10 years?

The programme has actually been operational since 2009. When it was started, only one-third of the 83 000 km of land borders in Africa were demarcated. Today, more than half are demarcated.

When it comes to cross-border cooperation, we adopted the Niamey Convention, the first convention on cross-border cooperation since the Cairo Resolution in 1964 on the intangibility of Africa’s borders. The Niamey Convention is being ratified, but to date only Niger has ratified it. Nine others are in the process of doing so. We have to do much more lobbying in order to have a higher rate of ratification of this important instrument.

In terms of capacity building, we’ve produced five books, practical guidebooks, and we’ve produced two documentary films about the activities of our programme from 2010 to today.

To date only half of Africa’s borders have been demarcated
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What are the main challenges facing the Border Programme?

The challenges are huge. The first challenge is that heads of state decided that all borders should be demarcated by 2017. And as I said before, to date only half of Africa’s borders have been demarcated. So the first challenge is demarcation, but when we’ll achieve this is still an open question. We’re going to have to work hard to get to this point.

Our second big challenge is the ratification of the Niamey Convention mentioned above. The third main challenge is mobilising resources. African countries will have to commit to financing this programme.

What are the measures that could improve cross-border cooperation at the level of the AU?

The Niamey Convention is aimed at removing the bureaucratic procedures at borders. We should strive to create a so-called soft border. Instead of cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, we need to streamline the procedures by getting member states to work on joint activities at the borders. Every state is sovereign, but this is about achieving a pragmatic management of the borders.  

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