Most people are familiar with how information can be used to promote conflict.  Media control and propaganda can spread misinformation, fear, and violence.  Purposeful jamming or outright destruction of communications lines during attacks can prolong the length and severity of conflict.  But can information and technology be used to promote peace instead?  In East Africa, USAID programs are doing just that.

Recipients test high frequency radios in East Africa. The USAID-funded radios allow information to be transmitted quickly to the local authorities and those involved in conflict mitigation. Photo credit: CEWARN.

In 2009, more than 300 people died and tens of thousands more were displaced as conflicts flared across the Ethiopian/Kenyan border.  The clashes involved pastoral communities who fought over livestock, land, and water rights.  These types of conflicts undermine progress in health, economic growth, and governance; create conditions favorable for extremism and terrorism; and at times require costly humanitarian assistance. (See a map of cross-border conflicts in Africa, PDF, 1.5MB.)

In partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)’s Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism, USAID is implementing an Information and Communications Technologies for Peace program in the region with a focus on the pastoral border areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.

Most recently, USAID provided high-frequency radios to representatives of two communities living on the Ethiopian/Kenyan border in Jinka Town, southern Ethiopia.  These radios allow community members to rapidly report infractions—such as the theft of livestock—that might otherwise escalate into retaliation and violence.  And because technology alone is not enough, USAID also provided a two-day radio training workshop with provincial officials and peace monitors.

A typical scenario occurred in Uganda recently when Jie warriors from the Kotido District raided 40 head of cattle from Matheniko communities in the Moroto District.  The owners of the livestock informed the local chief, who contacted the radio operator, who quickly reached the local authorities.  As a result, all the stolen cattle were successfully recovered without injuries or deaths.  Peace monitors are now reporting many other cases where conflicts have been mitigated or prevented through improved communications.