Skip to main content

Preparing for the Future: Options for Action

East Africa Strategic Horizons: Partnerships and Priorities


In a global context defined by multiple international crises, and with the increasing politicization of aid funding, it is difficult to sustain focus and resources on challenges in the region. The contemporary politics of managing the ‘crisis of the day’ as it arises prevent action on emerging issues before they deepen or reach boiling point. A key challenge is how actors can ensure that political and humanitarian crises, such as the war in Sudan, remain at the center of international attention and receive the critical resources needed to be addressed.

The proposals outlined below provide options for action that can help to unlock regional and international cooperation towards crisis management and sustainable economic and political development.

Strengthening Multilateralism and Institutions

Encouraging regional diplomatic architectures that support international actors to engage coherently throughout the region. It is important for international actors to speak with a coherent voice, and to engage concerns about political, social, and economic challenges in a joined-up manner across portfolios.

“The contemporary politics of managing the ‘crisis of the day’ as it arises prevent action on emerging issues”

Build ‘mini-multilateralism’, bringing together actors with different views, interests, and capabilities for short- to medium-term planning around specific events, enabling agile, all- encompassing cooperation. There is a need for stronger multilateralism that avoids competing efforts to counter the many challenges the region will face leading to 2030 and beyond. Cross-cutting partnerships bringing together peace, security, and economic priorities are necessary to face the challenges of the future.

Identify opportunities for common efforts in some contexts. Multilateral actors and bilateral partners must develop strategies to understand and engage with the ‘non-traditional actors’ in East Africa. These include new ‘middle powers’ such as Turkey, Qatar, and the UAE, but also Russia and China, whose impact through material engagement in the political space in East Africa is significant.

Engage on the capacity of regional organizations, such as IGAD, and opportunities for reform and support. In the case of the United Nations, the Summit of the Future is an opportunity to determine how to better engage with actors across the political and development divide. 

Collaboration and Coherence

Create cross-regional and thematic portfolios that better reflect the region’s identity, relations and change. As the East African region becomes increasingly embedded in global politics, it is important for international actors to find ways to become more agile while also overcoming silos. Knowledge silos, compartmentalized in ‘Africa briefs’ and ‘Middle East briefs’, for example, risk creating gaps in analysis and action.

Identify areas of mutual interest under which a coherent ‘East African identity’ can continue to emerge. These include issues such as the management of ungoverned spaces, countering violent extremism (CVE), climate change and its impacts, and food insecurity. While collective action in terms of politicized and sensitive issues such as maritime security may be less easy to achieve, there is latitude to develop cross-cutting dialogues to face these common and transboundary issues. Examples of forums that do this work include the Horn of Africa Initiative. Learning from these initiatives for new development partners could assist in wider collaboration across the critical concerns mentioned above. 

Develop institutions that are flexible, but also support holistic action across diplomatic, trade, and development portfolios. It is imperative to bring together trade and development agendas. An underexplored mechanism is the critical role of the private sector, as private actors can play a role in helping to maintain stability and promoting economic development throughout the region. In both Somalia and Kenya, the private sector actively engages with the political class in meaningful ways. Capturing these discussions through policy dialogues, decision-making processes and public-private partnerships can produce constructive outcomes.

Facilitate cross-border management of critical resources, such as water. In locations such as the Mandera triangle (the geographic area where Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya meet) there are deep opportunities for actors to collaborate around common risks and interests. While initiatives on developing access to deep ground water resources do exist (World Bank, UN, among others), there are limited linkages between them, and these could be brought together as a regional initiative. Developing opportunities for the common pursuit of critical issues can deepen regionalization, increase resilience to climate-induced shocks, and increase prosperity for populations across these common borders.

Reduce regional barriers to trade and encourage regional connectivity, including through infrastructure projects. Development and diplomatic efforts can support the growth of partnerships that increase trade between the region’s two largest economies (Kenya and Ethiopia) and critical infrastructure partnerships, which could be key wins for all parties. Regional connectivity involves not only physical infrastructure but also people-to-people connections. This could include youth exchange programs, cultural and professional exchanges, and other cross-border engagements.

Deepening Localization

Develop a connective tissue between the local and international. International priorities need to engage regional objectives, but they must also find relevance with the communities in contention. Narrowing the gap between those ‘influenced’ and those ‘influencing’ is essential. Affected communities can no longer be conceptualized as simple ‘beneficiaries’ of programmes, but instead understood as the drivers and definers of their own futures. Civil society and constituencies outside of state and civil society must be front and centre in determining priorities. Customary and religious leaders, who have long been relied upon to mediate crises, are also a necessary part of creating political legitimacy for reform coalitions. Developing a connective tissue between the local and international requires an ethic of leveraging existing capacities, understanding intergroup relations, establishing political buy-in, and co-designing frameworks that will outlive any one project.

Engage and rely upon information from communities on the ground, including specialists such as African academics, to strengthen and broaden understandings about needs and possibilities for engagement. It is important not to rely solely on information and expertise generated outside of the region, but to support existing institutions with the capacity to generate critical local knowledge and priorities, as the erosion of norms of humanitarian access in conflict-affected areas has had the compounding effect of reducing timely knowledge about the scope of complex catastrophes.

Empower local business solutions and engage in dialogue with the private sector, as sustainable economic development and conflict prevention priorities. In Kenya and Somalia, the private sector is critical for the maintenance of stability and engages with the political class. Meaningful engagement with the private sector actors can support political and economic development priorities.

Structure engagement of diaspora groups in humanitarian aid, political stability work, and development initiatives. This can be developed as part of a wider coalition. It is critical to engage diaspora finance alongside the local business community, which enhances the likelihood of success for collaboration and strategic partnerships.

Responding to Climate Change

Centre climate change adaptation as a priority across portfolios, and not as a siloed concern. Climate change is a cross-cutting issue in East Africa, affecting everything from humanitarian priorities to conflict agendas. It is important to understand how communities experience and understand climate issues, which may be different from international partners, for example as discrete issues (such as food security, displacement, flooding, and locusts).

Develop longer-term flexible funding systems, with a higher level of risk tolerance. This is critical for local communities to see the benefit of their work. The twin concerns of resourcing and implementation continue to be impediments to the attainment of adaptation systems. Access to climate finance is critical. However, climate finance should not be repurposed development funding under a new name.

Increase implementation and better use of existing systems. There already exist functional and accurate Early Warning Systems in the region, but the challenge is to motivate political will and resourcing in sufficient time to make a difference. The difficulties in implementation and adaptation in the region require comprehensive analysis and urgent action.


Defining the Challenge to 2030: Conflict, Climate Change, and Trade Integration



Want to find out more?

Sign up to our newsletter