The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) is enticing grassroots peace watchers with a fund meant to resolve emerging conflicts before they balloon into bigger threats.
The Rapid Response Fund (RRF) launched this week targets groups such as barazas and other forums, which communities routinely use to tackle emerging threats such as ethnic clashes, disputes over grazing lands, border trespassing, political tiffs and rustling.
The fund was first launched in 2009 but this is the first time Igad will target non-governmental peace promoters rather than strictly working through government structures.
Mr Camlus Omogo, Igad's director for the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CWEWARN), the bloc's monitoring platform for threats, said it has been inspired by the impact of Covid-19, which has increased threats in the region.
"While the socio-economic cost of the pandemic is yet to be sufficiently understood, all indications are that the pandemic created a serious setback to livelihoods and national economies," he said, referring to the more than 7,000 deaths from Covid-19 and dampened sources of livelihoods as people lost jobs or their breadwinners.
Igad says the pandemic added to an already dire situation as the region was battling problems including a locust invasion and extreme climate change that has caused irregular rains.
"Increasing poverty levels due to livelihood shocks, increased food insecurity and other protracted impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to cause instability. In addition, most, if not all, of the Igad member States are currently dealing with weighty national political and security crises," Mr Omogo said.
RRF is a fund pooled from financial support of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the governments of Netherlands and Sweden as well as the European Union through the Igad Promoting Peace and Stability in the Horn of Africa Region (IPPSHAR) programme.
The fund, which will work for the next two years, the targeted period under which the region will continue to be trapped in the pandemic crisis, will be worth €3 million.
Local community mediators and peace promoters could access as much as €50,000. But Igad will fund the groups only if endorsed by respective national peace building organs. Each of the projects to be funded, however, will be by local peace committees in consultation with stakeholders.
In Kenya, CEWARN will work with the Directorate of National Steering Committee (NSC) on Peace Building and Disaster Response, under the Interior Ministry.
A dispatch from CEWARN said there will be two categories of projects to be funded. One is an emergency crisis, such as if two ethnic communities clash over a common resource.
Grassroots peace watchers involved in the crisis solution could get as much as €10,000. The money will be disbursed by an independent fund manager as soon as the NSC, for example, advises CEWARN to do so.
The fund will also facilitate regular peace missions to the tune of up to €50,000 per project. Here, grassroots committees involved in dialogue, such as an inter-faith council or an elders' council, raise a proposal to be approved by NSC, and which CEWARN then considers for funding, based on relevance, conflict sensitivity of the project and equity among members.
To beat red tape, CEWARN said an independent fund manager will be involved in disbursement and that approvals will take the shortest time possible.
Expenditure will have to be accounted for. First, the NSC and its equivalent bodies in the region must approve every project for CEWARN funding.
There will also be a regional steering committee of the RRF, composed of the national conflict early warning and response units of member states, civil society organisations and donors.
It will provide oversight on projects and audit expenditure.
In addition, CEWARN says all RRF projects should be issues "that can be associated with threats of instability and violent conflict", even though the fund does not strictly limit the range of issues to be funded.