Comment & analysis

Early warning in the Horn of Africa

17 August 2015 Sebastien Babaud, Bonita Ayuko

Experience from the Conflict Early Warning and Response Network in the Horn of Africa can provide important lessons for the region and beyond, say Sebastien Babaud and Bonita Ayuko, including the importance of civil society engagement, multi-stakeholder cooperation, and multi-level implementation.

As part of our EU-funded project, ‘Capacities for Peace’, Saferworld has been working with early warning practitioners from the Horn of Africa to share experiences and reflect on lessons, good practices and challenges facing early warning systems. A particular focus has been the Conflict Early Warning and Response Network (CEWARN) mechanism established in 2002 to foster cooperation to tackle the rise of conflicts in the Horn of Africa region, and to contribute to the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Set up by the Member States of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – a regional cooperation framework between Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – CEWARN initially focused on cross-border pastoralist conflicts in the so-called Karamoja, Somali and Dikhil ‘clusters’. A new strategy adopted in 2012 broadened this mandate to cover a range of other types of conflict and geographical areas. In the meantime, early warning and response capacities have developed in different ways from one country to other. While Sudan’s Conflict Early Warning Response Unit (CEWERU) has structures in place, they have not been engaged in activities due to limited funds. In Kenya, Uganda, and Djibouti these units are much more advanced and synergies have been built with pre-existing peacebuilding structures and initiatives.

Saferworld’s work with CEWARN field monitors, CEWERU representatives, government and security officials, women leaders, elders, youth and other civil society representatives from the region over the past 18 months has identified both challenges and opportunities to enhance the network’s effectiveness to collect and analyse conflict information and trigger responses (captured in a new report ‘Towards a more effective early warning system in the Horn of Africa’). Some of the main findings for the Horn of Africa region and CEWARN include:

  • National level bodies and actors have a prominent role in CEWARN structures and mission: while CEWARN provides a relevant regional framework enabling cooperation between a range of actors (especially when more formal diplomatic contacts are non-existent), it is largely dependent on the role and capacity of national structures to collect and process information, and to provide early and longer term responses.
  • There is a lack of systematic gathering and analysis of data: the implementation of the current CEWARN strategy lacks clarity in roles and responsibilities. Inadequate resourcing resulting in gaps in the consistent collection of good quality data is also a key concern in every country. Stakeholders identified opportunities to address these challenges, especially by increased use of technology, through partnerships with the private sector, and by enhancing horizontal information sharing and more local analysis of information.
  • Rapid responses mostly rely on personal engagement: the success of rapid response is dependent on individuals, their level of motivation, commitment and ability to mobilise local resource. Stakeholders involved emphasised that local actors (communities, civil society, peace committees, local authorities and security actors) should be empowered to play a greater role in providing responses. While a Rapid Response Fund (RRF) had been set up to provide funding for short-term projects targeted at preventing, de-escalating or resolving conflicts, its effectiveness in supporting early response could be improved through speeding up dispersal, ensuring greater relevance and equity of grants distributed, and decentralising the management of the fund.
  • Civil society has played a key role in supporting the CEWARN system in terms of building the capacity of different stakeholders, providing funding, facilitation of peacebuilding processes, research, monitoring and accountability, and as an entry point into communities. The new CEWARN strategy sets out a more important role for civil society organisations (CSOs) at all stages of the warning and response cycle, which is a positive step towards more, and necessary, involvement by local actors. However, in order to maximise this role, several challenges need to be addressed such as their dependence on external resources to sustain initiatives, their impartiality vis-à-vis certain groups, and the competition between organisations which sometimes prevails over much needed collaboration. In Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, for example, CEWARN (through national CEWERUs) has worked collaboratively with civil society organisations who have mainly been engaged in capacity building of local structures such as the peace committees and elders groups, among others.
  • Gender has yet to be effectively mainstreamed: While gender is prioritised in CEWARN’s current strategy, little progress has been made towards gender-sensitising the protocol and indicators and ensuring women’s more equal participation in the various structures of the system. Addressing these challenges requires commitment (at all levels) and creativity, building on the positive examples from across the region, such as Ethiopia where youth and women’s networks have been created to work with local peace committees and provide a forum for their voice to be heard, or in the Somali-Kenya border areas where women’s groups in Mandera and Wajir have played a key role in establishing peace committees.

Two broader lessons have also come out of this process that can be used to enhance effectiveness of early warning systems in and outside the region. Firstly, it is key to set up frameworks allowing multi-stakeholder cooperation so networks can draw on a wide range of expertise from state, civil society, private sector, security and peacebuilding actors, and community groups for analysis and response. Secondly, it is also critical that frameworks are implemented at all levels: from the local level where actors need to be empowered to respond to simmering tension and violence, to the national level where policy and political decisions need to take place to address more structural causes of conflicts.  

Sebastien Babaud is Project Manager for the Capacities for Peace programme, Bonita Ayuko is Project Coordinator, Kenya.

Read the report Towards a more effective early warning system in the Horn of Africa.


“It is critical that frameworks are implemented at all levels: from the local level where actors need to be empowered to respond to simmering tension and violence, to the national level where policy and political decisions need to take place to address more structural causes of conflicts. ”

Sebastien Babaud