A booming trade in livestock has thrived for more than two decades between Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, despite rampant insecurity in the former and drought in the latter two, a testimony to resilience in extreme circumstances.
"I have been at this [trade] for over 20 years; I have seen good times and bad times," Abdi Mahmud Farah, chairman of the Mandera Livestock Market Association, told IRIN.
He said the association had 24 members from all three countries.
"The trade fluctuates, depending on the rains but also on the availability of foreign markets," he said. "The Middle East used to be the biggest market and we still send livestock there but it is not as big as it used to be."
He said Kenya also bought a lot of livestock for local consumption.
Farah told IRIN hundreds of animals change hands in the Mandera livestock market, the second-largest after Garissa, also in northern Kenya.
"On an average day, 300-400 heads of goats and sheep, 120-150 heads of cattle and about 50-60 camels are sold," Farah said.
He said a camel fetched between KSh50,000 and KSh60,000 [U$625 to $750], while a cow sold for KSh20,000-25,000 [$250-$312] and a goat or sheep cost KSh2,500-3,000 ($31-$37).
Gregory Akall, a Turkana pastoralist from northwest Kenya, who specializes in pastoralist and climate change issues in the Horn and East Africa, told IRIN on 5 October that livestock production was central to pastoralists’ livelihood and food security.
"Livestock trade enables pastoralists to diversify their income and reduce risk or losses during drought by having ‘bankable’ savings in the form of money, which cannot be wiped out by the drought but they can use it to restock after the drought."
The trade injects money into the local economy and gives pastoralists power and influence to pay for basic services such as food, education and health. "In addition, it reduces their vulnerability during droughts and natural disasters," Akall said.
Choice Okoro, advocacy and outreach officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Kenya, told IRIN: “Cross-border livestock trade represents perhaps the highest growth area for regional trade in the Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia border areas. But this can only be realized with more robust support. Well facilitated cross-border livestock trade serves as a critical strategy for poverty alleviation for the majority of pastoralists who are the predominant livelihood group in these border areas.”
Okoro said the annual profit from livestock trade was estimated by the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa at more than $60 million, including along the border between western Ethiopia and eastern Sudan.
Abdiladif Haji, who heads a committee of traders charged with security and conflict resolution, told IRIN that despite the civil war in Somalia, the trade in livestock never stopped.
"There was not a single day when the trade stopped because of problems on the Somali side," he said, adding, "traders face difficulties and have their share of problems, but we always manage to resolve them. We are faced daily with problems ranging from stolen animals to money disputes. Not once in my 20 years have we involved authorities. We resolve it.
|We have developed very close links between traders from all three countries|
"No one wants to spoil the trade," Haji said. "It is a thriving business and we want to keep it that way.
"We have people across the border; for example, if someone took livestock from Kenya and crossed into Somalia, our members there will make sure that the problem is resolved," Haji said. "The same is true for the Ethiopian side and the Kenyan side.
"We have developed very close links between traders from all three countries. The members all have clans and sub-clans but we have a common denominator - trade - and we don’t want to see it destroyed."
In a recent briefing paper for the international think-tank Chatham House, Hussein A Mahmoud said despite political and security problems in Somalia over the past 20 years, "the Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia borderlands constitute a dynamic livestock trading zone that supports the livelihoods of thousands of people".
He said the trade also had social and political benefits.
"The cross-border clan relationships that always underpinned the trade are increasingly giving way to multiple clan business enterprises," Mahmoud said, adding that this helped to build trust and integration.
However, Mahmoud said the cross-border livestock trade also posed some challenges to authorities, in terms of "development and revenue collection and for border security management. The key challenge is to find ways to attain safe and secure borders that will also contribute to sustaining and enhancing this valuable trade and its benefits.”