The conflict dynamics described in this section relate mostly to cases where disputes are not about the border itself, but instead cross the border. In other words, the borderline is not contested, but it creates or exacerbates tensions and conflict. Dynamics can be horizontal, relating to antagonism between communities, as well as vertical, relating to relations between border communities and state capitals.
Since the breakdown of the Juba Peace Process in 2008, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has become nomadic, moving out of its traditional areas in northern Uganda – where it originated – and Southern Sudan – where it had been hiding for a long time – into the Democratic Republic of Congo and as far north as the Central African Republic. In its initial phases the LRA acted as an Acholi protest movement that challenged the Ugandan government. This periphery-centre conflict has subsequently escalated to overlap with multiple regional conflict systems involving rebels in Southern Sudan, the government of Sudan in Khartoum, and other regional actors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
After the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan in 2005, and following an arrest warrant against LRA leaders by the International Criminal Court that same year, the LRA seems to be spreading terror not so much to pressure the government of Uganda, or even neighbouring countries, but existentially just to survive and to defy the international community in general. The limited capacities of the affected states to control their border territories make predation easier for the LRA. Inter-community tensions have ensued with the newly affected communities blaming the Acholis in northern Uganda for these developments.
Inter-community conflicts become less tractable when different communities have claims of exclusive access to or ownership over a given territory. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is among the most protracted and complex in the world. While the internationally-sanctioned approach aims at reaching an agreement on a two-state solution, others favour allowing Israelis and Palestinians to live together in one state. No matter which approach finally prevails, animosities between communities have escalated to a point where any solution must go beyond political engineering and will have to devote enormous amounts of energy and creativity to establish a minimal level of trust and communication between affected communities.
Disputes in borderlands can eventually affect international relations between neighbouring countries. Colombia’s primarily military response to leftist insurgencies has pushed these out to its vast borders with Venezuela and Ecuador. Soft borders (long and sparsely populated) ease the transit of insurgents and facilitate illegal trafficking of drugs, chemicals for drugs production, weapons, money and people.
Local (often indigenous) peoples become exposed to an expanding borderland economy of war and crime – although they can sometimes benefit from it. State responses from within Colombia as well as neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador have tended to be unilateral and overly simplistic, reacting more to respective capitals’ political agendas than to the needs and appeals of the conflict-affected peoples. Nationalist discourse can inflame some people, but does little to address the real challenges at stake.
One of the most visible cross-border dynamics of conflict is when people have to leave their home country as a result of violence. The sudden influx of a number of people can generate tensions within the receiving community. But in some circumstances social and cultural ties across borders can help to develop solidarity networks that can address grievances – imagined or real. People in Aceh in Indonesia and in Penang state in Malaysia have a long history of social and cultural exchange across the Malacca Strait. This provided a welcoming environment for Acehnese political refugees, students, economic migrants and even rebels seeking a safe haven from fighting in Aceh. But despite this affinity, there remained a challenge to address potential tensions between the migrating and the hosting communities, as well as intra-community tensions between Acehnese who were already living in Malaysia for very different reasons.
Distinct armed conflicts within a region that have different roots can also share mutual or connected dynamics. Escalation in one area can have a knock-on effect throughout the region. The South Caucasus has been in a state of ‘no peace, no war’ since the early 1990s, interlaced by closed borders, front lines, and abandoned roads and railways. Contact between ordinary people has been severely restricted. Weak border management has undermined legitimate cross-border movement and commerce that is the traditional lifeblood of many borderland communities in the Mano River Union (MRU). Informal cross-border trade in livestock or manufactured goods underpins many local livelihoods. Bad border management affects both men and women, but women are especially vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment by corrupt security services. While international third parties have the potential to support peace initiatives – to enhance, facilitate, mediate or even broker them – the international community seems badly equipped to deal with the complexity of conflicts that have cross-border dynamics. Too often international responses apply crude models that risk exacerbating the problem instead of solving it.
The case studies in this section of the publication suggest that military responses to cross-border conflicts in particular tend to be simplistic and counter-productive. In the LRA case study, Archbishop Odama from northern Uganda describes how the effect of the regional military response since the end of the Juba negotiations has been “like throwing stones at bees; the swarm of bees scatter and are now stinging people everywhere”.