Borderland Project Research Seminar proceedings

Some of the Makerere University students with their academic supervisors after the first session of the NORHED Research Seminar in Addis Ababa

The students sponsored by the NORHED-funded Borderland Dynamics in East Africa Project successfully concluded their presentations with extensive feedback from their supervisors to enrich their  Stevens Aguto Odongoh (Centre, PhD student Makerere University) with colleagues from the University of Khartoum receive comments after their presentationswork. The presentations were made at the NORHED Research Seminar held at Aphrodite Hotel in Addis Ababa from 5th-9th October, 2015. The students, including 9 Ugandans (4 PhDs and 5 Masters), 8 Ethiopians and 5 Sudanese, are researching on a wide range of issues affecting Borderland communities in the East African Region. Their areas of research include cross-border migration, cross-border trade, child trafficking, prostitution in the borderlands and its socio-cultural effect, social networks as livelihood strategies at the border, cattle raiding, pastoralism, health, transportation, land access in the borderlands and female genital modification.  Organized in groups of three, the students presented their proposals and preliminary research findings to their academic supervisors namely; Dr Eria Olowo Onyango, Dr Stella Neema, Dr Fred Bateganya, and Dr Christine Mpyangu from Makerere University; Prof. Munzoul Assal, Dr Musa Adam, Dr Ibtisan Satti Ibrahim and Dr Haydar Mohamed Ali from the University of Khartoum; as well as Dr Fekadu Adugna, Dr Ayalew Gebre; Dr Assefa Tolera and Dr Getaner Mehari from Addis Ababa University.

Research papers presented by Ugandan students included; “We are Women and Shall Always be Creative: Agency in Informal Cross-border Trade at Busia” (Ritah Nakanjako, PhD); "I Would be Married now if I had Removed It….” Lived Experiences of Non-modified Women in the Pokot Kenya-Uganda Border (Chris Opesen, PhD); “LIVING LIKE A BAT: Acholi Experience of Belonging after LRA War and Life Across the Uganda-South Sudan Border” (Stevens Aguto Odongoh, PhD); “Living Dead: The Tales of Ebola Survivors in Bundibugyo Border District” (Jerome Ntege, PhD); “The Formation of a Familial Cohesion as Life Coping Strategy for Child Migrants who Live Along Busia Uganda-Kenya Border: A Case of Chokola Children” (Birungi Ruth, Masters); “The Challenges of Bafumbira People’s Access to Land Across the Border in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Gender Perspective” (Fred Nyiringiye, Masters); "Social Networks as Livelihood Strategies for Women in Informal Cross-border Trade along Busia Uganda-Kenya Border" (Nabakazi Tracy, Masters); “They told us no Segregation but I am not Confident: Ethnic Seclusion of Karimojong in the Boda Boda Industry” (Brenda Birungi, Masters);  and “Understanding the Persistence of Child Trafficking across the Uganda Borders: the Case of Busia" by Martha Akiriat (Masters).

Martha Akiriat (Left, MA student, Makerere University) with Kiya Gezahign and Mulu Getachew (PhD students, Addis Ababa University) presented papers

Chris Opesen’s paper drawn from his PhD work on the theme: Trans-border Cultural and Reproductive Health Traditions: An Ethnographic Study of Pokot Female Genital Modifications in the Kenya-Uganda Border, attracted a lot of interest. The paper explores the lived experiences of the minority non modified women in the Pokot Kenya-Uganda border. It further explores the dilemma of non mutat women in a community with a belief that a mutat is a symbol of marriage worth and readiness. Without it, a woman is considered not worth and not ready for marriage on the basis of several other beliefs, namely: a non mutat woman is not ready for marriage for mutat is a rite of passage to adulthood. How these beliefs have greatly shaped and continue to shape the lived experiences of non-modified women in the Pokot Kenya-Uganda border is what this paper extensively explores.

The two decade period of war in Northern Uganda (1986 - 2006) led to the displacement of the entire population of Acholiland both internally and externally. During this time, Acholi people lived in camps while many others fled especially to Southern Sudan. The displaced Acholi have gradually been returning, many have returned and are trying to rebuild a new sense of ‘home’ in the post war period. However, returnees struggle to look for their lost relatives and are in pursuit to reclaim, recapture their sense of home - Acholiness. In his paper titled; “LIVING LIKE A BAT: Acholi Experience of Belonging after LRA War and Life across the Uganda-South Sudan Border”, Stevens Aguto Odongoh investigates how Acholi returnees use their sense of agency to navigate the social conditions of war and violence. This is seen through their process of adjusting, adapting and negotiating their place to make a new sense of ‘home’.

In his paper titled; “Living Dead: The Tales of Ebola Survivors in Bundibugyo Border District”, Jerome Ntege researched on the livelihood of Ebola survivors and mechanisms used to overcome stigma.

Ruth Birungi, M.A student, Makerere University, presented a paper on child migrantsRita Nakanjako’s paper, We are Women and Shall Always be Creative: Agency in Informal Cross- border Trade at Busia”, derives from a bigger study that among other things focuses on deciphering the creativity of women in Informal Cross-border Trade (ICBT) by understanding how women are able to beat the cross-border surveillance systems to survive in ICBT. It appreciates women as key players in the trade through identifying and revealing the different manifestations of the prominent role of women in ICBT. Informal Cross-border Trade refers to unofficial/ shadow cross-border trade transactions taking place across international borders. Along the Uganda-Kenya border, this trade takes place through panya routes and is unrecorded by customs authorities. It is a form of trade considered illegal by the State in Uganda and Kenya because it avoids official procedures thereby causing loss of revenue.

In Uganda, a number of women are engaged in Informal Cross-Border trade at the Uganda-Kenya border in Busia but with a lot of challenges. To minimize the difficulties, they rely on social networks as a survival strategy. Tracy Nabakazi’s paper examines social networks as a survival strategy of women involved in informal cross-border trade. Preliminary findings revealed that women get involved in informal trade to secure a livelihood for their families. To deal with the challenges associated with their businesses, they rely on social networks to create an environment safe for them to transact their businesses.

Brenda Birungi’s paper titled; “They told us no Segregation but I am not Confident: Ethnic Seclusion of Karimojong in the Boda Boda Industry”, provides a detailed account of the ethnic seclusion happening against the Karimojong boda-boda operators. In a bid to streamline the boda-boda industry, an umbrella association of boda-boda operators was formed. The association creates a sense of solidarity amongst them. However, ethnicity plays a crucial role in their solidarity. Dominant ethnicities tend to seclude minority ethnic groups. Domination and seclusion of ethnicities rotates around the space that each ethnic group occupies within the boda-boda industry and the society as a whole. This greatly affects the operations of the minority groups, especially the Karimojong in the Boda-Boda industry.

Ruth Birungi’s paper; “The Formation of a Familial Cohesion as Life Coping Strategy for Child Migrants who Live Along Busia Uganda-Kenya Border: A Case of Chokola Children” explores the survival strategies of  child migrants along the Uganda-Kenya Border in Busia. 

Fred Niringiye, M.A student, Makerere University and Tsedale Kinfu, Addis Ababa University after making their presentations

The children commonly known as chokola have lost contact with their families and have no means of survival. Preliminary findings reveal that engaging in familial relationships is one of the mechanisms used by these children to endure problems at the border. Familial formations help them bond and get the love they miss. The older children in these familial settings provide security to the new and young ones. At a later stage, children ready to survive on their own graduate and leave the families.

Martha Akiriat is researching the underlying cause of the increasing rate of child trafficking especially at the Uganda-Kenya Border in Busia. Her findings point to poverty as the major factor fuelling child trafficking. The findings further reveal that traffickers use money to lure children. Other factors fuelling child trafficking include the porous border points and the media which continuously advertises attractive jobs overseas.

Research papers presented by their Ethiopian and Sudanese counterparts included; “Contextual Borders: A Moving Zone of Religion along the Ethiopian-Sudan Border by Kiya Gezahign (PhD, Addis Ababa University); Crossing the Border: the Life of Eritrean refugees in Mai-aini Refugee Camp (Mulu Getachew, PhD student, Addis Ababa University); Cross-Border Young Female Labour Migration from Ethiopia to Sudan  through Metema Route (Zeyneba Zakir, MA student, Addis Ababa University); Understanding Life and Struggle of Women Refugees in Ethiopia-Somalia Border, Dollo Ado (Meron Solomon, MA student, Addis Ababa University); Understanding Borderland’s Prostitution and its Socio-cultural Effect: The Case of Metema Woreda, Northwestern Ethiopia (Tsedale Kinfu, MA student, Addis Ababa University); How Could We Leave: A Tale of Two Towns and Two Countries (Kiya Gezahign and Dr Assefa Tolera, Addis Ababa University); Informal Cross-border Trade along the Ethio-Kenya Border: the Case of Women in Moyale Town (Ashreka Haji Sano, Masters student, Addis Ababa University); Coping Mechanisms and Change Among the Lahawiyyin (Asma Ibrahim Hamad Mohammed, Masters student, University of Khartoum); Political Leadership and Adaptation strategies among Rashaida Pastoralists (Rawan Hanafi Abdalla Mohammed, MA student, University of Khartoum); The Dynamics of Cross-border Cattle Raiding: Case of Gambella Region of Western Ethiopia and Jonglei State of South Prof. Leif Manger, University of Bergen was one of the facilitatorsSudan (Roza Asrar, Masters Student, Addis Ababa University); and Livelihood Dynamics and Conflict among Pastoral Communities of the Borana, Gabra and Garri across the Moyale Triangle in Southern Ethiopia ( Yehualaeshet Muluneh, PhD student, Addis Ababa University).

At the end of each session, academic supervisors and other experienced scholars provided feedback that would enrich the work of the students. The students were advised to consider historical perspectives in their research projects, explore other factors leading to borderland problems beyond the focus of their research, clearly state the problem and their contribution to the existing body of knowledge in their research areas, identify government policies in relation to their areas of research and suggest new ones, examine cultural facts associated with some of the borderland issues, explore international legal systems aimed at addressing borderland issues and changes in concepts, find out the local, international and anthropological perceptions on the issues being researched, ethical considerations in conducting research,  undertake anthropological investigation on the issue of migration, include the element of dynamism in research and establish the role of diaspora in facilitating cross-border migrations. 

The presentations were concluded with briefs from each of the coordinators of the project at the three collaborating Universities. Dr Eria Olowo Onyango, Coordinator, Borderland Dynamics in East Africa Project at Makerere University presented a policy brief that was developed following consultations with residents in the borderland district of Busia in December 2014. The policy brief targets the borderland areas in Uganda. It particularly addresses the dynamics that entail the eastern borderlands of Uganda and Kenya.  Some of the recommendations in the policy brief include the need to involve non State actors in formulating and implementing policies and the need to enact policies to regulate migration and trafficking along the borders.

University of Khartoum Coordinator, Prof. Munzoul Assal, informed participants that at a seminar held in Gedarif borderland community in December 2014, they interacted with 68 people including representatives from immigration, NGOs, ministers and traditional leaders. Issues discussed included Pastoralism and Border resources, illegal migration, challenges facing farmers in Ethio-Sudan borders, social interaction along the border, security threats in the borderlands, Demographic and border trade. One of the key outcomes of the interaction was the need to involve natives in addressing challenges at the borders. A policy brief based on the outcome of the interactions was developed.

A similar meeting was organised in Moyale, Ethiopia under coordination of Dr Adguna Fekadu. In his presentation, Dr Fekadu didn’t differ much from his colleagues. Experiences of borderland communities in Sudan and Uganda are similar to those of Ethiopia. 

In his remarks, Prof Leif Manger from the University of Bergen underscored the importance of the project saying African countries have so many challenges ranging from limited resources to shortage of qualified mentors that can be minimised through collaborations.

Ms. Pavla Jezkova, NORHED Project Administrator followed the proceedingsThe workshop was facilitated by Prof. Munzoul Assal from the Uniersity of Khartoum, also Coordinator NORHED Borderland Dynamics in East Africa Project and Prof. Leif Manger from the University of Bergen.  

The proceedings were closely followed by Ms. Pavla Jezkova, NORHED Project Administrator.

On the fourth day of the conference, participants were treated to a magnificent luncheon at Adulala Resort located along the banks of Babo Gaya Lake, before touring recreation and cultural sites that included the Crater Lake in Oromia. In the forest leading to Crater Lake were groups of Oromo people marking the coffee ceremony. The participants also toured the Ethnographic Museum located at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University and housed within Emperor Haile Selassie's former palace. Inside the museum, participants were taken through the life cycles of various peoples and tribes of Ethiopia, with explanations of childhood games, rites of passage, marriage ceremonies and living arrangements. The artefacts inside the Ethnological Museum are a testament to the rich cultures and traditions of Ethiopians. Participants were particularly enthralled by the restored bedroom and bathroom of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen.  

Borderland Dynamics in East Africa is a four-year project (2014-2018) aimed at building capacities in research and education in East Africa. According to Prof. Munzoul a number of activities have been carried out since the introduction of the project. These include a two-week training course for Masters students that was held at Makerere University in 2014, a PhD methods course held at Addis Ababa University and a refresher training for PhD Academic supervisors also held at Makerere University in 2015.

The research being conducted by the students is expected to influence policy and subsequently improve the living conditions of people in borderlands in East Africa.

The project is expected to create new and specialized regional competence by offering Ph.D and Master students opportunities for regional interaction on training and research levels. The long term goal is to empower borderland communities in Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda to voice their special concerns in policy dialogues. 

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