The Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Makerere University with support from the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education (NORHED) on 31st October 2020 held a seminar to reflect and deliberate on possible solutions to informal cross-border movements.
The blended (physical and virtual) National Cross-Border Seminar held at Nyumbani Hotel in Kampala was convened by the Coordinator of the Borderland Dynamics in East Africa Project at Makerere University, Dr Eria Olowo Onyango. It was attended by among others PhD students who researched in Uganda’s borders, key informants from the border districts of Bundibugyo, Busia, Amudat and Kitgum as well as Prof. Leif Manger from the University of Bergen.
During the seminar, Dr Olowo briefed participants on the key achievement of the Borderland Dynamics in East Africa Project. In addition to guiding policy on borderland operations, the NORHED-funded project has significantly boosted the capacity of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology with four additional PhDs. The project has also trained eight Masters’ students who work as teaching and research assistants in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Makerere University and other institutions of higher learning in the country. Besides that, the project has strengthened collaboration amongst the partner institutions namely; Makerere University, the University of Khartoum, Addis Ababa University, and the University of Bergen in Norway. The project also culminated into a publication (book) on the research projects of students in the collaborating institutions.
At the event, PhD students who researched in the borderlands presented their work, specifically highlighting policy recommendations based on their findings.
In her presentation, Ms. Rita Nakanjako who researched on the dynamics of informal cross-border trade at Busia explained that despite the risks involved in the activity like extortion,sexual harassment and loss of merchandise, its persistence is driven by a number of factors including the business rationality to avoid cost, tax and distance. In her policy recommendations, she appealed to the Government, Trademark Africa and the East African Community Secretariat to create more awareness on the EAC protocol 2010 to encourage usage of customs services, more so for EAC made and bound merchandise that are tax free. In a bid to foster compliance, she called on the Government to enforce anti-corruption measures in place and to open up more customs outlets in areas that are distant from the current customs border posts.
Disseminating his findings on the cross-border culture of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at the Pokot Kenya-Uganda Border, Dr Chris Opesen pointed out the desire to be initiated into womanhood and the need to repair damage as well as to escape the legal eye in Uganda as some of the factors fueling cross-border FGM. Despite the challenges involved in the practice, like initiation accidents, Dr Opesen argues that the practice has had some positive impacts like cementing the cross-border relations. Citing its shortcomings, mainly on the health of those who practice it, Dr Opesen urged governments to strengthen and enforce regional laws against FGM.
In his presentation, Dr Stevens Aguto Odongoh whose research on “polluted boundaries, contested sociality” focused on tracing the Acholi homestead after the Lords Residence Army war and displacement in Northern Uganda, explained that even if the guns have gone silent, the Acholi continue to experience several challenges. Key of those challenges is the loss of identity and sense of belonging following the disbandment of their homesteads by the Lord’s Resistance Army. “To the Acholi, a homestead was and remains crucial in creating a sense of belonging. However, the Acholi who were born in the bush, especially those who lived in South Sudan during the war have found it hard to belong or re-belong in the post war situation. They continue to live in trading centres as a sanctuary camp. The trading centre has turned into a form of refugee camp for those who have nowhere to go. It affords refuge to those who have no belonging and were not socialized into the Acholi culture,” he notes. In a bid to re-instill a sense of belonging among the Acholi, Dr Odongoh calls for the recognition of some trading centres as avenues of community building.
According to Dr Odongoh, the returnee Acholi also continue to experience violence instigated mainly by cross-border neighbouring groups. “The weak border control mechanism compounded by over two decades of war, continue to expose the returning borderland Acholi especially in Orom Sub County and the surrounding areas to attacks and threats by their raiding neighbours notably; the Gidinga, the Lango, Logire of South Sudan and the Karimojong. Armed warriors and militias continue to invade the surrounding communities unleashing different forms of violence on them,” he explains. Dr Odongo further points out livestock restocking through raids as another factor fueling cross-border violence. The Acholi also continue to experience all forms of gender-based violence. To minimize the challenges, Dr Odongoh advises that adopting a community-based surveillance system similar to the moi tradition that the Acholi had prior to the war can be very instrumental in monitoring and reporting raids and potential threats. He also calls for cross-border dialogues as away creating harmony in the usage of shared resources like land.
Addressing participants, Mr. Jerome Ntege who explored the factors fueling infectious disease outbreaks at the borders, underscored the importance of indigenous knowledge in minimizing the spread. Explaining how communities in Bundibugyo dealt with Ebola, Mr. Ntege noted that residents used their indigenous knowledge to interpret the epidemic. He explained that this knowledge was grounded in the experience of past outbreaks. “In a bid to curb the spread of the disease, they (residents) became creative by setting boundaries based on their ethnicities and villages to deter unnecessary movements. This was a form of ‘traditional social distancing’ which was implemented as a health-seeking practice for preventing the spread of the epidemic. Their efforts demonstrated that culturally based responses can contribute effectively to an epidemic control response,” he explained. For effective case management, Mr. Ntege appealed to Governments to strengthen health facilities at the borders as one of the measures to curb illegal cross-border movements in search for treatment.
Reacting to the presentations, participants appealed to the Government to extensively disseminate policies on cross-border movements, noting that ignorance of the laws was one of the major drivers of illegal transactions in the borderlands. In addition to disseminating the research findings, the participants suggested that modalities should be worked out for the border communities to own the projects, so as to achieve meaningful impact. They also noted that it was important for governments of the borderland communities to design policies conducive for cross-border operations.
At the event, participants from the borderland communities shared experiences of COVID-19 and its implications on cross-border movements. They noted that the measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 had negative effects but also a number of positives. The negative effects included increased cases of gender-based violence resulting from the prolonged lockdown that led to loss of jobs creating tension in homes. They also noted that restrictions on movements had significant effects on the businesses as they could not access markets to sell their merchandise. As a result, traders resorted to Magendo (illegal transactions) – and in trying to access panya routes, they experienced all forms of violence including rape, sexual harassment and torture from security operatives. Access to health facilities was also greatly affected due to closure of the borders, a factor that increased mortality rates. In some border districts like Bundibugyo, ethnic minorities could not access education materials and basic services like relief food that was being distributed by the Government. Other challenges included school drop outs, early marriages, and unwanted pregnancies.
Participants however noted that the lockdown and restrictions on movements reduced insecurity but also fostered stability in homes as many families spent most of the time together. They also noted that the closure of the borders created an opportunity for the reactivation of dormant health facilities and also increased trade within the borderland communities.
In a bid to curb illegal cross-border movements, participants appealed to the decision makers to re-direct policy to support small scale traders and to improve health facilities at the borders.
The seminar was moderated by Dr Fred Bateganya, Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Makerere University.
Related links with details on the Borderland Dynamics in East Africa Project.