The history of community relations across the Kenya-Uganda boarder; the case of the Babukusu and the Bagisu, C. 1884-1997
Wekesa, Peter Wafula
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This study examines the history of community relations across the Kenya-Uganda border using the case of the Babukusu of Western Kenya and the Bagisu of Eastern Uganda from 1884 to 1997. From this microcosmic level, the study explores forms of transborder social, economic and political relations that have evolved between the two communities since the pre-colonial period. The study is justified on the reality that despite the increasing importance that borders continue to generate globally, the African and specifically East African context has not been given a systematic and sufficient analysis by historians. Border regions, or specifically borderlands, as sub-national areas whose social, economic and political life is directly and significantly affected by proximity to international boundaries, remain the centre at which questions of territoriality and citizenship are negotiated and settled the world over. More specifically, in regard to the community relations across borders, this study contends that these have historically functioned as catalysts and compelling influences on the quality of communication in the respective regions. As barometers for testing good neighbourliness, national peace and regional integration, Babukusu-Bagisu border relations are studied within the diverse historical context defining their evolution and transformation. The study utilizes a variety of both primary and secondary sources to analyze the context within which border relations between the Babukusu and the Bagisu emerge and are transformed before and after the colonial configuration of the Kenya-Uganda border. It delves into the history of relations between the two peoples that had long developed in the region before the European political and economic activities that finally culminated in the evolution of the border. The latter activities, as the study observes, not only ignored African interests, but were also generally conceived within western notions of the border that contradicted African conceptions of space. These European activities were further augmented by colonial and independent government policies to freeze the historical solidarities between the two communities. As the study demonstrates however, both colonial and independent government policies generated contradictions over the BukusuBugisu borderland area that made the control of interactions between the two communities with distinct geopolitical spaces problematic. Both formal and informal social, economic and political dynamics made the common Bukusu-Bugisu borderland a site of numerous state and community permutations. In examining the diverse dynamics informing the Babukusu-Bagisu relations across the Kenya-Uganda border, the study traverses through two theoretical traditions generally categorised into statecentric and borderlands perspectives. This study reveals that the two theoretical perspectives offer connected but contradictory perspectives on borders and border community relations in general and on Babukusu-Bagisu relations specifically. While statecentric perspectives conceptualise borders as tools of separation and control, borderland perspectives see borders as instruments that impede the free movement of capital, people, goods and services. This study adopts an integrative approach to critique the overwhelming top-down emphasis on state power and also borrow some useful insights that complement the bottom-up processes that uncover complex mechanisms operating at the local , national and regional levels.