ABSTRACT

Nakivale Refugee Settlement is the oldest refugee camp still in operation in Africa. It is located in Bukanga County and spreads across Rugaga and Ngarama sub-counties in present-day Insingiro District in southwestern Uganda, some 50 kilometres south of Mbarara. It was first established in 1959 when the British colonial government acquired land from a local king as a place of sanctuary for Tutsi refugees from the Hutu-initiated ‘social revolution’ in Rwanda (see Prunier 1995). Nakivale is not only close to the Rwandan border, but also an area that originally had a low population density as the shores of the lake were infested with tsetse flies, thus making it seem ideal for this purpose by the British colonial authority. However, even if initially established to serve this particular refugee

population, the settlement has been in constant operation ever since as conflicts and civil wars in the region have continued to force people to leave their homes in countries such as Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan for the relative safety of Uganda. Ever since 1959, it has therefore hosted a huge diversity of refugees from different countries in the region, and as land has become increasingly scarce in Uganda, tensions between refugees and nationals over access to land in Nakivale has become a critical issue (see also Jacobsen 2005). The settlement is divided into 15 zones. These zones are divided according

to nationality and by the different groups of refugees’ time of arrival in the settlement. Nakivale is not only the oldest, but also currently the largest refugee settlement in Uganda, housing more than 64,000 refugees. Thus, what was once upon a time a refugee settlement for Tutsis from Rwanda

has become a multi-ethnic melting pot; a microcosm of the many conflicts in the region, and thereby has also come to represent a ‘borderland’ on its own. It is a complicated and multi-layered environment consisting of different groups with different amounts and types of resources and capabilities to put into use in their attempts to secure their livelihoods. This is not only the case for the refugee population, but also informs the relationship between different groups of refugees and national populations that live within and around the refugee settlement. Both these groups are also impacted upon in different ways by the humanitarian intervention that creates a particular type of refugee-host economy.