Uganda is faced with the daunting task of hosting refugees from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Eritrea among others. It is not clear how many tribal and ethnic divisions exist among these refugees, however a quick assessment of Koboko Municipality and Adjumani Town Council, indicates existence of more than 25 different tribal groups living with the host communities. Some of these tribes share the same language, while others differ in their cultural practices.
The presence of refugees creates a new and complex culture mix and diversity within these urban and peri urban communities. Often times, both the host communities and refugees find themselves as victims in this mix as they have to deal with their new social environments where social behaviors, norms, religious practices and ways of life (Culture) completely differ from what they are familiar with.
The first incidences of conflict arise when either side of the cultural divide attempts to transmit their ways of life to their new found habitation and social networks – this explains the hate speech, isolation, confrontations and fights that has been common between the refugees and host communities. How these societies respond to such transmissions or fuses and adapts to each other is entirely dependent on their social capacity to overcome the changes in their natural and environments through deliberate modifications. This is where cultural adaptation becomes key in achieving cohesiveness and integration of people with diverse backgrounds such as refugees and other immigrants. This adaptation comes with a deliberate attempt and capacity to overcome changes to their natural and social environments – only possible through the modifications to their culture.
Within the refugee hosting districts such as Koboko, Yumbe and Arua, little is being done to ensure that the refugees and host communities interact in a manner that advances their co-existence. With the rising pressure on social amenities, population burst in these communities and the inherent differences that exists, there is greater need for the refugees and host communities to overlook their differences and live to co-exist. In order to foster social cohesion, interventions should strive for greater inclusiveness, more civic participation and creating opportunities for upward mobility (United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs – 2012) . The NEXUS Programme seeks to achieve this through supporting the District Local Governments and community structures to build on the key values of social inclusion, social capital and social mobility. This is being spearheaded through activities that encourage participation of all members on equal footing in the economic, social and political life, building and establishing trust between people and institutions of the DLGs and promoting equality in access to services and opportunities.
Initiatives to promote cultural adaptation is evident in Yumbe district, in Romogi Sub County – Barakala Parish where a total of 200 refugees in Bidibidi settlement – zone I and the host communities have come together to learn each other’s cultural dances, share knowledge and experiences on farming practices, rearing animals and engage in mutual farming and environmental conservation. Through this, the refugees and host communities are able to adapt to each other’s way of life and appreciate their diversities as they get along. Through the realization of shared cultures and practices, communities are able to build trust and confidence in each other as a foun¬dation for promoting social cohesion. Failure to achieve this has seen such communities develop fault lines along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.
Within the Nexus Programme, interventions focus on contributing to achieve outcome 8 of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees 2017) ; to achieve a peaceful co-existence between refugees and host communities by 2020. The activities within the Programme are structured to provide support to DLGs and community structures to create an environment for refugees and host communities to live in safety, harmony and dignity with each other. Initiatives to promote cultural adaptation are intended to be progressive, consistent and inclusive to achieve this. Among them are efforts to:
a) Encourage more community engagements and participation in mutually beneficial social cultural activities; such as games and sports, religious festivals, cultural galas, groups and associations. The programme envisages that through such activities, cultural awareness can be enhanced and cross cultural learning encouraged to promote social tolerance and co-existence.
b) Support the Local Government structures to deliberately include refugees and host communities in joint planning, decision making and implementation of activities that addresses the diverse social economic and social cultural challenges.
c) Promote improved access to social amenities and basic services such as water, healthcare, education, access to justice in order to address the immediate needs of refugees and host communities.
By Ejibua Sam Anguzu – Social Cohesion and Legitimacy Expert