Keeping Our Heritage: Identity and Culture Preservation By Urban Refugees in Uganda a Case Study of Somali Refugees in Kisenyi Slum, Kampala
Author: Matthew Okumu Ongwen
Supervisor: Charles Turyahabwe
Since the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in the late 1980s, Somalis have taken refuge in countries across Europe, America and Africa. This research focuses on the Somali refugees in Africa, particularly on those living in Uganda. Like many African countries, Somaliaís survival and heritage are strongly rooted in the family unit. However, with the civil war, several interruptions to this family harmony have occurred over time. The research therefore argues that the refugee phenomenon has certainly had an impact on the Somali family culture. Hence, the aim of this research is to examine how the Somali refugees (have attempted to) preserve their identity and family culture while away from home, while trying to adapt to the culture of the host nation at the same time. The study examines refugees living in Kampala City, a metropolitan setting with various cultures, cognizant of the fact that each householdís family culture may have its own uniqueness. Nevertheless, all family culture is shaped by the general cultural context and does not just exist in the vacuum or isolation, much as it is also true that all culture is largely influenced by family culture as the smallest unit of any social organisation. This explains why family culture in this dissertation is discussed under the parasol of culture in general putting into perspective the social, economic and political factors. The research also acknowledges that Somalis who are inherently Muslim are trying to adapt to Uganda which is predominantly Christian. It too problematizes the fact that Somalia has more than one family culture with major distinctions between those from the north and south Somalia, much as Uganda has over 54 family cultures and languages based on the various tribes which directly inform culture. These variances contribute greatly in assessing how the Somalis have been able to preserve their culture. Consequently, this study further assesses potential risks and threats to the Somali culture and identity for as long as many Somalis continue to live as displaced peoples in Uganda. It should be noted that this research bears in mind that cultural integration for the Somalis is inevitable as they cannot completely escape the natural force to be assimilated in the Ugandan identity and culture as a survival mechanism. Rather, the research is interested in the argument that total loss of culture and identity would be dangerous for the Somalis in the long run. This argument is against the background that Somalis are naturally a nomadic people who are unlikely to settle in one country for good. Moreover, as refugees, the ultimate goal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is voluntary repatriate back to Somalia in the long run. Basing on this factor, the research is concerned about the future of Somali identity and culture in the event of total acculturation while in Uganda, hence the reason for assessing culture and identity preservation.