Working Paper 113

Breaking Barriers: the construction of a new Burji identity through livestock trade in northern Kenya

Hussein A. Mahmoud

Abteilung ‚Integration und Konflikt’

Jahr der Veröffentlichung


Working Paper 113

This paper examines how the British-Burji encounter at the beginning of the first half of the 20th century in a remote borderland area in northern Kenya shaped the social and economic structures of the Burji community extending into the post-colonial era. The expansion of the colonial administration in Kenya had tremendous impact on the social, economic, and political fabric of the communities encountered. Instances of collaboration and sometimes fierce resistance from local residents were not uncommon. A wide range of factors are at the core of the emergence of a new Burji identity in northern Kenya in the past couple of decades. Historically, the Burji community in both southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya had unpleasant interactions with state structures and institutions and continues to endure adverse policies aimed at alienating it. These interactions are perceived as an extension of the colonial legacy. Using historical and extended fieldwork data collected in 2001–02 and in 2006–07, the paper argues that the emergent new identity through dominance in livestock trading and mercantile activity and the community’s determination to occupy an economically-powerful position in a politically-volatile environment are products of the historical and contemporary marginalisation policies that the colonial administration and post-colonial state and institutions, respectively, upheld against the Burji community in northern Kenya.

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