Accepted Paper:

Asymmetry, contradictions and mobility: Lake Kivu's colonial border towns (Rwanda & Congo)  

Author:

Gillian Mathys (Ghent University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on two sets of twin cities (Goma/Gisenyi and Bukavu/Cyangugu) straddling the border between what are today Rwanda and the DRC. The paper demonstrates that similar issues challenging border towns today were already apparent during the colonial period.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on two sets of twin cities (Goma/Gisenyi and Bukavu/Cyangugu) straddling the border between what are today Rwanda and the DRC, and is based on oral and archival data. It argues that these cities and their rural hinterlands became a conurban 'transboundary' space during the colonial period and demonstrates that challenges border towns today face today were already apparent during the colonial period.

The paper does so by emphasising the importance of 'asymmetry'. It was the asymmetrical relationships between Goma/Gisenyi and Bukavu/Cyangugu, caused by their location in the Belgian Congo (colony) on the one hand, and Rwanda (mandated area) on the other, which created economic opportunities and the emergence of an urban 'transboundary' sphere. In turn, 'borderlanders' mobilized the opportunities available in this 'transboundary' space to their own benefit. Around Lake Kivu, the large presence of Europeans in urban centres straddling the border created opportunities for trade, the exportation of smallholder produce, and for labour.

The intense mobility between these twin cities, and especially the way the colonial administration dealt with it, reveals the contradictions in governing 'transboundary' urban contexts. Whilst colonial states needed rural-urban and cross-border mobility to provide labour and to cater to the needs of European consumption (e.g. for urban construction or household labour for Europeans), this intense mobility was at the same time also at odds with the colonial desire to curtail and control African mobility (e.g. urban pass laws). This study thus adds to our understanding of the historical challenges border towns face.

Panel P009
Border towns in Africa: Between division and integration (CRG ABORNE approved panel)