The same thing happened, with an interesting twist, on the Uganda and then Sudan border during the war between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Khartoum.
Because the same peoples live on both sides of the border, many SPLA fighters were both Ugandans and Sudanese.
Like in most of Africa, during the rains, there was usually little fighting because the soggy grounds make moving heavy vehicles difficult, and it’s easy to track your movements.
Many SPLA fighters would “disappear” across to their homes on the Ugandan side, hide their guns in the grass thatch of their huts, and go out to till their gardens and plant crops.
In situations like that, during the harvest, when the men needed to go back to oversee the harvest, is when you hold cease-fire and peace negotiations.
Typically they collapse when the harvest is done.
The point here is that the rituals around food are among the handful that still totally defy the colonial borders.
But they are also what most drive the region’s knowledge of itself. Not too long ago I went to a funeral in a far corner of eastern Uganda.
At one point a village leader came and pulled me aside. He had a complaint about what he called, “your Kenyan people”.
They were travelling as far as the local roadside market to buy food, and thus pushing up the prices beyond what the local people could afford.
I could understand his pain, but I was totally fascinated. How, I wondered, would Kenyans know about such a remote small food market?
Last year I took a flight to Kisumu, and travelled by road from there to Tororo, and then to Kampala. My driver, an unassuming young man from the lakeside, asked me where we were going. I told him. He knew my village.
Two days later, we headed to Kampala. I was again giving him directions. “Ah, I know the directions,” he said.
It was at that point that I asked him how he knew all the places.
He told me he regularly drives to Uganda to pick up eggs, and bring them back to Kenya – all the way to Mombasa.
He had been to more corners of Uganda in search of eggs, than I had ever been.
I pushed back my chair, and mostly slept all the way to Kampala. I had nothing on him.
The author is publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]