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In the quest for regional integration, it is helpful to look at some of the less known yet strategic locations such as Katuna for models of emulation and improvement. Katuna offers a model of integration from below.


It is now a truism that regional integration holds the key to Africa’s political and economic fortunes. All kinds of regional integration models are in vogue: at the continental level—AU; at regional levels—SADC, EAC, ECOWAS, COMESA, and IGAD. The argument for regional integration goes as follows: the tiny, poor and numerous African states that were curved at the Berlin Conference cannot compete favorably with the large world economies, they are better off pulling together their meager resources and hence increase both their market and competitiveness. Very appealing assertion and yet there are some African countries, for the reasons best known to themselves, that are still dragging their feet, while others are more than excited to jump on the bandwagon of regional integration. Little attention has been paid to the role of small border towns that are in fact paradigms of regional integration from below. One such border town is Katuna, at the border of Rwanda and Uganda. Hopefully regional leaders, business people, and development agencies will begin to look at these small border towns as engines of cross-border trade and regional integration and give them the attention they deserve.


Around 2012 Katuna border town, the last town in South Western Uganda on the Mombasa Kigali High Way, was raised to the status of a town council. It is about 500 Kms from Kampala. On the Rwandan side the name used is Gatuna. This goes to show how strategic this small town is. Is it two border towns, or one split by the border? The neighboring areas that serve as hinterlands of Katuna include: Kamuganguzi trading center just about 2 kms from Katuna towards Kabale town-the District Municipal Town; Karujanga trading center also about 3 kms from Katuna but deep inside close to the Rwandan border; and Kakoma trading center—about 3kms from Katuna. Most importantly, Kigali, the capital of Rwanda is about 2 hours’ drive from Katuna.

Sociologically, Katuna is a fascinating town. It can qualify as a global town--in fact there is a small market close-by known as ‘a world market’, because it has people from all over the region who come to buy goods: Rwandese, Ugandans, Congolese, Kenyans, Burundians, Somalis; some are Europeans and Americans who pass by as tourists. Residents of Katuna and neighboring areas are of mixed nationalities—very common to find some with Rwandese roots, others with some Congolese roots, and others with Burundian roots. But the dominant ethnic group in Katuna are the Bakiga with three main clans: Abasigi, Abungura and Abagyesera. But being a cosmopolitan town, one can find people from other parts of Uganda: Baganda, Banyankore, Batooro, Acholi, Luo, Langi, etc. Since there is also an immigration post and police post, most tribes of Uganda are represented at Katuna. The fact that the people of Katuna have been able to marry across borders is a good model of the affective dimension of regional integration. Regional integration can only work when there is love.

The geographical terrain of Katuna is also a wonder to behold. It is located in the valley that stretches for about 27 kms from Kabale Town. This valley is a fertile wetland that has been reclaimed for diary and crop farming. Katuna is located at the foot of a massive rocky mountain that makes construction of houses exceedingly difficult. With the notoriously high density of population in Kabale, Katuna is no exception. On average the population density is about 400 people per square km.

When one stands at Katuna border, the site of imposing hills of Rwanda a few meters away, leaves one speechless. Then there is the Kisaasa range of hills across the swampy valley that conceal the Rwene and Nyabisika that lie beyond the high hills. Early in the morning these hills and valleys are covered with mist that clears around 10:00 am. And the place can be cold—morning and night temperatures can be as low as 5 degrees centigrade.

Being a gateway to Rwanda, Katuna is a very old border town dating back to the colonial period. It was in fact part of Rwanda way back in the 1920s. Residents of Katuna and the neighbouring areas trace their origins to parts of Rwanda: Mukaniga, Byumba, Ruhengyeri, and Murindi. People in Katuna easily switch from Kinyarwanda to Rukiga. From as far as people can recall, people of Katuna have always engaged in cross-border trade using the system of barter trade or exchanging goods between Rwanda and Uganda. Way back from the 1960s to the 1980s, the main commodities of barter trade were salt, food, clothes, and domestic utensils such as cooking pots, plates, and cups. In the 1970s when Idi Amin was in power, Katuna became a major trading town specializing in informal/illegal trade in fuel, second hand clothes and food. After the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986, the illegal cross-border trade was stopped.


Katuna is a business hub. Traders from the East African region flock to the place. In fact in the 1970s before the East African Community collapse, there were headquarters of EAC at Katuna. The dilapidated buildings are still there as evidence of the grim reminder of a once booming regional block that even had a common currency. What kind of trade and economic activities go on at Katuna? Appearances deceive. On a casual glance, there does not seem to be too much going on at Katuna except the large number of massive trucks carrying merchandise from Mombasa and some few hotels and lodgings. On close inspection one notices a battalion of money changers with all major currencies of the world: US dollars; British pounds, Euros, Kenyan shillings, Rwandese Francs, Tanzanian shillings, and more. It is hard to estimate the amount of forex that is at Katuna border. The few houses at the border also do not tell the full story, since the majority of business people come to Katuna just for work and then head home later in the evening.

Katuna has produced some of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in the Kabale town and in the rest of Uganda, and some have even moved over to Kampala to set up bigger businesses in real estate and retail shops. Daily, trucks carrying Irish Potatoes, beans, wood, sorghum, and vegetables, are seen heading from Katuna to Kabale and Kampala. Katuna is also endowed with fertile soils and plenty of rains. The place is ever green. The rich hinterland that supplies food includes: Kyasano, Mugobore, Karujanga, Rubaya, Rwanyena, Kibuga, Kikore, Nyarubira, and Kisibo. Close to Katuna there are at least ten large dairy farms with both local and exotic cattle that supply plenty of milk to Katuna and Kabale town.

People of Katuna have always practiced sustainable agriculture, combining soil conservation methods such as mixed cropping, terracing, furrow, and afforestation. It is this strategy that despite the limited land and a high density of population, the soil has remained relatively fertile. Diversity of food crops also helps: sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, beans, peas, sorghum, millet, wheat, vegetables such cabbages, bananas, dairy cattle, fruit trees such as avocados and papaya.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the people from Katuna has enabled them to diversify their economic activities. From retail to construction, from hotels to farming, from tree planting to agriculture, from clinics to tailoring and design. While way back in the 1970s business was the main economic activity, some parents also invested in education. The attraction of cross-border trade was rather too much for many who could not stay long in school even to complete grade school (primary school). In the vicinity of Katuna there are five secondary schools. In Kabale town (just 27 kms from Katuna town) there are three universities. Some farsighted parents who invested in higher education have their sons and daughters now teaching in those universities and even as far as Kampala at the national university of Makerere.

The other economic activity around Katuna is tourism. This is not yet fully developed. Tourists stop-over on their way to the famous Lake Bunyonyi and Bwindi the impenetrable forest for Gorilla tracking. Tourism potential is high. Mountain hiking and camping are yet to be explored. Crafts are also a great possibility. Katuna has a wide variety of birds—bird viewers can have good time as well. Mountains and hills of Katuna are breath-taking as scenic attractions, but some camping sites and resorts have to be constructed. Fortunately, Katuna and its neighboring areas are supplied by rural electricity program.


In 2013 Uganda got a credit facility from International Development Association to construct a one-stop border post at Katuna. The project is meant to ease the clearance of long distance trucks that come from Mombasa and from Kigali. The plan is to clear trucks once on either side of the border—if from Rwanda, they are cleared once on the Rwandan side, and from Uganda, they are cleared once from the Ugandan side. Part of the project is to expand the border post to the size of other border towns like Malaba and Busia at the Kenya-Uganda border in the east.

The benefits of the one-stop border post are enormous. Doing business across the border will be expedited and made much cheaper. This move is therefore part of the strategy to implement the EAC Common Market protocol. The Northern Corridor Fast-Track process is in full swing. Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are resolved to expedite regional integration and hence the creation of the one-stop border posts, such as Katuna. Katuna also now operates 24 hours.


Truly Katuna border post provides a paradigm for political economy of cross-border trade and regional integration for small border towns of Africa. What else needs to be done is to enhance its capacity. The creation of a one-stop border facility is a welcome initiative and will go a long way to make Katuna more prosperous in the entire region. The hinterland of Katuna also needs to develop more and expand to increase touristic and other social services. The neighbouring areas of Katuna are still underdeveloped and with plenty of underutilized land.

In the quest for regional integration, it is helpful to look at some of the less known yet strategic locations such as Katuna for models of emulation and improvement. Katuna offers a model of regional integration from below. Think regionally but act locally.

* Odomaro Mubangizi, teaches philosophy and theology at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, where he is also Dean of the Philosophy Department.

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