An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview

25. Between the Lakes

Between and around the high lakes of East Africa live a distinctive group of Bantu peoples with Nilotic admixtures, among whom the (Banya-)Ruanda, (Ba-)Rundi and (Ba-)Ganda are the most prominent (see C for population figures). These 'interlacustrine' peoples long ago developed organized states with many common features. Nilotic pastoral nomads, generally known as (Ba-)Hima, moved in from the north perhaps a thousand years ago, and added an important element to the already established Bantu states, but only in Ruanda and Urundi (26) did they become a ruling class; the centralized despotisms that have endured so long in most interlacustrine states resemble the system of the Sidamo Cushites of southern Ethiopia (C), and thus probably date from the time of the Bantu seizure of the lakeside regions from the earlier Cushitic inhabitants, about 1,400 years ago.

Although equatorial, these are all highland regions -- Lake Kivu is 4,800 feet, Lake Victoria 3,700 feet above sea level -- and they support a fairly dense population, much of which today maintains a relatively high standard of living with the help of commercial crops such as coffee and cotton. Uganda and Ruanda-Urundi are land-locked and, before the building of the Uganda and Tanganyika railways and the coming of the air age, were difficult of access, but they are more than mere appendages of Kenya, Tanganyika and the Congo, and their distinctiveness arises largely from the tenacity of their traditional institutions. The political contest in the (Ba-)Ganda (28), Ruanda and Rundi areas in particular is now primarily not between Europeans and Africans, but between reformers and upholders of traditional privilege and authority.

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