Beyond borders : political marginalisation and lived experiences of Congolese young people in Uganda
This thesis combines ethnographic methods with feminist political analysis to examine Congolese young people’s decision-making roles in families, households, communities and policy spaces in Kampala and Kyaka II refugee settlement, Uganda. As refugees and young people, research subjects face many structural constraints. However, their diverse experiences defy homogenising discourses of marginality as an inherent, fixed characteristic. Instead, this thesis develops and applies a conceptual framework of political marginalisation as a dynamic process in multiple spaces. Research findings show that young people’s decision-making roles vis-à-vis resource distribution and division of labour are relational and contextual. Their multiple subject positions and relationships in overlapping networks affect differential decision-making roles. In particular, social age and gender are major axes of decision-making processes. Analyses of inter-linkages across patterns of relationships reveal that research subjects in peer networks and intergenerational household networks with independent resources have more decision-making opportunities at household, community and policy levels than their counterparts in intergenerational family networks. This contradicts assumptions that young people without their biological parents are inherently ‘marginalised’, and highlights the political importance of decision-making processes in perceived ‘private’ spaces, such as families and households. Structure and power relationships thus situate decision-making processes and affect available choices, but they cannot solely explain political roles and behaviour. This thesis also stresses the importance of agentic beliefs, intentions and aspirations. As actors in dynamic marginalisation processes, some young people attempt to access central spaces through education, remunerated formal employment and physical mobility. Others use marginal and transitional spaces to provide alternatives to the status quo. Such creativity and productivity occasion possibilities of political change. However, UNHCR’s protection and assistance responses do not facilitate these transformative processes because of their focus on perceived essentialist characteristics of monolithic ‘marginals’. This thesis offers an alternative approach that recognises refugee young people’s political agency, as well as the structural and power dynamics that constrain their decision-making opportunities.