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Women in Ugandan Politics and History: Collective Biography  

Aili Mari Tripp

In the precolonial era, certain women played key governance roles, for example, the queen’s sister and the king’s mother in Buganda, the largest of Uganda’s four kingdoms. At one time they had as much power as the king in Buganda. However, women’s authority declined in Buganda in the 1700s and 1800s with the rise of the hereditary chiefs (batongole) and the demise of the influence of the clans. The coming of the British further undermined their roles. While on the one hand, British colonial engagement with local authorities privileged men, colonial education gave rise to Ugandan women’s leadership in local and national organizations, which provided women with a venue for political mobilization. The first women were appointed to the legislature at the end of British rule in 1954; all of them were British. As a result of pressure from women’s organizations, African women were soon thereafter appointed to the legislature starting in 1956. The number of women in political office remained low until the takeover of President Yoweri Museveni in 1986, when Uganda became a leader in Africa in advancing women in positions in the legislature and executive. The Museveni government’s adoption of reserved seats for women at all levels from local councils to the parliament in 1989 ensured that at least one-third of seats were held by women. The increase in numbers of women in parliament had some impact on the adoption of women’s rights legislation; however, ultimately women remained constrained by patronage and the undemocratic nature of the political system in Uganda.

Article

Women in Uganda  

Alicia C. Decker

Women in Uganda have had a complex relationship with the state. During the precolonial period, there were two main types of political organization: kingdom states and “nonstate” segmentary societies. Most women in kingdom states were left out of the patron–client relationship system and accessed resources through their husbands, brothers, and sons. A small number of royal women, particularly within Buganda, had significant political power. Less is known about women in precolonial segmentary societies because of the relative lack of sources. In the mid-19th century, long-distance traders arrived in Buganda, bringing Islam and a heightened demand for slaves. The state treated enslaved women as commodities that could be sold or traded at any time. When European explorers and missionaries arrived shortly thereafter, they brought Christianity, as well as their own ideas about gender, many of which limited women’s power. After the British declared a protectorate over Uganda in 1894, missionaries worked closely with the new colonial government to educate women for domesticity. Daughters of the elite learned to become helpmates to their future husbands, who, in turn, were the functionaries of indirect rule. The colonial period also saw the advent of the club movement, which trained women to be good wives and mothers. After World War II, women’s clubs became increasingly political. Through the Uganda Council of Women, members learned to influence public opinion and government policies. However, very few women participated in formal politics at this time. After Uganda gained independence in 1962, women’s issues became increasingly central to the state. Nonetheless, activists struggled for autonomy in a political landscape that was chaotic and increasingly authoritarian. The militarization of the state, coupled with frequent and unpredictable regime changes, made women’s lives more difficult. Although more women have been elected to office and appointed to cabinet-level positions in the early 21st century, civil war and political instability have presented numerous challenges to women and their livelihoods.

Article

The Nile Waters Issue  

Terje Tvedt

To understand the role of the modern Nile in African history, it is first necessary to have familiarity with the premodern “natural” Nile, including both its hydrology and societal importance. It is well known that no river basin in the world has a longer, more complex, and more eventful history. The Nile water issue in modern times is a history of how economic and political developments in East and North Africa have been fundamentally shaped by the interconnectedness of the Nile’s particular physical and hydrological character; the efforts of adapting to, controlling, using, and sharing the waters of the river; and the different ideas and ambitions that political leaders have had for the Nile.

Article

Lakwena, Alice  

Heike Behrend

Alice Lakwena’s transformation from a healer into a Christian prophetess occurred during a period of civil war and unrest in Uganda. In 1986, she founded the Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF) in northern Uganda and waged war against the government of Yoweri Museveni. Above all, her power was based on the practice of possession by gendered spirits, a ritual that fostered a unique form of holy war. Though her forces were defeated, and she later died in a refugee camp in northern Kenya, her fame continued to grow after her death.

Article

Uganda–Tanzania War  

Charles Thomas

The Uganda–Tanzania War was a military conflict between Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda and Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania. The roots of the conflict can be traced back to Amin’s seizure of power in Uganda in a coup against Nyerere’s ally Milton Obote in 1971. Their mutual animosity was then cemented by Nyerere’s approval of an invasion of Uganda by armed exiles the following year. The two countries continued to have strained relationships, leading to border disputes and faltering regional relations. Finally, in October 1978, Amin’s military invaded Tanzania and declared the annexation of all territory north of the Kagera River. This invasion convinced President Nyerere that Amin must be dealt with once and for all. Following a period of mobilization, the Tanzanian military forced the retreat of the Ugandan forces and prepared an invasion of Uganda. The Tanzanians then won a series of battles in southern Uganda, routing Amin’s military forces and their Libyan allies. Nyerere and the Ugandan exiles then focused on taking Kampala and installing representative government. These goals were accomplished in April of 1979 and the Tanzanians completed the removal of Amin loyalist forces in June, marking an end to the war. The Kagera War shaped much of the future for both countries. For Tanzania the war was seen as a unifying patriotic struggle. However, the economic strain of the war combined with the challenges of demobilization undermined President Nyerere’s struggling ujamaa villagization efforts. For Uganda the removal of the Amin regime was a welcome change, but not one that brought peace. The elected government of Godfrey Binaisa was removed in a coup and the return of Milton Obote to power led to a series of rebellions. The chaos released in the postwar period would only end with Museveni’s seizure of power in 1986.

Article

The Politics of Archives in Uganda  

Derek R. Peterson

Since the beginning of the 21st century, archivists in Uganda have been pursuing a number of projects to make previously inaccessible archival collections available for research. All of this work of archival rehabilitation makes it hard to see the longer history of control and curatorship in the management of Uganda’s public record. Uganda’s archives have, over the course of decades, been rearranged and pruned in response to changing political and intellectual demands. In the 1950s and 1960s British and Ugandan officials sought to shield the paper record from examination. This regime of access control deprived campaigners of inspiration and evidence. During the 1970s, with the ascendancy of Idi Amin’s government, archives were rendered into a national patrimony. Civil servants hastened to ensure that the record of their accomplishments was stored in safe custody. Since the late 1980s the government of Yoweri Museveni has disinvested the state from the legacies of the past. For the Museveni government the slow decay of the public record has allowed the foreclosing of divisive debates about history. Uganda’s political history has been episodic and interrupted, and every new regime has had to struggle anew to author a narrative about national self-becoming. That is why Uganda’s governments have taken such dramatically different positions on the management of historical knowledge. Opening or withholding archival materials is a way of editing the public record. It makes some kinds of information state secrets and renders other aspects of the past into a legacy, a source of inspiration and orientation.

Article

The East African Revival  

Emma Wild-Wood

The East African Revival was a renewalist movement that spread during the 1930s from Uganda and Rwanda into Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo , and South Sudan. It is known as the Balokole movement from the Luganda word for “saved ones” (wokovu in Swahili). Its members attempted to reform mission-initiated churches from within by emphasizing an internalized Christian faith, high ethical standards, strong bonds of corporate fellowship, and the prominence of lay leadership. Women were able to assert greater moral and spiritual authority within the Revival than had become common outside it. Its vision of a transnational community of Christians acted as a critique to ethnonationalist views current in East Africa in the mid-20th century. The same vision also influenced global evangelical movements. The Revival possessed a number of strands, although a strong mainstream element has influenced the historiography of the movement as a largely unified and cosmopolitan form of evangelical Christianity. The Revival maintained momentum into the 1990s and remains a pervasive influence on the language, morals, and spiritual practice of Protestant churches in East Africa, even as newer Pentecostal movements make an impact on the region.

Article

Heritage and the Use of the Past in East Africa  

John Giblin

This article outlines historical and ongoing uses of the past and academic heritage research into those activities within eastern Africa. The use of the past will be discussed as a deep historical practice in the area that is the EAC in the 21st century, demonstrating how political elites have constructed versions of the past to suit contemporary and future aims for hundreds of years. Then there is an outline of the colonial introduction of formalized Western heritage institutions and legislation in the early 20th century, the subsequent nationalization of these in the mid-20th century, and the late-20th- and early-21st-century internationalization of heritage. These overviews are followed by a discussion of different approaches to heritage research including early studies of museums, traditions, heritage management, archaeological introspections, and more recent “critical heritage studies,” which interrogate the use of the past as a form of cultural production.

Article

History of the Standard Swahili Language  

Morgan J. Robinson

In many ways, Swahili has become emblematic of the African continent. Taught in universities around the world, an official language of the African Union, and embraced by some members of the diaspora as a way to connect with the continent’s histories and cultures, Swahili is a global language, and its most far-reaching dialect is Standard Swahili. The conventional historical narrative depicts Standard Swahili as a constructed language that was developed over the course of the 20th century by the efforts of German, British, and postcolonial governments. However, by pushing the timeline back into the mid-19th century, one begins to see that Standard Swahili can also be situated within a precolonial history that incorporates multiple constituencies involved in multiple processes of standardization, both official and unofficial, that spanned broad swathes of both space and time.

Article

Water Management in East Africa  

Matthew V. Bender

East Africa is among the most environmentally diverse regions of the continent, and this diversity is reflected in its hydrology. The steppe plains, home to much of the region’s great wildlife, are defined by scarcity of rainfall and surface water resources. Within this sea of aridity, mountain peaks such as Kilimanjaro, Kenya, and Meru induce large amounts of rainfall and give rise to rivers that reach out into the grasslands. To the west, the forest–savannah mosaic and the shorelines of the Great Lakes likewise feature plentiful precipitation and surface water, giving rise to abundant vegetation and marine life. The Indian Ocean coast falls between in terms of rain, but its fate has been shaped by oceanic trade. In short, East Africa is a hydrological mosaic that has long influenced the social, cultural, and economic diversity of its human populations. The peoples of East Africa have long depended on the region’s water resources for their livelihoods. They have made sense of the region’s waterscapes, and developed strategies to manage them, in ways that reflected their own needs. Water management consisted not just of hydrological and technological expertise, but also cultural, spiritual, and political expertise. These in turn shaped economic as well as social relationships and hierarchies. With the onset of European colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries, water management became a focal point of struggles between local communities and various colonial actors—government officers, scientists, missionaries, and settlers—who developed very different impressions of the region’s waterscapes. These struggles involved not only conflict over the physical control of water resources, but also debates over what constituted useful and relevant water-management knowledge. Colonial actors described their water management in terms of science and modernity, while existing knowledge and practice were framed as primitive, wasteful, and destructive. Over the 20th century, conflicts intensified as users, African as well as European, demanded larger shares of increasingly scarce water resources. The post-colonial period did not spell an end to these struggles. Since the late 20th century, water management has emerged as a key aspect of national strategies for economic and social development. Yet decades of emphasis and millions of dollars spent have not led to sufficient progress in providing water to everyday people. Today, millions of East Africans lack access to clean, reliable water, a problem that is likely to worsen in the future.

Article

Popular Politics in East Africa from Precolonial to Postcolonial Times  

James R. Brennan

Popular politics have influenced the development of East Africa’s political institutions from roughly two millennia ago up to contemporary times. Among the discernible political dynamics over this time period were pressures to include or exclude peoples from key institutions of belonging, the decisive role of patron–client relationships across all political institutions, the role of generational conflict, the source of political authority based on command of the visible and invisible worlds, and the changing role of indigeneity and “first-comer” status claims. These dynamics can all be found at work in the development of conventional political structures that span this time frame—that is, from the small chieftaincies and kingdoms of the precolonial era; to cults of public healing and medicine making; to engagement with European colonial institutions and the 20th-century creation of “traditional” indigenous authorities; to the growth of associational life that led to political parties, one-party states, and their postliberalization successors. Yet there was also tremendous diversity of these experiences across East Africa, which goes some way toward explaining the differences not only among the region’s contemporary nation-states but even within those nation-states. Popular pressures for inclusion either resulted in the expansion of existing political institutions or created demands for new institutions that directly challenged the exclusionary and often brittle existing political structures.

Article

Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army  

Tim Allen

Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) emerged in northern Uganda when Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement was also active (see entry for Lakwena, Alice). The groups had much in common, including spirit possession by their leaders. They were a response to the upheavals in the Acholi region following the seizing of political power in Uganda by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army in 1986. However, while Lakwena’s forces were defeated in 1987, the LRA proved to be extraordinarily resilient. It has been more orientated to guerrilla tactics and acts of terror, including child abduction. LRA activities, combined with oppressive anti-insurgency operations by Museveni’s government, resulted in forced displacement of over a million people. In 2003, the situation was recognized as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world by the United Nations Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, and, in 2005, arrest warrants were issued for Joseph Kony and four other LRA commanders by the International Criminal Court. Peace negotiations began in 2006 but failed in 2008. The LRA then became active outside Uganda, in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the Central African Republic (CAR). Hundreds of local people were massacred, and thousands forced to flee their homes in 2008 and 2009. From 2008, the United States supported Ugandan military operations against the LRA, and US support was significantly increased from 2011. The scale of LRA violence declined from 2010, and in 2015, Dominic Ongwen, the only surviving LRA commander wanted by the International Criminal Court apart from Kony, was handed over for trial in The Hague, after being taken into custody by US forces. US and Ugandan forces were withdrawn in 2017, but Kony’s subsequent efforts to reinvigorate the LRA were unsuccessful. While Kony remained at large, Dominic Ongwen’s trial proceeded at the International Criminal Court. In February 2021, Ongwen was found guilty of sixty-one crimes (comprising crimes against humanity and war crimes). The judgment was a landmark ruling in terms of the successful prosecution of forced marriage and forced pregnancy. By 2020, Kony was living with a small band of followers, in a disputed territory between South Sudan and Sudan, bordering the Central African Republic, surviving by farming, and trading in local markets. He has reportedly abandoned his aim to overthrow the Ugandan government.

Article

The Congo Wars  

Filip Reyntjens

The successive Congo wars (1996–1997; 1998–2003) involved many countries of the region and myriad governmental armies and nonstate armed groups. They were, to a large extent, a spillover from the 1990–1994 Rwandan civil war and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. 1.5 million people who fled the country in the wake of the Rwanda Patriotic Front’s military victory settled in Zaire just across the border, and refugee-warriors among them threatened the new regime in place in Kigali. Uganda, Burundi, and Angola were also attacked by insurgent groups operating, at least in part, from Zaire. This led to a regional alliance in support of a Zairean rebel movement that toppled the Mobutu regime in May 1997. The problems at the origin of the first war were not settled with the installation of Laurent Kabila as the new president of what became the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda, followed by Uganda, launched a new war in August 1998, but this was not a remake of the first. As all actors reasoned in terms of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” alliances shifted dramatically and erstwhile friends became enemies. Hostility between Rwanda and Uganda persists up to today. This led to a military stalemate and eventually to a fragile peace deal in 2003. However, the main factors behind the wars have not disappeared, namely the weakness of the Congolese state and the territorial extension of neighboring countries’ civil wars and insurgencies. Eastern DRC remains unstable and widespread violence continuous to claim many civilian lives.

Article

Labor History of East Africa  

Bill Freund

This paper concerns the long-term evolution of labor in East Africa up to the twenty-first century. While it considers the classic themes of labor history, trade unions, strikes and politics, it is concerned with the broader question of how people relate to their environment, how their work is organized and what the economic consequences are. Taking 1500 as a bottom line, it proceeds to look at changes before and with the coming of imperialism and colonialism and the contradictions of colonial labor policy. It also considers how labor conditions have altered since independence. Mau Mau in Kenya and the institution of villagization in Tanzania, which both shed a light on labor conditions, receive particular attention. Since the majority of the population even in the twenty-first century are rural dwellers, there is much concern with agricultural and pastoral activities. If the greatest concentration is on Tanzania and Kenya, East Africa is defined broadly in part for purposes of comparison.