15 de junio de 2018

CfP: Decolonisation & Public Life: The Politics of Knowledge in Uganda

In recent years, decolonisation has made a dramatic return to the lexicon of social movements, academic debates, and political activism. Whether through internal initiatives or outside pressure, universities, state institutions, and private organisations across the global north and the global south have become sites for rethinking the production and transmission of institutional knowledge. If recent discussions have produced their own geographies and economies of debate, they have also sometimes illuminated and at other times obscured deeper and older terrains of knowledge. These include reflections on the nature of the colonial, the postcolonial, and projects of decolonisation or decoloniality themselves. This edited collection invites scholars from diverse disciplinary and institutional backgrounds to analyse how Ugandans’ conceptualisations of institutional knowledge, colonialism, and decolonisation have shaped their respective subfields over time. We regard Uganda as a geographic and conceptual space from which to reflect on the production of knowledge in the colonial and postcolonial worlds.

Debates about the relationship between knowledge and institutions of various sorts often animate shared vocabularies even as their form and contents reflect the particular experiences of their participants. Uganda offers an important space from which to consider the politics of institutional knowledge. Politicians, writers, artists, historians, and ethnographers have frequently observed the entanglement of deep institutional commitments and complex social intimacies in the political, social, and religious life of Ugandan societies. This nexus of the institutional and the intimate has animated diverse ways of understanding and shaping the relationship between knowledge and institutional power. Makerere College and the Uganda Society, for example, have long been internationally recognised sites of research where individuals have produced knowledge in the service of colonial institutions and also challenged the foundations of colonial hierarchies. Often inspired by the contested politics of ethnic patriotism, many Ugandans in the 1950s and 1960s looked to the past in search of useful histories for a new postcolonial order. Academics too increasingly saw historical and ethnographic studies, whether in Makerere’s ‘History of Uganda’ project or the East African Institute of Social Research, as integral to forging new social and political orders. Others worked deliberately to imagine alternative arenas of decolonisation. The 1962 African Writers Conference in Kampala, like Transition magazine founded in 1961 by the young Ugandan writer and activist Rajat Neogy, offered Kampala as a space from which to imagine African literature, art, and politics delinked from colonialism. Young men and women also pursued studies in Egypt, India, Ceylon, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States, convinced that Uganda was at the forefront of global movements against racism and neo-colonialism. While they found considerable support back home, they also encountered scepticism among individuals who had contracted colonialism in the service of diverse projects. Chiefs, aristocrats, civil servants, religious notables, and others sometimes offered radically different visions of how institutional knowledge was to be reoriented in an era of political independence under a centralised state.

Over the ensuing decades, the sense of entanglement between institution building and public life in Uganda frayed. Historians have attributed this to the diverse political history of the region, within which precolonial southern and western kingdoms and northern and eastern republican communities offered drastically different visions of political normalcy and social mobility. Political scientists have also pointed to the increasing militarisation of the state and the hardships that accompanied successive government responses to the country’s position in an unequal global economy. The violence of Protectorate rule, from racial hierarchies to regional underdevelopment to the brutalities of daily governance, inhibited efforts to forge democratic and equitable public spheres. The hopes that accompanied the transfer of sovereignty to Ugandan leaders soon gave way to recognition of the enduring challenges of colonialism. The Ugandan army’s attack on Buganda’s Lubiri and the subsequent abolition of the four principal kingdoms reflected the violence that accompanied nation-building projects across the formerly colonised world. Likewise, efforts to redress colonial racial injustice by Africanising commerce and the civil service ostensibly undermined efforts to forge non-racial citizenship binding Africans and Asians to the new nation. Despite the work of women activists to transcend colonial divides, the decolonising efforts of Milton Obote and Idi Amin heralded the rise of hyper-masculine militarism. Amin’s military regime in particular presented itself as a decolonising force. Dismissing stilted intellectual debate in favour of a rhetorical appeal to ‘action’, Amin used the language and performance of authenticity in efforts to transcend the complicated and messy politics of institutional knowledge in early postcolonial Uganda. In these efforts, he found considerable international support as an anticolonial crusader even as others regarded him as an embarrassing opportunist who set back principled work against racism and neo-colonialism.

For some, Tanzania’s 1979 invasion marked a principled commitment to human rights, while others saw it as an attack on national sovereignty that enabled the resurgence of internal sectarianism and external economic predation. More recently, younger generations with no direct memory of the 1970s have sometimes articulated nostalgia for an era of perceived nationalism under Amin. Likewise, the subsequent Obote II years saw violence and economic shocks that inhibited academic work but still produce no widespread popular or scholarly consensus. The resolution of the ‘Bush War’ of 1981–1986 provides a unifying narrative for the National Resistance Movement but often obscures the complexities of that conflict and the experiences of those who endured it. Following its seizure of power thirty-two years ago, the NRM has continuously called for the knowledge produced by academic and civil society institutions to serve the interests of national development defined in advance by a narrow government elite.

Scholarly, literary, and artistic reflections on Uganda’s institutional, intellectual, and social life have continued throughout the country’s postcolonial history but found a sense of renewed energy in the late 1980s and 1990s. A series of conferences and edited collections organised by Holger Bernt Hansen and Michael Twaddle (1988, 1991, 1995, 1998) opened a set of conversations across academic disciplines about how scholars might study and re-engage with Uganda’s political, social, and institutional life. Historians such as Samwiri Karugire (1980, 1988), T.V. Sathyamurthy (1986), Phares Mutibwa (1992), and Abdu Kasozi (1994) built on earlier work by Tarsis Kabwegyere (1974), Mahmood Mamdani (1976, 1983), Jan Jelmert Jørgensen (1980), and Dan Nabudere (1981) to provide explicitly national histories while generally abandoning their predecessors’ reliance on dependency theory. Anthropologists such as Susan Whyte (1997) and Christine Obbo (1980, 1996) not only mined earlier fieldwork but also began to assess how social practices, institutions, and networks of knowledge transmission had adapted or changed during the intervening years. Social scientists such as Ali Mazrui (1977, 1991), Holger Bernt Hansen (1977; with Twaddle 1988, 1991, 1995, 1998), and Nelson Kasfir (1976, 1995) turned from explaining the consolidation of military power to analysing the contested resurgence of civil society and civilian governance. Novelists and playwrights such as John Ruganda, Austen Bukenya, and Peter Nazareth found rich, if often deeply troubling, inspiration during the 1970s and 1980s, after which they continued to grapple with legacies of personal and artistic displacement. Artists also took advantage of relative political stability to forge new (and reimagine old) spaces from which to produce and display work within Uganda. Moreover, young scholars and artists in recent decades, with little first hand experience of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, made important interventions that reshaped their fields, opening radically new directions for subsequent work.

However, the celebrated revitalisation of scholarly and artistic energy since the 1980s has been uneven and is itself part of contested political topographies. Much of the work mentioned above remained preoccupied with the violence of recent decades and offered little inspirational content or edifying lessons from the stories of Uganda’s political institutions, social traditions, or intellectual histories. War, mass displacement, and economic challenges have not only devastated much of the country, but they have also reinforced conceptual exclusions. Most notably, they have helped produce ‘the north’ as a zone often understood as simultaneously marginal to national imaginaries while at the forefront of an often-depoliticised global regime of refugee management and restorative justice. What’s more, Uganda’s scholarship and historiography continues to privilege Protestant sources, to the exclusion of discourses and material culture produced by public healers, Catholics, and Muslims. Another enduring legacy of colonial violence and postcolonial governance has been Karamoja’s position outside of national imaginations, thus transforming the region into a site of arbitrary violence. As a result, scholarship produced within, about, and/or by Ugandans remains fragmented. Recent work is still often organised according to well-worn political, regional, and spiritual fault lines. In some cases, the divergent character of these conversations has enabled important work to proceed without the burden of nationalist narratives that may reproduce regional, class, and gendered exclusions while inhibiting connections beyond the nation-state. For others, the fractious nature of intellectual connections among scholars and artists working on or from Uganda is itself a legacy of colonial knowledge and power arrangements. This raises important challenges for scholars, writers, artists, and other practitioners, requiring us to rethink precisely how our work builds on particular individual and/or institutional relationships. The growth of scholarly and artistic production about and from Uganda offers an opportunity for reflecting on such networks of institutional knowledge and how old and new debates over decolonisation might contribute to our work.

Building on the momentum of global debates surrounding decolonisation and the success of an April 2016 workshop that was organised on Emerging Approaches in Uganda Studies at University College London, and a five-part panel series that will take place at the African Studies Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta (2018), this edited volume is meant to bring together these conversations and to reflect on Uganda’s contributions to global conversations on decolonisation and the production of institutional knowledge. While our focus builds on conversations that emerged following the Second World War, we welcome contributions across temporal and geographic divides. The series aims to facilitate cross-disciplinary, cross-generational, and multi-regional conversations that focus on the production of institutional knowledge, colonialism, and decolonisation from Uganda. By traversing these diverse yet connected intellectual terrains, this volume will generate new insights into the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, the mediums and spaces in which knowledge is produced, and the power dynamics underpinning knowledge production in colonial and postcolonial Uganda. The political pressures of neoliberalism and the growing disavowal of the humanities and social sciences both within Uganda and globally make such issues particularly pressing.

James Currey has expressed a strong interest in publishing this edited collection, with an intended publication date of 2020. Below, we have outlined some guidelines and timelines for those interested in contributing to this collection.

Guidelines for Contributors
  • There will be 18 chapters in total, drawn from different disciplines
  • Word limit for each chapter: 8000
  • Guiding questions for each chapter include, although are not limited to:
  1. How should we define ‘decolonisation’ in the context of Uganda Studies?
  2. How have discussions around decolonisation shaped your field of study?
  3. What does research that is ‘decolonised’ look like in theory and practice?
  4. How has the production of institutional knowledge in Uganda been entangled with colonialism, and to what extent has a process of decolonisation been initiated within these spheres of knowledge production?
  5. To what extent does decolonisation in Uganda illuminate or obscure concurrent processes internationally and across the continent?
  6. How can we think more deeply about meaningful collaborations between Uganda-based scholars and those working elsewhere?
Provisional Timeline
  • August 15th, 2018: All contributors to send a 500–750 word abstract.
  • September 15th, 2018: Editors shall notify contributors of selection  
  • January 15th, 2019:  Final chapters are submitted to the editors for internal peer review
  • March 15th, 2019: Co-Editors’ comments returned to chapter contributors
  • May 15th, 2019: Final, revised drafts submitted to co-editors
  • June 1st, 2019: Final draft submitted by Co-editors to James Currey for external peer review
  • September 30th, 2019: External reviewers’ comments returned and distributed to contributors
  • December 1st, 2019: All final revisions completed and resubmitted by contributors to co-editors
  • December 15th, 2019: Final manuscript re-submitted by co-editors to James Currey for publication
  • 2020: Publication prior to the African Studies Association’s annual meeting