Beyond the State in Rural Uganda

Beyond the State in Rural Uganda

Beyond the State in Rural Uganda

Beyond the State in Rural Uganda


In this innovative study, Ben Jones argues that scholars too often assume that the state is the most important force behind change in local political communities in Africa. Studies look to the state, and to the impact of government reforms, as ways of understanding processes of development and change. Using the example of Uganda, regarded as one of Africa's few "success stories", Jones chronicles the insignificance of the state and the marginal impact of Western development agencies. Extensive ethnographic fieldwork in a Ugandan village reveals that it is churches, the village court, and organizations based on family and kinships obligations that represent the most significant sites of innovation and social transformation. Groundbreaking and critical in turn, Beyond the State offers a new anthropological perspective on how to think about processes of social and political change in poorer parts of the world. It should appeal to anyone interested in African development. Key features:
• Offers a new approach to studying development and change
• Gives a fresh perspective on Christianity in Africa
• Looks at problems of international development assistance
• Provides a rich ethnographic rural study from east Africa


Acclaimed by policy makers, development workers, diplomats and many academics, Uganda has been presented as a country transformed. From the nadir of Amin and the 1970s Uganda has risen to earn a reputation as one of the continent’s few success stories. It has been presented as a country ahead of the curve in promoting the signature themes of development policy and programming on the continent, and was the first country in Africa both to take the HIV/AIDS pandemic seriously and to record significant declines in infection rates. in the 1989 parliamentary elections Uganda reserved a number of seats for women, making it one of the first countries anywhere to promote political equality through positive discrimination. It was also in the first wave of countries to decentralise government powers away from the centre to the regions in the early 1990s. in 1997 Uganda introduced universal primary education at a time when this was very far from being the standard policy prescription for poorer countries.

This transformation of Uganda is associated, above all, with President Yoweri Museveni, head of the National Resistance Movement. Exiled under Amin, and a failed presidential candidate in the elections of 1979, Museveni has served as Uganda’s President since 1986. He is credited with bringing a new type of politics to Uganda, a politics that is less about ethnic conflict, religious division or regional opposition, and more about economic and social development. His time in office is celebrated for having brought a level of peace and prosperity to southern and western parts of the country. Uganda is now seen as a country transformed largely due the achievement of Yoweri Museveni and his government.

This book started out as one more attempt to chronicle an aspect of Uganda’s transformation. Back in October 2001 I was a PhD student who wanted to look at the impact of government reforms on the lives of ordinary ugandans. in particular I wanted to look at the impact of the government’s decentralisation and democratisation reforms on the countryside. My concern was to see to what extent, a decade on from their inception, these reforms had changed the way people related to the state.

I chose to do my research in the Teso region in the east of the country, one of the poorer parts of Uganda. After arriving in the trading centre of . . .

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