Academic journal article Africa

Wars of the Past and War in the Present: The Lord's Resistance Movement/Army in Uganda

Academic journal article Africa

Wars of the Past and War in the Present: The Lord's Resistance Movement/Army in Uganda

Article excerpt


War has ravaged Acholiland in northern Uganda since 1986. The Ugandan army is fighting the Lord's Resistance Movement/Army (LRM/A) rebels. Based on anthropological fieldwork, the article aims at exemplifying the ways in which non-combatant people's experiences of war and violence are domesticated in cosmological terms as strategies of coping, and it relates tales of wars in the past to experiences of violent death and war in the present. There has been a politicized debate in Uganda over whether or not the LRM/A rebels have the elders' ceremonial warfare blessing. In sketching this debate, the article interprets the possible warfare blessing--which some informants interpreted as having turned into a curse on Acholiland--as a critical event that benefits from further deliberation, regardless of its existence or non-existence. It is argued that no warfare blessing can be regarded as the mere utterance of words. Rather, a blessing is performed within the framework of the local moral world. It is finally argued that the issue of the warfare blessing is a lived consequence of the conflict, but, nevertheless, cannot be used as an explanatory model for the cause of the conflict.


Depuis 1986, la guerre ravage l'Acholiland, dans le Nord de l'Ouganda. L'armee ougandaise s'y bat contre les rebelles de la LRM/A (Lord's Resistance Movement/Army). S'appuyant sur des travaux anthropologiques de terrain, l'article cherche a exemplifier la maniere dont les experiences de la guerre et de la violence par les non-combattants sont domestiquees, en termes cosmologiques, en tant que strategies de defense, et etablit un rapport entre des recits de guerre du passe et des experiences de mort violente et de guerre du present. Un debat politise a eu lieu en Ouganda sur la question de savoir si les rebelles de la LRM/A ont recu la benediction officielle des anciens pour se battre. Dans l'esquisse qu'il fait du debat, l'article interprete cette benediction eventuelle, que certains informateurs ont interpretee comme s'etant transformee en malediction appelee sur l'Acholiland, comme un evenement critique qui beneficie de la poursuite du debat, independamment de son existence ou non-existence. L'article soutient qu'une simple formulation de mots nc saurait en aucun cas constituer une benediction. Une benediction serait plutot pratiquee dans le cadre de runivers moral local. Enfin, l'article affirme que la question de la benediction de la guerre est une consequence vecue du conflit qui peut neanmoins servir de modele d'explication de la cause du conflit.


In 1981 Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) launched a guerrilla war in central Uganda with the objective of replacing Milton Obote's second government. Museveni took up arms arguing that the 1980 elections that brought Obote back to power were rigged. Tito Okello, an army general from Acholiland, northern Uganda, ousted Obote and was head of state for a brief period before Museveni seized power in 1986. Within two years of Museveni's takeover, report Bond and Vincent (2002: 354), 27 different rebel groups were resisting the new government.

Only a few have remained over the years, most notably the Lord's Resistance Movement/Army (LRM/A) rebels. Especially affected by war is Acholiland (Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts) in northern Uganda, where I have conducted anthropological fieldwork for fifteen months, in four phases in 1997-8, 1999-2000, 2002 and 2005. The principal method was participant observation or, better, participant reflection (Finnstrom 2003: 23-35). I spent a great deal of time with a limited number of young adults, many of them displaced to Gulu town, where I was based, and throughout the research I had continuing conversations, rather than formal interviews, with them. These were supplemented by more formal conversations and interviews with other people as well, including older people and various officials. …

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