Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Grandfathers, Grandsons, Morality, and Radical Politics in Late Colonial Buganda*

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Grandfathers, Grandsons, Morality, and Radical Politics in Late Colonial Buganda*

Article excerpt

Late in 1948, one of the radical Luganda newspapers in Buganda printed Dionizio Sifirwakange's rhetorical and distinctly aggrieved questions: "Has it become a crime for schoolchildren to evince patriotic sentiments? Why does the Government prohibit the assembly of the Bataka at the houses of their 'grandfathers'?"1

Sifirwakange was complaining about the repressive response of the Kingdom of Buganda and its ally, the Protectorate of Uganda, to a political and social movement whose most visible adherents were the patriotic schoolchildren, along with other youth and men of all ages, who assembled by the thousands at the homes of their grandfathers as they learned about politics, organized coalitions, donated money, and prepared to struggle for Buganda.2 During the late 1940s, activists in the "Bataka Union" expressed themselves as grandfathers and grandsons and mobilized tens of thousands of Baganda to read newspapers, attend mass meetings, donate money for international lobbying, and petition the kabaka (king of Buganda) with a vigor that turned into an armed insurrection. In voicing a rhetoric of grandfathers and grandsons, these activists imagined a new sort of citizenship grounded in local concerns over land, graves, and inheritance. But they deployed that identity to build a mass political movement that understood Buganda's connections to a much bigger world. Why? What did patriotism have to do with grandfathers? Why did young men-especially young men with education, military service, and a sense of patriotism toward a young Buganda-spend so much time meeting with and listening to senior men? Why were adult men in their 20s and 30s identifying themselves politically as grandchildren? The movement these youth and elders joined was not a culturalist movement emphasizing the past, but (at least in the 1940s) a dynamic, modern mass politics. Bataka activists used the technologies and tactics of modern politics-newspapers and pamphlets, loudspeakers and mass demonstrations, and international lobbying-to critique the power of British-allied chiefs. They called for elections, pursued self-help economic initiatives and discussed Buganda's future. They offered a vision of citizenship full of discussions of responsibilities and rights connecting Baganda with each other within an expansive moral community. Citizenship for Bataka activists was not about acting as loyal subjects to the kabaka; activists were concerned with Uganda and Britain, not just Buganda.

Deploying a vision of citizenship rooted in the rights and responsibilities of grandfathers and grandsons, activists rejected any narrative of time as linear, along which a country might progress from youth to maturity. Instead, they declared Baganda of many generations as linked synchronically and transhistorically in associations without permanent or exclusive hierarchies. They deployed understandings of power, identity, and connectedness rooted in specifically Ganda understandings of the relations between grandfathers and grandsons. These allowed them to reject the inequitable hierarchies of real, figurative, or imagined fathers and sons and imagine a democratic moral community-grandfathers and grandsons bound together as trustees and inheritors of Buganda in a politics shaped by responsibilities and rights, not consumption and competition.

For Bataka activists, the politics of grandfathers and grandsons resonated with older Ganda visions of family, moral responsibility, and good behavior. The participation of living grandparents provided both a source of legitimacy and a sense of grievance as they recalled the ways chiefs and Britons had cooperated to defraud them and their grandchildren. Figurative grandparents provided a basis for a mass politics as everyone-rich, poor, chiefly, schooled, or beggared-had grandparents, and thus all Baganda were grandchildren of the Bataka: members of groups, not simple individuals or subjects, but holders of rights and responsibilities as links in this association. …

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