Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Violence and Political Advocacy in the Lost Counties, Western Uganda, 1930-64 *

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Violence and Political Advocacy in the Lost Counties, Western Uganda, 1930-64 *

Article excerpt

Violence is, among other things, a prompt for discourse. Violent deeds, when enacted in relation to an infrastructure that can interpret and publicize them, are a particularly powerful means of generating conviction and animating political action. By positioning themselves as victims of violence, subject peoples can show otherwise unremarked inequities to be unjust and inhumane. By pursuing latent antagonisms through violent means, activists can make hitherto interwoven human communities appear to be involved in a battle to the death. It is the power of spilt blood to heighten the seriousness of human conflict. Violent deeds can make complicated political problems into morality plays. In this essay I distinguish between two registers of violent behavior: evidentiary violence and classificatory violence. Evidentiary violence is reported, publicized, and discussed. It is fodder for petitions and demands for recompense. Evidentiary violence is the violence of victimhood: when chronicled and dramatized in reports and pleas, it helps cast political authorities as brutes. Its audience is an external organization-the state, the international community, the church, the empire-that can be moved to action to alleviate injustice. Classificatory violence, by contrast, is ordinarily unpublicized and unreported. Its audience is internal: it is the violence by which insiders are sorted from outsiders and natives are distinguished from interlopers. It is the violence by which human communities are stagemanaged and demographic constituencies are established. It is the work by which a people claim a particular tract of territory as their native homeland.

This essay chronicles the changing architecture of political advocacy around the "lost counties" dispute in western Uganda. The lost counties were a vast territory that the British had carved out of the conquered kingdom of Bunyoro and handed to the kingdom of Buganda, their premier ally, in the late nineteenth century. British colonial administration was deliberately ignorant of the multi-linguistic diversity of Uganda's people. Guided by the philosophy of indirect rule, officials reinforced the supposedly traditional prerogatives of the kings of Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, and Busoga. Cultural minorities experienced this form of government as totalitarianism. In the lost counties and elsewhere in colonial Uganda, they got leverage over the architects of neotraditionalism by speaking in the historical idiom of abolitionism. They configured their language, their cultural life, and their history so to differentiate themselves from their African overlords, and with the evidence of their distinctiveness in view, they framed the homogenizing tactics of indirect rule as tyranny, a form of cultural and political violence. Abolitionism was for minority groups a powerful strategy of advocacy, for British officials were obliged to act to suppress slavery. Their rationale for imperial government, structured by late eighteenth and early nineteenth century debates over slave emancipation, burdened British officials to act as agents of abolition. In the hands of subject peoples in Uganda, abolitionist discourse attenuated the political and geographic distance between colony and métropole. It brought historic British ideals to bear in measuring the inequities of local colonial administration. It made the bargains that British officials had struck with African kings appear to be illicit, corrupt, and iniquitous.

The logic of subaltern advocacy underwent a dramatic shift with Uganda's independence in 1962. Where in colonial Uganda subaltern petitioners could move British officials by the evidence of their oppression, after Uganda's independence they needed to take matters into their own hands. Uganda's new leaders were not obliged to uphold the civilizing promises of the British empire. There was no heroic history to appeal to, no humanitarian legacy to uphold. It was the narrowing of the space for political advocacy that gave rise to the violence that gripped the lost counties in the early 1960s. …

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