Academic journal article African Studies Review

"Village Life Is Better Than Town Life": Identity, Migration, and Development in the Lives of Ugandan Child Citizens

Academic journal article African Studies Review

"Village Life Is Better Than Town Life": Identity, Migration, and Development in the Lives of Ugandan Child Citizens

Article excerpt


This article contextualizes Ugandan urban-rural relations through urban children's knowledge, imaginations, and experiences, which are affected by the present sociohistoric moment in Uganda. Influenced by urban-rural migration, changing notions of family and kinship, and the national government's prolific "development-through-education" campaign, urban schoolchildren imagine "the village" both as an integral imaginary space of ethnic identity origination and a location for fulfillment of national citizenship through development.

Résumé: Get article contextualise les relations entre les milieux urbains et ruraux ougandais par le biais des connaissances, de l'imagination et de l'expérience des enfants en milieu urbain sous l'impact du moment socio-historique que l'Ouganda est en train de vivre. Influencés par l'évolution des notions de famille et de parenté, la migration entre les zones urbaines et rurales et la campagne prolifique menée par le gouvernement au niveau national sur le thème "développement par l'éducation," les écoliers urbains conçoivent le "village" comme espace imaginaire intégral dvi berceau de leur identité ethnique et du lieu d'accomplissement de la citoyenneté nationale grâce au développement.

DURING MY FIELDWORK at primary schools in Uganda, I frequently ran across primary school students passionately engaged in formal debates. One popular topic of debate was: "Village life is better than town life." Both pro and con debaters argued forcefully, and it was usually difficult to pick a winner. In one classroom of fifth graders, this debate was particularly lively, and a student adjudicator kept order with a big stick. The children followed academic debate format, calling for points of clarification to the cheers and jeers of their classmates. A speaker for the affirmative stood and said, "Village life is better than town life because there's more food [in the town] and there are no discos." A speaker for the opposite position claimed that town was better because the town does have entertainment such as discos. "Town schools also have enough supplies to provide quality education," she said.

Many urban youth studies presuppose youths' affection for the city, while others record rural young people's desires for a taste of city life and all the city has to offer. My research with Ugandan children, however, revealed a rarely discussed phenomenon: urban children's desires for village life and affiliation. But as the primary school debate I witnessed suggested, this debate encompasses many contradictory opinions and ideas about what the village and the city have to offer to young Africans today.

This article considers how urban Ugandan children have come to imagine their identities against the African rural-urban migration history and contemporary development trajectories. Situating my own ethnographic research historically in the work of the Manchester School of social research and its intellectual descendants, I contextualize current debates about urban-rural migration to show how it figures in life strategies for urban families and individual children. Through conversations with my very bright ten-year-old informant, Jill, her family, and her classmates, this research shows that many urban children imagine "the village" qualitatively differently from the way their parents do, aligning it more closely with ethnic nationalism and development, largely as a result of their symbolic location in relation to Uganda's national development efforts. Urbanites' views of villagers have thus shifted with this generation, from an assumption of inherent backwardness to an appreciation by urban children of the potential to use rurally situated knowledge in their own personal and national development strategies. Children thus formulate their identities in ways that make rural connections essential to both their ethnic and national identities as productive citizens. In this configuration, I argue, "the village" becomes an integral imaginary space of both children's identity origination and their fulfillment of development trajectories. …

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