Crisis & Decline in Bunyoro: Population & Environment in Western Uganda, 1860-1955

By Hoag, Heather J. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Crisis & Decline in Bunyoro: Population & Environment in Western Uganda, 1860-1955


Hoag, Heather J., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Crisis & Decline in Bunyoro: Population & Environment in Western Uganda, 1860-1955. By Shane Doyle. Athens: Ohio University Press; Oxford: James Currey; Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2006. Pp. xii, 276; 27 illustrations, 5 maps. $49.95 cloth, $26.95 paper.

The 1890s was a traumatic decade for much of East Africa. Rinderpest devastated livestock populations, while infestations of jiggers crippled many communities. Colonial conquest further weakened societies, in some cases limiting their ability to produce food and maintain ecological control of their environments. Historians continue to assess the diverse impacts these changes had on Africans' health. What factors led some societies to recover more quickly from the demographic challenges of the late nineteenth century? What accounts for the rising fertility rates in the early years of colonial rule? Building upon the work of Helge Kjekshus, Juhani Koponen, James Giblin, and Jean-Pierre Chrétien, Shane Doyle in Crisis & Decline in Bunyoro: Population & Environment in Western Uganda, 1860-1955 examines the impact of colonial conquest on demography and environmental control in one of East Africa's major kingdoms, the Bunyoro of Uganda. Unlike other East African states, Bunyoro did not recover quickly from the difficulties of the 1890s. Drawing upon available archival and oral sources, Doyle contends that Bunyoro's demographic decline in the first half of the twentieth century was caused by political upheaval and colonial neglect that destabilized Bunyoro society and increased the prevalence of disease, malnutrition, and poverty.

Following a short introduction to the historiography of African demography, Chapters 1 and 2 explore how the precolonial Bunyoro state was able to utilize the region's environmental resources to support one of East Africa's largest populations. By creating a predominantly peaceful environment that fostered economic expansion, stable settlement, and organized activities such as grass burning, hunting, and rain-making, the state allowed for a certain degree of ecological control. Refuting claims that by the eighteenth century the state was on the decline, Doyle shows how under the leadership of Kabaleega (1871-99) Bunyoro took advantage of the burgeoning long-distance trade to bolster the kingdom's place in the regional economy, while centralizing state authority and crafting Bunyoro's military into one of the strongest in East Africa.

Bunyoro's economic, demographic, and geographic expansion was shortlived. Motivated by their desire to secure Buganda and the Nile River, the personal ambitions of "ground-level imperialists" (p. 75), and hatred for Kabaleega, between 1893 and 1899 British forces waged one of the longest colonial conquests in East Africa. …

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