The Zamani Reader

On West Africa, Britain, and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century


Ugandan History

Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Uganda

HOLLY HANSON. “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda: The Social Consequences of Non-Free Followers.” In Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle, 161-173. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.

MICHAEL W. TUCK. “Women’s Experiences of Enslavement & Slavery in Late Nineteenth- & Early Twentieth-Century Uganda.” In Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle, 174-188. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.


The readings for this week are the first in a series of two case studies on specific regions of East Africa in the nineteenth century. East Africa is an area that includes Mozambique and the Great Lakes Region. Situated on the western Indian Ocean, this area corresponds to the present-day coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania, and southeastern Kenya, as well as Madagascar and various nearby islands like Comoros, Mayotte, Réunion, and Mauritius. The area also includes many hinterland regions of Eastern Africa, such as present-day Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. The readings assigned for this week are two selected chapters from an edited volume by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle entitled Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa. They are both about slavery in Uganda in the nineteenth century.

Hanson’s “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda”

In this piece, Hanson explores the social consequences of a new form of chiefship emerging in the Kingdom of Buganda, located in the present-day nation of Uganda. She explores this subject from its probable origins in the mid-eighteenth century under King Namugala to the early colonial period. This new form of chiefship was known as ekitongole in the singular and ebitongole in the plural. Essentially, these ebitongole are organized, specialized, and institutionalized groups of non-free war captives (read: slaves) that were acquired in Buganda’s wars of imperial expansion. These wars went on from about the late-seventeenth through the nineteenth century. The ebitongole were a way to organize the labor of war captives on new and unoccupied land. This form of labor organization was fundamentally different from the ways that labor had been structured previously. Rather than Baganda followers being named after chiefs or significant historical events, the ebitongole were named for the type of labor that they were expected to perform, whether that be clearing forests, hunting animals to protect local communities, making war, gathering ivory, growing provisions for the caravan trade, or engaging in some other form of work entirely.

Hanson argues that the ebitongole profoundly destabilized the Buganda Kingdom by breaking down the social order that had prevailed before their creation. The ebitongole challenged prior social structures in several key ways. First, chiefs had previously competed against one another to obtain followers, and they did so by appealing to the recognized prestige of the kabaka or Buganda King. Now, however, the chiefs did not have to compete for the kabaka’s authority since they had less of a need to obtain the allegiance of free followers. Likewise, the kabaka were no longer reliant on labor tribute from the chiefs because they had their own ebitongole. Meanwhile, the ebitongole undermined established traditions of gift exchange between the chiefs and the kabaka, and hurt the kabaka’s ability to maintain the kingdom’s balance of power through distributing land. The erosion of these reciprocal relationships between the kabaka and chiefs is epitomized by the high turnover rate of kabaka between 1670 and 1812, as well as the proliferation of new chiefs at the expense of those who traditionally held land. Lastly, since the rise of the ebitongole made Buganda chiefs less dependent on having free followers, they also eroded the status of free or ordinary Ganda citizens. Everyday people had less of an ability to leverage political allegiance to their social advantage. Continue reading “Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Uganda”

Review of Ogenga Otunnu’s Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979

OGENGA OTUNNU. Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979. African Histories and Modernities. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. xv, 369. $109.00. Hardback. ISBN: 978-3-319-33155-3.

According to Ugandan native, historian of Africa, and scholar of global refugee and forced migration studies, Ogenga Otunnu, nations of the world can be classified according to four typologies of state power. They can be despotically and infrastructurally strong, despotically and infrastructurally weak, despotically strong but infrastructurally weak, and, most ideally, despotically weak but infrastructurally strong. Since its creation as a predatory, kleptocratic, despotic, and conflict-ridden state at the onset of the African colonial period, in 1890, Uganda has oscillated among the first three typologies but it has never achieved the fourth. In Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979, Otunnu explains this situation by analyzing the history of Uganda from the precolonial period to the fall of Idi Amin in 1979. He argues that Uganda suffers from a severe and persistent crisis of legitimacy or a “legitimation deficit.” This deficit is shared by the state, its institutions, its incumbents, and their challengers. It is the result of factors that are contemporary and historical as well as foreign and domestic. Most importantly, this deficit remains “the most significant factor accounting for the intense political violence” in the country today (1, 321). Addressing this crisis is vital to stemming political violence and turning Uganda into a rights-based and developed nation that is inclusive, representative, and respectful of its citizens.

The work under review here is the first installment in a two-volume series about the origins, persistence, and effects of political violence in Uganda. (Otunnu’s second book has the same title, is due out in 2017, and will take the narrative from 1979 to 2016.) The dates featured in this title—1890 to 1979—form the core of Otunnu’s chronological focus. Three eighty-page chapters explore Uganda’s colonial era (1890-1962), the Obote regime (1962-1971), and the Amin regime (1971-1979). And yet, Otunnu wisely sets the stage for these three main sections with an opening chapter that surveys the history of several polities in precolonial Uganda, from roughly 1500 to 1889. The societies analyzed here—Bunyoro-Kitara, Buganda, and Acoli—showcase the diversity of social and political structures that were inherited and/or disrupted by the British colonial regime. Otunnu traces, for instance, how a kingdom like Buganda evolved form an independent monarchy in the precolonial period to an agent or “mask” of British imperial power in the colonial period. Similarly, Otunnu demonstrates a traditional system of legitimacy that the Ugandan state has yet to successfully revive. As he argues, the many precolonial and decentralized polities of Acoli in the north fit the ideal model of a state that was despotically weak but infrastructurally strong. As such, Acoli was characterized by democratic traditions and practices, government accountability to civil society, widespread feelings of legitimacy, and a lack of both corruption and violence.

Continue reading “Review of Ogenga Otunnu’s Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979”

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