This project will show why the past matters to Uganda’s future. Designed around a focused study of a key moment – the months following Idi Amin’s fall from power in 1979 – it brings together an interdisciplinary team that works together to improve understanding of the past and disseminate that knowledge to multiple audiences in Uganda to inform contemporary debates about persistent inequality and exclusion.
Amin’s fall opened a moment of possibility. Seventeen years after independence – years that had seen the abrogation of the constitution, the introduction of one-party rule, a military coup and a prolonged period of destabilising and terrifying violence – Ugandans had the opportunity to start again. The next year and a half saw active, multi-vocal debates over the future. In newspapers, on the radio, in urban streets and in villages, Ugandans pondered and argued – and took action – in pursuit of multiple visions of a Ugandan future.
The unhappy end to those turbulent months – the problematic elections of December 1980 that brought former president Milton Obote back to power – has meant that the period has been largely ignored in scholarship, remembered simply as a time of the creeping spread of Obote’s influence. The project will challenge that presentation, and resurrect this as a time of hope, and of a contest over the future. This actively engaged an elite but also spread far more widely to a public that was – for the first time in many years – able to ask critical questions about what it might mean to be Ugandan, and about who should hold authority. The questions of the time were pressing, and multiple, for colonial and post-colonial states had created new kinds of inequality and exclusion, disadvantaging women and marginalizing whole regions of the country: what form should political representation take? How could inequality be overcome? What would it mean to be a good citizen of a new Uganda?
Those questions remain pressing today. The project will look back to the debates of those few hectic months – captured in newspapers and radio broadcasts of the time, and still live in the memories of those who took part – to recover a history of popular, as well as elite, debate over the nature of government and citizenship. It will produce an edited collection for academic audiences; and a series of media outputs – from newspaper articles to blog posts to radio talkshows – for wider audiences. Working with partners from civil society, the project will develop a model for using research-based knowledge of the past in contemporary policy and grassroots debates. Through research and co-production of outputs the project will create a team, involving early-career Ugandan scholars, that can bid successfully for further funding; and will show public and policy-makers how useful and important the study of the past can be.
A series of workshops will bring early-career researchers together with more experienced colleagues. Through the involvement of media (newspaper and local radio) the project will co-produce outputs that present research results to non-academic audiences, demonstrating the ability of research in the humanities to speak to contemporary challenges, showcasing the importance of scholarship that is sometimes undervalued, and consistently underfunded, in contemporary Uganda.