- LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0075
- LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0075
The region that would take the name Uganda became part of the British Empire in the 1890s. Blessed with relatively fertile soils and reliable rainfall, Uganda would become one of the most prosperous dependencies in Africa. Much of the wealth generated by cash cropping was invested in education and other social services, and this prosperity, combined with the absence of European settlers, permitted the development of a largely progressive and liberal form of colonial rule. However, Ugandan politics were bitterly divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. Decolonization required the creation of unlikely coalitions and constitutional compromises that proved unsustainable. In 1966 the prime minister, Milton Obote, overthrew the president, Edward Mutesa, who was the Kabaka, or ruler of Uganda’s largest kingdom, Buganda. The following year Obote abolished all of Uganda’s kingdoms. He himself was overthrown in 1971 by General Idi Amin. Amin’s expulsion of Uganda’s Asian community, combined with corruption and mismanagement, resulted in economic collapse, while opposition to his rule was met with torture and execution. Amin’s invasion of Tanzania in 1978 brought his largely empty state down, and Obote returned to power in an apparently rigged election in 1980. The poverty and violence that had characterized the 1970s worsened under “Obote II.” Only after Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army fought its way to power in 1986 did peace and economic growth return in most of the country. Museveni’s liberalization of the economy, his welcoming back of Ugandan Asians, and above all his regime’s role in the rapid reduction in HIV prevalence saw Uganda become one of the largest recipients of donor aid on the continent in the 1990s. Uganda’s image as an African success story was never absolute, however. Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army fought a long and brutal war against the Museveni regime, during which atrocities were committed by both sides. Since 2006 the conflict has largely been conducted outside Uganda’s borders, but within Uganda peaceful criticism of the regime has increased in recent years due to Museveni’s evasion of constitutional limits on his term in office, his dubious commitment to multipartyism, his perceived promotion of separatist groups within the kingdom of Buganda, and above all the scale of the corruption with which his government has been associated.
Uganda lacks a recent, comprehensive work of historical synthesis. The earliest attempts, such as Ingham 1958 emphasized the role of Europeans in shaping events, while Oliver and Mathew 1963 contextualized Ugandan history within a wider East African history. The nationalist school that dominated historical production in the 1960s did not produce major country-level studies until decades later, in Karugire 1980 and Mutibwa 1992, which sought above all to attribute blame for postcolonial misfortunes. Northern Uganda has tended to suffer marginalization or condemnation in these accounts. The 1970s and 1980s saw the dominance of often rather rigid Marxist interpretations, such as Jorgensen 1981, with small farmers being classified as kulaks, and ethnicity and religion being largely written out of Uganda’s experience. Important local studies of political, social, and cultural precolonial and colonial era history produced since the 1990s have not as yet filtered through to general accounts. However, Uganda’s contemporary political history has been the subject of a number of rich analyses, such as Tripp 2010, and Low 2009 has recently provided a very useful general overview of the introduction of British rule.
Ingham, Kenneth. The Making of Modern Uganda. London: Allen and Unwin, 1958.
An early attempt to describe the development of an African country by a professional historian. Factually detailed, and particularly useful for the early colonial period, this book is a faithful account of the evolution of British policy within Uganda, though it provides little sense of the country’s distinctiveness.
Jorgensen, Jan Jelmet. Uganda: A Modern History. London: Croom Helm, 1981.
Inspired by Marx and dependency theory, and largely reliant on published sources, this volume prioritizes economic motivations for all significant developments in Uganda’s history. It is most useful on African chiefs’ role in creating Uganda’s cash-cropping economy; the emergence of Uganda’s nationalist parties, and their leaders’ backgrounds; and the evolution of Idi Amin’s regime.
Karugire, Samwiri Rubaraza. A Political History of Uganda. Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann, 1980.
Focusing on southern Uganda’s kingdoms, precolonial northern societies are presented as static and lacking complexity. Blames Uganda’s postcolonial instability mainly on ethnic and sectarian divisions arising from colonial policy, but also condemns Obote I’s corruption and cynicism. Ends in 1971.
Low, Donald Anthony. Fabrication of Empire: The British and the Uganda Kingdoms, 1890–1902. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Detailed analysis of British imperial strategy and the actions of the empire’s men on the ground, providing the most comprehensive account of Uganda’s conquest and the establishment of colonial overrule. Useful summary of the author’s earlier scholarship on themes such as warbands and Ganda responses to the British incursion.
Mutibwa, Phares. Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. London: C. Hurst, 1992.
The most useful account of Uganda 1962–1990. Mutibwa is politically engaged, pro-National Resistance Movement (NRM), and part of the nationalist school of historians, yet he reinforces southern Ugandan stereotypes of northern violence and emphasizes that Ugandans’ postcolonial policies, not the social divisions and constitutional fudges left by the colonial state, caused Uganda’s tragic history after decolonization.
Oliver, Roland, and Gervase Mathew, eds. History of East Africa. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.
The first of a rather dated trilogy, important for setting Uganda in its East African context. Chapters by Oliver and Low are most useful.
Tripp, Aili Mari. Museveni’s Uganda: Paradoxes of Power in a Hybrid Regime. Boulder, CO: Rienner, 2010.
The most comprehensive account of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime. Associates the stagnation, corruption, and repression that have increasingly characterized the regime since the millennium with the partial success of early reforms, which resulted in sufficient aid and economic growth to enable the regime to remain in power while retreating from reformism.
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- Achebe, Chinua
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