Gender and the bifurcated state: Women in Uganda’s traditional authority

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Third World Quarterly
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Routledge

Abstract

This article introduces Mahmood Mamdani’s bifurcated state theory to the study of gender and power. The purpose is to unveil the structure of the state that produces conflicting experiences of elite women in Africa’s two public spheres, namely, the civil realm and the customary domain. In recent decades, privileged women have occupied political leadership positions in Uganda and Africa. However, things are different in the kingdoms and cultural institutions of the former British colony in which open despotism and the limited inclusion of women in leadership have persisted without causing much alarm. To highlight the coherence of these two seemingly contradictory situations, I extend the notion of the bifurcated state beyond the politicisation of ethnicity—for which the concept was originally formulated—to the politicisation of gender. Not only does the theory illuminate the politicisation of identity, but it also accounts for the differentiated manner in which identity is politicised in different publics.

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