Ethnic conflict in post-independence Uganda was a consequence of the confrontation between strong, ethnically divided local institutions and the post-colonial push for political centralisation, under the guise of nation building. To strengthen one, the other had to be weakened. Self-governance meant that the stakes for political power sharpened at national and local levels, ensuring that ethnic antipathies became more pronounced. Politicians who had succeeded within local politics were elevated to represent their various ethnic groups at the centre. However, these politicised ethnic demarcations were not, and should not, be considered a product of the Ugandan post-colonial state. Rather, they were a continuation of colonial political structures that had emphasised locality, ethnicities and the ‘tribe’. These were the same power structures that were embedded within Ugandan politics at the eve of independence. Uganda remains regionally divided between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’. Bantu-speaking ethnic groups in the southern, central, eastern and western areas of Uganda dominate the ‘South’. These include the Baganda, Basoga, Banyoro, Bagisu, Batoro and the Banyankole. The ‘North’, which is home to the Nilotic and Central Sudanic-speaking groups, encompasses the Acholi, Lango, Madi, Alur, Iteso and the Karamojong peoples. Historically, the political and ethnic divisions between the peoples of Northern and Southern Uganda have contributed to the country's contentious post-colonial history. Economic underdevelopment played a large part in fostering political tensions between the two regions, and served as useful tool for Acholi power brokers to negotiate for political and economic capital with the state, by utilising the politics of regional differentiation through the ‘Northern identity’. This article assesses how Acholi politicians utilised and then challenged the Northern identity from 1950 to 1968. It argues that in the face of political marginalisation from the late 1960s, Acholi ethnonationalism, rather than regional affiliations, became the most prominent identity used to challenge state authoritarianism.
Type of Publication
Journal of Eastern African Studies
Taylor & Francis Online