ETHINICITY IN UGANDA-ROOT CAUSES AND GROWTH By Walubo Jude Tadeo Makerere University, Kampala

Essay by Judea May 2005

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One of the post-independence political concerns in Uganda today is that ethnicity had been detrimental to national unity, democracy and development. There is no doubt that the conflicts in Uganda from 1964 to 1966 when Prime Minister Milton Obote overthrew President Edward Mutesa, have taken on an ethnic expression. The 1971 coup by Idi Amin, the civil war of 1981-86 and the insurgency in the North since 1987 have all had ethnicity as one of the driving factors. The central problem was and has been the politicisation of ethnicity, that is, its use for purposes of group mobilisation in social conflict that also involves the state. As its impacts have spilled over to the present, its roots can be traced as far back as the pre-colonial period. Ethnicity in Uganda, as elsewhere on the African continent, has been historically constructed and subsequently reproduced. While democratisation may be problematic in the face of ethnic consciousness, the paradox is that the best way to reduce ethnic consciousness is more and not less democratisation.

Ethnicity has been variously conceptualised as "a sense of ethnic identity consisting of the subjective, symbolic or emblematic use by a group of people of any aspect of culture in order to create internal cohesion and differentiate themselves from other groups" . In the contemporary debate on ethnicity, consensus has emerged on two key features. One concerns the formation of ethnic identities and the other the function ethnicity performs in contemporary setting. It has been argued that ethnic identities are social constructs defined by the historical conditions in which they emerge. The first feature, formation, postulates that "ethnic identity is based on ethnic groups which can be referred to as a historically formed aggregate of people having a real or imaginary association, a specified territory, shared cluster of...

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