The History of Identity in Colonial and Post-Colonial Uganda


Shane’s research has concentrated largely on two themes: ethnicity and naming.  The ancient rivalry between the neighbouring kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro took on a new intensity during the colonial period, as a large proportion of Nyoro territory was transferred – by the British – to their principal allies in the region, the Ganda.  One article (2006) examined the evolution of Bunyoro’s campaign to regain its ‘Lost Counties’, involving the targeted use of historical writing, high-level legal manoeuvring, and localized attempts at ethnic cleansing. A further paper (2009) approached the issue from the viewpoint of the Ganda, comparing the concerted integrationism in the Lost Counties with the more voluntaristic assimilation of immigrants which characterized the core of the kingdom of Buganda.

The politics of ethnic identification have also influenced work on naming and identification. A recent paper (2012) discussed the difficulties experienced by the state in modern Uganda in its attempts to monitor and control a society where populations are highly mobile and names are not always fixed. New names were sometimes imposed on individuals by chiefs bent on ethnic incorporation of minority groups, or by immigrant parents seeking to pass off their children as indigenes; equally new names could be acquired by people due to childbirth, ascent to political office, a desire to publicly express unhappiness, or a need to throw off their past. The power of the given name is so great in this region because it often describes the situation in which parents found themselves at the moment when a child was born. A 2008 paper analysed a baptismal register over the course of a century, tracing the changing trends in naming as a means of quantifying the trauma of early colonial mass mortality, the degree to which nominally Christian individuals publicly retained an affiliation to traditional religious beliefs, and evolving attitudes towards death in the age of AIDS.