Military Lives and Livelihoods – Morality, Gender and Militarization in northern Uganda


Start date: 31 August, 2008 End date: 30 August, 2013 Project type: Smaller projects: PhD Project code: 48-08-KU Countries: Uganda Thematic areas: Conflict, peace and security, Lead institution: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Project coordinator: Cecilie Lanken Verma Total grant: 2,146,713 DKK

Project summary

The project is an investigation into the lives, futures, and military livelihood strategies of a generation of war-affected youth in Acholiland on the Uganda/Sudan border. Due to ongoing peace talks in the wake of 20-year long conflict between the Ugandan government and the rebel movement LRA, the transitional period opens up for new possibilities for the young generation in terms of livelihood options and future life chances, at the same time as it challenges people to redefine and negotiate the notions of 'home', 'peace' and 'security'. One aim of this project is to investigate how these notions are perceived and constructed at different levels, and how especially how the youth come to orient themselves not only within frameworks of 'home' and 'peace', but - as suggested by a continued (re)mobilisation of youth into both the national army and the rebel movement - also against them. Focusing of constructions of morality, gender and identity within settings where military lives and livelihoods come to provide paths to social becoming and social recogntion, the study sets out to explore: What underlying processes inform the military mobilisation of young men and women in Acholiland? And how do structural contexts of war, peace, and insecurity in different ways (trans)form and set the shifting moral terrains for identity formations, livelihood strategies, and codes for moral agency? Policy makers and the media are paying paramount attention to the committed violence in northern Uganda in pathological and psychological terms. Little attention has been paid to the social and structural motivations behind the violence, and to those group perpetrating and potentially legitimising it. This study aims to address this void in order to be able to understand violent livelihood strategies and recruitment from the perspective of those who have been living both of the war and for the war, and for whom the reasons to let go of a war-time lifestyle when peace breaks out in Acholiland may not be as obvious as often assumed. The study thus contributes to an analysis of why the violence persists in northern Uganda, and how it becomes legitimised despite (and perhaps as a consequence of) the ongoing political peace process.


Project Completion Report:

The research sheds light on processes of state becoming and political subjectivity in northem Uganda, an area recovering after decades of devastating war and a historically antagonistic relationship between the state and its Acholi subjects. Based on a total of 21 months of fieldwork in northern Uganda between 2005 and 2010, it covers a period in which the region went from open war through attempted peace negotiations to a publically proclaimed 'post-conflict situation'. Following the government's attempt at taking renewed political control of the former warzone and engaging the young population, the number of state-initiated military training courses in this particular region has been on the rise. As such, the thesis is an inquiry into the symbolic and often excessive appearances of the state that are projected into a peripheral hinterland through times of both war and its aftermath. The central empirical point of departure is the training known as chaka-mchaka and referred to as 'political education' in Uganda. As extended case, embodying both the articulate and ritualized state project and at the same time a site for the motivations, aspirations and relational configurations of the young recruited cadres, it has provided essential material for analysing and theorizing the interface between state-making and subjectivity in a war-affected region, as well as the changes in social and political engagement as lived and experienced by the young Acholi cadres.

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