Suffering, consent, and coercion in Uganda: The luwero war, 1981–1986

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International Journal of African Historical Studies


The Ugandan National Resistance Army (NRA) and its political wing, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), are lauded in Africanist scholarship for being one the first guerrilla movements to overthrow an independent state in post-colonial African history. Scholars have largely attributed the NRA/M’s unprecedented success to its innovative strategies of governance and political education during the war, crediting these initiatives with legitimizing the NRA/M and encouraging civilians’ voluntary support within the war effort. This article contends that the NRA/M’s wartime reforms had only minimal impact on civilian decisions to participate in the 1981–1986 Luwero War. Instead, it argues that popular fear of the incumbent state motivated civilians to join the rebel movement. In recognizing the constraints within which civilians consented to NRA/M leadership, this article offers insight into broader questions of authority, legitimacy, and mobilization in African politics. Such reflection may also help contextualize the claims that African political leaders make toward power and explain variations in the resonance of those claims for African audiences over time.

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