The Journal of Modern African Studies

Born-again Buganda or the limits of traditional resurgence in Africa

Pierre  Englebert  a1 1
a1 Department of Politics, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711, USA [].


Since the restoration of traditional leaders in Uganda in 1993, the Kingdom of Buganda has developed unusually effective institutions, financing mechanisms and policy tools, re-building itself as a quasi-state. The reinforcement of Buganda's empirical statehood provides one of the farthest-reaching examples of the current trend of traditional resurgence in African politics and to some extent supports claims for the participation of traditional structures in contemporary political systems. Yet, the Buganda experiment also highlights the limits of traditional resurgence as a mode of reconfiguration of politics in Africa. First, it is unclear how the kingdom can maintain the momentum of its revival and the allegiance of its subjects in view of its fiscal pressure on the latter and the limited material benefits it provides to them. Already the monarchists are finding it difficult to translate the king's symbolic appeal into actual mobilisation for development, shedding doubts on one of the main justifications for the kingdom's rebirth. Second, Buganda's claims to political participation clash with the competing notion of sovereignty of the post-colonial state. These limits are likely to confront other similar experiments across the continent.


1 Research for this paper was funded by Pomona College and its programme in International Relations, and benefited from Phoebe Kajubi's excellent research assistance. Much help was also received from colleagues at the Makerere Institute of Social Research, members of the Court at Bulange, Jennifer Boyle, Sentenza Kajubi, Matiya Lubega, Peter Mayiga, Harriet Mukasa, Apolo Nsibambi and Aili Mari Tripp. Richard Sklar provided inspiration. He and Michael Karlstrom also offered detailed and much appreciated comments on an earlier version of the paper, which was presented at the 2000 annual meetings of the International Studies Association, Western Political Science Association and African Studies Association, and at a UCLA seminar where Daniel Posner and Gerald Bender raised useful points. Two anonymous referees also made helpful suggestions. Despite such generous help, the author bears sole responsibility for the paper's contents.