Tilburg University promotie PhD Defense

PhD Defense D.A.M. de Bondt MSc

Date: Time: 13:30 Location: Aula

Alcohol, Clan Councils and Colloquial Understandings of the State in Rural Uganda

  • Location: Cobbenhagen building, Aula
  • Supervisors: Prof. L.H.J. Adams, Prof. P. Nugent
  • Co-supersivor: P.M. Paiement

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“You see, courts do not settle disputes. If you bring a civil case to the magistrate court (…) would they in the end become friends?”

The community liaison officer I spoke to during my fieldwork period in Uganda pointed out an important difference between the courts and traditional forms of authority: whereas courts give judgements, traditional authorities try to harmonise their community. In Uganda, as in many African countries, traditional authorities are important institutions that contribute to the provision of welfare services and settle disputes in rural communities. They provide access to healthcare, monetary aid in the form of money lending services, and help to settle disputes in their localities. At times their voices take precedence over the district government, meaning that they are often at odds with local government institutions.

In this dissertation, I study the relationship between government institutions and clan councils. I ethnographically explore how people working for these institutions relate to, cooperate and compete with each other for sovereignty in the district. To address these issues, the main research question is: ‘How do understandings of sovereignty in Kisoro District, rural Uganda play out in the relationship between government institutions and clan institutions?’.

The research is based on nine months of ethnographic fieldwork (2018-2019), during which I lived in the area, participated in and observed at various institutes, and conducted many interviews with people from the area. I show how popular ideas about ‘the state’ and ‘the clan’ gain meaning through everyday encounters between residents, government officials, and clan councillors, and how they greatly influence decision making practices at the local level.

My data illustrates how traditional alcohol practices play a crucial role in distinguishing clan councils from the state. The drinks are used in dispute settlement as a means of reconciliation and symbolise the way clan councils care for their community. Government officials, however, distance themselves from these traditional practices, and call the clan councils ‘primitive associations’ in an attempt to diminish their importance in local matters. Seen through the lens of traditional alcohol I demonstrate the tensions between clan councils and the Ugandan state surrounding questions of sovereign power.  I display how clan councils and government institutions relate to each other and argue that they need one another to maintain their ‘shared’ positions of sovereign power in the district.