The Work of Time in Uganda

Monday, 23 July, 2012 - 10:30

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This paper is about the unsettling prospect of the millennium. In post-colonial Africa and in other locales, nationalists sought to organize culture as heritage, a set of behaviors and projects inherited, in a lineal fashion, from ancient forefathers. By codifying and consolidating religion, and by reforming citizens’ conduct, nationalists created a sovereign culture that could serve as a foundation for an independent state. But there were other, more imminent frames in which citizens could act. The essay focuses on the Rwenzururu Kingdom in western Uganda, where in 1970 a prophet named Timosewo Bawalana announced that the Christian eschaton had at last arrived. Rwenzururu’s founders were historians: they recognized the organizing power of linear time. With evidence of their distinct language and culture at hand, Rwenzururu’s architects used the techniques of modern governance—census, map, bureaucracy—to make their independent polity visible, credible, and worthy of support. Where Rwenzururu separatists organized time as a forward march, Timosewo Bawalana was following a difference cadence. By breaking with the past, Bawalana interrupted the heritage lessons that Rwenzururu’s founders conducted, opening up an experimental form of community. His radical politics lets us see that the definition of citizenship involved an argument over the passage of time.


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