Accepted paper:

A good life in central Uganda: the search for control over uncertainty and the need for divine luck


Stephen McConnachie (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

In central Uganda, subsistence farmers wrestle with uncertainty caused by external influences. A good life is one in which a person has the ability to effectively deal with this uncertainty, but in order to reach such a situation one is reliant on luck/blessings distributed by God/gods.

Paper long abstract:

For subsistence farmers in central Uganda, a good life (embeera ennungi) means mastering uncertainty in order to live a more comfortable life with fewer worries, primarily through a reliable income. Any number of external factors, from unpredictable weather patterns, to jealous neighbours, to the corrupt justice system, mean that poor people do not feel in control of creating their own future. Instead, while hard work remains highly valued, farmers here rely on God's/gods' distribution of emikisa (luck or blessings) to realise their aspirations. This remains the case as one's affluence increases, but one's own ability to overcome uncertainties increases. At the same time, the fact that the achievement of embeera ennungi is so much dependent on external influences engenders an atmosphere of distrust, lack of cooperation, and jealousy which only further hampers people's efforts to achieve what they seek. Through an exploration of the concepts of work, wants, and needs, and drawing on Appadurai's work on the 'Capacity to Aspire', I argue that the belief in prosperity as being dependent on being given luck serves as a comfort to people faced with genuine obstacles to the pursuit of their dreams, but that the need for this divine luck declines, though never fully disappears, as people's ability to determine their own futures increases.

panel P21
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