Accepted Paper:

Rebuilding society after the war in northern Uganda: creative contributions by Acholi youth  


Julia Vorhölter (University of Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

In post-conflict Northern Uganda, youth play a significant role in rebuilding Acholi society. They adopt different creative strategies to comment on and profit from current processes of and discourses on cultural change. The paper discusses two of these “strategies”: traditional dance and hip hop.

Paper long abstract:

The 20-year insurgency (1986-2006) in Northern Uganda has caused massive ruptures in the life of the Acholi population. Imaginations of a post-war Acholi society are heavily contested among different groups of actors. Youth take an active part in the discourses and practices concerned with rebuilding Acholi society. Due to the specific situation they have been confronted with in the past, and the specific challenges and opportunities they face today and regarding their future, their position is different from that of the adult/ elder population.

The paper looks at two, seemingly opposed, "creative strategies" youth pursue to voice their imaginations of a future society: traditional dance and hiphop. The former is practiced in the context of cultural groups, whose members aim to revive "traditional cultural practices" and support the widespread discourse on "retraditionalization". The latter is practiced by youth who hope to overcome the conservativeness they see as inherent in "Acholi traditions" and orient their styles and behavior towards what they label "Western modernity". Interestingly, there are quite a number of youth who participate in both, traditional dance and hip hop, and seem to "switch" between "traditionalist" and "modernist" cultural styles (Ferguson, 1999) and discourses depending on the situational context. This may also be due to the fact that both "cultural practices" can also serve as income-generating activities.

The paper contributes to current research on popular culture as a form of youth empowerment. It analyzes the self-organized strategies adopted by Acholi youth in the face of cultural and economic uncertainty.

Panel P165
Novel spaces for African youth: creativity, entrepreneurship and political action