This article asks how the people of colonial Uganda, especially the kingdom of Buganda, understood themselves in the 1940s not just as imperial subjects, but as citizens capable of mobilizing for change. To understand activism and agency in such a context, I explore how power in the protectorate was encoded in manners, politeness, and conventional rituals of sociability—built from complementary Ganda and British expectations—that could be disrupted by activists using tactics of rudeness. Activists lacked a clear issue-based politics, or the resources to engage in active state-building. Instead, they performed a rude, publicly celebrated strategy of insults, scandal mongering, disruption, and disorderliness that broke conventions of colonial friendship, partnership, and mutual benefit. They sought to delineate and make public the real clashes of interest both among Baganda, and between Baganda and Britons, as a way of opening up to public scrutiny the covert practices of negotiation that had produced land deals, cotton policy, bureaucratic appointments, and power within the kingdom and protectorate. By juxtaposing cultural analysis and political history, and using concepts, such as rudeness or manners, that are rooted in local practices, we can gain insights into big historical concepts such as popular activism and nationalist mobilization.


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pp. 741-770
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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