Bajeemi urbanites: roots of social resilience in militarized Kampala, 1966-1986
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Between 1966 and 1986 the Mengo neighborhood of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, was militarized. This dissertation examines how and why the urban dwellers of this neighborhood chose to stay in the city during this period of high insecurity. Successive governments turned several spaces and buildings in the city into army administration headquarters and barracks for soldiers. The army literally moved next door to city residents, leading to constant threats to people’s lives and their property. In order to examine Kampalans’ strategies for surviving in an insecure and dangerous urban environment, this dissertation relies on the oral histories of the men and women who lived through militarization. In so doing, I also examine how the African city of Kampala became resilient amid crisis. I argue that Kampalans relied on a set of practices and stances of defiance and subtle resistance, locally collectively known as Okujeema, to maintain their urban lives; they had inherited these strategies and modified them to suit their new challenges. From the beginning of military rule, many Kampala residents understood that the military meant to push them out of the city as a punishment for their political opposition and allegiance to the Buganda Kingdom. Okujeema is how Kampalans defined resilience and endurance. Residents displayed this trait when they resisted eviction orders, hid their property, and protected each other’s lives. They also insisted on earning a livelihood and enjoying leisure time in the midst of economic collapse. Kampala had long been a city of powerful women, a gender dynamic now challenged by the arriving soldiers. Not surprisingly, Okujeema therefore often took highly gendered forms as when traditional gender roles were inverted and women became protectors of men. All Kampalans, men and women, were urbanites, and they meant to retain that identity. The very notion of living in the city was an act of Okujeema during Kampala’s two decades of militarized crisis.