“Narratives of Power” examines the interaction between history education and statecraft in Uganda since 1925. Tracing the development of history curricula through Uganda’s transition from British colony to independent state, I explore how political elites have appropriated history education in their quests to win the hearts, minds, and votes of young people. I use a mixed-methods approach, drawing on archival material, school curricula, and oral history interviews with curriculum specialists, education officers, and history teachers from nine secondary schools around the country.
Chapters one and two examine colonial narratives of exploration and empire, first from the pages of British syllabuses, and then from the reactions of African intellectuals who denounced them as colonial brainwashing. Next, I examine the efforts of educated African elites whose hopes of reclaiming history as a story of African triumph and platform for national identity clashed with the reality of Ugandan social and political cleavages. Chapter four investigates the stagnation of curriculum reform under the National Resistance Movement, and history teachers’ reactions to Uganda’s current curriculum. Finally, using a case study about a recently implemented secondary-school program known as patriotism clubs, I illustrate that far from abandoning historical reconstruction, Uganda’s government is engaging with the politicization of history in ways that try to bypass traditional curricular channels.
I argue that historical reconstruction has been, and continues to be, at the forefront of government attempts to communicate political messages to young people. Unable to control how the past is taught and interpreted in the formal school system, elites are employing new strategies that use extracurricular programs to bypass non-state actors whose views might bring them into contention with the state’s imagined past. The neglect of Ugandan history in the education system and the emergence of patriotism clubs should be seen as congruent phenomena; the former limits historical narratives that might delegitimize the state while the latter allows the NRM to use history as a more effective tool of state power. My findings indicate that future studies of education and statecraft must expand to include the changing spaces in which students are encountering state narratives about the past.