The Centre for Imperial and Global History wishes to congratulate another of our students, Elizabeth (Beth) Laruni, for not only successfully passing her doctoral viva but for being awarded a two-year NORHED postdoctoral fellowship at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda. Beth, who works on Acholi politics and identity in Northern Uganda, has been with us at Exeter from the beginning of her undergraduate studies, and we are very proud of her achievements!
Beth joined the University of Exeter as a mature student in 2006 after five years working in the corporate world. She graduated with a first class degree in History, before undertaking a fully-funded MA in Kurdish Studies (Distinction). Beth was then awarded an AHRC doctoral scholarship to work with Dr Stacey Hynd and Professor Martin Thomas, and contributed to the growing focus on researching politics and culture in post-independence sub-Saharan Africa, as well as global and imperial histories, here at Exeter.
Beth’s doctoral thesis, titled ‘From the Village to Entebbe: The Acholi of Northern Uganda and the Politics of Identity, 1950-1985’, utilised a multifocal approach to assess how Acholi gender, class and social hierarchies, religious identities, regional identifications and the much-touted ‘martial’ identity have been utilised internally and externally to politically reinforce Acholi ethnicity in late-colonial and post-colonial Uganda. More specifically, the research focused on the symbiotic relationship between local and national politics in Uganda, in an attempt to analyse how those on the periphery of formal politics utilised the Acholi ‘cultural tool kit’ to make demands against the Ugandan state.
The project made extensive use of the fragile and only partially-catalogued district archives in Kitgum and Gulu, combining these with oral history interviews to provide a highly original perspective on the history of the region. This thesis fills an important research gap in both Ugandan postcolonial history and the history of conflict in the region, thereby helping to explain how armed groups like the Holy Spirit Movement and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) emerged, and why relations between Acholi and the Ugandan national government have proved fraught since independence.
Beth will now be taking up a two-year NORHED funded postdoctoral fellowship at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) in Uganda, under the tutelage of the eminent African history Professor Mahmood Mamdani. Beth says ‘My research at MISRwill provide the first historical analysis of post-colonial movement in and out of Acholiland during periods of political stability and instability. Moving away from the established framework of conflict and post-conflict discourses, the research will look specifically at the cultural, socio-economic and political impact returning Acholi diaspora are having within the region, including, but not limited to, their role in Post Conflict Reconstruction (PCR)’.
Drawing upon extensive archival research which has already been conducted for my doctoral thesis on the period 1971-1985, the research will seek to highlight historical patterns of migration during conflict periods, (1971-1979) and the impact of the ‘returnees’ (1980-1985) and (2006-2014) on local communities in northern Uganda during periods of relative stability. More specifically, the research will interrogate the changing definitions of ‘Acholiness’, by assessing how trans-national identities are reconciled vis-à-vis localised social categories of ethnicity and culture. I will also be assisting Dr Stacey Hynd with research on the history of child soldering in Uganda in conjunction with her project on historicising the contemporary crisis of child soldiers in Africa, c. 1890-1980’.
This research, funded by Exeter’s HASS ‘Transformative Social Science’ scheme, will involve a combination of archival research and oral interviews to trace the historical development of children’s roles in conflict in Uganda, looking at both local and international humanitarian responses to their involvement, from the colonial period to the horrors of Joseph Kony’s LRA and the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign.