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The Archival Afterlives of Prison Officers in Idi Amin’s Uganda: Writing Social Histories of the Postcolonial State

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 May 2018


Africans historians have recently paid more attention to postcolonial archives, trying to locate these elusive collections as well as thinking more critically about how to use them. Uganda, in particular, has been an important site for reconsidering the role of postcolonial archives in historical research. Using the archives of Uganda Prisons Service as a case study, this article explores how official records can illuminate the social histories of public servants and the postcolonial state. Along with surveying the state of Uganda’s official archives – particularly those of the Uganda Prisons Service – it explores how these documents provide insight into the everyday experiences and concerns of prison officers after independence. Beyond its bureaucratic functions, paperwork served as a site in which officers could negotiate their responsibilities and relationships. Through the archives of the Uganda Prisons Service, we learn about the social worlds of prison officers within and beyond the prison walls, thus better understanding their experience of public service beyond narratives of corruption and brutality. Ultimately, this article demonstrates the ways in which official archives can be used to study the postcolonial state from a social history perspective.


Les historiens africanistes ont récemment prêté plus d’attention aux archives postcoloniales, en essayant de localiser ces collections insaisissables ainsi que de réfléchir de façon plus critique à la façon de les utiliser. L’Ouganda, en particulier, a été un site important pour reconsidérer le rôle des archives postcoloniales dans la recherche historique. En utilisant les archives du Uganda Prisons Service comme étude de cas, cet article explore comment les documents officiels peuvent éclairer les histoires sociales des fonctionnaires et de l’État postcolonial. En plus d’examiner l’état des archives officielles de l’Ouganda – en particulier celles du Uganda Prisons Service – cet article analyse comment ces documents donnent un aperçu des expériences quotidiennes et des préoccupations des gardiens de prison après l’indépendance. Au-delà de ses fonctions bureaucratiques, l’administration de papier peut s’étudier comme un lieu de négociation des responsabilités et des relations de ces agents. Grâce aux archives du Uganda Prisons Service, nous découvrons les mondes sociaux des agents pénitentiaires à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de la prison, ce qui permet de mieux comprendre leur expérience du service public au-delà des récits de corruption et de brutalité. En fin de compte, cet article montre comment les archives officielles peuvent être utilisées pour étudier l’état postcolonial dans une perspective d’histoire sociale.

Institutional Life in Uganda
Copyright © African Studies Association 2018 

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