Acholi - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Localized lineages have been the fundamental social units in Acholi, with chiefdoms providing a layer of organization above the lineages from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. While rwodi, members of royal lineages, and lineage heads all seem to have been somewhat better off than others before the latter part of the nineteenth century, social stratification appears limited, owing primarily to both limited wealth in the society and redistribution. Certain rwodi and interpreters began to accumulate some of the new wealth brought into Acholi by international trade, and descendants of some of these men used their inherited wealth to build up prominent twentieth-century families. Since independence, a relatively few Acholi army officers have managed to accumulate substantial fortunes, as have a few traders. More commonly, almost any salaried job in the public or private sector represents an income that averages several times that of a member of the majority peasant population.

Political Organization. During the colonial period, political leadership in Acholi was contested among those with traditional leadership qualifications and others who benefited from the new dispensation, including collaborators with the British and those who managed to obtain Western education. Administrative divisions within Acholi, however, both during colonial rule and since independence, have often reflected preexisting sociopolitical units: lineages at the parish level; chiefdoms at the subcounty level; and larger zones of the most intensive (and peaceful) interpolity interactions at the county level.

Social Control. In precolonial Acholi, lineage heads and elders were most responsible for social control, though one of the attractions that assisted the development of chiefdoms seems to have been the ability of rwodi to help settle disputes that involved more than one lineage. With colonial rule came a new hierarchy of chiefs, clerks, and policemen, all under the authority of a district commissioner. Much of that hierarchy continued into the independence era. The essential lawlessness of the Idi Amin and second Milton Obote regimes, however, as well as of the various rebel groups, the Ugandan army, and Karamojong raiders (who have been active in Acholi since the mid-1980s) have led to a breakdown of any meaningful social control in the area.

Conflict. The available evidence suggests that conflict in Acholi before the end of the nineteenth century, both among Acholi chiefdoms and with neighboring peoples, was neither rare nor endemic. When conflict did occur, however, it was usually limited in scope, with relatively few deaths. Recognized compensation and reconciliation procedures seem to have often limited or prevented serious conflict, especially among neighboring chiefdoms within the same zone. With the coming of the ivory and slave trades, and the firearms that accompanied them, conflict became more frequent, more deadly, and more widely spread. A rebellion in 1911 in response to the British confiscation of Acholi guns was the last large-scale conflict in Acholi until Amin came to power in 1971. During Obote's first term as president, and especially during his second term, Acholi soldiers played key roles in the massive conflict in other parts of Uganda, where hundreds of thousands of people—many of them innocent civilians—lost their lives; from the mid-1980s into the 1990s, Acholi was the scene of similar levels of conflict.

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