Reading Kakembo and a variety of other Ugandan, missionary or official observers of the simultaneously hopeful and perilous “break-neck speed” of the 1940s, youth seems a natural analytic category, a metaphor used by historical actors to interpret conflict as the growing pains of adolescence. Here, though, I seek to complicate simple ideas of youth. I briefly explore the idea of Buganda as a young or “adolescent” nation, an idea that was proffered in late colonial Buganda by missionary and official actors as well as by specific Ganda activists. I then reread Kakembo’s metaphors in a specifically Ugandan context by looking at patterns of Ganda politics and historical tales to show how Ganda social thinkers had at least two additional alternative ways of thinking about the metaphor of youth—ways they continued to use during the turmoil of the 1940s and 1950s. The first of these provided an internal logic for the “Bataka Union,” as activists saw youth as politically significant through their integration into a community of clan members as inheritors and stewards, responsible for communal resources. Youth inherited not just individual fates, but the community itself from “old shaky faltering hands” that had once been strong but could no longer steer. Second, in uniting to demand the return of Mutesa II as kabaka during the crisis of the 1950s, Ganda loyalists drew on a model of youth, particularly the youth of the king and the elite, as a volatile, dangerous time of struggle that—far from being simple delinquency—allowed for both the emergence of brilliant individuals and a cyclical strengthening and remaking of the kingdom. Kakembo’s invocation of “break-neck speed” and his statement that “We shall only learn by making mistakes” simultaneously acknowledged the dangers of this disruptive struggle and its creative necessity.

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Book Chapter

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Copyright © 2010 Ohio University Press. This book chapter first appeared in Generations Past: Youth in East African History.

Edited by: Andrew Burton and Helene Charton

Purchase online at Ohio University Press.



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