In partnership with the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx), the Oxford Africa Society launched the Graduate Research and Innovation (GRAIN) convenings. GRAIN is a platform for AfriSoc members, AfOx visiting fellows and affiliates to present, discuss and encourage action on current issues affecting the African continent. We invite conveners to share their work and partner with the Africa Oxford Initiative whose visiting fellows co-present on their research. The presentations are intended to be 15 minutes in length and provide a launching pad for an audience – presenter discussion on the topic, as well as inspiring some call to action or impetus for collaboration. Learn more about the first convening here:

The first GRAIN convening was hosted by AfOx-Law Visiting Fellow, Dr Busingye Kabumba and AfriSoc member, Mbalenhle Matandela (MSc African Studies, Oxon) on the topic: To what extent does Uganda’s rule of law protect or fail its most vulnerable. The room was littered with students and academics from various disciplines including law, development studies, medicine, maths, public health and education; who came together to hear presentations by the conveners and engage with them face-to-face on the real implications of their research.

Dr Kabumba, who is a Lecturer in Law at Makerere University in Uganda; was among a group of scholars who was noted, in March 2016, by the Supreme Court of that country as being widely researched and highly experienced with regard to constitutionalism, human rights and good governance and who were, on this basis, admitted by that Court as Amici Curiae in Presidential Election Petition No.1 of 2016. Dr Kabumba opened the session, tracing the historical development of Uganda’s constitution and seminal moments that framed the nation’s identity.  ‘A society is usually bound by a common experience and a common thread. In Uganda, as is the case with many post-colonial states, the thread that binds is, unfortunately, military force’, he observed.

Mbalenhle, who is a radical black feminist and a recent graduate of the University of Oxford’s renowned MSc in African Studies, described the intellectual and socio-political violence that ‘rule by law’ can inflict on the most vulnerable. Citing the Ugandan government’s treatment of women, including Dr. Stella Nyanzi, she explained, ‘If a woman with the power to test ‘isms’ of the state speaks out, they presume she must be crazy’.

The participants in the convening (who included Dr Anne Makena, the AfOx Program Coordinator; Yusuf Serunkuma, another AfOx Visiting Scholar as well as both the current and immediate Presidents of the Oxford Africa Society) also had an opportunity to weigh in on both presentations.

The questions and comments that followed covered a wide range of contemporary issues relating to constitutionalism and the rule of law in Uganda and Africa as a whole. These included the extent to which contemporary African Constitutions are a true reflection of the values of the societies to whom they address; perceived or actual conflicts between African values and western ideals on homosexuality, minority rights, women’s empowerment and justice; the place, nature and role of the public intellectual; the role of the (largely elite) legal profession in the democratic decline of African States; the tendency towards false constitutionalism and ‘rule by law’; and the construction of national identity in the post-colonial State. On the rule of law, AfOx visiting Scholar, Yusuf Serunkuma noted, “Its a matter of justice and accessibility. Legal protection in Uganda is completely inaccessible. In Uganda, the highest service one can request is that of a lawyer. Therefore, legal recourse is left only for those with the money to access it.”

(left) Mbali Matandela recounting her fieldwork experience in Uganda which was supported through a grant from the Africa Oxford initiative.

Drawing on her experiences in Uganda, where she conducted field research supported by the Africa Oxford initiative, Mbalenhle reflected upon the true nature of public intellectualism and activism in Uganda. She recounted discussions with ordinary Ugandans, explaining that some of the most enlightening of her field interviews were not necessarily the elite interviews, but rather her discussions with a variety of ordinary citizens going about their daily work. She was also struck by the ways in which the colonial and post-colonial State had continued to police the black female body, a reflection of a confluence, in this regard, of Victorian values and patriarchal aspects of African culture.

For his part, Dr Kabumba reiterated the need for continuing introspection on the part of African societies, if organic constitutional orders – more capable of attracting consensual and genuine compliance – are to be achieved. He also conceded that the legal profession in Uganda has not lived up to its potential in terms of promoting constitutionalism and the rule of law. This has been due, in no small part, to the nature of legal education – and higher education in general – which remains out of tune with the concerns and lived reality of the majority of the population.


(left) Dr Busingye and Dr Serunkuma pose for a group shot with Ugandan, Oxford students after the GRAIN convening.

Keep an eye on the AfriSoc Term Card for upcoming GRAIN convening on ‘Disease and Inequality in Africa’ and ‘Colonialism and the South-Sudanese Identity’.  For questions related to GRAIN please contact:

Graduate Research and Innovation (GRAIN)

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