Ugandan Youth and Creative Writing: New Perspectives on Conflict and Development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities


Since its independence in 1962, Uganda has been beset with a series of conflicts. Ranging from cross-border 'spillover' conflict from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the high-profile North/South conflict led by Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, these incidents of violence and terror have characterised Uganda's post-colonial history. Extant development studies suggest a link between deep-seated ethnic rivalries forged during the colonial era, uneven economic development, corruption in governance and the asymmetrical distribution of resources as key drivers of conflict in the country (Otunnu, 'Causes and Consequences of the War in Acholiland'; ACCS, 'Northern Uganda Conflict Analysis'). While the main brunt of conflict has been carried by the north, Uganda as a whole has been beset by its effects. Young people have been made particularly vulnerable, both in the high-profile cases of child recruitment in conflict, including the sexual trafficking of young women and girls, and in the overall effects of unemployment, instability and political conflict across the nation as a whole.

While a number of high-level studies, development analyses and policy recommendations exist in the Ugandan context, these by and large fail to escape the pitfalls associated with development discourse, particularly as it pertains to the African continent, with the result of disempowering local populations and de-centring the everyday experience of conflict and its afterlives. As James Ferguson ('Global Shadows') argues, the rhetorical and discursive apparatus around development cannot be decoupled from its material effects and, more often than not, inefficacy in practice (see also Escobar, 'Encountering Development'). These complaints have become commonplace in postcolonial approaches to African development, where the perceived distance between the lived experience of African populations and discursive theorisation about them has been blamed for the continuation of colonialist patterns of exploitation (eg Jolly, 'Global Development Goals: The United Nations Experience').

The proposed research is a pilot study which seeks to redress these pitfalls by developing interdisciplinary methods to enable new understandings of conflict, its legacies and its impact among youth populations, using creative writing as a tool for self-expression and empowerment. The proposed research seeks to enable the agency of Ugandan youth, whilst minimising the risks of trauma associated with testimonial narrative through the leveraging of imaginative forms. At the same time, creative fiction offers the possibility for imagining other lives and other minds, and thereby presents the best potential for the development of empathetic identification across communal groupings (Keen; Nussbaum).

This research exploits these characteristics, using youth-produced short fiction as the basis for teaching materials aimed at secondary-schools in Uganda which will use the empathetic potential of literary writing to develop cross-ethnic forms of solidarity and enable larger-scale dialogue around youth needs post-conflict. The research will also use these writings as critical discursive material which will enable a re-consideration of development needs in Uganda, uncovering the submerged narratives and impacts of conflict's legacy through the medium of expressive fiction. By re-centring young Ugandans as agents of knowledge production, this project foregrounds heretofore unheard voices and unseen development needs.

Partnering with Writivism, run by the Kampala-based Centre for African Cultural Excellence, and the Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, the project will lead to significant local benefits including the development of: pedagogical material and educational practice; research capacity; co-produced knowledge exchange; increased networks of influence; new audiences; and vernacular interventions into high-level development policy.

Planned Impact

The proposed research has a large potential for impact amongst young people, the general public, secondary school educators, policy specialists, development NGOs and project partners Writivism, via the Centre for African Cultural Excellence.

The young people who participate in the two workshops will benefit from the writing skills which are imparted to them, leading both to the production of new narratives and to the development of self-empowerment through creative expression. By engaging creatively with the everyday experiences of post-conflict life, the young people will be able to develop their own agency, identifying their needs and concerns in the context of conflict's legacies, and will improve their communication skills. A selection of young people will be invited to participate in a public reading to be held in Kampala, which will be an opportunity for practicing public speaking and performance. The forms of self-expression which the project engenders have the potential to significantly benefit the welfare of these young people in Uganda. The Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University will ensure that the complex needs of these young participants are met, drawing on their expertise in conflict, development and ethics; the presence of a trained counsellor has also been budgeted for.

The general public, particularly in Uganda, will benefit from the dissemination of the creative writing produced at the two workshops, which has the potential to illuminate cross-generational needs, thereby improving cross-generational understanding and public welfare by setting the writing produced at the workshops against the longer history of discourse and policy around conflict in the country. Additional print copies of the creative writing will be distributed to a range of local libraries and schools in Uganda with the potential for wider distribution to other conflict and post-conflict zones.

Secondary school teachers in Uganda will benefit from the teaching materials which the project will produce. These will be freely available and distributed through the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, which runs regular school visits by writers and academics. Materials will also be disseminated by collaborators at the Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University.

Policy specialists, cultural NGOs and development organisations will benefit from the insights garnered through the analysis of the young people's writings in the larger context of discourse around conflict and development in Uganda. In particular, the everyday concerns, hidden narratives and impact of conflict's legacies which creative writing has the potential to embed might productively point to new understandings of post-conflict societal needs in Uganda, generationally-specific impacts and forms of self-understanding amongst the vulnerable youth populations who have grown up under conflict. This in turn has the potential to identify heretofore unrecognised needs for training and welfare amongst younger populations. These findings will be summarised in a short working paper, which will be circulated to cultural NGOs and development organisations working in Uganda. In addition to publication on the project website, the PI will consult with both project partners to collate a list of key contacts who will be sent a copy via email.

Writivism, run by the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, will benefit from the expansion of their already-existent writing workshops into youth and young adult populations, as well as their ability to expand their presence in northern Uganda. The project will also enable Writivism to widen their educational impact through a range of further school visits.

A project website will contain all project outputs and a blog featuring reflections by project collaborators and partners. While targeted specifically at key stakeholders in Uganda, the website is likely to be of interest more widely to the general public.


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Title Odokonyero 
Description An anthology of creative writing on the theme of conflict by young Ugandan who participated in the workshops. Two editions have been published: a general market edition featuring 18 stories and a schools-only edition featuring 13. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The anthology has only just (as in today) been published and we plan launch events in April in Uganda and the UK. Impacts will be unknown until this point. 
Description This project is still in progress and so key findings are also still in flux. However, we anticipate that the next reporting round will include key findings around the use of creative methods for understanding grand social challenges; the use of creative writing and literary methods for educational attainment and the fostering of empathy; and the influence of creative methods on well-being and understanding in post-conflict contexts.
Exploitation Route Once the project has finished, we intend to write a best practices paper for other organisations interested in undertaking similar creative methods-based inquiries into social challenges. We also plan to distribute a policy paper to educators and NGOs.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education

Description Thus far, the impacts are only emerging, as the project remains ongoing. However, we anticipate that educational policy impacts will be achieved through the provision of a schools edition of the anthology with relate study guide. Cultural impact has been achieved by the development of capacity for our partner organisation, the Center for African Cultural Excellence. The project has increased their network of secondary school contacts and collaborators, developed a secondary partnership between them and the Northern Uganda Media Club and has also contributed to increased audiences for their public events through the media and publicity generated by the project (especially the anthology publication). Economic impact has also been developed through the publication of the anthology which will economically benefit both CACE and our publishers, the South Africa-based Black Letter Media. Finally, societal and cultural impact has been achieved for the youth participants in the Ugandan writing workshops, as well as for the Ugandan mentors who worked with the participants for three months after the workshops. This impact comes through the generation of new work, the development of new cultural industry participants and opportunities for increased exposure and commissions.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description educational practice
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact A study guide has been developed alongside the anthology. This focuses on both core skills (language skills, literacy, writing) and soft skills (intercultural empathy, communication). It has only just been produced (today in fact!) but we anticipate social impact through a shift in the delivery of English language and literature education at the Senior 1 level.
Title coproduction 
Description The project has contributed to the development of coproductive knowledge development through collaborative research undertaken by academics and practitioners. This has in turn resulted in the development of a blended method which marries research with practice-based inquiry to harness new and/or undervalued forms of knowledge production around intellectual histories, with a particular benefit for practitioners working on the African continent. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The most notable impact has been the production of knowledge which foregrounds modes of understanding and inquiry often-neglected in academic methods based in the global North and which re-centres practitioners in the global South as creators of knowledge. 
Title creative methods 
Description The project has contributed to the development of creative methodologies (creative writing) as a means of understanding social challenges and issues. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact New methods for investigating contemporary social issues in post-conflict contexts through the deployment of practice-based creative methods 
Description Center for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) 
Organisation Center for African Cultural Excellence
PI Contribution My research has contributed directly to this collaboration by providing the background research on which the activities of the collaboration (creative writing workshops, the production of an anthology of writing by Ugandan youths and the production of related educational materials) have been designed. I contributed to the design and workplan of all collaborative activities and participated in the development of coproductive research methods based on practice and creative methodologies. I also led on the editorial process for the anthology.
Collaborator Contribution My collaborators contributed to the development of all activities, providing crucial locally-based knowledge. They utilised their in-country networks in Uganda to facilitate the development of a network of writers, mentors and educationalists; brokered a secondary partnership with the Northern Uganda Media Club; and led on the recruitment of young writers to both workshops and the organisational and logistical elements of the project. They also managed publicity, media relations and facilitated the co-production of knowledge and research methods.
Impact A number of outputs and outcomes have resulted including: two creative writing workshops (one week long each) in southern and northern Uganda; the development of a mentorship scheme for youth writers; the publication of an anthology of youth writing, published by Black Letter Media; a series of launch events in the UK and Uganda; the development of educational materials (a study guide), in partnership with a network of Ugandan educators and my research team; the drafting of academic papers; the drafting of a policy paper on creative writing and methods as a means of uncovering youth needs in post-conflict contexts.
Start Year 2016
Description creative writing workshops and launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held two creative writing workshops in Kampala and Gulu, respectively. These workshops each reached 12 participants between the ages of 18 and 30, which were led through intensive, full-time training in the craft of writing and written expression. Each workshop featured two further elements: a focus group with local secondary school teachers (40 teachers in total) and a public event, featuring a book launch and reading by each workshop facilitator (each of whom is a well-known Ugandan writer, Nick Makoha and Jennifer Makumbi - each had about 100 audience members). The youth participants were also invited to give their first-ever public readings at these events. Feedback from the creative writing workshops indicate a strong sense that participants' language and writing abilities were improved. Participants further indicated that the workshops have led them to wish to pursue careers in writing and creative industries, with some indicating that they sparked a desire to set up new creative publications and outlets. The feedback from the teachers' workshops indicated a shift in the way teachers approach the teaching of English language and literature, with a focus on the role of inter-cultural empathy and a desire to integrate contemporary material written and based locally. Finally, public event feedback indicated new understandings of the lived experience of young people in post-conflict Uganda. All engagement activities were held in Uganda with Ugandan audiences and participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018