Tiny Citizenship, Twisted Politics, and Christian Love in a Ugandan Church Choir

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In 1977, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Janani Luwum, was killed under orders from President Idi Amin following his public criticism of Amin’s reign of terror. This article offers an ethnographic case study of a choir named in Luwum’s honour to extend existing research on the interrelations of Christianity, citizenship, and politics in contemporary Uganda. To do so, I draw a number of conceptual tools – tiny citizenship, authentic citizenship, twisted politics, and love – from work by and referencing Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, and Gary Alan Fine. First, analyzing the choir’s participation in the national commemoration of Janani Luwum Day at Uganda’s State House in 2021, I argue that the possibility of authentic citizenship in the Ugandan national public is constrained by twisted politics. At the State House, the Church of Uganda effectively dismissed Luwum’s activist legacy and consolidated its clientelist relationship with the increasingly authoritarian NRM state, thus contributing to the further shrinking of political space in Uganda. Second, I analyze the Janani Luwum Choir’s daily practices, and the ideals and rhetorics nurtured at them, as an example of a tiny public. I argue that the tiny citizenship fostered by the choir is compatible with the expectations the Ugandan state has of its citizens. Yet in a national, regional, and church context marked by long-term conflict, exclusionary politics, and low levels of trust, the choir also stands out. As a space characterized by love, care, egalitarianism, and the maintenance of harmony, it offers its members a vision and experience of a different world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)374-401
Number of pages28
JournalNordic Journal of African Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Anglican Church
  • citizenship
  • Janani Luwum
  • northern Uganda
  • politics
  • religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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