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Anthropology of Smartphones and Smart Ageing


Archive for the 'Uganda' Category

Elders of the dotcom generation

charlotte.hawkins.1712 November 2020

Ladit is often considered the key authority and primary Acholi elder amongst the Lusozi Go-down community. During my research, I would be referred to him by others, and he always took the time to help me learn; hosting me in his home, telling stories to myself and my co-researcher, ‘his daughters’. He even allowed us to join as members of his savings group, Ribe Aye Teko (Unity is Strength). The time he gave us fulfilled his role as elder, to educate the younger generation about Acholi tradition.

We would often find him at home watching music videos, nature documentaries, premier league football, Nigerian soaps or chatting on WhatsApp on the phone. He believes that technology such as television, smartphones and social media has ‘brought the world together on a positive note’[1], with better entertainment and faster communication, but that it has also ‘created more problems’ for elders. According to Ladit’s interpretation, shared by many other older participants in Lusozi, individualistic and materialistic western values are broadcast and appropriated by ‘the dotcom generation’, to the detriment of respect for elders and their knowledge. He thinks the younger “dotcom generation” increasingly respect material possessions over age; ‘we are over-copying the western world and to the expense of our very beautiful peaceful traditional communal life’. This image of the past expresses what is felt to be lacking in norms and experiences today[i], an ideal of cooperation and respect to work towards, notably also with the potential to reiterate existing hierarchies and constraints[ii].

Ladit sees it as his responsibility to educate the younger generation about their ‘beautiful peaceful tradition’ of respect and togetherness, and of storytelling through music and dance, re-contextualised in the city. Other Acholi elders could criticise the ‘modernity’ of the group, one saying that “it’s coated in some plastic”. Unlike others in the village, the group does not obligate the dancers to wear traditional dress and includes music from all over the country to reflect the diversity of the area. As shown in the film below, Ladit’s traditional teachings are clearly relevant, popular and productive for the young people involved.

This includes the young male musicians and female dancers, some of whom have paid their school fees thanks to the group. It also includes the children from the neighbourhood who come and watch them practice every Sunday evening, attempting to mimic the moves. As another older Acholi woman observed of the dancing, “they train them…they like it so much…we did not drop it [tradition] down, even though it’s mixed up here”. At 67 years old, Ladit hopes his children grow old like him, so they can ‘see what he sees’ and ‘pass on knowledge of how things are done’.

Ladit (in the hat) instructing the young members of his traditional dance group before a performance at a Church function

Ladit’s traditional dance group Sunday evening practice outside his former home. Many people from across the community come to watch, especially young people and children.


[1] N.B. Interview translated

[i] Porter, Holly. ‘Moral Spaces and Sexual Transgression: Understanding Rape in War and Post Conflict’. Development and Change, 29 March 2019, dech.12499. https://doi.org/10.1111/dech.12499.

[ii] Tim Allen, ‘VIOLENCE AND MORAL KNOWLEDGE: OBSERVING SOCIAL TRAUMA IN SUDAN AND UGANDA’, The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 13, no. 2 (1988): 45–66

NCDs in the time of Covid: documenting the social drivers of our wellbeing

charlotte.hawkins.1714 August 2020

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension, diabetes, strokes, cancer and depression disproportionately affect people in low-income contexts, particularly as they get older. They can be some of the most resource-intensive conditions to manage, requiring changes in working routines, regular visits for hospital care and long-term medication. Chronic, long-term illness in old age can be particularly demanding for family caregivers as they navigate hospitals and home life. Yet they are also often overlooked in terms of research, policy and funding. In Uganda, for example, it was only in 2005 that NCDs were given an explicit place in the national health strategy, and there remains limited research and resources, particularly for long-term funding to support NCD information, prevention and care[i]. The relatively recent rise of NCDs as widespread health problems in Uganda is often attributed to contemporary lifestyles, the pollution and stressors of city life and personal problems imposed by global processes[ii]. As much as biological factors, NCDs can be inextricably linked to inequities around employment, education, nutrition and housing. Wide-reaching economic factors influence both experiences of chronic illnesses and access to treatment, determining who is responsible for long-term care; often families, navigating overstretched health systems and existing obligations.

Anthropology has a lot to offer in understanding how people manage uncertainty related to long-term illness. As argued in my previous blog post, it is often through dialogue and conversation with each other, that people seek to establish control in an ambiguous world[iii]. By detailing conversations around chronic illness and care, we can gain an insight into how people also understand and manage the wider world, particularly in terms of how health inequities impact on their everyday lives. The pertinence of this anthropological project, to take pre-existing conditions, their conceptualisation and management, into account, has been highlighted by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has shown that the epidemiological boundaries between communicable and non-communicable diseases are evidently blurred, with both determined by social networks and inequities[iv]. Intensified pressures on households, health workers and hospital administrators who have to improvise and make do have shown the need for preparedness through prior and ongoing understanding of the “complex social drivers of our wellbeing”[v]. And clearly, ways of navigating stratified access to health provisions are of primary importance not just to those obstructed, but to us all.

Pharmacy service inside a regional government hospital near the Kampala fieldsite

Notice for visiting hours and Doctor’s round at the hospital

[i]  Susan Reynolds Whyte, ‘Knowing Hypertension and Diabetes: Conditions of Treatability in Uganda’, Health & Place 39 (May 2016): 219–25, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2015.07.002.

[ii] David Reubi, Clare Herrick, and Tim Brown, ‘The Politics of Non-Communicable Diseases in the Global South’, Health & Place 39 (May 2016): 179–87, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2015.09.001.

[iii] Susan Reynolds Whyte, Questioning Misfortune: The Pragmatics of Uncertainty in Eastern Uganda, Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology 4 (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[iv] Lenore Manderson and Ayo Wahlberg, ‘Chronic Living in a Communicable World’, Medical Anthropology 39, no. 5 (3 July 2020): 428–39, https://doi.org/10.1080/01459740.2020.1761352.

[v] Napier, D. (2020) The Culture of Health and Sickness: how Uganda leads on Covid-19. In Le Monde Diplomatique p.6-7