The act of history writing is an immensely powerful one. By constructing a narrative, perhaps by drawing from different elements of various local cultures, or even creating an entire myth from scratch, historians have the power to create the backbone of, to use Benedict Anderson’s terms, a national ‘imagined community’. The history of the Ugandan school curriculum, and the way in which it has developed with (and sometimes against) the decolonization process, shows just how powerful a role historical education plays in the formation, consolidation and evolution of personal, national and regional identities. On paper, Uganda’s school curriculum was ‘decolonized’, that is to say, reevaluated and restructured by the Ugandan ministry of education after independence in 1962. But the question remains: how is curricular decolonization even possible when the entire concept of a curriculum was itself a colonial imposition?
As over a century of scholarship has demonstrated, history teaching in schools (and in the public) contributes to identity-building. By constructing narratives of past events in a teleological framework, and imbuing the images and characterisations contrived from them with historical, political and cultural gravitas, history teaching allows for the creation of a shared identity. Most significantly in recent years, we have seen how, as Hobsbawm puts it, schooling is the “most powerful weapon for forming […] nations”.
With this in mind, one can only assume the power that a history curriculum holds over young minds, which is why it is so important to keep on revising those curricula, to rid them of ideology and alternate motives. In the case of Uganda, especially regarding what we have learned about its history, and the fact that the curriculum itself started out as an ideological instrument, this is a particularly challenging topic. Second, people’s ethnic, national, regional, and global identities influence their political behavior, as well as their behavior towards others. As Mino aptly puts it in History Education and Identity Formation, ‘beyond simply teaching the past, History education builds the foundation for an individual’s national identity by transmitting the myths and values of the nation.’