Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Anglican Marriage Registers in Uganda (1895-2011)

Felix Meier zu Selhausen (University of Sussex)
Marco H. D. Van Leeuwen (Utrecht University)
Jacob L. Weisdorf (University of Southern Denmark, CAGE, CEPR)

The arrival of Christian missionaries and the receptivity of African societies to formal education prompted a genuine schooling revolution during the colonial era. The bulk of primary education in the British colonies was provided by mission schools (Frankema 2012), and their historical distribution had a long-run effect on African development (e.g. Nunn 2010). To those with access, formal education under colonial rule provided new venues of political influence and opportunities for social mobility. However, did mission schooling benefit a broad layer of the African population, or did it merely strengthen the power of pre-colonial elites? This paper addresses this question by investigating social mobility of Christian converts in colonial Uganda.

The existing literature has conveyed two opposing arguments, based mainly on qualitative sources. On the one hand, scholars have stressed that British colonial officials discouraged post-primary education of the general African population, fearing that such education would nurture anti-colonial sentiments. As a result, the benefits of mission schooling are purported to have been restricted to sons of traditional chiefs and newly empowered elites, who aligned themselves with the British administration and took up the lion’s share of urban skilled occupations (Hanson 2003, Reid 2017). Such dynamics perpetuated the power of chiefs into the post-colonial era and contributed to a legacy of ‘decentralized despotism’ (Mamdani 1996). Despite such dynamics, however, other studies have argued that mission schools became ‘colonial Africa’s chief generator of social mobility and stratification’, acting as a stepping stone to urban middle-class careers for a new generation of Africans (Iliffe 2007, p. 229).

This article explores intergenerational social mobility and colonial elite formation using the occupational titles of African grooms and their fathers who married in the prestigious Anglican Namirembe Cathedral in Kampala or in several rural parishes in Western Uganda between 1895 and 2011. The fact that sampled grooms celebrated an Anglican church marriage meant they were born to parents who, by their choice of religion and compliance with the by-laws of the Anglican Church, had positioned their offspring in a social network that afforded them a wide range of educational and occupational opportunities (Peterson 2016). This unique sample allows us to explore the impact of missionary schooling on the social mobility of converts between generations and uncover implications for colonial elite formation.

Social mobility in Kampala

To measure social mobility, we have grouped each occupation of 14,167 sampled Anglican father-son pairs into a hierarchical scheme of 6 social classes based on skill levels using HISCLASS (Van Leeuwen and Maas 2011). As shown in Figure 1, we find that the occupational mobility of sampled grooms expanded dramatically during the colonial era. By the onset of British rule (1890-99), Buganda society was comparatively immobile with three out of four sons remaining in the social class of their fathers. But by the 1910s, this had reversed to 3 in 4 sons moving to a different class. Careers in the colonial administration (chiefs, clerks) and the Anglican mission (teachers, priests) functioned as key steps on the ladder to upward mobility.

Figure 1: Social mobility among Anglican grooms in Kampala, 1895-2011

fig1

What was the social background of those reaching the highest occupational classes? Table 1 zooms in on grooms’ social-class destination relative to their social origin during the colonial era. It shows that the African converts, benefiting from new occupational opportunities opening-up during the colonial period, were able to take large steps up the social ladder regardless of their social origin. A remarkable 45% of sons from farming family backgrounds (class IV) moved into white-collar work, which indicates that the colonial labour market was generally surprisingly conducive to social mobility among Anglican converts.

Table 1: Outflow mobility rates in Kampala, 1895-1962

fig2

Colonial elite formation: Decentralized despotism?

Did chiefs and their sons benefit disproportionally from occupational diversification under colonialism? Under indirect British rule, many traditional Baganda chiefs converted to Anglicanism and became colonial officials, employed to extract taxes and profits from cash-cropping farmers. This put them in a supreme position for consolidating their pre-colonial societal power. Despite such advantages, our microdata suggests that the privileged position of pre-colonial elites was not sustained over the colonial period Figure 2 shows the probabilities of sons of chiefs (class I) versus farmers and lower-class labourers (class IV-VI) of entering an elite position (class I). At the beginning of the colonial era, sons of chiefs were significantly more likely to reach the top of the social ladder. However, a remarkably fluid colonial labour market, based on meritocratic principles, gradually eroded their economic and political advantages. Towards the end of the colonial era, traditional claims to status no longer conferred automatic advantages upon the sons of chiefs, who lost their high social-status monopoly to a new Christian-educated and commercially orientated class of Ugandans of farming backgrounds (Hanson 2003).

Figure 2: Conditional probability of sons of chiefs and farmers in class I, Kampala

Figure 2

To access the abstract: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ehr.12616/abstract

To contact the first author:
Twitter: @FelixMzS1

References

Frankema, E. (2012). ‘The origins of formal education in sub-Saharan Africa: was British rule more benign?’ European Review of Economic History 16(4): 335-55.

Hanson, E. (2003). Landed Obligation: The Practice of Power in Buganda. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mamdani, M. (1996). Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Meier zu Selhausen, F., van Leeuwen, Marco H.D. and Weisdorf, J. (2018). ‘Social mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Anglican marriage registers in Uganda, 1895-2011. Economic History Review, forthcoming.

Nunn, N. (2010). Religious Conversion in Coloinal Africa. American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings 100 (2) :147-52.

Peterson, D. (2016). ‘The Politics of Transcendence in Colonial Uganda’. Past and Present 230(1): 197-225.

Reid, R. J. (2017). A History of Modern Uganda. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van Leeuwen, M.H.D. and Maas, I. (2011). HISCLASS – A Historical International Social Class Scheme. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Gender, ethnicity, and unequal opportunity in colonial Uganda: European influences, African realities, and the pitfalls of parish register data

by Michiel de Haas and Ewout Frankema (University of Wageningen)

The full article is published by The Economic History Review and it is available here

 

The Renaissance of African economic history in the past decade (see Austin and Broadberry 2014)  has opened up a vast body of qualitative and quantitative source materials.  Most of these materials were originally produced by European missionaries, merchants, travellers, or colonial officials, and thus reflect the biases (explicit or unspoken) of people who were alien to the societies to which their writings and statistics pertain. Moreover, many of the analytical concepts and empirical methods used by scholars to study these materials today, were originally designed for the study of European economic history. To prevent what Gareth Austin has described as ‘conceptual Eurocentrism’ in narratives of long-term African development, it is imperative to scrutinize and debate the applicability of concepts such as national income, real wages, human capital, social mobility, crime, or gender inequality in an African historical context.

In our article, we engage with a recent study by Meier zu Selhausen and Weisdorf to show how selection biases in, and Eurocentric interpretations of, parish registers have provoked an overly optimistic account of European influences on the educational and occupational opportunities of African men and women in Kampala, Uganda. We re-evaluate the link between colonial rule and gendered educational and occupational opportunities in Uganda along several lines. Here, we address two key points: 1) sample selection biases in African parish register data and 2) the flawed  juxtaposition of ‘African tradition’ and ‘European modernity’ to understand educational and occupational change during the colonial period.

Firstly, the use of parish registers by Meier zu Selhausen and Weisdorf illustrates clearly how data biases particular to the African context can result in doubtful conclusions. Parish registers have been widely used in European economic and demographic history, and are typically seen as fairly representative. However, the parish registers extracted from Kampala’s Anglican Namirembe Cathedral exhibit a strong bias towards the upper social classes: elites converted earlier, only the wealthiest and most well-connected African Christians opted for a ring marriage, and this particular Cathedral emerged as the elite church of early colonial Uganda.

To substantiate this issue quantitatively, we re-chart literacy and numeracy trends using microdata from the 1991 population census, made available by IPUMS. As Figure 1 shows, a representative selection of men and women from birth cohorts in the census data accumulated literacy and numeracy much slower than the population of brides and grooms in Namirembe Cathedral. While the Namirembe grooms achieve practically full literacy from the 1890s birth cohort onwards, and brides from the 1900s onwards, a random sample of Kampala-born men achieved similar rates only for cohorts born from the 1940s onwards, and women from the 1960s. That is: half a century later! Notably, Uganda’s female literacy take-off happened around independence, and the gap between men and women remained large throughout the colonial period.

There is ample reason to believe that similar (and/or potentially other) biases will be found among parish register samples in other African settings. Certainly, our study establishes that such registers, while a promising new source of microdata, should be interpreted with utmost caution.

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Literacy rates and literacy gaps, per birth cohort

Secondly, we show that the dichotomy between African tradition and European modernity is flawed on both sides. The diffusion of Christianity and education in Buganda were not a testament to modernizing influences of Europeans, but rather the consequence of the initiative of the indigenous population of Buganda. Local elites pragmatically sought out political coalitions with European missionaries to further their own ends. Moreover, without the Africanization of the mission the diffusion of literacy and schooling would never have attained significant scale. Thus, the widely accepted idea that the uneven diffusion of missionary education can be explained by European supply factors rather than African demand (see a foundational paper by Nathan Nunn and a large body of subsequent studies) is not supported by the Ugandan case.

At the same time, the modernizing influence of Europeans was limited. Demand for African skilled labour in the colonial economy – which was predicated on rural cash crop production – was very limited, and its distribution was highly uneven, along lines of gender, race, ethnicity and location. Uganda’s economy remained overwhelmingly rural (colonial Kampala never harbored more than 1.5 per cent of Uganda’s population), and the skilled labour market was dominated by Asian and European expatriate minorities.

European influences also hardly benefited gender emancipation in Uganda. We revisit the seminal work of Ester Boserup and note, contrary to Meier zu Selhausen and Weisdorf, that she gives primacy to economic rather than cultural explanations for female labour market marginalization, and is skeptical about the emancipatory impact of European influences in Africa. In line with Boserup’s views, missionaries and colonial officials in Uganda often coalesced with indigenous patriarchal interests to domesticize women – a legacy that Ugandan women and society at large struggle with up until today.

 

To contact the authors:

@michieldehaas

@ewoutfrankema