Justice in transition?

Justice and accountability in northern Uganda

Hosted by LSE’s Centre for Public Authority and International Development

Researcher: Dr Anna Macdonald

How can we conceptualise the ethics of transitional justice in conflict-affected contexts such as northern Uganda?

Dr Anna Macdonald


This project focuses on justice, accountability and social order with a particular geographic focus on northern Uganda, where the legacy of the twenty-year war between the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group and the Government of Uganda is still keenly felt. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, participant observation, interviews and archival research, this project falls under two strands.

Research strands

The first strand of research explores the politics and ethics of transitional justice in the absence of a substantive political transition. In particular, the project examines how different ideas and practices of justice, accountability, social order and reconciliation are promoted by a range of different public authorities, from International Criminal Court prosecutors and donors to domestic state actors and local cultural and religious leaders, and how this connects to everyday life and ideas about accountability and social repair in northern Uganda. More broadly, the research seeks to understand the socio-political dynamics of transitional justice through a public authority lens in a way that can help scholars move beyond simplistic binaries of ‘local versus international’ in debates about post-conflict accountability.

The second strand of research explores how and why engagement with rule of law institutions is regularly sought in contexts where people are deeply critical of the state. With a particular focus on citizen engagement with Gulu Magistrates’ court in northern Uganda, this research traces the lives of disputes that end up in lower state courts and how citizen experiences in the courts shape political subjectivities and ideas about statehood. This research, in collaboration with Dr Sarah-Jane Cooper-Knock (University of Edinburgh), addresses an important gap in the wider literature on law and justice across sub-Saharan Africa, namely how and why people engage with lower state courts and with what broader implications for state authority, legitimacy and ideas about justice and accountability. 

Research questions

Strand 1:

  • How do contemporary donor approaches to transitional justice interact with the domestic politics of semi-authoritarianism in a non-transitioning context, and with what implications?
  • How do communities affected by war violence construct and experience co-existence, justice and repair in the context of their everyday lives?
  • How can we conceptualise the ethics of transitional justice in conflict-affected, non-transitioning contexts such as northern Uganda?

Strand 2:

  • Why do citizens turn to lower state courts in contexts where widespread distrust of the state is widely reported?
  • What role do lower state courts play in the ‘life of a dispute’?
  • How do experiences of lower state courts shape citizen perceptions of statehood, state legitimacy and justice?




Anna Macdonald | CPAID Researcher

Dr Anna Macdonald is an Associate Professor in International Development at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa at the LSE.

As a CPAID co-Investigator, Anna is researching the politics of transitional justice in Uganda, and in authoritarian contexts more generally; a second strand of research examines citizen engagement with rule of law institutions in contexts where people are deeply critical of the state.

Email: Anna.Macdonald@uea.ac.uk