Decker Alicia

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Summary : «Gender and the Politics of Invisibility: A History of Enforced Disappearance in Postcolonial Uganda»

Enforced disappearance is a disturbing ruling strategy that has been utilized in various countries throughout the world. Although this form of political violence is most commonly associated with the military juntas of the Southern Cone or, more recently, with the narco-politics of northern Mexico, it is also deeply embedded in the political history of postcolonial Uganda. During Idi Amin’s military dictatorship, political dissidents were bundled into the trunks of unmarked cars, spirited away, never to be seen again (Decker 2013; Decker 2014). Later, during Milton Obote’s second regime, perceived enemies of the state were forcibly abducted in large “mopping up” operations, known ominously as panda gari, or “get on the truck.” And today, under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni, “rebels” and “terrorists” are disappeared in illegal detention centers, or “safe houses,” across the country.  Although men have been the primary targets of enforced disappearance, women are also victims (and sometimes even perpetrators). Using transcripts and reports from two distinct commissions of inquiry, as well as other archival and ethnographic sources, this paper examines how gender influences patterns and experiences of forcible abduction by the Ugandan state. I argue that enforced disappearance, and other forms of political violence, can be read as gendered scripts that are enacted by the state to maintain a certain performance of power. I suggest that the ways that communities “read” these embodied scripts, and engage with this knowledge, reveals a great deal about how power operates in contemporary Africa. This avenue of inquiry is important because it demonstrates not only the prevalence and political utility of enforced disappearance in modern Africa, but also the centrality of gender to state-sanctioned violence. Only by calling out political leaders for their roles in perpetuating this type of violence, by making the seemingly “invisible” visible, can citizens hold their governments accountable and move toward more peaceful forms of governance.  

Biography :

Alicia C. Decker is an associate professor of Women’s, Gender, and Studies | African Studies at Penn State University. She obtained a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies in 2007 at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

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Selected publications :


  • 2015    Decker, Alicia C., and Andrea L. Arrington. Africanizing Democracies: 1980-Present.New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Reviewed in World History Connected, History: Reviews of New Books, and Journal of African History.
  • 2014    Decker, Alicia C. In Idi Amin’s Shadow: Women, Gender, and Militarism in Uganda. Athens: Ohio University Press.
  • Reviewed in Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute, Journal of African Military History, International Journal of African Historical Studies, Canadian Journal of African Studies, Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies, Journal of African History, Canadian Journal of History, African Studies Review, Feminist Africa, London School of Economics and Political Science Blog, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, and Politique Africaine

Edited Collections

  • (2018)  Decker, Alicia C., and Gabeba Baderoon, eds. “African Feminist Cartographies.” Special issue of Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalisms 17, no. 2.

Refereed articles :

  • (2018)  Decker, Alicia C., and Gabeba Baderoon. “African Feminisms: Cartographies for the 21st Century.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalisms 17, no. 2.
  • 2017    Decker, Alicia C. “What Does a Feminist Curiosity Bring to African Military History? An Analysis and an Intervention.” Journal of African Military History 1, no. 1: 93-111. 
  • 2016    Decker, Alicia C., Summer Forester, and Eliot Blackburn. “Rethinking Everyday Militarism on Campus: Feminist Reflections on the Recent Violence at Purdue University.” Feminist Studies 42, no. 1: 204-226.
  • 2016    Decker, Alicia C. “Commentary on Tripp’s ‘Comparative Perspectives on Concepts of Gender, Ethnicity, and Race.’” Politics, Groups and Identities 4, no. 2: 331-334.
  • 2013    Decker, Alicia C. “An Accidental Liberation: Ugandan Women on the Frontlines of Idi Amin’s Economic War.” Women’s History Review 22, no. 6: 954-970.
  • 2013    Decker, Alicia C. “‘Sometime you may leave your husband in Karuma Falls or in the forest there’: A Gendered History of Disappearance in Idi Amin’s Uganda.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 7, no.1: 125-142.
  • 2012    Decker, Alicia C. “Militarismo, nazionalismo e matrimonio: un ritratto privato delle cinque mogli di Idi Amin” [Militarism, Nationalism, and Marriage: An Intimate Portrait of Idi Amin’s Five Wives] Afriche e Orienti 14, no. 3-4: 124-138.
  • 2012    Decker, Alicia C. and Mauricio Castro. “Teaching History with Comic Books: A Case Study of Violence, War and the Graphic Novel.” The History Teacher 45, no. 2: 169-187.
  • 2010    Decker, Alicia C. “Idi Amin’s Dirty War: Subversion, Sabotage and the Battle to Keep Uganda Clean, 1971-1979.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 43, no. 3: 489-513.

Refereed book chapters :

  • (2018)  Decker, Alicia C. and Andrea L. Arrington. “African Women Organize.” Holding the World Together: African Women in Changing Perspective, edited by Nwando Achebe and Claire Robertson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • 2018    Decker, Alicia C. “African Women and the Postcolonial State.” The Handbook of African Colonial and Postcolonial History, edited by Martin S. Shanguhyia and Toyin Falola, 1137-1154. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
  • 2013    Decker, Alicia C. “On the Promotion of ‘Certain’ Ugandan Women: Was Idi Amin Feminist or Foe?” Women, Gender, and Sexualities in Africa, edited by Toyin Falola and Nana Akua Amponsah, 225-236. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.
  • 2010    Decker, Alicia C. “Pedagogies of Pain: Teaching ‘Women, War and Militarism.’” In Narrating War and Peace in Africa,edited by Toyin Falola and Hetty ter Haar, 79-97. Rochester: University of Rochester Press.

Manuscripts in Preparation

  • (2019) Decker, Alicia C. “Militarism and the Gendered Politics of Policing in Contemporary Uganda.” Article in preparation for Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.
  • (2019) Decker, Alicia C. “Decolonizing the Gendered Colonial Logics of Policing in Contemporary Uganda.” Book chapter in preparation for “Decolonization and Public Life: The Politics of Knowledge in Uganda,” edited by Kate Bruce-Lockhart, Jonathon L. Earle, Nakanyike Musisi, and Edgar Curtis Taylor. Edited volume under contract with James Currey.
  • (2019)  Hodgson, Dorothy (Senior Editor), Alicia C. Decker, Abosede George, Dorothy Hodgson, Fatima Sadiqi, Pamela Scully, and Kathleen Sheldon (Associate Editors). “Oxford Encyclopedia of African Women’s History.” Multi-volume edited book under contract with Oxford University Press.
  • (2020)  Decker, Alicia C. “Women and the Specter of Militarism: Uganda after Military Rule.” Book manuscript in preparation for Ohio University Press.
  • (2021) Decker, Alicia C., ed. African Feminist Histories: On Defining a Field. Edited book manuscript in preparation for Ohio University Press.