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More is less? Decentralisation and regime control in Uganda



This chapter looks at recent dynamics of decentralisation in Uganda, in which on the one hand the number of districts has continued to grow, while on the other hand a range of re-centralisation measures have been taken. The chapter argues how these – at first sight contradictory – measures, both are manifestations of the evolving strategies of the Museveni regime to strengthen its grip on power. It shows how decentralisation serves as a patronage instrument of the national government, manifesting itself in a growing number of districts, while at the same time curtailing their power, and making them further dependent on the national level.
This chapter is published as:
Titeca, Kristof (2018) ‘More is less? Decentralisation and regime
control’, in: Wiegratz, Jorg; Martiniello, Giuliano; Greco, Elisa (eds)
Uganda: The Dynamics of Neoliberal Transformation. London: Zed
Books, pp.111-126.
5. More is less? Decentralisation and regime control
Kristof Titeca
1. Introduction
When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) captured power and formed a
government in January 1986, it found a highly centralised administrative structure started
by the 1967 Local Administration Act and maintained by successive regimes (Nsibambi
1998). The NRM quickly went about changing this by introducing what was soon to be
branded one of the most ambitious and radical decentralisation policies in sub-Saharan
Africa (Asiimwe and Nakanyike 2007), whose ‘scale and scope of the transfer of power
and responsibilities to the local level’ were considered exceptional (Steiner 2006: 5).
Equally exceptional was the growth in the number of districts in Uganda: the number of
districts increased from 33 in 1986 to 112 districts today, with the growth being particularly
strong in the last 10 years.
At the same time, recent years have seen a wide range of measures which have subverted
earlier decentralisation measures, and have contributed to recentralisation: the graduated
tax the most important autonomous source of income for local governments was
abolished just before the 2006 elections. Preceding this in September 2005, Chief
Administrative Officers are no longer hired by the local government, but by the national
government. Moreover, the grip of the Resident District Commissioner the direct
representative of the President at a district level over local politics strongly increased.
To make sense of these processes this chapter will show how the dynamics of de- and re-
centralisation, while apparently contradictory, are different sides of the same coin: both are
manifestations of the evolving strategies of the Museveni regime to tighten its grip on
power. Second, these strategies fit firmly in the neoliberalisation of Uganda and its political
culture. As shown in the introduction, neoliberalism as a project does not only materialize
itself economically, but is more encompassing, including social, cultural and political
formations. This chapter is particularly interested in how neoliberalisation manifests itself
in political formations, i.e. the commodification, commercialization and marketization of
politics. Illustrated earlier in this book, decentralisation was a central part of the neoliberal
post-Washington consensus with its emphasis on good governance. In doing so, and as this
chapter will show, decentralisation did not enhance participation at the local level, but
rather served as a patronage instrument of the national government: devoid of other
patronage instruments in a neoliberal context, the national government increasingly turned
to decentralisation to appease demands for patronage. In doing so, the number of districts
grew significantly, but their power was strongly reduced: their capacity for autonomous
decision-making had been severely curtailed, as the national government wanted to reduce
their independence, which represented a potential threat to power. This argument is
developed in the following sections. This chapter begins by explaining the link between
neoliberalisation, patronage and decentralisation.
2. Neoliberalisation, patronage and decentralization
The introduction of decentralisation and neoliberalism were closely connected. The retreat
of the state provided the necessary context for decentralisation to develop; and Structural
Adjustment Programs (SAP’s) were the ‘political-economic channel for disseminating
decentralisation discourse to the Third World’ (Schuurman 1997: 154). Economic
liberalisation and decentralisation went hand in hand, as the latter reshaped ‘economic
policymaking from central authority to localities, nongovernmental organizations, and
private markets’ (Ozcan 2006: 121). It has been argued that in the context of a minimal
state, deregulation and privatisation, decentralisation may ‘appear as a way for many
nation-states to give democracy some substance’ (Schuurman 1997: 161). Countering this,
it has been argued that in reality decentralisation has the opposite effect of draining the
political out of local governments, by sideling issues such as participation and political or
structural change: it has been shown how decentralisation is sometimes primarily interested
in promoting economic efficiency rather than political change and it is often underpinned
by rational choice visions and narratives of efficiency, rather than ideas of local
governments as a seedbed of democratic practice (Mohan and Stokke 2000: 250). The
participatory and empowering nature of decentralisation is therefore being questioned:
‘while sharing similar rhetorics with grassroots, bottom-up forms of participation, they tend
to promote top down models of participation (Dagnino 2007, cited in Guarneros-Meza
and Geddes 2010: 120). More generally, decentralisation is considered to be contributing
to the status quo, or even of being reactionary as it furthers fragmentation (Harvey 1989:
277, cited in Schuurman 1997: 165), often allowing political elites to reproduce existing
power configurations (Guarneros-Meza and Geddes 2010: 123).
The ways in which decentralisation measures have been introduced in this context have
been named ‘strategies of subversion’ (Resnick 2014: 61) or ‘repertoires of domination’
(Poteete and Ribot 2011). The former can be defined as ‘tactics used by central
governments in the fiscal, administrative and political domains’ which are ‘aimed at
reducing the autonomy of local government’ (Resnick 2014: 61); while the latter can be
described as ‘myriad tactics government officials and nonstate actors use to limit
meaningful shifts of authority associated with decentralization’ (Poteete and Ribot 2011:
440), or the ‘routine claim-making actions available to actors as they seek to gain, expand,
or defend positions of dominance vis-à-vis particular types of other actors’ (Poteete and
Ribot 2011: 440).
Repertoires of domination are therefore various strategies that are used
to maintain power
and are closely related with the broader political context:
decentralisation and the general political climate mirror and reinforce each other.
In the context of neoliberalisation, districts became an important commodity in the political
marketplace. This also was the case in Uganda: traditionally, the Museveni regime had
used patronage to sustain its power. Structural adjustment and good governance programs
had made it increasingly difficult to use government resources to do so, as these led to the
privatisation of large parastatals, the reduction in size of civil service and army, and the
elimination of the state marketing board monopolies over key primary commodities. These
measures dramatically reduced the available rents for patronage (Green 2010). In this
context, decentralisation opened new avenues for political patronage. As Andrew Mwenda
(2007: 31) observed: ‘with each new district came a raft of government jobs, each one a
patronage opportunity. In this way, neoliberalism, patronage and decentralisation are
closely tied together. Yet, while the number of districts increased, independent and
autonomous local governments were seen as a threat to the power of the Museveni regime.
The establishment therefore had to find ways of neutralising these threats, which will be
described in detail below.
3. The evolution of decentralisation in Uganda
The roots of Uganda’s decentralisation process can be found in the Resistance Councils
installed during the rebellion of the NRM. These locally organised councils were installed
to provide support to the rebellion, but were also conceived as a way to establish popular
democracy. The NRM argued that decentralisation was part of their agenda to establish
local democracy and in line with their ‘Ten Point Programme’ written during the guerrilla
war, which was supposed to guide the NRM government while in power (Muhumuza 2008:
64). In this way, the NRM’s decentralisation effort was a ‘home grown’ policy (Muhumuza
2008: 64) at a time when the international policy environment had become largely in favour
of decentralisation reforms.
The 1995 Constitution and the 1997 Local Government Act formally implemented
decentralisation and were described as ‘among the most detailed and comprehensive
legislative frameworks in sub-Sahara Africa’ (Steffensen and Trollegaard 2000, cited in
Awortwi 2011: 365). These legal measures decentralised a whole range of services
, core
fiscal control functions
and the political process. In other words, when introduced by the
NRM decentralisation had the explicit aim to introduce popular democracy, with a whole
range of formal measures applied to guarantee this. At the same time, decentralisation
played an important role for the national government: it allowed the rebel group turned
government (the NRM) to acquire political legitimacy. It also provided the necessary
institutional infrastructure in order to ‘galvanize political support and reward loyalists’
(Muhumuza 2008: 68). This meant that from the beginning, there was a tension between
technocratic and political incentives for decentralisation (Francis and James 2003).
The above situation started changing gradually, as political incentives prevailed over
technical ones. A primary reason for this was the increasingly competitive political climate
in Uganda, as support for President Museveni had been reducing steadily: in the 1996
elections, President Museveni had achieved 76 per cent of the votes; in 2001, 69 per cent;
and in 2006, the year multiparty elections had been introduced, 59 per cent of the votes
(Titeca 2014). While the 2011 and 2016 Presidential elections were convincingly won by
President Museveni, the electoral context was increasingly tense and contested. In general,
there is a consensus that the popularity of the NRM has long reduced (Perrot et al. 2014).
Several analysts suggest that this electoral support is not necessarily backed by ideological
support for NRM policies or a legitimisation of the regime. Rather, it indicates other
factors, such as the NRM’s success in making clear to the electorate that it will remain in
power by any means and that the opposition is not a credible alternative (Perrot et al. 2014:
6, Reuss and Titeca 2017).
This leads to a second point: the regime increasingly relies on repression and patronage in
order to sustain its rule. The Museveni regime has become progressively autocratic and
repressive, with many academic analysts characterising it as a ‘hybrid regime’, ‘in which
elements of democratic practice mask authoritarian and personal rule’ (Barkan 2011: 4;
Tripp 2010; Perrot et al. 2014). Given the declining intrinsic popularity of the Museveni
regime, the demand for patronage particularly in a way that ties clients to the centre has
further intensified. Joel Barkan uses the term ‘inflationary patronage’, in these
circumstances, in which there is the need for ‘ever-increasing amounts of money to
maintain oneself in power and increasing levels of corruption to provide the required funds’
(Barkan 2011: 11).
In this context, particularly the 2005-2006 period was a watershed period: a 2005
referendum on multi-party politics allowed the return to the multi-party system in 2006. In
doing so, an increasingly competitive political environment was established. This, in
combination with President Museveni’s grip on power, had consequences for
decentralisation, as districts became an important commodity in the political marketplace.
Newly introduced decentralisation measures became a ‘repertoire of domination’ for the
national government: instead of a politically empowering local government, a ‘minimal’
local government was introduced whose primary purpose was not to increase local
participation, but instead reproduce governmental power.
The next sections will analyse a number of major policy interventions in the
decentralisation process, illustrating the above dynamics: the efforts to recentralise the
power of local government, particularly the recentralisation of the Chief Administrative
Officer (CAO); the abolishment of the graduated tax; followed by an analysis of the
multiplication of districts. By looking at these measures, the following repertoires of
domination are illustrated: first, decentralisation became an important patronage
instrument; second, decentralisation allowed for an important ‘divide and rule’ policy; and
finally, local governments became largely dependent on the central government, making
them void of any real power.
4. Recentralisation and decentralisation: two sides of the same coin
4.1 The abolishment of graduated tax and the financing of local governments
The graduated tax was a personal tax collected from all able-bodied adults above 18 years
of age, in gainful employment in Uganda. Graduated personal tax has its origins in the
colonial era. In a bid to force the local population into the market economy, the colonial
government came up with the first tax legislation in 1919 under the Local Authorities
Ordinance (URA 2011). In 1953, graduated personal tax was introduced to finance local
governments (URA 2011). While its collection was costly, it nevertheless was an important
source of revenue: earlier studies have shown how 75 per cent of all revenue of the rural
local governments came from the graduated tax, and 35 per cent of the taxes of the urban
local governments (The Uganda Local Government Finance Commission 2001).
Nevertheless, the tax was very unpopular among Ugandan citizens. Just before the 2006
elections, President Museveni abolished the tax. While the move was electorally popular,
it had a major effect on the financing of local governments and their financial autonomy.
Graduated tax compensations in the subsequent year were largely insufficient, while other
local sources of revenue were also scarce. The creation of new local taxes such as the
local services tax or local hotel tax introduced partly to replace the graduated tax failed
to raise the necessary revenue, and were generally not very relevant for rural districts
(Manyak and Katono 2010; Awortwi and Helmsing 2015: 304). Moreover, other direct
taxes collected from bodaboda’s or market vendors for example, have been opposed by
politicians for electoral gain (Titeca and Goodfellow 2010).
In these circumstances, local government funding comes from the national government,
with only 5 per cent of the budget estimated as being locally generated (Manyak and
Katono: 2010). Importantly, 95.5 per cent of funds to local governments are conditional
grants (The Uganda Local Government Finance Commission 2014), which have very strict
modalities. Naturally, conditional grants have a major impact on the functioning of the
local governments: spending priorities are identified at the national level in a top-down
manner, with very little participatory planning (Grossman and Lewis 2014). As table 1
below shows, the segment of the national budget reserved for local governments has
steadily reduced over the years. Whereas in the financial year 2003/4, this used to be 25.47
per cent, it reduced to 15.68 per cent in 2014/15. The number of conditional grants also
increased sharply: from 26 in 2003/4 to 50 in 2013/14 (The Uganda Local Government
Finance Commission 2014).
Table 1: Transfers to local government
Total Transfer to
Local Govts
National Budget
% of direct
Source: The Uganda Local Government Finance Commission (2014)
Moreover, all elected leaders have to be paid by the national government. In this situation,
the accountability of local government actors are primarily directed upwards, towards the
national government a situation that has a negative impact on the accountability
relationship between voters and elected leaders
(Tumushabe et al. 2013: 71). All of this
has greatly undermined the financial and fiscal autonomy of the local governments, who
are primarily looking upwards to the national level for funding. It has been observed that
local governments have been reduced to ‘administrative extensions of the central
government’ and are mainly focusing on implementing programs of the central government
(Tumushabe et al. 2013: 71). Muhumuza (2008: 72-73) goes as far as to argue that due to
this revenue structure, decentralisation has become ‘a sham’ and ‘disguised
decentralization’ as an institutional structure is nothing but a façade to attract donor funds.
4.2 Recentralisation of the Chief Administrative Officer
Recentralisation also happened in other fields. In September 2005, a constitutional
amendment was made, in which districts’ Chief Administrative Officers (CAO’s) were no
longer hired and fired at the local level, but rather managed by the central government.
Before that, district local governments were hiring and firing all categories of civil servants,
including CAO’s (Nabaho 2013: 17). Around the same time, district tender boards were
abolished and replaced by contract committees consisting of administrative personnel,
chaired by the CAO. This also meant that the tender process fell under the authority of the
central rather than the local government (Tripp 2010: 119-120, Manyak and Katono 2010:
8). While there were problems with the exposure of CAO’s to local political pressure
(Manyak and Katono 2010: 7, Nabaho 2013, Francis and James 2003), this signified
reduced local accountability and further fed into a recentralisation drive. As the
constitutional review commission report already argued in 2003, ‘without local control of
the CAO, councils would have limited control over the entire local government
performance’ (Nabaho 2013: 21). Importantly, the recentralisation of the CAO’s role is
also related to multiparty competition and the declining popularity of the Museveni regime,
because CAOs were frequently accused of being opposition collaborators (Oloka-Onyango
2007, Nabaho 2013, Awortwi 2011). After the 2006 presidential and parliamentary
elections, President Museveni ‘threatened to appoint only cadres who subscribe to the
NRM government philosophy as CAOs.’ (Awortwi 2011: 368-369). Moreover, in 2009,
CAOs were given one-month military and ideological training (Awortwi 2011: 369).
Recentralising CAOs can therefore also be seen as part of the broader electoral strategy of
the Museveni regime to retain power.
4.3 The creation of districts
The progressive increase in the number of districts in Uganda from 37 districts to 112 by
the end of 2010 is at its core a political decision and has positively influenced the NRM’s
election results (Green 2010). During electoral campaigns, new districts were often
promised. Once created, the districts were used in various ways, both to reward supporters,
but also to improve results in opposition areas. Awortwi and Helmsing (2015: 310) show
how the increase in districts is particularly strong in the Eastern and Northern region, both
of which are clear opposition areas. Between 1997 and 2008, they had an increase of 166
and 200 per cent in new districts respectively; and indeed, the creation of these districts
had a positive impact on the election results in them.
The increase in districts was particularly strong from 2005 onwards: between 2005 and
2010, about 8 new districts were created every year; and from mid-2008 to 2010 around
one district per month (Awortwi and Helmsing 2015: 302). This primarily happened for
the reasons outlined above: the increasingly competitive environment through the
introduction of multi-party democracy. At the same time, the opposition was growing more
powerful and was becoming an increasing threat for the regime (Awortowi and Helmsing
2015: 309). Now more than ever, districts were considered useful electoral tools. As a
result, districts were particularly promised during election campaigns: while in 2012
President Museveni introduced a moratorium on the creation of new districts (Uganda
Radio Network 2015a), this was withdrawn in light of the 2016 elections. Just before the
2016 vote, another 23 new districts were approved by parliament (Uganda Radio Network
2015b). During the same period, more subnational units were being created: 43 new
constituencies in the run-up to the elections (Mugerwa 2015). It is often explicitly
acknowledged by the Museveni regime how a district is created in return for votes. For
example, after a newly created district voted for the opposition, President Museveni argued
that he ‘has regretted granting Bukomansimbi a district status because its residents voted
for Opposition leaders in the 2011 general elections’ (Mambule and Ssekweyama 2015).
He further stated that this had made him ‘regret why I accented to Bukomansimbi
becoming a district. The MP you voted does not know where I live nor do I know where
he lives. You made the same mistake when it came to electing the Woman MP’ (Mambule
and Ssekweyama 2015). Through such statements, the President confirms considering
district creation as an electoral strategy and patronage gift, in which new districts are
supposed to vote for the ruling party.
The creation of new districts is also a strategy of subversion. As Lewis (2014: 572) argues,
the proliferation of administrative units ‘diminishes individual units’ bargaining leverage
with the centre as well as units’ joint capacity for acting collectively on behalf of policies
that advance the interests of all localities’. This helps to prevent the emergence of any threat
to power, both at an individual level the emergence of a big man or the collective action
of subnational units. Districts’ bargaining power is lower than before, and smaller than that
of bigger and more established units (Lewis 2014: 575). In other words, territorial change
is used to fragment territorial units (districts) in which powerful leaders and groups pose a
challenge. A case in point is Amuru district, which was created in place of Gulu district in
2007, at a time when Norbert Mao was Chairperson of the latter: Mao had announced that
he would contest the presidency against Museveni in 2011
. Splitting Gulu district was
therefore an effective manner of curbing Mao’s political power. In other words, while the
multiplication of districts creates the image of an empowered local level, the opposite
occurs: instead of fostering political participation or empowerment, decentralisation is used
as a tool by the elites in place, to entrench top-down existing political power configurations.
4.4 Recentralisation and decentralisation: what’s happening?
Through the above measures, decentralisation started playing an increasingly important
role as a means of patronage, in order to rally political support. At the same time, the
autonomy of local governments was increasingly seen as a threat to the regime. Instead,
local-level patronage dynamics became more firmly embedded in national-level patronage
dynamics: the creation of districts became a source of developing clientelist relations,
controlled by the centre, in which the creation of jobs played an important role
. The
greater reliance of local governments on the centre for budgets equally fed into this scheme
of increased control and influence by the national government, as this made local
governments vulnerable to pressure and patronage from above. Further contributing to this
is the fact that the ruling NRM party dominates most of the local government councils:
councillors are thus primarily concerned with guaranteeing their place in the party. The
appointment of Resident District Commissioners’s and CAO’s, controlled by the centre,
also allowed further political control; reinforced by Aili Mari Tripp’s argument that the
main quality of these people is their political allegiance to the NRM (2010: 117).
5. Autonomy of local governments
The above measures seriously affected the autonomy of districts. Initially, power was being
concentrated at the district level: as argued above, the initial institutional decentralisation
structure gave extensive responsibilities to the local governments, particularly at district-
level. The position of the district chairperson was considered to be a particularly powerful
one. The current measures of recentralising are therefore primarily inspired by a fear of the
political autonomy of local governments, which were considered to have too much
independence (see also JICA 2008, cited in Nabaho 2013). The next sub-sections briefly
describe how the increased power of the Resident District Commissioners, and the
interventions of the President, further contributed to reducing the power of local
5.1 The Resident District Commissioner (RDC)
An important instrument in reducing the autonomy of local governments is the role of the
Resident District Commissioners (RDC’s). The 1995 constitution clearly stated that the
RDC should remain politically neutral in their activities. Article 203 of the constitution for
example argues that the RDC is a senior civil servant and therefore bound by the civil
service rules and regulations, among which is neutrality when conducting public affairs.
Nevertheless, RDC’s are appointed by the President, and tend to sometimes engage
themselves in political affairs. The increasingly competitive political climate after 2006
further increased these tendencies. For example, RDC’s became important electoral
instruments for the Museveni regime. Several reports on the 2011 elections illustrate how
RDC’s were actively campaigning for President Museveni and the NRM (European Union
Election Observation Mission 2011: 24) and were involved in harassing opposition
members (ICG 2012: 26, Barkan 2011: 8). The main role of the RDC is therefore to play
the ‘eyes and ears of the President’ in respective districts (Barkan 2011: 8). Because of the
RDCs closeness to the President and the party in power, they have tended to overshadow
all other offices at the local government level: RDCs monitor, inspect and supervise central
government programs, such as national and regional roads constructed by Uganda National
Roads Authority (UNRA) or the National Advisory Agricultural District Services
(NAADS). In sum, the increased responsibilities of the RDC have further undermined the
autonomy and hold on power of local governments.
5.2 Presidential intervention
A legislator on the Parliamentary Committee for Presidential Affairs argued how ‘the top
political leadership finds it easy to use the budgets they control to patronise
voters/societies’ (Matsiko 2015). In other words, national and local budgets are used by
political elites for electoral purposes. This becomes particularly clear through the
continuous personal interventions of President Museveni in the affairs of local
governments. First, there are the many presidential pledges: when visiting particular
localities, a variety of issues are promised to be addressed by the President, such as
refurbishment of hospitals, schools, other social installations, electricity, roads, equipment
and cars (Imaka 2013). In this context, the President wants to be seen as the person
providing development to a district, rather than the local government as such. Presidential
gifts are another issue: on visits, President Museveni hands out cash. For example, in the
financial year 2014/15, 90 billion Uganda Shillings was budgeted for these donations;
while in reality this might be higher (Matsiko 2015).
Moreover, local governments are sometimes obliged to pay these pledges through the
existing Sectoral Conditional Grants that are sent to them. As the President of the Uganda
Local Government Association argued ‘Local Governments strongly recommend that the
funding to meet the Presidential Pledges should be disseminated outside the Sector
Conditional Grants, as additional funding, instead of using the existing inadequate district
budgets to be used to meet these pledges’ (Ngobi 2014). Naturally, all of this further
reduces the autonomy of local governments, making them further dependent on the national
government. The increase in conditional grants is part of this strategy, as it enables ‘the
president to have a stranglehold over Local Government finances so that he can claim credit
for any infrastructure and services that the Central Government would direct Local
Governments to provide’ (Awortwi and Helmsing 2015: 308).
6. Conclusion
This chapter has shown how decentralisation measures became important repertoires of
domination, used to further entrench the power of the ruling party. Whereas local
governments were initially introduced as a means to promote popular democracy, they also
came to be an important patronage network to establish and maintain the electoral and
popular legitimacy of the Museveni regime. Over the years, the latter aim took over
prominence: the most important goal of decentralisation was no longer to introduce popular
democracy, but instead to be an instrument to entrench the power of the regime. 2006 was
a particularly crucial year, with the return to a multi-party system creating an increasingly
competitive political environment. This fostered an increasing patronage pressure towards
the regime, and districts became an important commodity in this context of inflationary
patronage: there was a particularly strong growth in districts from 2005-2006 onwards. In
doing so, decentralisation became a neoliberal tool promoting top-down decision making,
rather than bottom-up participation. By promoting fragmentation and recentralisation,
decentralisation became an important tool for the reproduction of power of the national
government: on the one hand, decentralisation became an important tool in a general
‘divide and rule’ policy, taking away power from potentially influential opposition support
bases. On the other hand, key local government personnel and financing became largely
dependent on the central government. All of this needs to be understood in the neoliberal
context of Uganda: in a situation where other means of patronage have become much more
difficult to access, not least given the reduced number of civil servants, local governments
have largely taken over this patronage role. This has resulted in a situation in which local
governments are primarily used as a source of patronage, but have limited local autonomy.
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This is an ongoing process, through which hierarchy is reproduced (Poteete and Ribot 2011: 440). While
others highlight how powerful actors are ‘resisting’ decentralization, they use the term ‘domination’, as
resistance is often used to analyse the actions of the poor against domination by the powerful.
As Resnick points out, different from Poteete and Ribot’s (2011) repertoires of domination, strategies of
subversion are not necessarily aimed at retaining power, but are primarily focused on accountability
(Resnick 2014: 62). This paper is primarily focused on power, hence we rely on repertoires of domination.
See for example Awortwi and Helmsing (2015: 303) for a list.
For a detailed description, see Stefensen 2006.
In the words of Tumushabe et al (2013: 27) The associated capture undermines the accountability
relationships that should exist between citizens as beneficiaries of public services and elected leaders.
In the words of Tumushabe et al (2013: 28) local governments consider central government transfers as a
form of donation that is dependent, not on the tax contributions by their electorate, but rather on the
magnanimity of central government politicians. It is this clientelistic relationship between voters and local
elected leaders on the one hand, and local governments and national elected leaders on the other that
undermines the accountability relationships needed to improve service delivery and governance.
... During the late 1980s, Uganda implemented a radical decentralisation programme that built on a local committee system, known as 'resistance councils', which emerged during the civil war (1981)(1982)(1983)(1984)(1985)(1986). From 1996 to 2006 increasing decentralisation reforms accompanied decreasing electoral support for the government of president Museveni (Titeca, 2018). This trend ''turned the local governments from a radical democracy institution into a tool for patrimonialism, used mainly to mobilise support for the regime" (Wiegratz, Martiniello, & Greco, 2018a, 2018b). ...
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The liberation struggle plays a crucial role in providing legitimacy for post-liberation regimes. This was the case for the Museveni regime, for whom the liberation argument provided strong moral authority, and a legitimising foundation for its patronage and coercion strategies. But what happens when the liberation argument ‘grows old’, i.e. when the liberation generation elite starts to die or defect, and the young population is no longer impressed by the liberation argument? This article argues that in response to this changing situation, the Museveni regime almost exclusively relies on patronage and coercion, yet is increasingly devoid of the legitimising liberation foundation.
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Creation of local government districts has become an enterprise in Uganda, with many stakeholders having diverse opinions about the government’s motives. This article examines the questions: What are the proclaimed and hidden or implicit intentions of the government? What evidence is available to provide reasonable interpretation of government action according to a particular rationale? By triangulating primary and secondary data and using a deductive approach, the study concludes that the initial intention of the government to create new districts to bring services and government closer to the people was consistent with the country’s constitution and decentralisation policy. However, since 1997, and especially since 2006, other rationales have come to the fore, though not communicated as such in public policy statements. While we do not exclude ethnic rationale, the article finds more evidence that points to political patronage and a variant of gerrymandering (namely, that of splitting up districts while not redrawing boundaries).
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Comparative political economy offers a wealth of hypotheses connecting decentralization to improved public service delivery. In recent years, influential formal and experimental work has begun to question the underlying theory and empirical analyses of previous findings. At the same time, many countries have grown dissatisfied with the results of their decentralization efforts and have begun to reverse them. Vietnam is particularly intriguing because of the unique way in which it designed its recentralization, piloting a removal of elected people's councils in 99 districts across the country and stratifying the selection by region, type of province, and urban versus rural setting. We take advantage of the opportunity provided by this quasi experiment to test the core hypotheses regarding the decision to shift administrative and fiscal authority to local governments. We find that recentralization significantly improved public service delivery in areas important to central policy-makers, especially in transportation, healthcare, and communications.
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This study examines the challenges that threaten one of Africa's most ambitious experiments in political, administrative and fiscal decentralization. Based on extensive interviews with local government leaders throughout Uganda, the research uncovered a complex interplay of conflicts that impact decision-making effectiveness. The sources of these conflicts center around (a) the impact of national politics on local government as the country approaches the 2011 election, (b) the inability to meet rising citizen demand for services as the tax base of local governments continues to erode, (c) the corrosive impact of social conflicts stemming mostly from poverty and illiteracy complicated by tribal and ethnic differences, and (d) the challenges of developing honest and effective leadership in local government. Can Uganda unravel this web of conflicts to bring meaningful governance to this young nation? Indeed, many countries within the developing world are watching this experiment with a great deal of interest.
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Numerous developing countries have substantially increased their number of sub-national administrative units in recent years. The literature on this phenomenon is, nonetheless, small and suffers from several theoretical and methodological shortcomings; in particular, a unit of analysis problem that causes past studies to mistakenly de-emphasize the importance of local actors. We posit that administrative unit proliferation occurs where and when there is a confluence of interests between the national executive and local citizens and elites from areas that are politically, economically and ethnically marginalized. We argue further that although the proliferation of administrative units often accompanies or follows far-reaching decentralization reforms, it likely results in a recentralization of power; the proliferation of new local governments fragments existing units into smaller ones with lower relative intergovernmental bargaining power and administrative capacity. We find support for these arguments using original data from Uganda.
How different were the 2011 elections? Did the political environment in the run-up to the elections restrict the capacity of political organizations to "organize and express themselves"? Could the relative restriction of civil and political freedoms affect the pattern of voting and electoral outcomes? Do the election outcomes represent the people's view? To answer these questions, this new book edited by Sandrine Perrot, Sabiti Makara, Jérôme Lafargue and Marie-Aude Fouéré applies a multidisciplinary approach to conducting a multifaceted analysis of the 2011 elections in Uganda. Geographers, demographers, political scientists and anthropologists contribute different in-depth political analyses, rather than partisan opinions and emotional reactions. The book assesses Uganda's evolving electoral democracy and provides field-based insights into critical, often underappreciated, aspects of the electoral process. (Publisher's abstract)
Among other shortcomings of decentralization reforms undertaken by developing countries since the 1980s, recent research finds that the reforms' primary aim—devolution of authority to localities—has often not been achieved in practice. This article builds on that insight, examining an understudied pathway through which states that have undertaken decentralization can ultimately recentralize power: administrative unit proliferation. Rapid creation of numerous new subnational administrative units is an increasingly common occurrence in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. This phenomenon, I argue, allows for recentralization by reducing the intergovernmental bargaining power and administrative capacity of each subnational unit, as well as by substantially expanding both the reach of the national executive's patronage network and its ability to monitor emergent security threats on its periphery. The article illustrates these mechanisms with evidence from Uganda.
African cities are currently experiencing some of the highest population growth rates in the world. Accompanying this growth is constant and continuing pressure on national and local governments to develop political and institutional structures that respond to the multiple demands this demographic change provokes in relation to service delivery, economic development and social wellbeing. In response to these challenges, national governments are reviewing the political and administrative structures of their capital cities, sometimes recentralizing authority. This article examines the reforms to Kampala, capital city of Uganda. The article explains how the national government gradually created the legal conditions necessary to take over the capital city directly, and the political rhetoric and conflict that ensued. We argue that while Kampala had deep internal problems and fared poorly in service delivery, matters were exacerbated by the national government's historical indifference to the city. Moreover, past service delivery failures offered an easy rationale for recentralizing authority. We demonstrate that this recentralization was a well-planned effort by the central government to regain political control of the capital city. This article illustrates how the national government's recentralization of authority in Kampala is a significant departure from its longstanding policy of democratic decentralization.