Nearer to the People: The Interaction Between Decentralisation and the Political Economy in Uganda
Abstract Christine van Hooft
Nearer to the people: The interaction between decentralisation and the political economy in Uganda
Since the introduction of decentralisation in Uganda in the late 1980s, the number of districts has nearly quadrupled, in a process known as district proliferation. Accordingly, districts have become highly dependent on the central government for funding. This dependence renders sub-national governments unable to respond to local development priorities, weakening the core goals of decentralisation.
A majority of the literature relating to decentralisation in Uganda views decentralisation through a prism of broader economic and governance reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, authors downplay the importance of the political economy context in which decentralisation has been implemented for determining its outcomes and results. Regarding the specific issue of district proliferation in Uganda, analysis in the existing literature is focused on the experiences and incentives of elite actors. Authors have engaged less with non-elite and rural perspectives: the viewpoints of those at the ‘grassroot’.
This thesis analyses the drivers of district proliferation in Uganda, and includes the viewpoints of those at the grassroot in addition to urban elites. The research captures the incentives driving multiple actors across a number of binaries: rural and urban, elected and employed, elites and non-elites. It is argued that the rapid proliferation of districts in Uganda arises from the rational pursuit of self-interest by multiple actors within the political economy. Accordingly, the research moves beyond the dominant explanation of district proliferation: as a vector for elites to generate patronage networks and claim access to the resources of the state. Instead, the research positions district proliferation in the context of livelihood strategies at the level of the grassroot and within the bureaucracy, and as a political survival strategy for those in elected roles. The continued proliferation of new districts in Uganda is shown to be an outcome of the interaction between decentralisation and the political economy. As such, district proliferation shows no sign of abating.