Decentralisation and Development: Can Uganda now pass the test of being a role model?

David Ssonko


Uganda’s Government of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) assumed power in 1986, in an environment of political turmoil, and initiated a policy of decentralisation as a way of restoring state credibility and deepening democracy. Decentralisation was accordingly legislated under the Local Government Act of 1997, as a framework act directing the decentralisation process. The aim of the Act was to enable implementation of decentralisation provisions provided for under Chapter 11 of the 1995 National Constitution. The decentralisation policy in Uganda aimed at improving local democracy, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability in the delivery of essential services country-wide. Improved service delivery was in turn expected to make significant positive impact on people’s quality of life. Unfortunately, the implementation of decentralisation appears to have concentrated more on administrative objectives as a means of promoting popular democracy and less on service delivery which would have led to economic transformation and better lives for the majority of Ugandans, and now new districts are being created without corresponding improvements in service delivery. Surprisingly, this is happening in the midst of external praise that decentralisation reform in Uganda is one of the most far-reaching local government reform programmes in the developing world. The paper explores the role of decentralisation in development and how it can be undermined by political factors. It highlights the development of decentralisation in Uganda, discusses its achievements, failure and challenges, and concludes that the decentralisation programme which was ambitious and politically driven has had mixed results in terms of enhancing service delivery and should be seriously reviewed and strengthened if it is to remain as a role model in Africa.

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