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The shifting fortunes of the economic technocracy in Uganda: Caught between state-building and regime survival?

Pockets of Effectiveness Working Paper 5
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Badru Bukenya and Sam Hickey
Uganda’s impressive levels of economic growth over most of the past three decades have often been linked to the performance of its economic technocracy, particularly the government’s high-powered Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development (MFPED). This paper argues that MFPED (or parts thereof) can indeed be seen as ‘pockets of effectiveness’, with the Ministry often managing to deliver effectively on its mandate, in a context in which this is not the norm. This can be explained in part by the functional and legally mandated nature of some of the tasks that MFPED delivers and in part by the strong levels of international support and oversight. However, we also find that MFPED’s performance has varied considerably over time, despite these favourable factors, particularly in terms of its capacity to control the budgetary process and public expenditure. This variation can be traced to shifts within Uganda’s political settlement, which moved from being broadly ‘dominant-developmental’ to ‘vulnerable-populist’ in character from the early 2000s onwards. This shift profoundly altered the ‘embedded autonomy’ that MFPED had
previously enjoyed with regards its relationship with State House, in ways that have undermined MFPED’s capacity to deliver on its mandate. Despite efforts to regain both power and autonomy in recent years, MFPED remains subject to the politics of regime survival in Uganda, in ways that undermine its effectiveness. Whilst this may loosen the hold of neoliberal economic governance in Uganda and enable alternative perspectives to emerge, the more immediate effects have been to damage prospects for policy coherence and economic growth in the country.