Working paper 20
Frederick Golooba-Mutebi and Sam Hickey
The changing character of the political settlement in Uganda since independence has closely shaped the character and performance of the institutions and actors responsible for delivering development. Successive political leaders sought to establish ‘dominant ruler’ forms of political settlement, with little sustained effort to depersonalise public institutions or build stable and inclusive ruling coalitions. This seemed to change in 1986, as Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) sought to establish a new settlement, based on a broad-based coalition and an ostensible commitment to development. However, the NRM’s record of generating the commitment and capacity required to deliver development has been mixed. On the one hand, a mixture of elite commitment, pockets of bureaucratic excellence and external support has enabled impressive levels of economic growth, macroeconomic stability and social expenditure. However, the current settlement – characterised by deepening levels of competitive clientelism, highly personalised forms of public bureaucracy, collusive state–business relations, and a ruling coalition that is (expensively) inclusive at the lower levels while becoming narrower and more nepotistic at the pinnacle – has failed to provide the basis for tackling the more difficult challenges of achieving structural transformation, delivering high-quality public services and challenging social inequalities.
The case of Uganda reveals the need to extend the current boundaries of political settlement analysis beyond a narrow focus on incentives at the national level, to incorporate a stronger focus on ideas and transnational factors. Dominant ideas around state legitimacy and development have played an important role in shaping governance and development in Uganda, and this has often involved a role for the shifting sets of transnational actors on which the regime relies to maintain itself in power. This paper includes suggestions for further research on the politics of development in Uganda, including around the extent to which the discovery of oil will both be shaped by and help reshape the political settlement.