Researching the politics of development



Pockets of effectiveness, political settlements and technopols in Uganda: From state-building to regime survival

Download pdf

Working paper 172

Sam Hickey, Badru Bukenya and Haggai Matsiko

Uganda’s impressive levels of economic performance over much of the past three decades have often been linked to the performance of certain ‘pockets of effectiveness’ (PoEs), including the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Uganda and, more unevenly, the Uganda Revenue Authority. The extension of presidential protection to these (and a few other) PoEs has been central to their success, as have been high levels of international support and the appointment of ‘technopols’ to lead these organisations for prolonged periods. These technopols have proven capable of managing both the political and technical aspects of their briefs, with many coming to play more prominent roles in relation to governance and public life in Uganda than elected ministers. However, the performance of these organisations has varied considerably over time, with all coming under considerable pressure following the increased dispersal of power from the early 2000s onwards within Uganda’s erstwhile ‘broad-concentrated’ political settlement. This paper explores how the interplay of political settlement dynamics and organisational leadership shapes public sector performance in Uganda, and how Uganda’s PoEs have increasingly become entwined with the politics of regime survival, rather than any wider state-building project. This process has been closely shaped by international ideas and pressures, with key PoEs used by President Museveni to signal Uganda’s legitimacy within the neoliberal economic order from the early 1990s. This neoliberalised process of state-building has had a profound impact on Uganda’s development trajectory and left Uganda without the capabilities required to pursue alternative developmental agendas.