Uganda, under the rule of its president Yoweri Museveni and his party the National Resistance Movement (NRM), was intended to be a ‘no-party’ political environment. Upon his ascension into power in 1986, having contributed to the ending of Idi Amin’s Milton Obote’s rule, Museveni proactively invited opposition politicians to form a government alongside his own party, in order to prevent the violence and lack of governance that the previous system had resulted in. The previous system was primarily built on tribal and religious affiliations.
32 years on, Museveni is still holding onto power. Although initially his ‘no-party’ government was widely accepted, the absence of formal agreements and memorandums of understanding meant that eventually tensions within the government and between individuals became hard to leverage and ultimately it was unable to function properly.
Now a ‘multi-party’ government (as of 2005) is characterised by patronage, corruption and unspoken rules. Museveni holds onto power through informal networks and mechanisms. Citizens have become expectant of certain behaviours from power-holders, and accept the benefits that being co-opted and controlled provide them.
Key findings from the research included:
- Citizens’ perception of a leader’s power was associated with how much money they had. To create the image of wealth, Museveni and other politicians would often give out cash to individuals and organisations in return for their support and sometimes more directly their votes. This disbursement of cash often caused conflict within organisations and between individuals as it was misappropriated. Citizens expected politicians to hand out money freely.
- The necessity to be seen as wealthy meant that many politicians had debts to pay upon coming into their position. To repay these debts, politicians exploited their positions, for example selling public land illegally.
- To hold onto power in a multi-party government, co-optation and control occurred at multiple levels of governance;
- Convincing influential individuals to become supporters of the NRP through payments or promise of status (co-optation). This included journalists and potential members of the opposition. Having them in alliance with the government would prevent them from criticising it.
- Museveni would offer benefits to politicians to garner their vote on contentious subjects. This means that laws that might have been prevented from being passed, were passed without any opposition.
- To establish ‘on-the-ground’ support across Uganda, politicians would establish ‘mobilisers’ on the ground who would collect and distribute funds to potential voters in order the get their support. Mobilisers would benefit greatly from this process.
- Businesses are co-opted by receiving benefits from the government, such as bailouts, when actively supporting Museveni.
Download the Uganda country report.