Op-Ed: Political Interference in Uganda’s Local Govts hinders service delivery

By Lukanga Samuel

In many African countries the combination of decentralisation and competitive multi-party elections creates opportunities for national partisan struggles to emerge in local arenas. Local governments often become an arena in which national political elites seek to advance national political interests.

For in Uganda’s decentralisation policy, local governments are given responsibility for local service provision in critical policy areas, including education, water and sanitation, solid waste management and roads.
Looking at Kampala, most urban governments in the country struggle to fulfil these responsibilities. Many factors influence their ability to deliver critical services to urban residents.

The country’s rapid urbanisation, estimated at nearly 8% a year, certainly increases the demand for services from urban councils, contributing to the widely held view that urban governments are not doing enough to meet the needs of residents.

Forexample, the municipal government in Kampala faces additional structural constraints, given the high rates of migration to the capital city and the large portion of the city identified as wetland.

Literally described as a modern “executive slum” because of the breakdown in most of its social services, Kampala—Uganda’s capital city remains unpriotized amidst pledges from both central and local authorities.

Like a growing number of other ‘contested cities’ on the continent, Kampala City Council (KCC) has historically been controlled by Uganda’s political opposition. How does partisan politics generally affect urban service delivery in Uganda? To what extent does it explain the KCC’s reputation!

Well knowing that the capital city executive director currently operates like a permanent secretary, I’ve explored a number of questions through an examination of recent trends in Kampala, including the continued reforms to centralise control over the city, and contributed to the growing literature on the politics of urban governance in the capital.

Politics plays an important role in service delivery in Uganda’s urban councils. The effects of politics, however, are less straightforward than might otherwise be expected.

Unlike the situation in Senegal and other African countries, the NRM government regularly employs strategies of subversion to subvert and weaken the authority of local governments however, it’s actions undermine the work of local governments from all political leanings.

Beyond Kampala potholes, I argue the central-government officials, including President Museveni, to consistently intervene by altering and undoing interest-motivated policy decisions and actions of the KCC.

Yet the NRM’s motivations for interfering in the city’s governance reach beyond partisan struggles. Political opposition to the NRM government alone cannot account for central-government interference in the KCC’s affairs, nor explain the KCC’s dismal record of service delivery.

Kampala’s commercial and political importance in the country, combined with its long-standing and highly visible political opposition to the central government, makes it a target of such interference, with negative repercussions on service delivery.

In Kampala, political interference in the work of the city government includes a dramatic manipulation of local political institutions and interference in contracts for local development projects, such as the prominent case of Hassan Basajjabalaba’s contracts to develop several of Kampala’s largest markets.

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The recentralisation of Kampala’s administration exemplifies active obstruction, as the NRM government adjusts the responsibilities of urban governments as part of partisan political struggles.

The takeover of Kampala serves two key political purposes for the NRM:-it reinforces the government’s ongoing narrative about the inefficiency and corruption that plague the opposition-led city government and undermine the KCC’s service delivery; and it reflects the NRM government’s strategy to protect itself from political fallout associated with public dissatisfaction and even anger with poor living conditions in the city.

Generally, political interference in Uganda’s local governments is associated with worse local-government performance.
It remains to be seen how Kampala’s urban poor will fare as a result of the NRM’s strategies to weaken Kampala’s city opposition-led government, but prior interference in city affairs by central-government representatives has weakened service delivery in a number of ways.

Although the recentralisation of Kampala is still relatively recent, there are already indications that central-government interference will continue even as the city administration is no longer headed by the opposition.

The future of Uganda’s decentralisation programme is uncertain and the central-government takeover of Kampala is part of a larger recentralisation trend.

Donors have played an important role in supporting the country’s decentralisation through financial and technical support to the programme. Yet recent changes in donor strategies for delivering aid to Uganda, motivated by worrisome political trends in the country, including rising corruption and shrinking space for political opposition, have the unintended consequence of contributing to the rollback of decentralisation.

While donor-funded projects are critical to ongoing efforts to manage rapid urbanisation and improve the quality of life for the urban poor.

The effect of recentralisation – at the hands of President Museveni and the indirect result of donor strategies – on the lives of the urban poor remains to be seen.

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Observers of Uganda note a general trend of declining service delivery across the country, arguably fuelled by the current political trends targetting 2026.

It is unreasonable to expect that service delivery in Uganda’s urban areas will prove to be an exception to the overall downward trend. The increasing linkages between politics and business in the country may instead fuel increased competition for land and other resources in Kampala, with negative consequences for the country’s urban poor.

For God and My Country, Uganda!

The writer, Lukanga Samuel (lukangasamuel55@gmail.com) is a social development enthusiat and an Ambassodor of Humanity.

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