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close this bookUganda's Water Sector Development: Towards Sustainable Systems (SKAT, 1996)
close this folder2. Roller-Coaster Ride
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentLaunched into the abyss
View the documentTurning around the corner
View the documentHeading in the right direction


The image that greets the increasing numbers of visitors to Uganda these days is that of a country at peace — not absolute peace, but peace non-the-less. This is a far cry from the image of some twenty years ago, that of a nation in political, economic and social free-fall. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the world saw Uganda as the classic example of 'everything wrong with Africa'. It was parodied as having a terminal case of post-colonial degenerative disease, intent on destroying itself from within.

Launched into the abyss

Uganda has not always carried the standing of a global pariah. It had a reputation within East Africa and wider afield as a country blessed by nature. Straddling the equator, but high enough to enjoy a moderate climate, Uganda prospered from its inheritance of fertile soils and regular rainfall. Agricultural exports led the economy. Cash crops such as tea, coffee and tobacco supported a growing industrial base. However, post-independence years highlighted the frailty of Uganda's political situation. As time progressed, the veneer of economic and social well-being also disappeared.

Uganda has been on something of a roller-coaster ride since it inherited an easily won independence on 9 October 1962. The elation of freedom was short-lived — the country lasted less than four years before its first constitutional crisis. Disbelief that history was not turning out as expected quickly led to dismay as the fabric of a prosperous country started to unravel. Within ten years deep political, economic and social decay had taken hold.

Poorly prepared for its role as an independent state, the country was simply 'launched into the abyss'. Political commentators have argued that Uganda's independence constitution was "a triumph of hope over experience".1 It was a hastily prepared document that attempted to knit together a group of semi-autonomous regions and traditional kingdoms into a single nation state. Allowing for co-existence of unitary and federal forms of government, it stipulated direct election throughout the country except in the federal state of Buganda; a recipe for future dissatisfaction. With so much at stake and inexperienced politicians at the helm, the country soon became 'unhinged'.2

In retrospect Uganda was ill-suited to a Westminster form of government. The country consisted of diverse peoples pushed together in a marriage of convenience. Uganda's public institutions were also unprepared for their roles in a post-independence environment. They lacked the skills necessary to undertake their administrative tasks unaided or to contain the demands placed upon them. The army never displayed the professional discipline required to support a democratic political process.

The National Resistance Movement ten-point programme

- the establishment of democracy
- the restoration of security
- the consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism
- the defence and consolidation of national independence
- the building of an independent, integrated and self-sustaining national economy
- the restoration and improvement of social services and the rehabilitation of war ravaged areas
- the elimination of corruption and misuse of power
- the rectification of the errors that had dislocated society
- co-operation with other African countries in defending human and democratic rights
- the adoption of a mixed economy strategy
NRM Legal Notice 1, Kampala, January 1986

Turning around the corner

Although it will take a long time to eradicate the legacies of the darkest times, most people believe that Uganda has finally turned the corner. Ugandans trace the turning point in the down-hill slide to the day the National Resistance Movement (NRM) emerged as winners in a protracted struggle for power. Finally capturing Kampala on 26 January 1986 after a five year war, the NRM quickly moved to establish a new political agenda.

In his maiden speech as President, Lt-Gen. Yoweri Museveni, Chairman of the NRM, said that the capture of power was not a mere change of guards. He talked about a 'fundamental change'. He introduced new political structures based on a nine-member Resistance Committee (RC). Set up at five levels — culminating in the National Resistance Council (NRC) — the RC has become the backbone of a decentralised sharing of power throughout society.

In February 1989 Uganda held its first national elections since 1980. In the same month President Museveni appointed a Constitutional Commission to gauge public opinion on Uganda's political future and to draft a new constitution.

Heading in the right direction

When the NRM established itself in government, the country was in a state of complete collapse. Years of neglect and abuse had taken its toll. Most of the basic infrastructure was decrepit, non-functional or destroyed. Water supply and sanitation systems in urban areas were in poor condition. The situation in the rural areas was much worse. Large parts of rural Uganda had reverted to the informal economy and subsistence measures necessary for their survival.

The economy

The restoration of economic, political and social order started with emergency surgery on the shattered economy. The Government took tough measures. In May 1986 it abolished the dual exchange rate system. Inflation doubled to 240 per cent within a year. The already weak economy almost collapsed. In May 1987 the Government removed two zeros from the face value of the shilling and during the following month devalued the currency by 76 per cent. It introduced a package of sweeping reforms — the Economic Reform Programme (ERP) — that included plans for curbing budgetary imbalances and excessive monetary expansion.

Over the intervening years the Government continued to follow policies that:

- devalued the exchange rate to restore competitiveness;
- re-established financial discipline in central bank activities to reduce inflationary pressures;
- restored positive real interest rates to stimulate financial savings;
- removed key structural bottlenecks to overcome constraints that restoration of price incentives would not address alone.

Despite initial doubts by some policy makers, the tough economic measures have paid off. Inflation is now below 10 per cent. The shilling has spent the last six months appreciating against the dollar. The economy is showing signs of solid growth. Inward investment is rising.
External supporters of Uganda's macro-economic management have also responded favourably. Last year Uganda received pledges of US$ 850 million in aid. In September 1994, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a US$ 175 million three-year enhanced structural adjustment facility. On 20 February 1995 Uganda became the first beneficiary of enhanced terms for debt reduction — the "Naples Terms" (named after the summit location where the Group of Seven (G-7) formulated the proposal). The Paris Club of creditor nations agreed to cancel 67 per cent of Uganda's official bilateral debt and reschedule the remaining 33 per cent. This will involve a write-off of US$ 89 million, representing a reduction of 26 per cent in Uganda's total Paris Club debt.

The Civil Service

The second major area of effort required of the Government was the establishment of a scaled-down, but non-the-less effective and efficient civil service. Over the years, Uganda's public administration had become bloated. The report of the Public Service Review and Reorganisation Commission (PSRRC) identified a host of poor practices and inefficiencies; including abuse of the office and Government property, an erosion of rules and regulations, obsolete procedures, bureaucratic red tape, moonlighting and corruption.5 It identified the key causes as:

- inadequate pay and benefits;
- inadequate personnel management;
- dysfunctional civil service organisation;
- insufficient management and supervisory training;
- inadequate facilities, assets and maintenance culture;
- lack of leadership of and code of conduct for civil servants.

The PSRRC recommended that the Government wind down some sections of its civil service, sell-off others and shape-up the balance. The Government has addressed these issues through a range of initiatives. In wide-ranging reforms it has rationalised Ministries and their staffing levels. As part of the reforms it merged the Ministries of Water and Mineral Development (MWMD), Environmental Protection, and Energy into one rationalised Ministry of Natural Resources.

Constitutional reforms

The third aspect of change concerns the constitutional reforms necessary for the emergence of a fully functioning democracy. The constitutional crisis of 1966, and subsequent abuses of power have undermined the bases for good government in Uganda. After collecting public views and following protracted discussions, the Constitutional Commission presented a draft constitution to the President on 31 December 1992. A Constituent Assembly, largely elected by universal suffrage and secret ballot, met to debate and amend the draft.

During a sitting on 20 June 1995 the Constituent Assembly voted to retain Uganda's non-party form of government for a further five years. This caused a walk-out by multi-party supporters. Donors, including the United States and Britain, have placed the Government under pressure to introduce a democratic system based on freedom of association and freedom of assembly. To date President Museveni has held firm. He does not rule out a return to multi-party politics but argues that the country is not ready for the trauma of an African-style multi-party election. However, the Government recognises the need for further actions. A senior member of the President's Office has said: "The political system we have adopted has made Uganda better than it was. It is not an act of God that we have had peace and calm in the country over the last 10 years. It is not a perfect system but it is working."6 After sixteen months of debate and deliberation, the Constituent Assembly promulgated the Fourth Constitution of the Republic of Uganda on 8 October 1995.


Finally, the Government believes that over-centralisation of power had been instrumental in causing or exacerbating past problems. The system of governance in Uganda since independence had destroyed the dispersed powers of traditional rulers and local authorities, leaving the country to the ransom of a privileged few.

The NRM was determined to build capacity for effective 'grassroots' governance. To this end it introduced the RC system at local and district level in 1986. RCI is a village-level committee elected by all adults through the system of queuing. The voting system for RC2 through to the NRC is by electoral college.

The Government is using the RC system as the cornerstone of its decentralisation programme, resulting in a radical transfer of power to local authorities. It is anticipating that decentralisation will create better conditions for economic development, improve administrative performance and increase transparency and accountability in Uganda's thirty-nine Districts.