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JSPES, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Winter 2008)
pp. 405-425

Between Rhetoric and Political Conviction: The Dynamics of Decentralization in Uganda and Africa

William Muhumuza

Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

Decentralization reforms in Uganda and generally in Africa initiated since the 1980s have received international recognition. This perception has largely been based on its elaborate policy and legal framework, institutional design, and the pace at which these reforms were implemented. Thus, in theoretical terms, the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) government is deemed to have shown political commitment to decentralizing power. Nonetheless, the process and results of over twenty years of decentralization have revealed deep-seated flaws. Power in Uganda, as in Africa in general, is being recentralized and local authorities have been turned into grassroots partisan instruments to serve the interests of the prevailing regime. This article attributes these flaws to the vested interests that influenced the NRM leadership to decentralize power. The motives, which varied from regime legitimacy to political consolidation and personal entrenchment, have seriously compromised decentralization reforms. The article contends that the effectiveness of decentralization reforms should not be judged on the basis of the formallegal structure and rhetoric being showcased in Uganda, or by other governments elsewhere in Africa, but on actual progress in the transformation of state power relations.