Countries at the Crossroads 2006


The aspirations of Ugandans to enjoy freedom and democracy suffered significant setbacks between October 2003 and November 2005. The most important reasons for these reverses stem from the increasingly evident motivation of President Yoweri Museveni to extend his 20-year period in office despite constitutional limits and the opposition of his closest colleagues. His recent efforts to change the rules and silence his opponents bear unfortunate resemblance to those of his predecessors, Milton Obote and Idi Amin. They demonstrate the difficulties of maintaining progress toward democratization in Uganda. Ironically, the most serious threats to democracy over the last two years have resulted from Uganda’s re-adoption of multiparty competition.

Uganda has always been a difficult country to govern democratically. It is deeply fragmented into ethnic, religious, and regional cleavages that greatly complicate the formation and maintenance of a legitimate ruling coalition. As his authority over his coalition members declined, each former ruler increasingly resorted to patronage and intimidation at the expense of support for the rule of law. By the time Museveni and the National Resistance Army (NRA) seized power by defeating the national army in 1986, Uganda had become a failed state without an effective constitution, fair elections, protection from terror, autonomous judges, or honest officials.

Over the following 15 years, Museveni presided over a widely applauded political and economic recovery. A liberal and carefully balanced constitution emerged through a process of widespread popular participation. By and large, the government respected the exercise of free speech and a free press. The new parliament created by the constitution vigorously attempted to hold the government accountable for corruption, even forcing several ministers out of the cabinet and reversing some dubious transactions intended to privatize state banks and public corporations. The emphasis on frequent elections at every level of government from the village to the state, although organized without parties, may have strengthened the basis for a democratic culture.

At the same time, worrying signs of authoritarian behavior, reminiscent of Uganda’s past, accompanied Uganda’s recovery. The constitution legitimated a no-party system in which individuals rather than parties competed for office.  Prohibiting participation by parties strengthened the hand of the President, who controlled the National Resistance Movement (NRM or “Movement”), and who could also use the institutions of government for political advantage over unorganized rivals.  Museveni had ruled for 10 years before competing in an election.  Corruption remained widespread throughout the new government. The president expanded his reliance on patronage to build support. He tended to make decisions without consulting parliament in regional wars fought in three border areas, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in the Sudan. The army, which had been regarded as incorruptible and highly disciplined when it won power, gained a reputation for corruption and attacking civilians in battle areas—vices reminiscent of former Ugandan armies.

Nevertheless, Uganda exhibited many signs of an emerging democratic culture under Museveni. The judiciary decided several constitutional cases against the government. Members of parliament (MPs) changed many government legislative proposals before passing them. Press criticism of government actions was frequent and vocal. Constitutional commissions held government accountable for human rights and financial improprieties. Civil society organizations campaigned vigorously for women, the environment, and peace. One of the most important milestones for democratization was the constitutional requirement that a president could serve only two terms. That meant President Museveni would have had to leave office in 2006. Had that happened, it would have been the first time in Uganda’s post-independence history that one president had been replaced by another peacefully and democratically. It would have provided a fundamental demonstration that the Ugandan government respected the spirit of the rule of law as well as its regulations. Instead, in 2005 Museveni and his closest advisers clearly reversed direction. Considerable political liberalization had occurred, but it became increasingly uncertain how much had been accomplished to hold the government accountable to its citizens.

Accountability and Public Voice: 

Despite many disconcerting instances of intimidation and fraud, and the absence of participation by parties, the presidential and parliamentary elections held in 1996 and 2001 seemed to most observers to reflect broadly the will of the people. Recent events cast doubt over the prospects for the free and fair conduct of the next set of elections scheduled for February 2006. The last two national elections were the only ones held at regular intervals since independence. Suffrage was equal and universal, with special-interest parliamentary constituencies for workers, youth, women, persons with disabilities, and the army (at present these account for 27.5 percent of MPs).[1] The electoral commission was regarded as relatively independent of the president and committed to an honest ballot count, but not always able to manage the complicated logistics involved in Uganda’s complex electoral system.

In a referendum held on July 28, 2005, Ugandan voters adopted multiparty competition, casting aside the country’s no-party system. While 92.5 percent supported legalizing party activity, only 47 percent of those registered voted, largely due to a boycott by the opposition, despite its strong prior support for party competition.[2] The refusal of the opposition to participate reflected their suspicion that Museveni did not favor genuine multiparty competition, but instead was manipulating the change in political systems to enable his continuation in office.

Before the July 2005 referendum, parties could register under the Political Parties and Other Organizations Act 2002, and many did. But the act prohibited any party from organizing activities below the national level. Unregistered political groups were not permitted to hold public meetings. Qualified political groups could hold meetings without seeking a permit, but the police had to be informed of the time and place. A police officer who determined that an ongoing meeting contravened the act could stop it. In 2004 and 2005, the police dispersed 21 peaceful demonstrations and public rallies.[3] The most prominent among these involved public meetings by opposition groups, including rallies demonstrating against a third term for the president, against the Movement and an address by Major General Mugisha Muntu of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). On the other hand, public meetings of supporters of the Movement were not dispersed.

Passage of the multiparty referendum implied official recognition of every person’s right to choose a party and join in its public meetings. Museveni, however, interpreted the consequence of the referendum narrowly. He explicitly insisted that its purpose was to increase the internal discipline of the Movement by removing doubters. As one reporter wondered, “the question therefore, is whether the Movement would actually allow a truly multiparty democracy.”[4]

A few by-elections were held between 2003 and 2005. Even though no parties could campaign officially, the government used the Movement secretariat and other government resources, including intervention by the president, to support its preferred candidates. The National Resistance Movement–Organization (NRM-O) registered as a political party and chose its interim leaders in 2004. Despite their reservations about the constitutionality of required registration under the Political Parties and Organizations Act 2002, other parties registered in 2005. The FDC, a new party that included Kiiza Besigye, who had run second to Museveni in 2001, faced delays before successfully registering. Unlike the NRM-O, which was able to build on the Movement’s organizational activities during the two decades of the no-party period, the other parties had a relatively short time (roughly August to November 2005) to organize their national conferences, discuss policies, elect fresh officials, and create or rebuild party structures in preparation for the 2006 elections. A new Political Parties and Organizations Act responsive to the transition to electoral participation by parties was enacted in November 2005.

Passage of the constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits in August 2005 freed Museveni to run for another term. He accepted the nomination of the NRM-O in November 2005. President Museveni’s control over the government and the army greatly decreases the likelihood that another party can replace the Movement, which by 2006 will have been in power for 19 years. Four donors—Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, and Norway—signaled their alarm in 2005 over the government’s unwillingness to provide a level playing field for elections by cutting their aid by small amounts.

The government will pay 45 million shillings (US $25,000) for campaign expenses to each presidential candidate (raised from 20 million in 2001). This sum is only a small fraction of what each party is likely to spend. Growth in the economy has made it possible for private interests to contribute significantly to each party’s campaign. However, the NRM-O has benefited far more than any opposition party because they receive contributions from both public and private sources. Judging from the many instances of economic privileges given to investors, regulations controlling influence over campaigns are not enforced effectively.

The FDC nominated Kiiza Besigye as its presidential candidate at the end of October 2005. Two weeks later, on his return from a campaign trip, he was arrested in Kampala and imprisoned on remand on charges of treason, misprision of treason, and rape. Later, on the basis of the same allegations and despite his civilian status, he was court-martialed by a military tribunal on charges of terrorism and unlawful possession of weapons. After he received bail from the high court in November 2005, he was immediately rearrested and returned to prison on the court-martial charges. The opening of his military trial was set four days after the official date for presidential nominations. At the end of November 2005, no one knew whether the executive would allow him to continue his campaign for president.

The 1995 constitution increased the separation of powers by giving additional authority to parliament and the judiciary to check aggressive executive action, one of Uganda’s most serious problems in years past. For several years following the adoption of the constitution, parliament played an unusually aggressive role in executive oversight. Unexpectedly, the no-party system gave MPs greater independence to stand up to the executive. As the restoration of parties grew more likely beginning in 2003, parliament’s oversight activity diminished, although not entirely. In June 2004, five MPs were able to persuade the commercial court to issue an injunction that temporarily blocked the sale of the Uganda Commercial Bank. MPs forced the government to suspend an agreement to lease the Dairy Corporation, a state-owned company, in February 2005 until they could study its terms.[5] However, many MPs felt that the executive was often able to avoid oversight.

In a white paper issued in September 2004, the cabinet proposed numerous constitutional amendments, including the shift from the no-party to a multiparty system.[6] In October 2004, more than 240 MPs judged likely to support the government on the removal of presidential term limits and other constitutional amendments each received a 5-million-shilling payment (US $2800) in cash from Movement officials “for consultations on the White Paper” with their constituents.[7] The source of this money was never satisfactorily explained. MPs forced the withdrawal of a few of the cabinet’s more significant recommendations, for example denying the president the power to dissolve parliament. On the other hand, the executive insisted on retaining special-interest seats for army MPs, who will be obligated to vote for the government after the return to multiparty politics.[8]

In general, people make their political choices without undue influence from powerful groups outside the government. However, it would be dangerous for ordinary citizens or political leaders to resist projects endorsed by the president, his inner circle, or the military, particularly soldiers involved in the war in the north. In November 2004, for example, soldiers in the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) physically assaulted four MPs conducting a meeting at an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the North.[9]

The autonomy of the public service is protected by the constitution. The public, health, and education service commissions generally make appointments on the basis of merit and open competition, despite the widespread reliance on patronage and corruption elsewhere in the government. In 2005, however, cases surfaced of interference in the appointments of Justus Akankwasa as Assistant Commissioner in the Ministry of Education and Sports and Dr. John Mulumba as the coordinator of the Project Management Unit for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.[10] The district service commissions, which make appointments in local governments, confronted further allegations of discrimination.

The state recognizes the rights of civic and business organizations to advocate but enforces the same limitations on peaceful advocacy as it does for political organizations. NGOs must register with the government but are not hobbled by legal requirements. Civil society organizations testify before parliamentary committees and comment publicly on government policy without official impediment. Some lobbyists believe they have significantly influenced bills considered during the past two years.[11] On the other hand, the government also makes efforts to influence the public positions taken by civil society organizations.

The government permits international NGOs to visit Uganda to investigate human rights and other alleged violations. In September 2005, the government expressed its strong disagreement with the findings of a Human Rights Watch report on northern Uganda in a press statement, but did not take stronger action against the NGO or its investigators.[12]

In 2005 the government seriously damaged its reputation for tolerance of the media and free expression. It had sought an injunction banning The Monitor, the leading opposition newspaper, in November 2003 from publishing details from a politically sensitive interim report of the Constitutional Review Commission.[13] In June 2004, six journalists became the first in Uganda’s history to be convicted by a military court-martial for contempt of court.[14] No other serious clashes with the media occurred until August 2005, when the government temporarily closed down a radio station and arrested a reporter for sedition.[15] In November 2005 the government threatened to close The Monitor over a story that President Museveni had offered his brother the top position in the military.[16]

Following Besigye’s arrest the following week, the government banned all public reporting, demonstrations, or discussion of any aspect of his case. At the same time, the police raided The Monitor without a search warrant to remove an advertisement for a defense fund for Besigye, and searched all the newspaper’s upcountry distribution vans.[17] There were no other reported cases involving extra-legal intimidation or physical violence against journalists or other public indications of censorship during this two-year period.

Access to the internet is not regulated nor does the state hinder access, which is available through cybershops in towns throughout Uganda. The state continues to hold a controlling interest in The New Vision newspaper, and officials sometimes try to gain favorable coverage for the government, but aside from this arrangement, no reports indicate that the government funded official points of view or limited media access to its opponents. In general, the state protects the freedom of cultural expression as well. However, it did ban public performances of The Vagina Monologues in February 2005 for promoting “illegal, unnatural sexual acts, homosexuality and prostitution.”[18]

Civil Liberties: 

While the 1995 constitution protects civil liberties, prohibits torture, and limits pretrial detention, its provisions were not applied uniformly between 2003 and 2005. The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), an independent government agency, and international human rights organizations documented many cases of torture throughout this period.[19] Of the 2,294 human rights cases reported to the UHRC in 2004, 488 involved torture.[20] The UHRC awarded compensation to several victims. However, the state paid the victims in only a fraction of these cases. The UHRC successfully opposed the government’s recommendation to abolish it by transferring its functions to the Inspector General of Government (IGG). It argued that the Cabinet’s proposal would reduce “the importance of full coverage of human rights.”[21] In its 2004 report to parliament, the UHRC noted that the state minister for security had admitted that torture had been used, while insisting that it would be eliminated.

The war against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the northern region led to the virtual suspension of civil liberties for over 90 percent of the rural population between 2003 and 2005.[22] More than 1.9 million people lived in IDP camps during this period. The government had forced them into these camps starting in 1996 as a measure to deprive the Sudan-based LRA of a source of supply. Soldiers routinely abused the inhabitants, who were usually too intimidated to report them. Those who complained were often subjected to arbitrary arrest followed by prolonged detention in army barracks. Few police posts exist in the camps. The judicial system in the area is crippled by vacancies. The state is unable or unwilling to protect inhabitants of the camps from attacks by the LRA, often posting small numbers of poorly armed and locally recruited militia rather than soldiers. The UHRC and other domestic human rights NGOs sometimes have provided IDPs with effective petition and occasionally redress.

Prisons continue to be seriously overcrowded, due in part to slow processing by prosecutors and courts. While suspects for serious offenses can be detained for up to 360 days, they are often held longer. Leaders and supporters of opposing political organizations, such as the FDC, were held without trial for more than two years on charges of treason and murder.[23] Two MPs representing constituencies in northern Uganda were arrested on murder charges in April 2005 and given bail.

During the 1990s, the government made important efforts to promote women’s equality despite longstanding cultural and legal discrimination, particularly in marriage. However, violence against women continues at high levels. During the 2003 to 2005 period, parliamentary consideration of a domestic relations bill that would provide protection for married women was again postponed at the insistence of the government. An important provision in this bill would have criminalized marital rape, a significant source for the transmission of HIV infection to women. Other provisions would have given women and girls more security in marriage, divorce, and family property. No law currently proscribes female genital mutilation. Attempts have been made to persuade people whose cultural practices include FGM to change them, but the state does not play a significant role in such efforts.

The war in the north has taken a serious toll among women and children. The military has been unable to prevent the LRA from abducting thousands of girls and women to serve as concubines and soldiers. The government is responsible for the IDP camps in the north. Of the people living in the IDP camps, 80 percent were women and children.[24] Rape of girls and women by government soldiers occurs frequently in the towns and all the camps.[25] Among the 63,000 inhabitants of Pabbo camp in Gulu District, 6 out of every 10 women had been “physically and sexually assaulted.”[26] Mortality rates in the camps were above medically defined emergency levels, resulting in an average of 1,000 deaths per week. Aside from LRA abductions, trafficking of women was not a serious problem. Most women in Uganda work the land, but few of them have any ownership rights in it. However, by law 30 percent of all elected positions in local government from the village to the district level must be filled by women.

The constitution protects every individual’s freedom to practice his or her religious and cultural beliefs. No laws on the books sanction religious or cultural discrimination. Each ethnic group is constitutionally entitled to choose a traditional or cultural leader. Parliament has a Committee on Equal Opportunities to attend to the needs of members of marginalized groups. In general, the government does not interfere with religious practices, place restrictions on religious ceremonies, or interfere in internal administrative activities of organizations related to religious faiths, so long as it does not perceive a security issue. However, the government requires all religious organizations to register with the NGO board in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Some observers have claimed that born-again Christians receive preference in some government positions.[27]

Religious issues have long been intertwined with politics in Uganda. Even though it takes a strong anti-sectarian stand, the Movement government has not been able to eliminate religious concerns from politics in local and national arenas. Officially, national leaders remain neutral in the appointment of religious or spiritual leaders. Behind the scenes, they attempt to promote candidates who favor the government. 

Lack of government protection in the north exposes many religious institutions to attacks by the LRA on religious grounds. Members of the Acholi ethnic group practice a traditional healing ritual to reconcile with perpetrators of atrocities who were formerly members of the LRA. Muslims have protested provisions in the domestic relations bill requiring wives to consent to further marriages by their husband and requiring husbands who want to marry more than one wife to show that they have an adequate income to support them.

Persons with disabilities face considerable obstacles in Uganda, as in all poor countries; however, the government has demonstrated some desire to improve living conditions for these populations. Persons with disabilities are represented in parliament through five special interest MPs who devote much of their assigned funds helping their constituents and ensuring that their voices are heard.[28] While only a small percentage of disadvantaged Ugandans can be assisted in this way, the symbolic value these MPs provide is impressive.

The right to form or join and participate in trade unions and civic associations is guaranteed by the constitution, although higher civil servants and members of the police or army are not permitted to organize. The government’s interest in promoting investment, especially from foreign entrepreneurs, makes it reluctant to support workers’ organizations or strikes. The government permits some businesses, including those newly privatized, to operate without recognizing unions among their workers. The state does not compel citizens to belong to any associations.

Continued interference with rallies and demonstrations by officials, particularly the police, indicates that the government has not accepted its obligation to protect the newly broadened exercise of freedom of association and assembly. The state sometimes uses excessive force to prevent or repress public protests, as it did in the days following the arrest of Besigye in November 2005.[29] In addition, security personnel and other government officials attempt to intimidate individuals holding opposition views by accusing them of associating with rebels.[30]

Rule of Law: 

In order to deepen the separation of powers, the constitution emphasized the independence of the judiciary. In three landmark decisions in recent years, the highest courts demonstrated their autonomy by striking down legislation on fundamental political issues. In January 2004, the Supreme Court nullified the Constitutional (Amendment) Act 2000 because Parliament failed to follow its own rules of procedure by passing it without waiting 14 days between readings.[31] In June 2004 the constitutional court declared the second Referendum Act invalid, thus casting into question the referendum under which the no-party system had been extended in 2000. In November 2004 the constitutional court struck down sections of the Political Parties and Organizations Act 2002 that restricted parties’ ability to organize below the national level, hold public rallies, or contest for power. The court upheld the act’s requirement that parties must register. The executive branch and particularly the President had put high priority on each of these acts. Political opponents of the government had brought all three cases.

Building a culture of constitutionalism is an important foundation for the maintenance of the rule of law. It requires that changes in a constitution be made judiciously and on the basis of consultation with the public. In March 2005, the government introduced the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2005 which proposed amending or repealing at least 112 constitutional provisions plus all six of its schedules.[32] In preparing this bill, the government responded to the report of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) that it had appointed in 2001. While the primary intention of the bill was preparation for the impending change to multiparty competition, the government included many unrelated provisions that substantively reversed decisions taken by the Constituent Assembly only 10 years earlier. None of the new provisions inserted by the cabinet had been formulated on the basis of either popular input or discussion in the CRC.

The judiciary has generally maintained its commitment to impartiality and nondiscrimination. However, this obligation has been achieved less effectively at lower levels of the judiciary, particularly in the district courts. Several years ago, in response to allegations that some judges were corrupt, the judiciary set up a Judicial Integrity Committee that held meetings with groups of civic leaders and judicial officers throughout the country to formulate policies to improve judges’ performance.[33] The problem is related to inadequate compensation of judges. The recommendations of a forum of judicial officers in March 2004 stressed improvement in judicial terms of service, immediate investigation and resolution of accusations of corruption and more legal and administrative measures to fight corruption.[34]

The executive and legislative branches generally do not interfere with judges and magistrates. Nevertheless, in a profoundly discouraging instance of intimidation of the judiciary in November 2005, approximately 30 heavily armed soldiers surrounded the High Court, blocked all exits, and attempted to force their way into the cells in preparation to rearrest 14 defendants, alleged associates of Besigye, in case they were granted bail. The principal judge later declared that “not since the abduction of Chief Justice Ben Kiwanuka from the premises of the Court during the diabolical days of Idi Amin had the High Court been subjected to such [a] horrendous onslaught.”[35]

The case was an extreme example of a growing practice of the Ugandan government to court-martial civilians involved in allegations of treason in addition to indicting them in civilian courts. This practice of “double jeopardy,” exposing individuals to two courts on the basis of the same factual situation, weakens the rule of law. Otherwise, government authorities tend generally to comply with court decisions, even though they sometimes have tried to negate their effect by introducing new legislation or constitutional amendments.

Judges for the High Court are recommended for appointment by a judicial service commission from among advocates who have practiced law for 10 or more years. They are usually appointed, promoted, and dismissed without bias. They are trained to judge cases fairly. However, the chair of the General Court-Martial is often not a trained lawyer, leading to unfair or injudicious decisions. In June 2004, six civilian journalists were summoned to a General Court-Martial to explain why they should not be charged but instead were immediately tried and convicted.[36] Besigye’s lawyers were detained in his trial in November 2005 for arguing that the court-martial, held in an army barracks, had no jurisdiction over a civilian.[37]

The courts operate on the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair hearing, both constitutional guarantees. However, the judges have heavy dockets, and the prosecution is often poorly organized. As a result, criminal defendants often spend months and even years on remand before trial. While the constitution insulates the director of public prosecutions (DPP) from political pressures, the DPP’s belated decision to bring criminal charges in the Besigye case appears to indicate that it was not fully independent. Citizens have the right to independent counsel but often can’t afford to pay for it. The state is constitutionally required to supply counsel for people who are indigent, but does not always do so.  Public officials are rarely prosecuted for abuse of power.

All persons are constitutionally entitled to equal protection under the law. By and large, courts treat all persons who come before them equally. But there is considerable discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, gender, and especially sexual orientation. The rights of women and children are often overlooked. In July 2005, the parliament approved a constitutional amendment criminalizing marriage between persons of the same sex. The state introduced anti-sectarian legislation soon after it came to power but rarely enforces it.

President Museveni, who retired from the military in April 2004, is in effective control of the military, police, and internal security forces. However, few observers would argue that members of the uniformed services observe the law when high political authorities order them to act otherwise, such as in the events surrounding the arrest of Besigye in November 2005. Cases are rarely brought to discipline members of the police, military, or security forces for taking bribes. Respect for human rights among members of the police, military, and security services is not frequently observed, particularly when they are stationed in a war zone. The military and intelligence services are generally not accountable to parliament. However, since the passage of the Public Finance and Accountability Act 2003, MPs have been able to review the auditor general’s analysis of classified expenditures, providing some accountability for one aspect of military activity.

The state enforces property rights and contracts in general. However, women do not have the right to own or inherit property in many circumstances. A proposed constitutional amendment to permit the state to take property for development purposes was withdrawn from parliament in 2005. Wives and children have statutory protection in land transactions involving plots on which they are living. Complaints of fraudulent land titles involving officials in the central and district land offices frequently appear in the press. 

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 

Starting in the late 1980s, the state radically reduced its involvement in the economy, thus eliminating many opportunities for government officials to take advantage of public funds. However, despite economic liberalization, the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom gives Uganda’s regulation regime a poor rating, citing corruption as a reason why it is difficult to do business in Uganda.[38]  In Uganda it takes 17 procedures to start a business, the second highest number of the 37 African countries according to the World Bank.[39]

The 1995 constitution authorized anticorruption measures, in particular to strengthen the independence of the inspector-general of government (IGG) and the auditor-general (AG). The IGG has the authority to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. It handles 3,000 to 4,000 complaints annually and regularly secures corruption convictions for low-ranking public servants. In 2005, it opened an investigation into alleged malpractices in the examination process at Makerere University.  The IGG’s success in investigating cases, albeit mostly at lower levels of government, led to the government’s unsuccessful efforts in 2005 to weaken it. The AG, who employs the largest number of professional accountants and auditors in Uganda’s public sector, has a strong reputation for honest audits of government income and expenditure. The AG’s auditors work inside each of the government’s ministries. The AG gained the power to examine classified expenditures after passage of the Public Finance and Accountability Act 2003. During the period under review, the AG and selected MPs serving in the public accounts committee reviewed military and security expenditures for the first time.

The public accounts committee reviews the AG’s reports and submits its recommendations to parliament frequently. It summons department heads to testify about problems of financial accountability the AG has found in their operations. In 2004 a fraud unit was created in the DPP to handle cases of fraud and corruption. In addition, the government has a Ministry of Ethics and Integrity, which established a directorate of ethics and integrity (DEI) to coordinate policies of all the constitutional and administrative agencies pursuing corruption and to follow up on the implementation of commissions of inquiry concerning corruption.

A strengthened leadership code, adopted in 2002, requires political and civil officers to declare their assets and avoid conflicts of interest involving public bodies. The Leadership Code Act of 2002 made these declarations available to the public upon application to the IGG. In 2003, the IGG published the declarations of the president and cabinet in the newspapers. However, a 2004 court decision holding that the president did not have to dismiss officials who failed to declare their assets to the IGG undercuts the code’s enforcement. The president’s behavior in the case provided ambiguous signals about his support for the IGG: He dismissed Kakooza Mutale, the adviser who had not filed his declaration on time, but then submitted an affidavit to the court supporting him—a signal the judge may have found difficult to keep in perspective. During the 2003–2005 period, an ongoing courts-martial tried high-ranking military officers for inflating their payrolls with ghost soldiers. The Ministry of Education took disciplinary action against schools that padded their accounts with ghost teachers and pupils.

Purchase of goods in the public sector is an area rife with suspicions of fraud and corruption in both central and local governments. The new public procurement and disposal of public assets authority (PPDA), established by statute in 2003, governs transactions throughout the executive branch. It is charged with promoting transparency, fairness, and accountability in the procurement process and maintaining open and competitive bidding. Due to Uganda’s extensive decentralization, district (local) governments have their own tender boards. In 2005 the Ministry for Local Government reviewed the Local Government Act to ensure that it conformed to the PPDA Act.[40] No evaluation of the PPDA was available as of November 2005.

Nevertheless, between 2003 and 2005 the climate for corruption remained favorable. As the IMF pointed out, although “reports on corruption show that Uganda has slightly improved its rating globally, it remains at the low end of the scale in country rankings.”[41] Uganda’s low ranking for corruption worsened slightly in 2005, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, to a score of 2.5 out of 10.[42] A persistent and widespread belief that corruption will generally not be punished is probably the most important factor in such perceptions. The government, and President Museveni in particular, demonstrates a marked lack of interest in reducing corruption, especially in cases involving high-ranking members of the government and members of the president’s family. The government failed to prosecute any of the public officials identified in several commissions of inquiry, although a few were dismissed. The president reappointed and promoted two ministers (one a relative by marriage) who had been censured by parliament, even though neither of them had resolved the conflicts of interest that had led to their censures.

Moreover, the cabinet took several steps in an unsuccessful effort to strip the most active agency fighting corruption, the IGG, of its powers to prosecute offenders directly. Its proposal would have turned the IGG from an action agency into one limited to making investigations. As an MP and former minister of ethics and integrity put it, “the proposal is rendering the office cosmetic and powerless in as far as fighting corruption is concerned.”[43]  On the other hand, in the same proposals, the cabinet recommended and Parliament subsequently established a new anti-corruption court in 2005.[44]

The silence of donors over diversion of their aid is likely to embolden the government. Foreign assistance accounts for a significant proportion of both the government’s recurrent and its development budgets—a total of approximately 50 percent in fiscalyear 2004–05 and 40 percent in 2005–06. A confidential World Bank report leaked to the press in 2005 warned that it was “common knowledge and discourse among leading members of the diplomatic community in Kampala” that budgetary support provided by donors “can be diverted into classified budgets.”[45] The report recommended aid cuts to Uganda. An analysis of the release of donor-supported funds by the Ministry of Education from 2002 to 2004 for building classrooms showed that the number the ministry reported it had built was only slightly more than half of those it said it had received the money to build.[46] Suspension of aid by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria for “serious mismanagement” of funds in August 2005 was a rare exception—and only temporary. In fact, the fund restored aid after the government established a commission of inquiry to investigate the fraud but before the commission had made its report and before its determination of whether any prosecutions were warranted.

Public discussion of specific cases of corruption is relatively open, even when they involve powerful government figures. The news media frequently investigate and report allegations of corruption. MPs and journalists receive tips from both military and civilian officials on the purchase of non-operable equipment or looting by soldiers.[47] Individual MPs often expose cases through questions in parliament or through reports by committees. The Prevention of Corruption Act 1970 protects informers called as witnesses by removing their obligations to state their names or any matters leading to their discovery. Nevertheless, whistleblowers frequently do not feel secure in revealing their information in public. The access to information bill, under parliamentary consideration in 2005, proposes additional protections for whistleblowers. While the first parliamentary counsel had begun in 2005 to draft an anti–money-laundering bill and a prevention of corruption (amendment) bill to cover gaps in existing laws, his slow pace raised concerns.[48] Despite a constitutional guarantee of citizens’ right to know about the conduct of the government, officials often invoke the Official Secrets Act to block requests for relevant information about specific government operations.

The budget must be passed by parliament before the executive can spend funds. The Budget Act of 2001 introduced fundamental changes in the budget-making process by requiring the executive to submit preliminary estimates to parliament 10 weeks before the finance minister presented it formally. The executive was enjoined to respond specifically to changes proposed by parliamentary committees. The proposal greatly increased meaningful legislative review of the budget. Informants noticed that significant discussion and modification of specific government estimates had occurred as a result of the additional involvement of MPs. Accounting for expenditures is the task of the AG. By 2005, his office had removed most of its backlog, giving parliament the opportunity to investigate more recent allegations of executive improprieties. Both of parliament’s public accounts committees energetically pursue discrepancies in government expenditures and tax collections revealed in the reports of the auditor general, forcing corrupt officials to face criminal proceedings.

  • The government should protect the electoral process and the public’s faith in its neutrality by not bringing criminal charges based on preexisting evidence against candidates for high office after campaigns have begun.
  • Parliament should enforce its Rules of Procedure to discipline members who accept rewards in support or opposition to any matter under consideration.
  • The government should refrain from closing radio stations for statements made in programs they broadcast, and newspapers for stories they run.
  • The government should leave the regulation of public discussion of issues related to court trials to the presiding judge.
  • The police should be given explicit regulations prohibiting them from entering a media facility without a search warrant or other authorizing document signed by a judge.
  • The president should explicitly and publicly prohibit all government agencies, including the military and intelligence organizations, from the use of torture.
  • The government should encourage Parliament to pass the domestic relations bill as soon as possible.
  • The government should instruct officers stationed in northern Uganda to enforce strict disciplinary measures to prevent soldiers from engaging in sexual misconduct against civilian women and to forbid any other violence against residents in IDP camps.
  • The government should instruct the police to allow all peaceable political public meetings to proceed unless a disturbance of public order occurs. The government should require a senior police officer to make the decision to disperse any public meeting.
  • The government should promote respect for the constitution by not amending it frequently or without prior public input.
  • The government should prohibit military personnel from interference in court proceedings and court-martial any officers authorizing such operations.
  • The government should end immediately its practice of bringing civilians before military courts-martial.
  • The government should not charge any person, civilian or military, simultaneously in a civilian court and a military tribunal.
  • The president should institutionalize civilian control over the military rather than retaining personal control.
  • Whenever the government appoints any commission of inquiry to investigate corruption, it should make a public commitment to publish the report.
  • The president should make a public commitment that he expects the DPP to investigate and prosecute all cases in which a commission of inquiry has produced prima facie evidence of corruption or other criminal violation.          
  • Parliament should promptly enact an access to information bill.
  • The government should make an explicit commitment to each donor that it will prosecute any official who fails to account for a grant or loan provided by that donor.
Nelson Kasfir

Nelson Kasfir writes frequently on Ugandan politics and development. He is co-editing a book entitled Rebel Governance discussing how rebels manage civilians living under their control when they are engaged in insurgencies. He is also constructing a worldwide dataset on this subject. He is Professor of Government Emeritus at Dartmouth College.


[1] Figures calculated from the Directories (Kampala: Uganda’s 6th and 7th Parliaments). Voting for women’s seats will be conducted on the basis of universal suffrage in the 2006 elections.

[2] Felix Osike and Milton Olupot, “92.5% Yes 7.5% No,” The Sunday New Vision (Kampala), 31 July 2005.

[3] Seventh Annual Report (Kampala: Uganda Human Rights Commission [UHRC], 2004), 170–72,

[4] John Kakande, “Are We Genuine about the Return to Multipartyism?” New Vision, 8 August 2005.

[5] Richard Mutumba, “Government Suspends Dairy Deal,” The Monitor (Kampala), 23 February 2005.

[6] “White Paper on Constitutional Review,” Monitor, 22 September 2004.

[7] Henry Mukasa and Apollo Mubiru, “MP Cries Foul on Kisanja Cash,” New Vision, 28 October, 2004.

[8] Hamis Kaheru, “Army to Remain in Politics,” New Vision, 8 July 2004.

[9] “MPs Violently Prevented from Discussing with their Constituencies,” Human Rights House Network, 24 November 2004,

[10] Abu Mayanja, “State House Must Not Meddle in Public Affairs,” New Vision, 6 September 2005; Henry Onoria, “Legislative and Policy Measures in Uganda vis-à-vis Practical Challenges of Compliance with [the] AU Anti-Corruption Convention” (Kampala: Transparency International [TI]-Uganda, 31 October 2005), 22,

[11] Interviews conducted with two lobbyists by a Ugandan researcher during 2005.

[12] “Human Rights Watch Reply to Ugandan Government Document of September 23, 2005 regarding Human Rights Watch’s Report ‘Uprooted and Forgotten: Impunity and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Uganda’” (New York: Human Rights Watch [HRW], 30 September 2005).

[13] Victor Karamagi, “Plan to Change Media Law Spells Doom for Free Press,” Monitor, 17 August 2005.

[14] Steven Candia and Maurice Okore, “Summons Turn to Trial,” New Vision, 20 June 2004.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Monitor Team, “Government Threatens to Close Daily Monitor,” Monitor, 15 November 2005.

[17] Angelo Izama, “Police Raid Monitor over FDC Advert,” Monitor, 19 November 2005.

[18] “Uganda Ban on Vagina Monologues,”  BBC News, 18 February 2005,

[19] “Rights Watchdog Accuses Army of Abuses” (New York: United Nations, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network [IRIN], 29 September 2005); “State of Pain: Torture in Uganda” (HRW, vol. 16, no. 4 [A], March 2004).

[20] Seventh Annual Report (UHRC), 21–22,

[21] “Comments on the Cabinet Proposals for the Abolition of Uganda Human Rights Commission,” Sixth Annual Report (UHRC, Sec. 4.8, 2003),

[22] “Uprooted and Forgotten: Impunity and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Uganda” (HRW, vol. 17, no. 12 [A], September 2005), 13.

[23] Hussein Bogere, “66 FDC Members in Prison,” Monitor, 10 May 2005.

[24] “IDP Children’s Death Rates over Emergency Levels, Report Says” (IRIN, 30 September 2005); “1,000 Displaced Die Every Week in War-torn North – report” (IRIN, 29 August 2005).

[25] “Uprooted and Forgotten” (HRW), 32.

[26] “Suffering in Silence: A Study of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Pabbo Camp, Gulu District, Northern Uganda” (Gulu, Uganda: Gulu District Sub Working Group on SGBV, 15 June 2005), 1, 9,

[27] For example, a news report stated that in the quasi-military Special Revenue Protection Services “membership is confined to persons who are ‘saved.’” David Kaiza and Julius Barigamba, “Here Comes Janet Museveni, Sent by God to Save Uganda,” The East African (Nairobi), 12–18 December 2005.

[28] Author’s interview with an MP representing persons with disabilities, Kampala, 4 July 2005.

[29] Private communication from Kampala, 30 November 2005.

[30] Seventh Annual Report (UHRC, 2004), 166.

[31] Anne Mugisa and Alfred Wasike, “Ssemogerere Wins Constitution Act Petition,” New Vision, 30 January 2004.

[32] Oloka Onyango, “Constitution Bill Is Disaster in Substance,” New Vision, 11 March 2005.

[33] Onoria, “Legislative and Policy Measures,” 19-20; “Third Meeting of the Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity,” Colombo, Sri Lanka, 10-12 January 2003, 8,

[34] “Towards Strengthening Judicial Integrity in Uganda: New Approaches–Recommendations,” The 6th Annual Judicial Officers’ Forum, Lake View Regency Hotel, Mbarara [Uganda],

[35] Solomon Muyita, Simon Kasyate, Hussein Bogerere, and Lydia Mukisa, “Armed Men Disrupt Besigye Court Case,” New Vision, 17 November 2005; Victor Karamagi, “Judiciary under Attack: Where Will the People Run to?” Monitor, 23 November 2005. The defendants avoided rearrest by asking their sureties not to sign their bail bonds, forcing their return to the civilian prison, thus avoiding transfer to a military prison.

[36] “Summons Turn to Trial,” New Vision, 20 June 2004.

[37] “Besigye Case Adjourned,” Monitor, 24 November 2005.

[38] “Index of Economic Freedom” (Washington, D.C./ New York: Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal, 2005),

[39] From World Bank, “Doing Business in 2005, country tables, (Washington, D.C.: World Bank 2004) reported in “Striving for Good Governance in Africa: Synopsis of the 2005 African Governance Report” (Addis Ababa: UN Economic Commission for Africa, 2003), 20,

[40] Onoria, “Legislative and Policy Measures,” 21.

[41] Frank Nayakairu, “IMF Urges Uganda to Tackle Corruption,” Monitor, 13 September 2005.

[42] “Corruption Perceptions Index 2005” (London/Berlin: TI, 18 October 2005),; Elias Biryabarema, “Is Uganda Fighting a Fruitless Battle against Corruption?” Monitor, 25 October 2005. For the previous year, see the Global Corruption Report 2005 (Berlin: TI), 237,

[43] Miria Matembe, “Museveni Has No Political Will,” Monitor, 16 October 2003.

[44] Onoria, “Legislative and Policy Measures,” 19.

[45] Paul Busharizi, “World Bank May Cut Aid,” New Vision, 17 May 2005.

[46] Andrew Mwenda, “Between Donors and Government, Foreign Aid Is Lost Along the Way,” Monitor, 19 July 2005.

[47] Author’s interview with an MP, Kampala, 4 July 2005.

[48] Onoria, “Legislative and Policy Measures,” 38.

2006 Scores