AD253: Ugandans endorse rule of law, but distrust and perceived corruption mar views on courts

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Thomas Isbell and Dominique Dryding

Uganda’s legal system is in the spotlight following a recent surge in election-related violence, some involving high-profile members of Parliament (Al Jazeera, 2018). While these cases have reinvigorated the conversation about judicial integrity and autonomy in Uganda, this is hardly the first time the country’s judiciary has been accused of being under political influence. Opposition politicians such as Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) of the People Power Movement, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, and Nobert Mao of the Democratic Party, among many others, have on various occasions and in various fora questioned the independence of Uganda’s judiciary (Freedom House, 2018).

Uganda consistently ranks low in terms of the rule of law and judicial integrity. The World Justice Project’s (2018) Rule of Law Index rates Uganda 104th out of 113 countries globally, and Freedom House (2018) gives Uganda a 4 out of 16 for rule of law. While the Constitution calls for judicial independence and a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary, the president and military are frequently accused of undermining the judiciary and rule of law (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018). 

If protesters and advocates are clear in their questioning of judicial autonomy and integrity, Ugandan citizens as a whole present more mixed attitudes. The latest Afrobarometer survey in Uganda shows that the citizenry overwhelmingly endorses the legitimacy of the courts as well as the police. But substantial minorities distrust the judiciary and see judges and magistrates as corrupt. And only about half say the president generally respects the country’s courts and laws.