WP124: Understanding citizens attitudes to democracy in Uganda

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Working papers
Mattes, Robert, Francis Kibirige, and Robert Sentamu

After nearly 30 years of autocratic rule and civil war, Uganda returned to elective national government in 1996. But while elections resumed, political parties were allowed to exist but legally prevented from directly fielding candidates for those elections (Kasfir 1998). President Yoweri Museveni’s majority fell from 76 percent in 1996 to 69 percent in 2001. In 2005, the ruling party held a referendum in which the electorate overwhelmingly endorsed its proposal to return to formal multi-party politics. In the subsequent 2006 election, Museveni’s vote share fell yet again to 59 percent, even though the main opposition candidate was jailed throughout much of the campaign period. Yet critics have complained that recent constitutional changes have reversed the transition towards fuller multi-party democracy by removing term limits on the President and reducing the authority of parliament and other watchdog organizations (Mwenda 2007). Where Uganda’s process of democratization goes from here depends not only on the wishes of the country’s leaders and ruling party, but also to some degree on how ordinary Ugandans view these changes and whether or not they are satisfied with the present level of democracy, as well as whether they are willing to demand the protection and expansion of democracy. This paper seeks to shed some light on these issues. The goal is to provide a more nuanced understanding of trends in how Ugandans view of their country’s process of political liberalization and democratization as well as the sources of those attitudes.