Working Paper
The making (and unmaking) of Uganda’s ethnic-based decentralization programme

Uganda’s post-colony continues to be haunted by the colonial logic of ethnicity. This logic has mapped the country’s post-colonial political landscape as a terrain on which spirals of ethnic-based conflicts and violence are the norm. Because colonial ethnic spatial demarcations were also unequally governed, the question of ethnic inequality was necessarily implanted into the post-colonial political landscape.

Many came to define Uganda’s post-colonial politics as one of ‘ethnic balancing’. Various programmes have sought to address the ethnic-based inequalities inherited from colonial political modernity. The contemporary ethnic-based decentralization is one such policy.

This study seeks to contextualize this policy as presently pursued in Uganda. making three core arguments. First, common to colonial and post-colonial decentralization arrangements is the predominance of ethnicity as a structuring logic, as post-colonial political modernity recycled the political technologies of colonial political modernity.

Second, and relatedly, while official discourse in Uganda has foregrounded geographical factors, territorial size, and ethnic-based marginalization as core principles guiding decentralization, the latter has proven to overshadow the rest in motivating new district demarcations across the country.

Finally, contrary to commonplace assumptions, there is no continuity between the ‘decentralization’ experiment of the National Resistance Army/Movement rebel group in the early 1980s and the decentralization policy the regime championed while in power. The latter radically reproduced the colonial logic of ethnicity, whereas the former attempted to subvert it.