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Patronage, District Creation, and Reform in Uganda

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The effects of economic and political reforms on patronage in Africa remains unclear. In particular, there is much disagreement about whether structural adjustment programs and democratization have helped to make patronage less pervasive in African politics. Here, I examine the case study of Uganda, which has received much praise for its large-scale economic and political reforms since the late 1980s. However, at the same time, Uganda has also experienced a near-explosion in the number of districts (the highest level of local government), going from 39 to 80 in less than a decade. I examine a variety of potential reasons why these districts might have been created and argue, through the use of both qualitative and quantitative analysis, that district creation has functioned as a source of patronage. Specifically, I show that President Museveni’s government has created new districts as a means to compensate for other patronage resources lost through reforms and that new districts have helped him to continue to win elections. This paper thus constitutes the first rigorous demonstration that the creation of new sub-national political units can constitute a form of patronage and suggests that similar processes may be currently taking place across Africa.

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  1. The first three are Russia (83 federal subjects), Turkey (81 provinces), and the Philippines (80 provinces plus the National Capital Region).

  2. These numbers are even more striking when one remembers that Uganda’s population has more than doubled since 1986.

  3. Uganda has ranked among the top four African states 11 out of 15 years since the index was begun in 1995, including every year since 2004. Cf.

  4. The LCs were known as Resistance Councils until 1995.

  5. The districts were created in two sets, with 13 inaugurated in 2005 and another 11 in 2006.

  6. In May 2009, the central government proposed the creation of 14 new districts; however, as the parliament had yet to approve the districts by the time this article went to press, I have not included these districts in my analysis here.

  7. All population data are from the US Census Bureau.

  8. Regression results available from author

  9. Data on district ethnic majorities/minorities were calculated by the author. For this reason, we can also reject the claim that district creation has been primarily driven by ethnic gerrymandering.

  10. While districts do not currently contribute any funds to the upkeep of the kingdoms, there are ongoing discussion about the potential creation of a regional tier system, thereby creating a large incentive for kingdom governments to prevent districts under their nominal aegis from seceding.

  11. Also see (Crook 2003; Goetz 2002).

  12. While a restoration of the Ankole kingdom may not have been very popular, in fact, none of the kingdoms other than Buganda held large public support, according to the Uganda Constitution Commission which measured popular opinion on the subject in the early 1990s (Uganda 1992).

  13. Each district costs the Ugandan state between 685 million and 1.3 billion Ugandan shillings in wages per year (Ocwich 2005; USAID/Uganda 2001). With a current population of 31.4 million citizens, each district thus costs between 21.8 shillings ($0.01) and 41.4 shillings ($0.02) USh per citizen per year.

  14. Despite being created in 1976, the explosion of LGAs did not begin until democracy was restored in 1979, when it coincided with a more general expansion in public sector employment, and all new LGAs were abolished after the military coup of 1983 (Bach 1989). However, there is also evidence that LGA creation since 1983 has been driven by concerns over ethnic conflict regulation and that the guarantee of federal and state funding for LGAs has created incentives for Nigerians to demand new LGAs (query Ukiwo 2006).

  15. All three control variables, when regressed alone, are significant at the 5% level or better.

  16. Unfortunately, I cannot test the other aforementioned hypotheses due to a lack of district-level polling data or levels of ethnic diversity.

  17. I encountered the reverse of the “core” voter thesis in an interview with former Minister of Local Government Jaberi Bidandi-Ssali, who argued that Museveni has created new districts in opposition areas in order to undermine the ability of districts to challenge the center and build up some fiscal independence for themselves (interview with Bidandi-Ssali 2007). Naturally, the regressions can test for both the “core” voter thesis and Bidandi-Ssali’s thesis with the same variable.

  18. As with (Schady 2000), I calculate “Marginality” as |“Museveni Vote”—0.50|.

  19. There are some Bantu-speaking areas in eastern Uganda, most notably the Busoga region centered around Jinja; as a result, the correlation between Bantu-majority districts and those districts in the colonially demarcated North and East regions is 0.72.

  20. I have also examined two other dummy variables which appear as significant in Malesky’s (2009) statistical analyses of province creation in Vietnam, namely whether a district borders another country or was previously split; both variables fail to reach significance even before introducing the control variables.

  21. “Museveni” and “Bantu” correlate at 0.53; all other correlations are 0.47 and below.

  22. While Ghana’s 166 districts are not its highest level of local government (an honor held by its ten regions), they are, however, the highest level of local government to have elections. I owe this point to Lindsay Whitfield.


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I would like to thank Tonny Odiya Labol for research assistance and Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, Jo Beall, Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, Gabi Hesselbein, Ben Jones, Andrew Mwenda, James Putzel, Lindsay Whitfield, and participants at presentations at the Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economics, and the Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford, for comments and suggestions. All errors are, however, my own.

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Green, E. Patronage, District Creation, and Reform in Uganda. St Comp Int Dev 45, 83–103 (2010).

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