Local-level politics in Uganda : institutional landscapes at the margins of the state
Uganda has been considered one of Africa's few "success stories" over the past decade, an example of how a country can be transformed through a committed state bureaucracy. The thesis questions this view by looking at the experiences of development and change in a subparish in eastern Uganda. From this more local-level perspective, the thesis discusses the weakness of the state in the countryside, and incorporates the importance of religious and customary institutions. In place of a narrow view of politics, focused on reforms and policies coming from above, which rarely reach rural areas in a consistent or predictable way, the thesis describes political developments within a rural community. The thesis rests on two premises. First, that the state in rural Uganda has been too weak to support an effective bureaucratic presence in the countryside. Second, that politics at the local-level is an "open-ended" business, better understood through investigating a range of institutional spaces and activities, rather than a particular set of actions, or a single bureaucracy. Oledai sub-parish, which provides the empirical material for the thesis, was far removed from the idea of state-sponsored success described in the literature. Villagers had to contend with a history of violence, with recent impoverishment, and with the reality that the rural economy was unimportant in maintaining the structures of the government system. The thesis shows that the marginalisation of the countryside came at a time when central and local government structures had become increasingly reliant on funding from abroad. Aside from the analysing the weakness of the state bureaucracy, the thesis goes on to discuss broader changes in the life of the sub-parish, including the impact of a violent insurgency in the late 1980s. The thesis also looks at the role of churches and burial societies, institutions which have been largely ignored by the literature on political developments in Uganda. Religious and customary institutions, as well as the village court, provided spaces where political goals, such as settling disputes, building a career, or acquiring wealth, could be pursued.