Uganda’s political background
In 1986, Yoweri Museveni became president. Under his reign, an end was put to a violent period of political instability and the economy slowly improved. Museveni also introduced a new political system, whereby political parties were not allowed and politicians were elected on personal merit, not party affiliation. In 2005, the majority of Ugandans voted in a referendum for re-introducing multiparty politics. This was followed in 2006 by the first multiparty elections in twenty years.
Despite this, Uganda is de facto a one-party state and still has a polarized political system. Opposition parties only have a limited ability to influence the political reform agenda. So the country’s political system remains very fragile and political parties themselves face several challenges. For example, the parties largely rely on the appeal of their leaders rather than policies, face internal divisions, lack accountability and internal democracy and are not strongly organized.
As Uganda nears the run-up to the 2016 general elections, concerns heighten over shrinking space for legitimate political activities. For example, the Public Order Management Act, which was introduced at the end of 2013, places restrictions on public meetings. One consequence is that opposition parties find it increasingly challenging to organize rallies.
The much needed constitutional and electoral reforms are also not coming off the ground, despite a large public outcry and concerted efforts by a plethora of stakeholders including political parties for reforms.
The approach of NIMD in Uganda
NIMD’s overall objective in Uganda is to help foster a well-functioning, strong and vibrant multiparty democracy. We do this by focusing both on facilitating an inclusive political dialogue between the parties and helping the parties to develop into mature organizations with a sound organizational structure and a distinctive programmatic identity.
In 2010, the six parliamentary parties, with NIMD’s support, established an informal interparty dialogue process (IPOD). Establishing this marked a turning point in multiparty politics in Uganda as both the ruling party and opposition committed to regularly engaging with each other in a dialogue process aimed at addressing challenges facing Uganda. This process is facilitated on behalf of the six parties by NIMD-Uganda, a registered organization in the capital Kampala.
Party Capacity Strengthening
In 2014, NIMD also established the Political Party Capacity Strengthening Facility (PPCSF) in Uganda for member parties of IPOD. In NIMD’s experience, ruling parties are more willing to engage with opposition political parties who act programmatically and have a clear constituency. This also allows them to play “more on the ball and less on the adversary”. Through strengthening the capacity and internal democracy of Ugandan political parties, the PPCSF facilitates Ugandan political parties to become more effective players in Uganda’s multiparty system. For example, Project Implementation Committees have been set up by some political parties to define the strategic priorities for the party. It is run by a Project Management Unit located at NIMD’s Uganda office.
As tensions rise ahead of 2016 elections, the NIMD programme in Uganda focuses its efforts at three levels:
1. Keep the interparty dialogue process going and to secure agreement on electoral reforms and build alliances and support for these in the wider stakeholder community;
2. Prepare the parties for the 2016 elections and beyond by strengthening their organizational and programmatic capacities;
3. Contribute to the peaceful conduct of the 2016 elections by investing in de-escalating mechanisms that enable looming political tensions to be spotted early on and provide an informal platform in which political parties can let off steam.