Uganda’s political background
In 2005, Ugandans voted in a referendum to restore multiparty politics, following the “no-party” system administered by President Yoweri Museveni since 1986. Despite this, Uganda still has a de-facto one-party dominant political system and a polarized political landscape more than 10 years later, with Museveni still holding the presidency. Opposition parties only have a limited ability and space to influence the political reform agenda. Opposition parties in particular remain fragile and face several challenges. For example, the parties largely rely on the appeal of their leaders rather than the strength of their policies. They also face internal divisions and lack accountability and internal democracy. Effective participation of women and youth in political parties also remains problematic.
In the run-up to and following the 2016 general elections, concerns heightened over shrinking space for legitimate political activities. For example, the Public Order Management Act, which was introduced at the end of 2013, restricted public meetings. One consequence was that opposition parties found it increasingly challenging to organize rallies. This was compounded by the fact that Ugandan parties in general are not strongly organized, especially at decentralized levels.
An additional challenge that political parties are facing is the increasing prevalence of independent Members of Parliament. In the 2016 national elections the number of independents increased to 66 members (15.5% of seats), more than the combined representation of 57 members (13.4% of seats) from all the other opposition parties. Taken together, it is clear that Ugandan parties need ongoing to support if they are to deliver effective, multiparty representation for their constituents.
NIMD’s Approach in Uganda
NIMD’s overall objective in Uganda is to help foster a well-functioning, strong and vibrant multiparty democracy. The core aims are therefore to strengthen parties to be more programmatic and responsive, to promote the inclusion of women and youth in the political space, and to facilitate the dialogue process for parties, civil society, and other stakeholders.
The programme has two main aspects. The first focuses on facilitating an inclusive political dialogue between the parties represented in parliament. The second supports parties as they develop into mature organizations with a sound organizational structure and a distinctive programmatic identity.
In 2010, the then six parliamentary parties, with NIMD’s support, established an informal interparty dialogue process (the Interparty Organisation for Dialogue, 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 parliamentary political parties by NIMD-Uganda, a registered organization in the capital, Kampala.
In the 2016 elections, four parties won seats in Parliament. These parties engaged in a review of IPOD and concluded a process of reviewing and revising the IPOD Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the document which explains IPOD’s responsibilities. A key result of this process was the inclusion in the Council of the Leader of Government Business (the Prime Minister), Leader of the Opposition, and the chief whips of the IPOD political parties. The revised MOU came into effect following signing by party leaders in September 2017.
In August 2018, a fifth political party, JEEMA, re-entered parliament following a by-election. JEEMA subsequently joined IPOD again. For more information on JEEMA joining IPOD can be found here.
In December 2018, IPOD held its first Leaders’ Summit, which saw the leaders of four out of five parliamentary parties, including President Museveni, convene for dialogue on a range of issues. A second Summit was hosted in early 2019, and the dialogue process is ongoing. It is hoped that the fifth IPOD member, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) will join for future Summits.
This programme is part of the ‘Strategic Partnership’ programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. More on the Strategic Partnership with the Ministry here.
Party Capacity Strengthening
In 2018, NIMD also started a new Political Party Capacity Strengthening Project (PPCSP) 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 PPCSP facilitates Ugandan political parties to become more effective players in Uganda’s multiparty system.
This project is funded by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a multi-donor governance fund setup by key international development partners in Uganda.