Democracy Dialogue held by Action for Humanitarian Initiatives in Uganda, 7 August 2018

Participants: Around 60, half female and half male

Introduction

This dialogue was held in the Kawempe Division of Uganda on 7 August 2018. Convened by Action for Humanitarian Initiatives (AFHI), the session focused on igniting youth and women-led grassroots organisations to discuss their understanding of democracy, the key drivers and enablers of challenges and how they have impacted, negatively and positively, on civil society organisations (CSOs) that promote democracy, and civil society responses and innovative ideas to improve democracy. The chosen format was that of focus group discussions to encourage brainstorming and sharing of experiences and to create a learning environment. Young people, female and male, took part in all the sessions. The facilitator used traffic-light coloured cards (green, red and yellow) to help individual participants categorise their views and go into a deeper analysis of democracy in Uganda.

  1. Participants’ views about democracy

Participants gave their understanding of the concept by citing what they considered as the key ingredients of democracy. Overall, these were: rule by the majority along with respect for the views of minorities; participation of both genders in decision-making processes regardless of political and tribal affiliations; transparency and accountability; respect for the constitution; and a substantial element related to achieving the ‘right’ decisions, i.e. those conducive to peace and prosperity for all.

The colour-coded cards were used to gauge the health of democracy in Uganda, according to participants. Seventy-one per cent of the participants chose red to indicate their discontent with the state of democracy, which they considered as failing due to the following:

  • High rates of corruption and prevalence of bribes across all ministries.
  • Unfriendly policies such as the 2013 Public Order Management Act and the NGO Act, which limit citizens’ freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and CSO operations, respectively.
  • The abrogation of the Ugandan Constitution through the removal of presidential term and age limits.
  • Lack of an independent judiciary, parliament, executive and electoral commission, which currently serve the interests of the president.
  • High tariffs on commodities and the embezzlement of public funds.

However, 29 per cent of participants used yellow to indicate that the health of democracy in Uganda is less than optimal but not nearly as bad. They provided the following reasons:

  • The 1995 Uganda Constitution gives citizens powers to make decisions about their country, although they lack sufficient information and capacity to enforce their mandate.
  • Uganda enjoys political pluralism, although most political parties in the opposition are deliberately denied resources and political space to promote their political agendas.

Additionally, a majority of participants believed that the health of democracy in Uganda would improve over the next five years if CSOs actively engage in monitoring elections and create community awareness about the value of exercising the right to vote, and if citizens are empowered to demand the enforcement of good policies and programmes already in place, and to hold their leaders and representatives accountable for their actions. Participants unanimously agreed that Uganda is among the East African countries that have good systems and that the challenge lies with the lack of goodwill to implement them.

Through focus groups and presentations, participants identified the key drivers and enablers of democracy, including donors, political leaders, opinion leaders, cultural and religious leaders, and government ministries and local governments. These were seen as having the ability to provide financial support, formulate policies, create awareness of human rights, provide platforms for the voiceless, create referrals and linkages for legal support, and promote transparency and accountability. However, participants were also aware that the actions of these actors could have negative impacts. In particular, they mentioned the following:

  • The government has put in place polices and laws that limit free dialogue and CSO operations.
  • It is tiresome and costly to engage with government officials.
  • Donors have imposed policies and cultures that do not correlate with Ugandan culture.
  • Some cultural, religious and opinion leaders are too rigid to address gender inequality.

  1. Key civil society responses

The participants identified the following civil society responses to democratic challenges:

  • Promoting the economic empowerment of marginalised groups through training and the provision of start-up kits for launching business initiatives.
  • Empowering community members through the provision of information on human rights information in community meetings or dialogues.
  • Participating in national and international events aimed at promoting and protecting human rights and good governance, such as the International Day of the African Child and International Women’s Day.
  • Providing legal and social support services through referrals and linkages to those affected by brutal and unnecessary arrests and other forms of marginalisation.
  • Creating networks and coalitions to promote good governance and public accountability, along the lines of the Kampala Youth Advocacy and Development Network (KYAD-NET), the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) and the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG).
  1. Challenges for civil society response and support needs

The main challenges that participants identified as hindering civil society capacity to respond were the lack of financial resources to convene capacity-building trainings and other dialogues, monitor governance institutions and foster accountability and human rights; and the political interference with or limitations imposed on CSO work.

According to participants, to respond better Uganda civil society currently needs:

  • Financial and non-financial resources.
  • Political goodwill and an enabling environment.
  • Community support.
  • Information, communication and education on democracy promotion for dissemination
  • Networking and collaboration opportunities.

  1. Recommendations for civil society and other actors
  • Emphasise networking and collaboration with other human rights defenders at the national and international levels to form strong coalitions or platforms allowing for further learning and exposure.
  • Contribute to building capacity among local CSOs to advocate for good governance.
  • Monitor and report all forms of corruption and bribery.
  • Advocate for increased participation of local CSOs and communities in local government planning and budgeting processes.
  • Equip citizens with factual information on existing laws and legal frameworks for increased participation.
  • Advocate for an enabling space for CSO operations and stand up and speak out against key democracy challenges.
  • Conduct community dialogues on democracy awareness and good governance, both for a general audience, to roll out community democracy civic education, and targeted at newly-elected authorities, to help them understand their roles and responsibilities.