Contesting Political Space? The Role of Civil Society in Rural Ugandan Poverty Politics - The Case of Uganda Debt Network

Jonas Ingemann Parby

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis explores the role of and opportunities for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the context of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) by investigating the case of Uganda and the CSO Uganda Debt Network (UDN). The thesis aims at filling an apparent gap in development research as existing studies have primarily focused on the role of CSOs in PRSP formulation and only to a limited extent looked at PRSP implementation. Taking departure in the assumption that PRSPs may promote an opening of political space and CSO influence in politics, the thesis aims at illuminate what role CSOs can play in promoting and securing accountability in PRSP implementation. The object of the study is the case Uganda Debt Network and their interventions in to selected districts in Uganda. The thesis is constructed around a research question in two parts: The first part of the research problem ask how the PRSP of Uganda, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) was implemented and what were the obstacles and opportunities for accountability and legitimacy in the case districts, and the second part of the research problem addresses how UDN interventions in PEAP implementation in the case districts have affected accountability and legitimacy of local government and UDN, and seeks to determine what factors where crucial for the outcomes. Theoretically, the thesis builds on two frameworks for analyzing the interaction between state and society and how legitimacy and accountability is generated: the governance and the patrimonial framework. The governance framework provides the ideal type theory, whereas the patrimonial framework is applied as a corrective mode of understanding civil society and state interaction. The answer to the first part of the question is divided into several parts. Firstly, it is demonstrated how the regime context, the legal provisions and the policy framework of PEAP (in providing formal mechanisms for participatory governance) affects the implementation of PEAP and the role of CSOs. In this perspective Uganda’s CSOs find themselves operating in difficult circumstances: on the one hand have formal access to the policy process at national and local level and avenues for participation as ascribed in legal texts; on the other hand the no-party regime character, the political control exercised through local councils and Registration Act, and the dependence of donors limit the opportunities for CSOs to participate in the policy process. Secondly, through the analysis of the implementation process of the PEAP in the two case districts, focusing on the capacities, incentives and intra-organizational relations observed among local actors, the thesis demonstrated that Bushenyi with relative high capacity and good intra-organizational relations was more successful than Tororo where political and ethnic strides along with low capacity resulted in a less successful implementation. In both districts it is observed how the different local government actors in pursuing their interests take recurrence in dual patrimonial and governance norms and behaviour and that their behavior potentially lead to accountability failures. The analysis of the second part of the research question investigated how the intervention of UDN takes place in three arenas: planning, monitoring, and district dialogue meetings. Each of these arenas forms a distinctive political space with particular opportunities for UDN. The analysis shows that UDN has managed to reach some impact in their ambition to improve local government accountability and has thus made use of political space: operating monitoring groups have been established in both districts in up to 1/3 of the sub counties. The UDN groups have managed to create new spaces for interaction have been created in monitoring and in the so-called dialogue meetings at the sub county and district level in which decisions and observations of irregularities are raised. In this way, new channels for accountability have been developed. There also seem to be evidence that in some areas the monitoring activities have had an effect in improving accountability especially in regard to street level bureaucrats and at local levels in general. Several challenges and obstacles for UDN interventions to succeed are also revealed, however. UDN ambitions to influence the planning/budget process and sub county and district level have not been successful, and therefore no significant link between local budget and monitoring processes has been established among adherents. UDN is invited and participates in the annual budget meeting at the district, but does not provide any input to the process, neither do they track the overall budget allocations. In monitoring it remains a severe problem that UDN does not have access or capacity to analyze one of the most important areas of accountability; the tendering processes at district and sub county level. Both in monitoring and dialogue meetings UDN faces a struggle for legitimacy in that their status, their reporting, and their mandates risk being questioned by local government actors. Apart from governance factors such as capacity, resources and organizational relations, the study finds that other factors also influence the outcomes of UDN interventions. The political context in both districts proved to be a determining factor for the outcomes of UDN interventions. Organizational structure and capacity of local branches of UDN also proved very important, and the ability to engage in networks and create alliances was a further important factor. The study also demonstrated the very weak links between the application of political and administrative accountability standards, i.e. vote buying has become a common practice. Overall, there seem to be a fundamental disconnection between the descriptions and understandings of accountability in the district among the different actors. This disconnection reflects an apparent dual existence of governance and patrimonial norms and behaviour at one at the same time. The behaviour and the strategies of both some of the local government actors and UDN actors cannot be explained using simply one paradigm, for which reason both frameworks serve to explain and understand the cases. The thesis thus argue on the basis of the case study that PRSP processes may provide new opportunities for CSOs to influence politics at the district level, but that the impact of CSOs interventions to a large extent depend on the capacity and benevolence of local governments, as well as the ability to build a strong organization that is not overwhelmed by patrimonial relations.

Educations, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) GraduateInternational Development Studies, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date1 Jun 2005


  • legitimacy
  • implementation
  • Uganda
  • PRSP
  • civil society
  • accountability