Fifty-seven years after Independence, successive governments in power since 1962 have used the same divide-and-rule tactics of the colonial administration to govern Uganda and weaken potentially problematic regional or ethnic groupings, despite evidence of the high cost of the strategy, analysis by this newspaper shows.
With 134 districts and more planned, Uganda has the highest number of administrative units in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) global report on local administration. Slovenia follows with 122 and Russia with 85.
The number of administrative units in Uganda has continued to rise despite widespread warnings about their lack of economic viability and their drain on public resources.
Earlier this year, President Museveni called for a cull of “wasteful” public expenditure on districts, sub-counties and town councils. “We are spending a lot of money on administration when youth are crying for more money…creation of districts can wait,” he said.
Finance minister Matia Kasaija echoed similar sentiments after Parliament approved the creation of 364 sub-counties, 352 town councils and 10 cities without set-up funds.
“Government has taken a decision that in future, creation of any new administrative units in government must have a certificate of financial implications to certify that government has the resources to finance these institutions,” he said.
Yet analysis by this newspaper shows that while government officials have long known about the high costs of creating new administrative units, they have continued to support their creation to generate political support.
Divided we stand
At Independence, Uganda had 15 administrative units. They included four traditional kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Tooro and Ankole, the territory of Busoga and the districts of Bugisu, Bukedi, Karamoja, West Nile, Acholi, Kigezi, Sebei, Lango and Madi.
After the 1966 falling out between the central government and Kabaka Edward Muteesa II of Buganda Kingdom who was also the titular President, Buganda was split into four districts of Bombo, Mubende, Masaka and Mpigi, increasing the administrative units to 19.
The ‘Pigeon hole Constitution’ of 1967 followed, so-called because it was not only slotted into MPs’ pigeonholes at Parliament after it had been signed into law. It did away with the 1962 Constitution, abolished all kingdoms and turned Uganda into a republic.
With the exception of Buganda, which had already been split into four distinctive districts, Bunyoro, Tooro and Ankole were renamed districts but under their kingdom names and so was Busoga.
Between 1971, when Idi Amin took power in a coup, and 1974, Uganda was further sub-divided and the number of districts rose to 37. Acholi district was split into East and West Acholi; Karamoja was divided into North and South Karamoja.
Other new changes included the creation of Kasese and Bundibugyo districts, carved out of Kabarole. By this time, the country had been divided into 10 provinces; Busoga, Central, Eastern, Western, Karamoja, Southern, Northern Buganda, Nile, Northern and Southern Buganda. These became the primary administrative units, with the districts secondary tiers of administration.
There were no further changes until 1980 when the provinces were discarded and the number of districts reduced to 33. These remained in place until 1986 when the National Resistance Army/Movement captured power.
Under Legal Notice No. 7 of 1986, the NRM appointed a 10-member commission of inquiry into Local Government Systems. Prof Mahmood Mamdani chaired it with Mr Francis Xavier Lubanga as secretary.
The commission found that multiplication of districts undermined development because the high administrative costs diverted resources meant for provision of essential social services.
“Quite often, the response of governments to popular demands for a more responsive administration has been to create new and smaller units,” the Commission noted in its report.
“There is no doubt that the multiplication of administrative units is a costly affair.
“We were hesitant to recommend the creation of new and additional administrative units, bearing in mind that these would increase unproductive costs of administration, both in terms of creating an administrative infrastructure and payment of personnel... Given our strong view that the exercise in creating new districts over the past decade and a half has been arbitrary, haphazard and hardly defensible, we would have recommended a review of the status of all existing districts with a view to de-grading those which do not meet minimum criteria....”
Despite the recommendations, in 1990 the government carved Kalangala out of Masaka District. A year later, Kibaale District was created out of Hoima, Mubende gave birth to Kiboga while Kabale and Tororo birthed Kisoro and Pallisa, respectively. In 1994, Bushenyi and Mbarara gave birth to Ntungamo.
In 1997, six more districts were created; Moyo gave birth to Adjumani, Iganga to Bugiri and Tororo to Busia. Katakwi was carved out of Soroti, Nakasongola out of Luweero and Sembabule out of Masaka, bringing the total to 45.
By 2000, the districts’ maternity ward was heavy with expectation and a motion was moved in Parliament to create another 11 districts. This created Wakiso, Mayuge, Pader, Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Yumbe, Kanungu, Sironko, Kayunga, Kaberamaido and Nakapiripirit, taking the tally to 56.
Between 2005 and 2007, another 24 new districts were created to bring the total to 80.
In March 2005 in Tororo, Gerald Omast, the former LC3 chairperson of Osukuru Sub-county, ate a rat during a public rally addressed by President Museveni to express his demand and that of the people in Tororo for a district status.
Between 2007 and 2010, the partition resumed and Buhweju, a county in Bushenyi District, was turned into a full district; Bukomansimbi, which was a county in Masaka District, was made a district of its own and Agago District was carved out of Pader. Alebtong District was carved out of Lira District; Bulambuli was formed by taking Bulambuli County from Sironko District and Butambala County in Mpigi District was turned into a district , among others.
At the time of independence, the districts were very huge, which could justify the reduction in size. However, along the way their creation ceased being a size issue and became political. A retired professor at Makerere University, who prefers not to be quoted says the reason of taking services to the people has lost meaning, a number of those districts don’t have services delivered to them.
“Recently the reason is political, when the demand is made so as not to lose the support districts are created to keep the political support,” he says.
The professor adds the need to win the political support has come with a financial burden to the taxipayers. “More districts are increasing the number of parliamentarians, besides the cost of administering the new districts, the cost of a huge parliament are further hampering the delivery of services.”
According to the Decentralisation and Local Government in Uganda report of July 2014 by UNDP, the administration of local governments between 1997/8 and 2007/8 rose by 336.4 per cent from Shs224.9b to Shs1 trillion.
“The districtisation is the cost of democracy as President Museveni once said. This has happened mostly towards elections or a major political event. However, for the past 57 years there has been tension between the national vision and the reality on the ground. This has been so because Uganda’s creation was traumatic and the post-colonial leaders have not been able to deal with that trauma. Therefore, whichever government Uganda has, is and was bound to give in to districtisation,” says constitutional lawyer Kabumba Busingye