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Refereed articles

The Unresolved Ethnic Question in Uganda’s District Councils – pg. 107.

Local democracy has great potential to promote co-operation and respect across the political spectrum. By its very design, local democracy may produce different results in different jurisdictions, resulting in political diversification. After elections, local political leaders, irrespective of their political or ethnic inclination, must work together under the broad umbrella of the nation state and in the pursuit of service delivery and development. In that sense, multiparty democracy can be learned through practising local democracy. The Constitution of Uganda, with its elaborate provisions on decentralisation and local democracy, is alive to this democratic potential. This article examines whether the re-introduction, in 2005, of political pluralism in Uganda’s district elections, and particularly the constitutional and statutory design surrounding local democracy, are responding to the above ideals. The key question is whether the re-introduction of multiparty democracy fosters and accommodates the right to public participation of ethnic minorities in district councils. The article analyses the key legislative instruments, such as, the Local Governments Act (1997) and the Political Parties and Organisations Act of 2005, and assesses whether they encourage or hinder the realisation of the overall constitutional objective of political inclusiveness. It examines the impact of the outright prohibition of any expression of political differences in the form of ethnic identity on the realisation of the ideals of inclusive local government, and concludes that this impedes local government’s pursuit of inclusiveness. The view of this article is that there is a latent but benign neglect of ethnic minority political participation in local politics under the multiparty political dispensation in Uganda. The article finds no justification for the criminalisation of the use of ethnicity during the nomination of, and campaigns by, candidates in district council elections, and argues that government and political parties should pay specific attention to including minority ethnic groups within mainstream local politics.

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