12 January 2023
This paper examines the contextual factors impacting on civil society influence on politics and public policy reform in Uganda and explores the entry points that can be leveraged to strengthen this influence. Two typologies of organisations are considered: the ‘old’ and ‘new’ civil societies. The ‘old civil societies’ have historically been part of Uganda’s socio-economic and political processes and are active to date. In this paper, ‘old civil societies’ refer to those associations or groups that are based on acquaintances such as religious, cultural, professional or economic identities. Examples include, but are not limited to, the churches and the Islamic groups, co-operatives, trade unions, cultural groups and community solidarity associations. On the other hand, the term ‘new civil societies’ is applied here to mean the growing community of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in different sectors of development, including service delivery as well as advocacy for rights, public policy and political reform.
In terms of distinction, old civil societies typically involve the ‘grievers’ themselves or the people who are directly affected by or have a direct interest in an issue establishing themselves into an association to coordinate their interests.
On the other hand, new civil societies may be formed by individuals who are concerned about a problem but are not necessarily affected by it directly. In addition, old civil societies are usually membership organisations, but this is not necessarily the case with new civil societies.
Civil society in Uganda has experienced exponential growth over the last two decades, thanks to the plethora of new civil societies engaged in humanitarian and development programming. The National NGO Bureau reports more than 13,000 registered NGOs, but this figure tends to exclude several groups at local level and the old civil societies that are not registered as NGOs. The precise number of CSOs working in Uganda is not known, given that the formal registration frameworks do not capture all organisations that can be clustered as civil society. Most of the registered organisations are engaged in charitable activities relating to the delivery of public goods and services in areas such as health, education and economic empowerment. However, several organisations have taken up advocacy for rights, public policy and political reform. This paper focuses on organisations engaged in activities targeted towards political or public policy reform.