This paper presents three cases of successful governance reforms in Uganda, highlighting the political and institutional factors that explain the different trajectories of implementation, as well as features they share in common. Despite variations in content and focus, the governance reforms examined here were designed to promote structural changes in state institutions and change the incentives that shape the behaviour of state actors.
The three cases of governance reform – civil service reform, the creation of a semi-autonomous revenue authority and anti-corruption agencies – share a number of common features.
First, they all followed a similar trajectory in their implementation, achieving a degree of initial success that was then gradually undermined. Second, the institutional features that appear to account for that initial success – strong political support to technocratic or bureaucratic elites with some degree of insulation from political and societal interests – also help explain why such reforms are susceptible to a process of unravelling. Third, the main explanation for the loss of reform momentum (or even reversal of gains made) lies in the imperative of preserving the institutional foundations of neo-patrimonial politics.
All three governance reforms considered here achieved a degree of initial success: civil service reform succeeded in downsizing and rationalising the bureaucracy; the revenue authority achieved increased tax revenues; and anti-corruption efforts led to the creation of a series of institutions charged with responsibility for identifying and prosecuting those engaging in corrupt practices.
However, in each case, the momentum of reform has not been sustained. The evidence presented here suggests that design flaws and the failure to anticipate political motivations have created opportunities for patrimonial behaviour that has in turn undermined the early success of Uganda’s governance reforms. Failure to sustain the momentum of governance reforms may have an adverse impact on wider achievements in relation to economic recovery, poverty reduction and political stability, as the political prerogatives of regime maintenance prevail over pragmatic developmental goals.