Local government citizen participation and rural development: reflections on Uganda’s decentralization system
The governance and development discourse continues to embrace citizen participation as a fundamental mechanism of building local capacity towards poverty reduction and rural development. This article presents a review of the decentralization system of local governance in Uganda and evaluates its participatory mechanisms to establish how far they have enhanced the process of rural development. The review acknowledges achievements in human development, arising from citizen participation and representation, but these are yet to be translated into empowerment and shared benefits for the rural poor. Whereas some powers and functions have been devolved to local governments, the cardinal goals of decentralization seem to be elusive, whereby there is less support of the community’s role in raising resources for local development, demanding accountability from their leaders, participating in planning, and choosing their leaders without manipulation from the local ‘elite’ at the time of elections. The unfolding central government (CG) control rekindles the ‘recentralization’ of decentralization. It is argued that tackling rural development in predominantly agricultural economies like that of Uganda requires participation to link to mechanisms that can boost agricultural production, increased employment and household incomes. Likewise, the central government’s conceived development strategies should enlist participation in order to attain strong local ownership and empowerment. Points for practictioners The greatest challenge of local democratic representation is the failure of its associated human development elements to translate into production and improvement in household incomes. To realize the cardinal goals of decentralization and community participation in rural development requires invigoration of the local community’s role in resource mobilization, demanding accountability from local leaders, participating in planning, and choosing leaders without manipulation from the local elite and central government. Thus, participation must translate into effective representation and empowerment before benefits for all can be realized to spearhead poverty reduction. Likewise, tackling rural development in predominantly agricultural economies requires participation to link to agricultural production, increased employment and household incomes.