Towards an enabling NGO regulatory framework in Uganda: comparative experiences from Eastern and Southern Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Uganda, like many other sub-Saharan African countries, has experienced a rapid increase in the number of NGOs since the 1990s. This growth can be attributed to the democratic reforms introduced by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Government since 1986. Among these reforms was the promulgation of the Uganda Constitution, 1995, with an extensive bill of rights. The increase in NGO activities brought two important challenges: the challenge of their legitimacy and competition for political space. The Uganda Government reacted by imposing a state-led NGO regulatory framework seemingly to ensure the accountability and transparency of NGOs. This thesis investigates the existing regulatory models for NGOs and explores possible reforms to establish an appropriate NGO regulatory framework that upholds internationally accepted human rights principles in Uganda. The thesis investigates these issues within the historical context of Uganda and Africa in general, as well as theories of democracies that stresses participation, accountability and respect for individual liberties, in particular, the right to freedom of association. The thesis concludes that the regulatory framework of NGOs in Uganda does not meet the basic requirements for the right to freedom of association as provided in Uganda's Constitution, and the international and regional human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party. The thesis finds that Uganda's NGO regulatory framework is controlling, and burdensome, and does not create a conducive environment for inclusiveness and public participation. The thesis proposes a state-NGO led regulatory model that allows for self-regulation alongside minimal state regulation of NGOs. This model would entail the establishment of an autonomous NGO regulatory authority in Uganda composed of members selected autonomously by NGOs and 'decriminalisation' of NGO activities, reducing the powers of the state-led regulatory model, and increasing the involvement of NGOs in the state-led regulatory framework.

Includes bibliographical references.