Social, economic and political context in Uganda

Key facts

Capital: Kampala
Currency: Ugandan shilling
President: Yoweri Museveni
Population: 35.6 million (UN, 2012)
Official languages: English, Swahili
Area: 241,038 sq km
Major religions: Christianity, Islam
Life expectancy: 54 years (men), 55 years (women) (UN)
Main exports: Coffee, fish and fish products, tea; tobacco, cotton, corn, beans, sesame
GNI per capita: US $510 (World Bank, 2011)

Political and socioeconomic context

Uganda is notorious for its human rights abuses and military dictactorships - first of Idi Amin from 1971 to 1979, then from 1980 to 1986 when Milton Obote returned to power and became president after elections. The current president Yoweri Museveni has been is office since 1985, when the National Resistance Army rebels took over Kampala and seized power. He won presidential elections in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011 (with 68% of votes). In 2006, he amend the country’s constitution to remove the previous limit on the number of years a president can serve.

President Museveni has been credited with improving human rights abuses by the army and the police but accused of failing to stop the killings, abductions and displacement caused by the Lord's Resistance Army group, which has been active in northern Uganda for more than two decades and has spread terror to neighbouring countries. Recent research shows that human rights abuses are not restricted to Northern Uganda nor to the Lord’s Resistance Army (Human Rights Watch 2012; Open Society Foundations 2013). Human rights abuses have been perpetrated in the context of the “counterterrorism” war and in relation to suppression of public criticism and political opposition as part of the ruling National Resistance Movement’s strategy in preparation for the 2016 elections.

Uganda has made significant social and economic progress in the last two decades. Uganda’s Gross Domestic Product grew at an average annual rate of 7.1% from 1992 to 2011 well above the Sub-Saharan average (African Development Bank 2013). The high rates of growth were attributed to the rise of a dynamic service sector. However, between 2011 and 2012 Uganda’s GDP fell to 3.2% (African Development Bank 2013) due to a combination of internal and external factors (including high population growth, a decrease in export performance and high inflaction) have affected the country reducing economic activity.

Between 1980 and 2012, Uganda’s life expectancy at birth increased by 4.4 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.8 years and expected years of schooling increased by 7.2 years. Uganda’s GNI per capita increased by about 125 percent between 1985 and 2012 (Human Development Report 2013). However, ingrained poverty and inequality as a result of geographic, historical, sociocultural, political and economic factors remain to be addressed. Uganda remains one of the poorest countries in the world with 75.6% of the population living on less than $2 a day.

Uganda’s Human Development Index value for 2012 is 0.456 - in the low human development category - positioning the country at 161 out of 187 countries and territories. The Northern part of the country is particularly disadvantaged as a result of the legacy of the violent conflict between the Government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army; these regions are still in the process of recovery and reconstruction. The status of women in Uganda is affected by high poverty levels, low literacy rates, limited access to resources, inadequate institutional capacity of national gender mechanisms and law enforcement agencies and negative sociocultural practices that foster violation of women’s rights.

Key policy-influencing actors

Civil Society

Uganda’s legal and policy framework supports the existence and free operation of civil society organisations. Two key instruments regulate their activities: (1) the 1995 Constitution, which provides guarantees to the right of association and recognises the existence and role of civil society organisations; and (2) the NGO Registration (Amendment) Bill, 2006, which introduced significant legal and adminstrative restrictions to the operations of civil society organisations.

Civil society in Uganda is shaped by the availability of funds and interests of funders/donors, with about 95% of all funding for CSOs in Uganda coming from external sources. Civil society, and in particular non-governmental organisations in Uganda have played a watchdog role and have been essential in fostering political participation in a restricted political space since the 1980s. The political environment of authoritarianism and repression of dissident voices has however restricted their freedom and the adoption of positions that explicitly challenge the authority and accountability of the government, as well as their ability to effectively influence the legal and policy agenda.

In recent years, the political environment for civil society voices and action has become less favourable. A recent report published by Human Rights Watch (2012) denounces harassment, intimation and obstruction of civil society, particularly those that deal with controversial issues (such as democratization, governance, corruption, human rights/LGTB rights and accountability), by the government and the impact it is having on civil society activism and dynamism.

There are examples of research, advocacy and lobby initiatives led by women’s organisations in Uganda. For instance, the National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda and the Uganda Gender Resource Centre was actively involved in the constitutional making process that culminated with the 1995 Constitution. They have also successfully campaigned for legal reforms for the abolishment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, for the criminalisation of domestic violence and for the approval of the Marriage and Divorce Bill. The women’s movement is considered by some as one of the most autonomous, active and coordinated social movements in Uganda. Women’s organisations have become an important platform for the recruitment and training of new political leaders forging their entry into positions of formal political power and civil society has been an important space for the articulation and representations of women’s interests and for collective action in Uganda.


Official development aid corresponds to about 10% of Uganda’s gross national income (GNI). In November 2012, several donors (Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) announced the suspension of budget support (around $300million), in response to a corruption scandal following the publication of the Auditor General’s Value for Money Audit Report, by the government of Uganda. The report revealed that public funds amounting to over 50billion Uganda Shillings (around $ 19.57 million) had been diverted and paid to officials in the Prime-Minister’s Office.



Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

Gender equality and women’s rights have been formally acknowledged by the government of Uganda as central to sustainable development. This commitment has translated in the establishment of national gender mechanisms and revision of its legal and policy framework (outlined below) to address gender inequality and violations of women’s rights.

National Gender Mechanisms

  • Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD)
  • Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
  • Uganda Women’s Parliamentarians Association (UWOPA)
  • Department of Gender, Culture and Community Development – within MGLSD
  • Department of Gender and Women’s Affairs – within MGLSD
  • Women in Development Division – within MGLSD
  • National Women’s Council
  • Directorate of Gender and Mass Mobilisation – within the National Resistance Movement’s Secretariat
  • National Gender Forum
  • Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs

Legal and Policy Framework

The constitution of Uganda provides for recognition of the rights of women, promotes and protects social justice and equality of all Ugandans. Specific articles address the empowerment and encouragement of active participation of citizens, in governance at all levels, and gender balance and fair representation of marginalised groups. Although the Constitution has positive provisions, the laws in Uganda still discriminate against women and girls on matters of inheritance, marriage and divorce as well as property ownership. An Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has recently been established. Women’s political representation in Parliament and at local council level is around 30%. Public presence of women is related directly to affirmative action policies. Affirmative action measures have also been applied to education and politics.

National Legislation


  • Constitution (1995)
  • Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (enacted in April 2010)
  • Customary Marriage (Registration) Act
  • Land Amendment Act, 2004
  • Divorce Act 2004
  • Penal Code Amendment Act, 2007
  • NGO Registration (Amendment) Act, 2006
  • Equal Opportunities Commission Act, 2007
  • The HIV/AIDs Prevention and Control Bill, 2009
  • Trafficking in Persons Act, 2010
  • Domestic Violence Bill, 2010
  • Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010
  • Kawempe bye-law on domestic violence
  • Kirewa bye-law on bride price
  • Tororo Bridal Gifts Ordinance


  • The Anti-Homosexuality Bill
  • The Sexual Offences Bill
  • The Marriage and Divorce Bill

National Policies and strategies

  • NGO Policy of 2008
  • National Action Plan on Women (2007-10);
  • National Development Plan (2010/11-2014/15)
  • Second Peace Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda
  • National Equal Opportunities Policy
  • National Action Plan on UN Security Council 1325, 1820 and the Goma Declaration

Regional and International Instruments 

  • Ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, known as Maputo Protocol, (2010).
  • Ratification of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Conflict, Peace and Security” (2003).


Civicus (2006), “Narrowing the Space for Civil Society Operations: The Implications of the NGO Registration (Amendment) Act, 2006”

DANIDA (2012), “Joint Evaluation: Support to Civil Society in Policy Dialogue”, Uganda Country Report and Case Studies Reports”, Kampala

Doss, Cheryl et al. (2012), “Women, Marriage and Asset Inheritance in Uganda”, Development Policy Review, 30(5): 597-616

Human Rights Watch (2012), “Curtailing Criticism: Intimidation and Obstruction of Civil Society in Uganda

Kabuchu, Hope (2013), “To be or Not to Be: The Government, Donor and CSO Triangle in the Ugandan Environment”, Civicus State of Civil Society Report 2013

Kwesiga, J. and Namisi, H. (2006), “Issues in Legislation for NGOs in Uganda”, in Lisa Jordan and Peter Van Tuijl (eds.), NGO Accountability: Politics, Principles & Innovation, Earthscan, London

Makara S., Rakner L., and Svåsand L. (2009), “Turnaround: The National Resistance Movement and the Reintroduction of a Multiparty System in Uganda, International Political Science Review, 30(2):185-204

Mujuzi, Jamil Ddamulira (2012), “Female Genital Mutilation in Uganda: A Glimpse at the Abolition Process”, Journal of African Law, 56(1): 139-150

Okwaare S. and Chapman J. (2006), “Chameleons and Accountability: Linking Learning with Increasing Accountability in ActionAid International Uganda and the Uganda Land Alliance”, in Lisa Jordan and Peter Van Tuijl (eds.), NGO Accountability: Politics, Principles & Innovation, Earthscan, London

Oloka-Onyango, Joseph (2000), “On the barricades: civil society and the role of human rights and women’s rights organisations in the formulation of the bill of rights of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution”, Centre for Basic Research

Open Society Foundations (2013), “Counterterrorism and Human Rights Abuses in Kenya and Uganda: The World Cup Bombing and Beyond”, New York

Thue N., Makubuya A. And Nakirunda M.  (2002), “Report of a Study on the Civil Society in Uganda”, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Uganda

Trip, Aili (2004), “The Changing Face of Authoritarianism in Africa: The Case of Uganda”,  Africa Today, 50(3): 3-26

Ugandan Women’s Network (2010), “CSO Alternative Report on Uganda’s Implementation of CEDAW”, Kampala