In the early protectorate period, the district commissioner (DC), the representative of the governor, was the most important government official in each district. Before the kingdoms were abolished in 1967, each one had a local government made up of chiefs, who reported to the king, and a central government official who was an adviser to the king. The 1919 Native Authority Ordinance gave the DC responsibility for a hierarchy of appointed chiefs at village, parish, subcounty, and county levels. Councils, originally consisting of these chiefs, were created during the 1930s at each level. After 1949 local administration in Uganda was shared by central and district government officials. The Local Government Ordinance of 1949 established the district as a local government area and as the basis for a separate district administration. During the 1950s, elections to district councils were introduced, and the councils were given responsibility for district administration. Nevertheless, the central government retained the power to control most district council decisions. Chiefs were salaried local government officials but responsible to the central government through the DC for the proper administration of their areas.
At independence Uganda consisted of ten districts, four kingdoms, and one special district (Karamoja). The 1967 constitution abolished the kingdoms and made them districts as well. Because the kingdom of Buganda was separated into four districts, the country was thus divided into eighteen districts. In 1974 President Amin further increased the number of districts to thirty-eight and grouped them into ten provinces. In 1979 after Amin was overthrown, the number of districts was reduced to thirty-three. Moreover, each district was named for its capital in an effort to reduce the significance of ethnicity in politics. In February 1989, however, the addition of Kalangala (the Sese Islands) brought the number of districts back up to thirty-four, and the number of counties increased to 150. There were also sixty-five urban authorities, including Kampala City Council, fourteen municipalities, twenty-seven town councils, and twenty-three town boards.
The 1962 constitution had required that nine-tenths of district council members be directly elected. In keeping with its overall emphasis on strengthening central control, the 1967 constitution gave the parliament the right to establish district councils and their offices, to decide whether some or all of their members would be elected or nominated, and to empower a national minister to suspend a district council or to undertake any of its duties. The 1967 Local Administrations Act and the 1964 Urban Authorities Act created a uniform set of regulations that gave the central government direct control over local administration in each district. District councils were limited to specified areas of responsibility--particularly primary education, road construction, land allocation, community development, law and order, and local tax collection. When district councils were revived in 1981, their members were again nominated by the central government. Chiefs and local officials continued to be appointed on the basis of the 1967 act until 1986.
The NRM government significantly altered local administration by introducing elected resistance councils (RCs) in villages, parishes, subcounties, and districts throughout the nation. The original RCs had been created during the early 1980s to support the NRA during its guerrilla war. But after 1986, the introduction of these new assemblies sharply curtailed the powers of chiefs and provided an indirect channel for popular influence at the district level and above. Creation of the RCs was in response to the first point of the Ten-Point Program, which insisted on democracy at all levels of government. In no other respect during its first four years did the NRM government achieve as much progress in implementing the political program it had adopted before taking power.
By September 1987, the NRC had established both district administrations and a hierarchy of RCs. All adults automatically became members of their village resistance council, known as an RC-I, and came together to elect a nine-person resistance committee, which administered the affairs of the village. An RC was given the right to remove any of its elected resistance committee officers who broke the law or lost the confidence of two-thirds of the council. The nine officials on the resistance committee elected by the RC-I joined with all other village resistance committees to form the parish resistance council, the RC-II, and elected the nine officials who formed the parish resistance committee. The members of this committee assembled with the other parish committee members in the subcounty to form the subcounty resistance council (RC-III) and elected the nine officials who formed the subcounty resistance committee. County resistance councils (RC-IVs) were established in the statute but functioned only intermittently as governing bodies, principally for election purposes. The district resistance council (RC-V) contained two representatives elected from each RC-III and one representative for women elected from each RC-IV and from each municipal RC. At all RC levels, heads of government departments serving that council, including chiefs, were made ex officio members of their respective RCs but without the right to vote. In 1989 the NRC determined that each RC-III would choose one representative for the NRC, and each district resistance council (RC-V) would choose a woman as its representative on the NRC. Thus, direct RC elections and popular recall existed at the village level only. The term of each RC was two years, and the RC could be suspended by the minister of local government for disrupting public security, participating in sectarian politics, engaging in smuggling, obstructing national plans, or diverting commodities to its members' private use. However, the NRC was given the power to overrule the minister.
The NRC also replaced the DC with a new official, the district administrator (DA), appointed by the president as the political head of the district. In addition to providing political direction to the district, the DAs were responsible for overseeing the implementation of central government policy, chairing the security and development committees, and organizing RCs. Providing political direction included organizing courses in political education for officials and ordinary citizens. A second new post, that of district executive secretary (DES), was filled by former DCs. The DES was required to supervise all government departments in the district, integrate district and central administration, supervise the implementation of district resistance council policies, and serve as the accounting officer for the district.
The formal change from the officially neutral DC to the explicitly political DA suggests the importance that the NRM government placed on political education in order to gain support for basic political and economic reforms. The addition of a new bureaucratic level of assistant district administrators, with responsibilities for administration at the county and subcounty levels, and reporting through the DA to the president, further entrenched the central government at the expense of the RCs. The creation of this position further reduced the direct popular control that was contemplated in the Ten-Point Program and that had been enthusiastically supported by NRM officials.
In 1990 the exact duties of the RCs and their relation to the chiefs had not been fully determined. The purpose of RCs during the guerrilla war had been far easier to establish before the NRM took power. In addition, continuing civil war and the sheer effort of electing RCs in every village, parish, subcounty, and district drew attention away from the business of the RCs. RCs were new to Uganda, and it took people time to understand how to make use of them. In 1987 the NRC had given the RCs the power "to identify local problems and find solutions." During times of shortages of basic commodities, such as sugar in June 1986, the RCs were effectively used as distribution centers. But because RC officials below the district level received no compensation, they were reluctant to give too much time to managing local affairs. In addition, the position of the chiefs remained ambiguous. Chiefs still reported to the Ministry of Local Government. Many chiefs were uncertain how much power they had under the new system, or even whom to obey when the Ministry of Local Government and the RC disagreed over the proper course of action a chief should follow.
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