Accepted Paper:

Regime longevity and arbitrary governance in Uganda  


Rebecca Tapscott (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)

Paper short abstract:

How can regimes in seemingly weak or fragile states sustain power? Through an examination of Uganda’s security sector, this paper proposes a novel theory of governance through disorder, which is termed “institutionalized arbitrariness”.

Paper long abstract:

This article theorizes uncertainty as a contemporary mode of illiberal rule in northern Uganda, focusing on how violence is institutionalized in the state’s governing institutions. It examines the relationship between the state security apparatus and informal security arrangements such as local vigilantes, civil militias, and community police in Uganda. The findings are based on nearly ten months of qualitative field research and hundreds of interviews conducted between 2014 and 2018. I find that in the area of security the central Ugandan state is ever-present in citizens’ imaginations. I argue that this is achieved through a strategy of rule that I have termed institutionalized arbitrariness, in which violence is institutionalized in the state’s governing system but remains unpredictable from the perspective of ordinary citizens. In particular, the state unpredictably claims and denies its authority, while deploying potentially exceptional violence to quell resistance. Unpredictability renders the regime illegible to citizens, thereby fragmenting citizen resistance to and claim-making on the state. In this way, the ruling regime maintains control of this post-conflict frontier zone without expending the resources typically associated with direct rule, while also avoiding the principal-agent problems associated with indirect rule. Thus, institutionalized arbitrariness is an effective and efficient mode of governance and contributes to our understanding of regime longevity in seemingly fragile states.

Panel F01
The politics of uncertainty, disorder, and contingency in 'developing' states (Paper)