Accepted paper:

The symbiotic relationship between Uganda's public water utility and the ruling elite


Badru Bukenya (Makerere University)

Paper short abstract:

Within Uganda's weakening dominant political settlement, NWSC offers a cheap mechanism for dispensing patronage. NWSC delivers water management services in ways that enables the ruling elite to take the credit in return for being able to operate with minimal political interferences.

Paper long abstract:

Uganda's National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) turned around its reputation as a moribund public water utility during the 1970s and 80s to become one of Africa's best utilities of the last two decades. Previous studies into this Pocket of Effectiveness (PoE) have employed a business management perspective that has emphasised the role of managers introducing innovative New Public Management (NPM) principles, and also the technical and financial support that NWSC has received from international development agencies. The role of politics has been ignored. Here we reveal how a symbiotic relationship between NWSC and Uganda's ruling elite has not only been central to sustaining its good performance over time but also enabled it to expand its sphere of influence from under 20 towns to over 250 towns in the last 10 years. Within Uganda's weakening dominant political settlement, NWSC is deployed as a cheap mechanism for dispensing patronage. This signals the ruling party's commitment to service delivery especially to its critical upcountry support-base. In return NWSC obtains a growing business portfolio and is protected from the political interference that most public sector agencies in Uganda are exposed to.

panel H4
State capacity and the politics of development in Africa [paper]