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Key findings
  • Ugandans overwhelmingly believe in the rule of law; almost nine out of 10 endorse the legitimacy of the courts (85%) and the police (88%).
  • But far fewer trust the courts and the police. Around four in 10 express “just a little” or no trust at all in the courts (38%) and the police (44%).
  • More than four in 10 Ugandans (43%) see “most” or “all” judges and magistrates in the country as corrupt. Only one in 20 Ugandans (5%) say that “none” of these court officials are corrupt.
  • Most Ugandans (82%) say the president must always obey the laws and courts. Only a slim majority (52%) say President Yoweri Museveni “rarely” or “never” ignores them.

Uganda’s legal system is in the spotlight following a recent surge in election-related violence, some involving high-profile members of Parliament (Al Jazeera, 2018). While these cases have reinvigorated the conversation about judicial integrity and autonomy in Uganda, this is hardly the first time the country’s judiciary has been accused of being under political influence. Opposition politicians such as Robert Kyagulanyi (aka Bobi Wine) of the People Power Movement, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change, and Nobert Mao of the Democratic Party, among many others, have on various occasions and in various fora questioned the independence of Uganda’s judiciary (Freedom House, 2018).

Uganda consistently ranks low in terms of the rule of law and judicial integrity. The World Justice Project’s (2018) Rule of Law Index rates Uganda 104th out of 113 countries globally, and Freedom House (2018) gives Uganda a 4 out of 16 for rule of law. While the Constitution calls for judicial independence and a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary, the president and military are frequently accused of undermining the judiciary and rule of law (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018).

If protesters and advocates are clear in their questioning of judicial autonomy and integrity, Ugandan citizens as a whole present more mixed attitudes. The latest Afrobarometer survey in Uganda shows that the citizenry overwhelmingly endorses the legitimacy of the courts as well as the police. But substantial minorities distrust the judiciary and see judges and magistrates as corrupt. And only about half say the president generally respects the country’s courts and laws.

Thomas Isbell

Thomas Isbell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa, University of Cape Town.

Dominique Dryding

Dominique is the capacity building manager (basic track)