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Key findings
  • About seven in 10 Ugandans (69%) said they trust traditional leaders “somewhat” or “a lot,” compared to 62% who expressed trust in the president, 48% in local government councillors, and 42% in members of Parliament (MPs).
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of citizens approved of the job their traditional leaders are doing – a better performance rating than those given local government councillors (57%) and MPs (44%).
  • While fewer than half (43%) of Ugandans said traditional leaders “often” or “always” do their best to listen to what ordinary people have to say, that qualifies as considerably more responsive than local government councillors (26%) and MPs (14%).
  • A majority of citizens said traditional leaders wield “some influence” or “a lot of influence” in resolving local disputes (64%), governing local communities (57%), and allocating land (55%). However, fewer saw traditional leaders as influencing how people vote in elections (37%).
  • About six in 10 (61%) Ugandans said traditional leaders mostly look out for what is best for the people in their communities instead of serving their personal or politicians’ interests.

For centuries, Uganda’s socioeconomic and political structure was anchored in the regional kingdoms of Buganda, Toro, Bunyoro, and Ankole (Johannessen, 2006).

In 1966, President Milton Obote abolished the institution of kingship (Monitor, 2012). In 1993, the National Resistance Movement administration restored the kingship, but a constitutional amendment limited traditional rulers to cultural functions (Johannessen, 2006). Specifically, Article 246 of the 1995 Constitution stipulates that traditional rulers “shall not take part in partisan politics, stand for election to a political office, overtly favour or campaign for a candidate running for a political office; and shall not have or exercise any administrative, legislative, executive or judicial powers of central or local government” (Parliament of Uganda, 2022).

Nevertheless, traditional leaders have continued to play a significant role in Ugandan society, including in land administration (World Bank Group, 2017). They have been instrumental in mobilising citizens to participate in certain development initiatives and government health programmes, including HIV/AIDS prevention and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns (Nile Post, 2022; Watchdog News, 2021).

While some critics see traditional leaders as archaic constructs that contribute to political unrest, others argue that they are an integral part of African history that should be respected. What do ordinary Ugandans think of their traditional or cultural leaders?

In Afrobarometer’s 2019 survey, traditional leaders received higher citizen ratings on trustworthiness and responsiveness than elected leaders, and were seen as markedly less corrupt. A majority of citizens saw traditional leaders as influential in governing local communities, allocating land, and resolving local disputes.

In fact, a majority expressed support for an even stronger role for traditional leaders, who they said look out for the interests of their communities and work in cooperation with elected leaders rather than in competition. But only a minority wanted traditional leaders to offer advice on how people should vote.

Makanga Ronald Kakumba

Makanga Ronald Kakumba is a research associate for Hatchile Consult Ltd., Afrobarometer’s national partner in Uganda.