Decentralization is Dead, Long Live Decentralization! Capital City Reform and Political Rights in Kampala, Uganda


African cities are currently experiencing some of the highest population growth rates in the world. Accompanying this growth is constant and continuing pressure on national and local governments to develop political and institutional structures that respond to the multiple demands this demographic change provokes in relation to service delivery, economic development and social wellbeing. In response to these challenges, national governments are reviewing the political and administrative structures of their capital cities, sometimes recentralizing authority. This article examines the reforms to Kampala, capital city of Uganda. The article explains how the national government gradually created the legal conditions necessary to take over the capital city directly, and the political rhetoric and conflict that ensued. We argue that while Kampala had deep internal problems and fared poorly in service delivery, matters were exacerbated by the national government’s historical indifference to the city. Moreover, past service delivery failures offered an easy rationale for recentralizing authority. We demonstrate that this recentralization was a well‐planned effort by the central government to regain political control of the capital city. This article illustrates how the national government’s recentralization of authority in Kampala is a significant departure from its longstanding policy of democratic decentralization.