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Problems of implementation or policy? A look into the Uganda Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme

Persistent challenges in the UWEP implementation reflects wider notions of exclusion and symbolic politics underlying Uganda’s development problems.

Photo by Andrew Itaga on Unsplash

Between the ideal and the implementation

Uganda is known to have made significant efforts to strengthen and institutionalise gender equality (National Planning Agency Uganda, 2016; Sebwami, 2020). President Museveni’s dominant National Resistance Movement (NRM) government translate such ideals to push for ground-breaking gender equity policies to empower women (Guma, 2015). Among others, through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD) in 2015 Museveni and the NRM government launched the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) that aims to empower women by improving women’s access to financial services and boost entrepreneurial economic growth (National Planning Agency Uganda, 2016).

Before the UWEP, women labour in Uganda contributes most of their family’s income. Yet, women still lack the resources of self-development to men, such as access to capital, market and land. A study by Guloba, Ssewanyana, and Birabwa (2017) shows that early-stage women entrepreneurs surpass that of their male counterparts but have fewer opportunities for entrepreneurial growth. With UWEP, women are given a chance to empower themselves through the provision of interest-free credit, market information, and technical expertise.

In reality, however, the implementation of UWEP presents a different story. Many civil society organisations have also embraced and supported this programme for women slum dwellers, such as M Kisiriza’s Action for Fundamental Change and Development (AFCAD)[1]. However, many women entrepreneurs have yet to benefit from the programme, while the selected beneficiaries still face practices of discrimination. These issues suggest that UWEP’s implementation fails to distribute benefits to evenly all beneficiaries in a manner can change society’s subordinate perception towards women (Guma, 2015; Kyatusiimire, 2018; Shankar, Elam and Glinski, 2020).

The good, the bad, the political

Noting the policy’s transformative nature for empowerment and gender equity in Uganda, UWEP is also bound to be political (Goetz, 2002). In a time where the ruling coalition no longer has a stronghold on the population, competitive vote-buying, political favours become rife to survive (Global Development Institute, 2018). As the LC-3 Buliisa District Chairperson, Kumali Mangkoa, puts it, “politicking around” is prevalent among politicians wanting cheap popularity[2]. The politicisation of particular policies inevitably ‘affects the planning and implementation of the development programme’. In the case of UWEP, the programme has gained support from the ruling coalition. Still, implementation issues concerning the political incorporation and social exclusion of women persist that ultimately disempowers women and underpins the policy’s significant lack of progress.

Conversely, when one discerns the policy outcomes closely, it may be difficult to exclusively draw its causes to be rooted in only problems of implementation. For example, (lack of) political commitment, instances of political favours and discriminatory practices towards women and other vulnerable groups, among other things, are in essence shaped by ‘the political institutions and political discourses’ (Goetz, 2002; Niño-Zarazúa et al., 2012, p. 170). In other words, identifying whether a policy is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ should also go beyond technocratic aims in black and white and instead be aware of the more nuanced grey areas shaping the political dynamics of policy design and implementation.

Based on the shortfalls of the UWEP implementation and not its lack of a ‘good policy’, claimed to reflect a gender-sensitive political ideology and a high technocratic capacity (Naijuka, 2016; Kyatusiimire, 2018; Kyobe, 2020), this blog argues that UWEP’s challenges reflect two of Uganda’s development problems, among others. These include 1) the politics of women and gender issues and 2) the social exclusion of rural women.

The politicisation of inclusive development

Despite Uganda’s proclaimed inclusion of women in parliament and its 5-tier government, women beneficiaries of UWEP have reported discriminatory practices when adhering to the administrative processes of UWEP with local governments (Guma, 2015). Some may attribute such issues to Uganda’s entrenched patriarchal values (Guma, 2015; Kyatusiimire, 2018). An interesting insight from Zebby Baitwaki, an elderly woman representative in LC-5 Masindi District, shows that while women entrepreneur groups are benefiting from the increased access to finance, the “general attitude towards change is negative… Husbands do not want their wives to be part of women activities, but would rather have their wives stay at home”[3].

Nevertheless, I argue that the reason that UWEP’s implementation problems persist is because of Uganda’s structural sociopolitical context. Specifically, I contend that the politicised nature of women inclusion and lack of education may suggest the lack of political influence of women civil servants and politicians (Goetz, 2002). Inclusion of women in the NRM government stemmed from the 1990s when feminist groups advocated for more representation. Women pressure groups were in conjunction with Museveni’s NRM, whose populist ideology at that time led to the appointment of women in strategic and high-ranking positions (Ottemoeller, 1999). As women were appointed by political significance rather than merit, it consequently influences their political capacity to assist and advocate better treatment for aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Such ‘symbolic’ basis of inclusion and lack of significant political clout amongst women politicians and civil servants may be further severed by the lack of education, lack of capacity to do their job, and discrimination from their male counterparts thinking that entrepreneurialism and political leadership are jobs for men (Doss, Meinzen-Dick and Bomuhangi, 2014; Mugabi, 2014; Shankar, Elam and Glinski, 2020). While education gap between girls and boys is closing in with the presence of Universal Primary Education, Zebby asserts that dropout rates among girls in secondary education are still common[4]. The lack of knowledge may inevitably influence their ability “to perform English and know about the most pressing issues in their society”[5] (O’Sullivan, 2017). Additionally, when women civil servants or politicians themselves are discriminated and lack the political clout to present themselves as ‘competitors’ in government (Goetz, 2002), they lack the incentives to engage in multilevel and multisector coordination that is needed to make UWEP successful and to eventually empower other women[6] (Ochola, 2020).

Exclusion among women themselves

While some notable women politicians and activists have contributed significantly to advocate gender in government, including Stella Nyanzi and Sylvia Tamale (Goetz, 2002; Sadurni, 2018), women have been more effective to advocate policies when in coalitions rather than as individual MPs (Nazneen and Hickey, 2019). Nevertheless, class divisions among women in Uganda become prominent when women inclusion is politicised (Ottemoeller, 1999). It raises questions of for whom women policies are intended to benefit — is it really meant for women of all ethnicity and class, or is it mainly helping those of urban backgrounds and adequate education?

I argue that the implementation of UWEP has largely benefited women in Uganda. Still, its opportunities are limited to urban beneficiaries with higher education and access to market and that UWEP highlights Uganda’s community engagement issues. UWEP may only be beneficial in the long run should the women entrepreneurs be equipped with skills in managing a business. Many women groups come into the programme with no background in business. Others report that they are not sensitised by their local districts about UWEP or other government interventions, such as in the case of Gulu and Acholi, resulting in low repayments (Naijuka, 2016; Kirinya, 2020; Ochola, 2020). In part, rural women entrepreneurs, who make up 64% of household enterprises in Uganda, are at more of a disadvantage as UWEP becomes more significant for urban entrepreneurs. The latter has higher education and better access to credit (Guloba, Ssewanyana and Birabwa, 2017).

However, differences in UWEP opportunity absorption between rural and urban women groups may attribute to the different way that women groups function between the two classes. Rural women farmers work their crops through active participation in women support groups and farmers associations where they would exchange capital and tend each other’s crops (BBC Sounds, 2013). As David Katende shares his experiences as head of the Masindi District Farmer’s Association, where the majority of his members are women, it shows that rural women have a unique collective engagement with their fellow farmers or entrepreneurs[7]. What this also means is that the problem may not only lie in the incompatible women entrepreneur group dynamics, as stated by Zebby Baitwaki and Kumali Mangkoa. Instead, it is that UWEP’s implementations are not accommodative of local community engagement. Additionally, urban-rural women entrepreneur groups are disconnected from other women group networks in parliament, government, and amongst themselves.

Towards equitable empowerment in Uganda

While UWEP serves as a huge potential to empower women entrepreneurs; its implementation highlights how political and inequitable underlying development problems in Uganda may be. Hope may still prevail should women entrepreneurs become more politically collective, network with other women support groups, and work together with civil society organisations such as AFCAD.

Nevertheless, it is essential to note that the political and inequitable nature of these problems of implementation reflects upon the broader political — and increasingly populist — ideals of Museveni’s NRM. Consequently, these ideals itself may not only prevail in how policies are responded on the ground but also to the extent that policies are designed. Therefore, while implementation problems are necessary to be addressed, this ought not to set the notion of a black and white conception of a ‘good policy’ or that policy failure is exclusively attributed to only issues of implementation.

[1] Interview with M Kisiriza, AFCAD ambassador, April 2020

[2] Interview with Kumali Mangkoa, LC-3 Buliisa District Chairperson, April 2020

[3] Interview with Zebby Baitwaki, elderly woman representative in LC-5 Masindi District, April 2020

[4] Interview with Zebby Baitwaki, elderly woman representative in LC-5 Masindi District, April 2020

[5] Interview with Kumali Mangkoa, LC-3 Buliisa District Chairperson, April 2020

[6] Interview with Badru Bukenya, lecturer at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, April 2020

[7] Interview with David Katende, Masindi District Farmers Association, April 2020

As part of the series ‘When in Manchester’, this piece was originally an assignment the author completed for the course Development Fieldwork at the University of Manchester.



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Seruni Fauzia Lestari

Seruni Fauzia Lestari

Not sure if I’m interested in politics or just conspiracy theories and drama.