On September 17, 2021, the EU Delegation to Uganda and the Embassy of Sweden in Kampala organised a public debate to mark the International Day of Democracy, with a special focus on new research showing the extent to which democracy produces better development outcomes for economic growth and inclusion. The research and its findings were presented by Varieties of Democracy (V-DEM) Institute in collaboration with the University of Gothenburg.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the discussion was held in front of a small group of in-person participants, while a television and online audience tuned into the live discussion on national broadcaster NTV Uganda. Speakers included the heads of diplomatic missions, V-DEM researchers, representatives from government, civil society, academia and the media.
In her opening remarks, Swedish Ambassador H.E. Maria Håkansson, stressed that Sweden is convinced that democracy is the best form of governance for stability and, human and economic development. Ambassador Håkansson also underlined how democracy promotes transparency and rule of law which favours economic development.
Assistant Professor Vanessa Boese and Research Assistant Martin Lundstedt from the V-DEM research collaboration at the University of Gothenburg presented the EU-funded V-DEM research under the topic; “The case for Democracy”, noting in their findings that data supported the argument that strengthened democracy produces better economic growth and inclusion.
The V-DEM researchers delivered a keynote address which captured the latest global trends, including specific data on Uganda. Their report noted that worldwide, the number of countries living in autocracies increased from 6% in 2010 to 34% in 2020. V-DEM also noted in its findings that Uganda’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic included the abuse of enforcement discriminatory measures and restrictions to the media and citizens.
The presentation was followed by a lively panel discussion moderated by journalist Maurice Mugisha. Moses Kaggwa, acting director Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development highlighted the start of the government's parish development model which he said would allow the government to bring development directly to the people and avoid governance issues of the past.
Professor Gerald Karyeija, Associate Professor, Dean of School of Management Sciences, Uganda Management Institute, emphasised the need for Uganda to develop a democratic culture which moves beyond electoral processes and the formalities of public participation.
Allana Kembabazi, programme manager, Initiative for Socio-economic Rights (ISER), asked if democracy can exist when there is rising inequality and warned that the possibility of social unrest would grow unless the populations' basic needs are met.
Delivering closing remarks, the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Uganda and Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Anna Merrifield, accepted the inherent value in having measures of democracy that are sensitive to the local context. She however cautioned on the inherent risks in some leaders using culture as a pretext to restrict rights.
The conversation continued online under the hashtags #DriveforDemocracy and #DemDayUganda2021.