How Does a Ugandan Village Work?

Article from the series: Frequently Asked Questions about Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo

The LC Pyramid of Uganda

For a remote village on the edge of Uganda it is as important as it is for any town to have security, stability and unity. Property disputes and most crimes are often best dealt with locally. When someone breaks the law, there must be solutions that do not involve the police who are likely stationed too far away.

This is why Uganda’s Local Council (LC) system is so important. It begins with the village, whose LC1 committee will report a difficult case to the parish (LC2), from where it can go to the sub-county (LC3) or the district (LC5). Do you feel something is missing there? Indeed, there is officially an LC4 level as well (the county) but not in practice, at least not outside of election needs!

At the higher levels, councillors receive payment from the government. In the village, however, they are supposed to be volunteering. In real life that means that locals must motivate them with (in)voluntary contributions. Need your LC1 chairperson to sign a letter proving your identity? Prepare to part with the equivalent of a dollar or two.

The chairpersons of the villages come together for the parish council (LC2). They address and discuss the concerns and the wishes of their community. Unlike upper levels, they don’t manage budgets and have only limited responsibilities. Their role is to ensure that their counterparts higher in the LC system are fulfilling their functions as they should. LC2 is as well a court where civil cases can be reported and decided.

The sub-county (LC3) is responsible for service delivery and local economic development within the area. The district (LC5) is the highest form of local government. It debates budgets, policy decisions, and bylaws. Its standing committees each have their own responsibility such as education, health and welfare, finance and more.

The local government system in Uganda is assumed to give power to the people and ease service delivery. However, the LC system is far from a perfect example of democracy and the mushrooming growth of the districts is a serious financial concern — the number of Ugandan districts has doubled since 2005.

A Jerrycan of the Local Brew Will Solve Almost Anything

As you have seen and heard, I live on an island called Habukomi, not far from the middle of Lake Bunyonyi. Our lake that forms a significant portion of the district of Kabale is divided into many sub-counties; mine is called Bufundi.

I am of course a member of our LC1. It’s my own wish to do it because I want to help my community. The rules say that we should sit every three months. I’m the treasurer of the council and have to explain how much money we want and how to use it. Some of this money we get from tour guides who appreciate the safety we provide.

The parish (LC2) chief is paid by the government and comes to our meetings. He tells us what the parish has discussed, what the government wants and what is coming. In return we tell him what is happening in the village. Things like, this man is going to marry that woman and have a family, and so on.

At the village meeting everyone can share their problems and tell what they want. Our chairman goes and tells the sub-county council (LC3). At the district council they discuss things that sub-counties desire, but I don’t really know much about those issues because I’m not part of that.

When a problem happens in the village, we try to settle these cases locally. For some issues we need to go to the police, but not all. We don’t want policemen here because we don’t want our people to be imprisoned. That’s why we get the community together to seek resolution. If the parties agree, it is settled. If they refuse, we bring it to sub-county council. If they can’t settle it there, they are brought to the district council (LC5).

Because Ugandans are jealous, they don’t openly share when they buy land or build a house. This causes land disputes. These small problems can be heard at the local council (LC1).

There’s a lot of corruption in my country. So higher-level councils are not always good and gaining their favour can be expensive.

Instead, we have informal meetings, which are more important for our daily life. When a problem is presented to the chairman, he organises a meeting. Very many of the cases we settle are about people who steal things. Or sometimes people fight each other in a bar. However, we can’t settle them without fining the parties. We usually demand our mildly alcoholic brew as a fine. We are nine people at the council, so one jerrycan of obushera is enough.

We don’t settle the cases for free because we also need to eat lunch when we’re drinking. People have to pay 20,000 shillings (USD 6) if they have a problem. The person that loses the case, has to pay the other one 20,000.

I look forward to going to these meetings. We talk about how we can help our community and, of course, share our tasty local brew. I always enjoy seeing my people, my old friends. We drink and discuss and often find justice.

photos by Matyas Boyen and Spildon Tudyomugambe