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The Radio Polity: Construction-Site Democracy, Technocratic Domination and Bureaucratic Patriotism in Uganda

Florence Brisset-Foucault


In the Rwenzori region of Uganda, radio drives the “bureaucratisation of the world.” By encouraging the creation of “listeners’ forums,” it produces pernickety technocrats and watchful citizens. Old patterns of leadership, based on patronage and the endorsement of a pedagogic mission to enlighten the masses, are renewed through the spirit of neoliberalism. These radio shows breathe new life into the State and bring it back in the centre of development. However, in the radio polity, its benefits are limited to « concerned citizens », those who reject, precisely, the idea that State interventions are a universal right, and those who demonstrate their seemliness through the bureaucratic attire. For those, the listeners’ forums should be understood within larger dreams of modernity and moral rebirth, where bureaucracy becomes the vehicle of a patriotic ambition of civilisation, equality and standardisation.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article was originally published in French: see Brisset-Foucault, Florence. 2016. “La cité radiophonique. Démocratie de chantier, domination technocratique et patriotisme bureaucratique en Ouganda.” Sociétés politiques comparées, no. 40 : 1–30.

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1On the slopes of the Mountains of the Moon, in western Uganda, a particularly purposeful sector has emerged with regard to the reform of political culture. As elsewhere in Africa, the region is teeming with non-governmental organisations deploying considerable resources and energy to see the advent of a future based on political transparency, efficient public services and citizen participation. In the city of Fort Portal, one of the main urban centres of the Rwenzori region, one of the major actors of this quest for transformation is an organisation called the Toro Development Network, also known as ToroDev, in reference to the kingdom of Tooro whose territory covers part of the region. ToroDev promotes a political ethos based on the mobilisation of “communities” in order to enhance democracy, development and accountability. To achieve its plans for reform, the organisation uses communication technologies, whether new, such as mobile phones, or older such as the radio. It has set up “listeners’ forums” throughout the region and produces phone-in programmes where listeners are invited to take part.

  • 1 As recently explained by Alice Mazeaud, Magali Nonjon and Raphaëlle Parizet (2016), there has not (...)

2These initiatives might be assimilated rather over-hastily to yet another manifestation of what has been referred to as a “global participatory turn.”1 This expression masks however the varied nature of the phenomena it designates, as well as the multiplicity of political imaginaries that are developed in their midst. Because they are constantly marketed as daringly innovative (Chauveau 1994), despite their fairly longstanding occurrence in the history of development, participative experiments are particularly well-suited to the construction of desirable futures based on emancipation and effectiveness; futures whose histories and local significance must be reconstituted if we are to understand their political and social implications.

  • 2 In the fullest sense of this idea, that is, always in the manner of a dialogue, in an unequal nego (...)
  • 3 Similarly, on the effects of advocacy on activism, see Ollion and Siméant (2015).
  • 4 This article is based on a two-month field study undertaken in two phases, in 2012 and 2013, and o (...)

3Radio plays an important role in articulating and stabilising “legitimate problematics.”2 It contributes to the spread of a common political language which appears as self-evident, although contested, and which of course cannot alone represent the full range of the registers of the imagination of the self and of political legitimacy in the region. Radio actually acts as a promoter of the “bureaucratisation of the world” (Hibou 2012). It valorises forms of action and the formulation of social demands that strictly follow certain administrative circuits, mobilising the tools and the lexical field of bureaucracy, thus valorising a certain set of competencies and disqualifying others, notably more contentious registers of the expression of grievances.3 The “radio polity” that these programmes and these listeners’ forums help to create plays a role in the deployment of the State in certain rural areas along particular lines. It fashions a form of “construction site citizenship,” showcasing “pedagogic leaders” whose redistribution practices should take on the appearance of an audit. It contributes to the “pervasiveness of the bureaucratic imaginary” (Hibou 2013, 17), and to a definition of modernity extensively girded with the trappings of bureaucracy and which can only be achieved through it. It offers the means to understand the ways in which the spirit of neoliberalism is grafted onto earlier conceptions of the role of radio in Africa, is linked with local ethics of patronage without questioning them, breathes new life into older perceptions of leadership, and results in the formulation of a new moral contract between the State and the citizens.4

Civic Education and Broadcasting

4Brian Larkin (2008) and Debra Spitulnik (1998) have brilliantly shown how, in the African colonial context, radio broadcasting technology has been the vector of an imaginary of modernity. Of futures made of scientific sublimation, the annihilation of the constraints of space and time, of nuclear families comfortably settled around a radio set (an ever-present image in advertising in the 1950s), of a territory brought under control because covered by an infrastructure of aerials and studios, of a population controlled by a state that was able to penetrate every home, of distinguished citizen-subjects, connected to the world and “detribalised,” because approached in an anonymous and egalitarian fashion irrespective of their identity differences.

  • 5 Quotation by André Clavé, Director of Sorafom, the colonial radio production agency, cited in Robe (...)

5From the moment of its importation in the colonies, radio was credited with a powerful reforming energy, both at the individual and collective level. It was seen as an effective tool to support the civilising mission, for the “edification of the natives” imagined to be particularly receptive to an oral-based medium (Armour 1984). Its interactive potential was not neglected: in the late 1950s, in French colonial Africa, numerous radio clubs made their appearance to encourage peasant farmers to intervene on the radio. Driven by a strong civic and pedagogical purpose, the organisers of these clubs aimed at encouraging “the learning of democracy” prior to the referendum of 1958. They organised collective discussions on “subjects closely related to the material aspects of [the] life” of rural populations.5 These collective ways of listening and speaking, encouraged from above, flourished throughout the continent, and were extensively taken up by the post-colonial elites. In Uganda, a few years after independence, the government of Milton Obote launched a vast network of community listening centres (Kirevu and Ngabirano 2001, 180–181). Generally speaking, in accordance with the Third-Worldism ideals of the New Order of Information and Communication (NOMIC), audiovisual systems were broadly conceptualised as being required to serve the interests of the edification of society, development and the promotion of certain forms of civic responsibility (Bourges 1978; Ochieng’1992). These debates and practices have left a controversial but profound mark on transnational projects targeting the media in Africa up to today (Brisset-Foucault 2009).

  • 6 On the registers of the justification of the control of profane discourse on the radio, see Brisse (...)

6The status of radio in African imaginaries (and in the imaginaries of outside actors who are involved in supporting African media) is nonetheless ambivalent, notably since the genocide in Rwanda. The negative figure of the “pyromaniac journalist” and the traumas of the “hate media” can be found everywhere in brochures and discourse, and if radio still holds an important place in transnational development projects, it is seen as a potentially explosive tool. This serves as justification for measures to control free speech by the authorities and by development workers, who, officially, seek to avoid being overwhelmed by “irrational” and “tribalized” “extremists.” This fear also buffers the idea that there is a need to “educate” listeners in how to speak on the radio.6

7The advent of mobile phones in Africa and their extensive use have paradoxically enabled this old medium to avoid becoming old-fashioned. Now that it has become more “participative” thanks to open microphone or phone-in programmes, radio has been more than ever rebranded as the “voice of the voiceless,” and as a truly “African” medium suited to societies considered to be based on orality, where literacy and purchasing power remain limited and where the supply of electrical power is still haphazard.

  • 7 Interview with Johnstone Baguma, Fort Portal, 17 April 2012.

8In this context, in 2006 ToroDev was set up by a group of lawyers, microfinance and community development specialists, some of them working with local government. Since 2008, it has been headed by Johnstone Baguma, a former lecturer in information and communication technologies at Makerere University in Kampala.7 It is supported by the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and Stem Van Afrika, a Netherlands organisation. In the context of these partnerships, ToroDev began to encourage the setting up of listeners’ forums in 2010 in order to enhance the accountability of the authorities and of the government departments in charge of public services.

  • 8 There is a whole body of literature that provides a basis for adding complexity to the explanation (...)

9Mentioning these international funding providers should not give the impression that the spread of small-scale civic education associations, in particular the listeners’ forums that are the focus of the present study, merely reflects strategies intended to attract funding from transnational NGOs—even if that is an important aspect of the issue.8 In a study on Morocco, Irene Bono stressed the “simplistic character of interpretations in terms of the co-opting of participative actors, the instrumentalisation of their actions and the takeover of their watchwords” (Bono 2010, 41). While not denying a natural dimension of self-interest behind any of these initiatives, there is something more profound at stake in terms of local debates on the registers of respectability, social distinction, and of the legitimation of power. Similarly, local radio stations do not necessarily adopt this type of format under constraint or pressure from their funders. Having the radio serve the promotion of civic ideals is a longstanding tradition in Africa, and these approaches often seem “natural” to local producers and journalists, and as we shall see, may be subject to processes of reinvention and appropriation:

10Originally, the mission of the listeners’ forums was to demand more information on the uses made of public funds by local government and on the authorities’ efforts to improve public services and the well-being of the population. This, through the organisation of accountability meetings and the expression of people’s grievances on the radio. In 2012 and 2013, ToroDev was producing two weekly programmes on Better FM, a station based at Fort Portal and run by a businessman linked to a branch of the royal family of Tooro. ToroDev paid for the air-time and invited the leaders of the listeners’ forums to come into the studios. Their comments and questions were compiled and passed on to local leaders invited to take part in the following programme. They were supplemented by phone-ins.

  • 9 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012. In 2016, ToroDev spoke of around twenty of these forums in t (...)

11Within two years, nine forums were set up, each composed officially of about 20 to 50 people. They were localised in seven districts of the Rwenzori region,9 and included people already involved in organisations in their villages. Most of the participants were men, mainly teachers, farmers, unemployed graduates, people who had left secondary school because of lack of means, and local elected officials. ToroDev funded their activities and sought, with varying degrees of success, to steer them.

  • 10 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

12ToroDev thus tackled the task of identification (and thus reinforcement) of small local elites and opinion leaders. They were often, for example, listeners who phoned in regularly in radio programmes and who presented an interesting profile with regard to the causes that the organisation sought to defend (because they had had a bad experience with a public service, or because they had a good knowledge of the sector through their professional work), or volunteers who turned up at the organisation’s offices in Fort Portal.10 Thus the person in charge of the organisation of forums and the production of programmes at ToroDev, identified small-scale organisations in the field, associations of farmers, women and young people, and invited them to take part in workshops to help them to set up listeners’ forums.

  • 11 Which encourages the planting of trees by distributing seeds to the farmers, offering training in (...)
  • 12 Interview, Kifuka, 11 May 2013.

13One of these forums, the Bufunjo People’s Forum, was launched in a remote part of the district of Kyenjojo. In this case as in others, ToroDev recruited people who were already leaders of more or less formally constituted groups. The two men who initiated the forum, two teachers in their thirties, were already working together in an environmental cooperative in the small town of Kifuka, in the sub-county of Bufunjo.11 The other members of the forum belonged to other small CBOs (Community Based Organisations), and had been trained in rural microfinance or were members of the executive of the Local Council 1 (LC1), the lowest administrative level. Most had had access to secondary education, although a considerable proportion of them had had to drop out along the way because of high school fees. See for example the chairman of the forum: at the age of 28, he was the head of a primary school, involved in farming (banana and coffee), he led the projects of an organisation called Rural Initiative, worked with the Kyenjojo Farmers Association, as community-based facilitator at Caritas, and in 2010 had set up an environmental organisation that became the mainstay of the listeners’ forum. “I also mobilise girls to start income generating activities,”12 he said, supplementing this already long list of activities.

  • 13 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.
  • 14 Ibid.

14We are thus looking at actors who had multiple commitments, and at a dense tissue of associations. Participation is conveyed and thought in a rather indirect manner. As a member of staff in ToroDev explained, “we tell them we want women and youth with leadership abilities. We train leaders to mobilise people. All this is necessary for the sustainability of the interventions we are making.”13 He added: “Listenership clubs were trained. We put them in touch with media networks. We told them to help identify issues. We want members to sustain the programmes by bringing relevant issues.”14

15The forums are more or less active depending on the sub-counties, and their functioning depends mostly on the way they fit in with members’ agenda, their own vision for social and political advancement, their perception of what a listeners’ association should be and its priorities in terms of civic education. For instance, in the case of the forum of Kyenjojo, 50 kilometres east of Fort Portal, ToroDev organised a workshop that gathered around a hundred people, who then elected a bureau composed of six people.

16Two years later however, no meeting had been held independently, and the members of the bureau only saw each other at the initiative of ToroDev because, according to the secretary in charge of the forum’s advertising, of a lack of resources. Interestingly, the secretary had reinterpreted the spirit of the forum, imagining it as fulfilling a more classic function of surveillance and training of local radio presenters whose moral standards he thought were wanting:

  • 15 Interview, Kyenjojo, 18 April 2012.

“We encourage people to keep listening to the radio and understand the programmes. They give feedback on programmes to the radio. Most of the programmes are un-researched. They talk vulgarly to the people. We respect our culture. They talk such words which are not good. (We check) whether presenters have good manners, good character.”15

17For this man, a former presenter in a small radio station at Kyenjojo, the forum was a way to keep a foothold in the profession, to try to maintain his profile and to pursue a mission of moral reform.

Radio as an Extension of the State

  • 16 For good counter-examples, however, see in particular Englund (2011) and Grätz (1999) (http://www. (...)
  • 17 The question is thus raised of the relations of the rural populations with the State less on the b (...)

18Interestingly, others reinterpreted and adapted the ToroDev initiative in less liberal and less participative terms than those intended, integrating the forum within the local public structures. Most studies dedicated to so-called “community” radio stations neglect the analysis of their links with the State (Myers 2000; Bourg Ault 1995). These links, in a literature which remains highly normative, are ignored because they go against liberal narratives of a “civil society” that “takes itself in hand.”16 Yet analysis of the overlapping between these organisations and the State is revealing of certain aspects of its formation in the context of present-day Uganda. James Ferguson has shown how “development projects,” despite their failure to deal with the needs of the population, have played a role, not always intentionally, in the deployment of bureaucracy and the integration of rural populations within state structures, sometimes by coercion (Ferguson 1994). In a similar but not identical way, local radio stations and the practices of organisation and discussion they promote through the listeners’ forums extend and reinforce the State in relatively remote areas, by providing it with new resources, replacing its staff and reasserting its central role in the development process.17

19There are indeed numerous overlaps between the local authorities and the forums. The latter underline the importance for the populations of taking control of their destiny and no longer wait for the government to act for them. However—and this point is important to stress—they do not encourage bypassing the State. In Bufunjo, for example, the members of the forum defend the idea of taking over the work of the civil servants who “come from outside” and, for that reason, do not have “local interests at heart.” But the challenge, for them, is to train and educate local people who could take things in hand within the institutions.

  • 18 Conversation with ToroDev staff, Fort Portal, 12 May 2013.

20Thus the organisational chart of the forums includes many local leaders, in particular elected officials at the lowest level (LC1) but also at higher levels (LC2, LC3), and members of the public health services. It may happen that members of a forum are co-opted in government administrations, which ToroDev points to as proof of the effectiveness of its work.18 At Bufunjo, for example, the chairman of the forum was appointed to the board of management of the health centre (Health Centre III) which covers the whole of the sub-county, representing several tens of thousands of people.

21The same intermingling between State actors and forums is to be found in most cases, but especially in Kicwamba, a sub-county to the north-west of Fort Portal, in the district of Kabarole. The coordinator of the forum, who was 32 at the time of our meeting, is a member of an opposition party, the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA). With a degree in civil engineering, he worked for a private company for a while. Before joining ToroDev, he was already involved in an organisation producing interactive programmes from Fort Portal. At Kicwamba, the forum began with an appeal for willing participants made over the radio: fifty or so people met in the offices of the sub-county, in coordination with the local elected officials (mainly members of the party in power or independents), to elect a board. Among its members were the chairman and the production secretary of the sub-county (LC3), the secretary of one of the three parishes that are part of it and a youth councillor, also at the parish level (LC2). The forum’s activities sought intentionally to include local officials and the government employees in charge of development (Community Development Office). The aim of the Kicwamba forum was to act as a watchdog body within the state, even if this aim is difficult to implement. Comments from a member of the forum show that relations were tinged with mistrust, which prevents from thinking these overlaps as simple co-optation. The lack of a clear dividing line between the State and this kind of organisations does not mean that the latter are necessarily submitted to the former:

  • 19 Interview with the coordinator of the forum, Kicwamba, 16 May 2013.

“They agreed to consult us when drafting the budget. By the time we agreed with them the budget had already been passed. We are waiting for them to call us. They were neglecting the youth. They misuse the youth fund. Divert it to cover other issues. We are planning to register at the district level so that we can start working without people trying to stop us because they don’t know us. If you’re not registered […] they could refuse us to sit at the subcounty hall. They’ve never refused us so far but we want to be secure.”19

  • 20 Interview with the coordinator of the forum, Kicwamba, 16 May 2013.

22The inclusion of local elected officials within the forums is also a response to another aim: to counter accusations of subversion which are commonplace in present-day Uganda. As the coordinator of the forum said: “We decided to include the leaders in the local forum so that they don’t think we are biased against them. We are not working for enmity we are working for development.”20

23When it was generalised after the end of the bush war (1981–1986), the system of Local councils considerably extended the possibilities for citizen participation in the affairs of the State (Banégas 1998a, 1998b). But from the end of the 1980s, M. Mamdani (1989) noted the tendency of the State to want to monopolise the organisational initiative. The activities of young people and women for instance were galvanised but were attached to the LCs. On the ground, it seemed difficult for small organisations, in the 1990s, to bypass the arbitration and the influence of the elected officials in their actions. According to Dicklich (1998, 152):

“The established mode of political participation in Uganda is via the Resistance Council (now Local Council) system […] The RC system allows for political participation, but filtered through councils at the RC […] If groups are deemed ‘political’ the regime, advocating a broad-based and inclusionary mode of participation, attempts to bring them in line with the NRM. […] Within this framework, NGOs ‘fit’ into the local council system as facilitators of NRM objectives, not as alternative sources of power. NGOs will be tolerated by the regime as long as they continue to function in an apolitical and non-confrontational manner.”

  • 21 Article 44 in particular aroused various concerns, especially in pro-LGBT circles, as it proclaime (...)
  • 22 On the draft law, which was much more intrusive and which triggered numerous reactions, see Okuda (...)

24Political participation and social mobilisation were thus widely encouraged to flourish within the State, or at least in compliance with the terms of the policies of the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Thus often conformity to a strong political constraint coincides with local imaginaries of development, which must include the State and work through it. This dimension of constraint has become still more marked since the adoption of the NGO Act in 2016, which defines the conditions of exercise (and notably of registration) of organisations in Uganda. The law provides for extensive surveillance of the NGOs by the authorities, with agencies of control at the national level, but also at the district and sub-county levels.21 It requires that the organisations provide detailed information regarding their activities and their accounting, and that they adopt a whole range of bureaucratic tools intended to increase their “transparency” (Art. 39).22

25The forums may also play a role as platforms for communication and as sources of information for the local authorities. Pragmatically, they are a means to have cost-free access to the media and to compensate for lack of resources. The chairman of LC3 at Kicwamba put it this way:

  • 23 Interview with the Chairman of LC3, Kicwamba, 16 May 2013.

“These forums interlink the subcounty leadership and the local people. They move down and report what is done and what isn’t. Sometimes they report to us. They educate and guide people on what they’re supposed to do and they negotiate airtime for us, because sometimes we cannot manage. We have challenges, our local revenue collection is too, too low to meet the community needs. We get only 11 million per year from the local government development programme, so there is no money for radio. […] Radio is 1,5 to 2 million shillings an hour. We can’t afford it because we need to prioritize. That’s why we always go to ToroDev […]. We are using these organisations to help us. We don’t have money for airtime, but people need to be mobilised. Radio is useful because moving from village to village is difficult and the attendance to meetings is poor. […] So when you get a chance for airtime we can know what their needs are. […] (The creator of the forum) has been very helpful with (accessing the airwaves). I’ve been to four radio shows since I was elected, 3 with him.”23

26Participatory radio is therefore not a symptom or an alternative to a “crisis of the State,” it is intimately linked to it. We cannot disqualify too hastily this phenomenon as “co-optation,” or see in it the result of unequivocal political constraint or coercion. The above extract of the interview suggests on the contrary that it is the local elected officials who may find themselves financially dependent on this type of initiative. We feel it is of greater interest to take seriously the expectations of the actors vis-à-vis the State and the way they intend to reform it, reasserting its essential character in the imaginaries of development.

The Construction Site as Public Space, the Citizen as Foreman

  • 24 This was the case in Buganda, where radio was heavily frequented by royalist patriots (Brisset-Fou (...)

27What do listeners talk about in these forums? And how do they talk? These programmes’ priority is not to shore up consensus, as is sometimes the case in Uganda (Brisset-Foucault 2011). Interactive radio in this case is neither assimilated with earlier, historical forms of discussion, as is sometimes the case in other contexts (Diagne 2014), nor used for the purpose of re-establishing the legitimacy of “traditional” leaders or reinforcing ethnic patriotism (Brisset-Foucault 2013).24 For ToroDev, an organisation staffed by lawyers, journalists and academics from Kampala, radio is a powerful tool for modernisation, understood as the achievement of standardised politics, the advent of transparent leaders and demanding citizens, experts in public works. There is no unique model for politics, civic responsibility or criticism promoted in these programmes, however enough regularity may be observed to be able to detect a pattern; a consensus on the framework to adopt to assess the behaviour of leaders as well as citizens. One of the most striking characteristics of this radio polity is its technocratic dimension. As the producer of the show explained to me:

  • 25 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

“The listenership clubs identify issues related to accountability and service delivery. Infrastructure, NAADS (the national farmers aid scheme). We bring local leaders in the studio. For example, last week the programme was on health service, then people call and ask questions.”25

  • 26 Furthermore, one may observe a polarisation of these discussions: a programme devoted to a project (...)

28The radio discussions in our case are generally limited to a specific geographical area: a district, or a sub-county. The scope of the criticism is circumscribed, certainly, but it can, as we shall see, be powerful, even aggressive, all the while following the more or less explicit rules of debate. It often happens during the programmes that the leaders or the local government officials are attacked directly by citizens, especially when it is a matter of condemning their carelessness, their incompetence, their absenteeism (many people phone in to say that they never see their elected officials on the ground except during the electoral campaigns), or favouritism.26 The “administrative wars,” to use the words of one of the leaders invited to come to the studio, e.g. the rivalry between local elected officials and state employees are extensively exposed during the programmes.

29In these programmes, the listeners are defined as a population with a fundamental right to benefit from public services and assumed to be sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to assess the work of their leaders, the procedures that need to be followed, and to express their claims in this regard. Most of the programmes involve listing the problems encountered in a sub-county with regard to access to health care, education and about the quality of roads. Listeners and leaders alike follow this common pattern which highlights the existence of a similar and equal right to efficient public services from one sub-county to another. Thus the programmes become a kind of tool for mapping the failings of public services. They list the roads, schools, health centres that need to be taken care of, in the hope that the repetition and the accumulation of these reports will trigger a response from leaders.

  • 27 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“Let me give small picture in my home sub county Kicwamba and I will talk on West division where I stay later. Roads in Kicwamba Sub County are in a sorry state for example Kyakagusa has many potholes when you see that road even you shed tears, Nyantaboma road is totally impassable, lorries which are carrying pozolanic from that area to Hima cement Factory… but leaders have given it a deaf ear. Health centres in Kicwamba sub county has no medicines, are under staffed, population is big but leaders have not come up to rescue the situation where women are dying due to lack of mid wives in the sub county.”27

30People are imagined as tax payers, as victims of poor public services, sometimes categorised according to what is identified as their main need (schoolchildren, pregnant women), and not according to other categories which might make sense for them when they define their affiliations or their rights, notably their ethnic belonging, their status regarding land access, or their religion. The knowledge generated on a particular territory, such as pictured in these programmes, is largely devoid of any historical dimension and diversity: individuals have no geographical background or social diversity, nor plural basis to define themselves (notably in ethnic terms, despite the fact that the history of the region is particularly complex in this regard). They are addressed as equal members of a group with equal rights to local services and information, which results in the standardisation of diverse historical spaces. This language produces a highly specific kind of knowledge regarding populations and political spaces conceived as somehow equivalent or interchangeable.

31Furthermore, in these programmes the challenges faced by the populations are presented in such a way as to have technical solutions proposed by the bureaucratic system, lubricated by the competence of the leader. These solutions are presented as obvious and only depending on the willingness of the leader who is present in the studio. Thus the radio discussions focus less on debating how well-suited the solution is than on showing whether the elites have accomplished or not a defined task (through the bureaucratic process). As we shall see, such a focus results in the production of a very particular ideal of leadership.

32Let us consider for a moment the implications of these formats in terms of the promotion of models of citizenship. These shows require the mastery of a certain degree of knowledge by the listeners if they are to take part. In the shows, “democratic participation” is celebrated as an alternative to inefficiency and perceived as a tool enabling the management of public services. During one programme, the Chairman of the Kabarole LC5 defined the type of political participation he expected from his constituents as a kind of citizenship that would combine surveillance with expertise, fashioning the figure of the citizen as foreman:

  • 28 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“I think, if you give the people their responsibility from the beginning, you have given them expertise early. You have given them supervision role. (...) They will start their work early of supervision, so I think in these five years, the issue of shoddy work, we will overcome it completely.”28

33To be heard and acknowledged, criticism should be based on a solid knowledge of the administrative system and of the relevant actors within it, their mandates and their powers, including less visible state employees. Much of the work of ToroDev consists in educating the members of the forums with regard to these procedures:

  • 29 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

“Every workshop we invite district authorities and they present papers explaining how people can better participate in public service planning and delivery. […] For example Mr B., the district information office of Kyegegwa district presented a paper on the 16th of November 2011 entitled ‘People’s Participation in Government planning and budgeting for improved service delivery’ in Rutooro. Usually it’s district information officers who come, as district chiefs are busy and we are very much interested in access to information (for accountability). These officers are technocrats, they’re not councillors. On 9th of November 2011 we had a paper by the district information officer for Kyenjojo, entitled ‘Planning and budgeting in local governments’.”29

34There remains the issue of the way these injunctions are received and interpreted by listeners. Some seem to accept this model and follow the rules when they phone in, as in this programme:

  • 30 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“I am X. from Kiyombya. I thank you for the program, but the main thing is the road to Kiyombya-Nyamitege, they left it half-way done, they did not complete it, I ask the chairman, why was it incomplete?”30

35Others adopt alternative critical registers of discourse. Listeners who are identified by presenters or leaders as “getting off the subject” are interesting to study in this respect. Similarly, many leaders complain that people “insult” them on the radio. These complaints reveal certain expectations in terms of citizens’ behaviour and deference. Leaders regularly attempt to discredit these types of listeners by depoliticising their criticisms, thus reducing it to ignorance or irrationality. The chairman of one of the sub-counties had this to say on the subject during an interview:

  • 31 Interview with an LC3 Chairman, 16 May 2013.

“Q: Some leaders have been complaining that people are…
A: rude… After campaigning, it’s been a competition and some are not happy. At times some don’t want to reconcile, they are bitter, they are not informed about what is going on. You inform them and they can even thank you. But they demand more than what we have. People are bitter saying ‘where is the grader you promised?’ They say things like ‘we are tired of you people telling us lies. Let us wait for 2016, we are going to vote you out. You are just embezzling our money, we are going to support the opposition. We are tired of you, you are a thief.’ You first console them, you give accountability, what you have done, what you haven’t done and why. You request them to be patient as you plan. You encourage them to put in their participation.”31

36This leader attributes the bitterness and anger of his constituents to their “lack of information,” dismissing their discontent as incompetence, and thus contesting the legitimacy of their claims. Some listeners do indeed make the most of the opportunity offered by these programmes to directly attack the local leaders for their behaviour:

  • 32 “Know Your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“[Listener 1] Leaders should look at the priorities of the public, not at things that favor them only, like increasing MPs, councillors’ allowances.
[Listener 2] Hon Councillors should look at developing their areas not looking at personal issues.”32

37After this programme, the councillor present in the studio declared that many listeners had not stuck to the subject. He spelled out a restrictive definition of what “accountability” is:

  • 33 Conversation after the programme, Fort Portal, 14 April 2012. It should be pointed out that this c (...)

“People talked about petty issues. People didn’t talk about accountability. I could not talk about the performance of the mayor (during the show). I don’t want to say whether the mayor has performed well or not. It’s of the electorate to say.”33

The Ethics of Bureaucratic Redistribution

  • 34 Toro Development Network, “Improving Local Governance through Radio in the Rwenzori Region,” Proje (...)

38In Fort Portal, accountability is an emic concept which is constantly recalled, blazoned before the faces of passers-by. It is omnipresent in conversations, interviews, grey literature, radio programmes, slogans printed in T-shirts, and is accepted as the cornerstone of the moral polity imagined by local development actors. For instance, ToroDev presents its radio broadcasts as a means offered to “rural youth and women (...) to demand public accountability [and] actively participate [in] budgetary, planning and democratic processes” ultimately to improve the delivery of public services.34 According to the producers, the radio programmes are a way to deliver this demanding and revitalised society:

  • 35 Toro Development Network, “Using Radio as a ‘Hub’ for ICT Convergence to Improve Public Service De (...)

“The Listeners’ forum has made leaders to be responsible and fulfill their duties effectively and efficiently hence improving on the livelihoods of the local rural people because it has empowered the local grassroots population with information.”35

  • 36 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

39Accountability is at the core of the organisation’s activities. In addition to radio programmes, ToroDev organises accountability meetings between a listeners’ forums and district leaders. During a session in Kamwenge, in March 2012, members of the forum insisted on the fact that it was very difficult to get any information about the activities of the local authorities. The RDC, who represents the president at the district level, ordered the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of the district to produce quarterly reports and to make them accessible by displaying them on notice boards. The idea was to be able to verify whether the projects announced had in fact been completed.36 On the air, leaders are called on to present their actions since their election or nomination. When they detect failings, listeners and the presenter resort to harsh terms to refer to the betrayed trust of the voters. For leaders, each appearance on the air thus amounts to an audit:

  • 37 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“What have I done so far for my area Bazar area. Bazar area is the heart of Fort Portal municipality and there are many things being done (...) We started making roads, we went ahead to lobby the councillors at LC5 so as to lobby for us at LC5 and they did, they got for us wells which are built in Bazar, Kijanju and Kasusu. Those roads am talking about you remember a place like Harukooto MT, around the palace, come up to Kiculeeta, Karamaga, all those roads were not very good, we repaired them. I have also made an effort on the road of Kamuhiigi and that is where I come from, I have put in efforts to see they work on it well. I will not allow that because even when it rains, you find stagnant water in the road which is not acceptable on a tarmac road.”37

40The ways in which leaders are questioned are not “self-evident”: they vary according to the historical context and reflect configurations of power. As John Lonsdale explains, “all polities have their own histories of accountability, recurring patterns in which power is constructed, justified by its mission and then tested on its own terms” (Lonsdale 1986, 134). For Lonsdale, “its meanings and practices have always been changing because rulers and ruled, masters and servants, have striven to define and redefine what accountability would most usefully mean to them in their own situation” (Ibid. 128).

41In our case, the omnipresence of the demands for “accountability” in the region reflects the impregnation of the international aid programmes by the neoliberal culture of the audit. Yet it is grafted onto a particular localized history of accountability: that promoted by the Resistance councils when they were set up by Museveni during the bush war, before being generalised throughout the country and becoming Local councils in 1995. In the 1990s, Richard Banégas noted that “the introduction of new political rules and institutions (notably the RCs), through their socialising effects, entailed the development of new political languages, encouraged the crystallisation of a ‘democratic culture’ where the notion of ‘accountability’ of the rulers, in particular, plays a central role” (Banégas 1998a, 137). Originally, the RC/LC had a function of surveillance and discipline: they could fire state employees and representatives of the security services who abused their power (Perrot 2003; Ddungu 1989) As we shall see in the case of Bufunjo, the listeners’ forums sometimes took over this function that has been largely abandoned by the LCs.

42What interests us here is that depending on the way it is reinterpreted, this culture of accountability does not necessarily contradict the generalised patronage that characterises the Museveni regime. The degree of commercialisation of electoral campaigns, in the course of which the candidates suspend expulsions, distribute goods and money to small interest groups (market leaders, women’s groups, young people, motorcycle-taxis), or promise land and public services even if that is not within their mandate, shocked many observers during the 2011 elections (Médard and Golaz 2013; Titeca 2014). Even if this intensifies during election periods, this phenomenon is not limited to it. Members of parliament and local leaders often complain of seeing their homes “invaded” night and day by people making claims; of having to contribute financially to marriages, funerals, school fees, and to more collective enterprises (buying an ambulance, supporting “local community groups” − women, young people, veterans − and setting up school bursary schemes) (Collord 2013, 27). As I was told during an interview by Alex Ruhunda, member of parliament for the Fort Portal constituency:

  • 38 Interview with Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal, 4 April 2012.

“I am still renting my apartment, I still have my small car. I invest my money to create job opportunities. I paid 117 scholarships with my own money. From primary to University. They come to my house with their mothers, then my personal assistant manages them. I enjoy interacting with them. I give cash and cheques. I’ve seen some through university. These five years are years of sacrifice, not years of plenty.”38

  • 39 These sums vary according to the political allegiance and the region and increase spectacularly du (...)

43Based on a report by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), Michaela Collord has pointed out that in 2015, Ugandan MPs spent on average 1,700 USD for each visit to their constituency for the “personal needs” of their constituents.39 Echoing what Richard Banégas described in the case of Benin, Collord’s study shows however that these practices should not be simply put down to “buying votes,” but reflect a redefinition of the role of the MP or local leader as patron, which implies a whole range of social and moral obligations with regard to taking care of the well-being of the populations that they represent or administer (Banégas 1998b). In this regard, their actions may be the target of recriminations which may prove particularly insistent from citizens:

“Individual MPs are actively involved in negotiating their own rules for what counts as legitimate patrimonial practice. There is some consensus regarding the moral obligation to eschew forms of patronage with no worth beyond crude calculations of political gain. One-off handouts for consumption—especially alcohol—and personal enjoyment are viewed as particularly egregious” (Collord 2013, 29).

44Thus, certain forms of redistribution, behaviour and mobilisation of the administrative system by their political leaders (MPs or local councillors) are perceived as fair by constituents.

45This is clearly apparent in the ToroDev radio programmes, as during this intervention by the MP Victoria Businge Rusoke:

  • 40 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“Honorable Rusoke: In this Kabarole, even if there are problems in some schools, we should not think that we were not concerned. I will give you an example of X primary School, I personally, I have proof, I put on my shoes and used my own money from my salary, to pay a lawyer […] on that case and the school won the case. […] We therefore have to use joint efforts to follow up and see what is happening.
Presenter: I went to school X, the latrine is in a poor state, and there are cockroaches and other…
Honorable Rusoke: On that issue you are telling lies, I personally took police [to settle the dispute which led to the degradation of the school] and the children started using the latrine. The other time I was telling them that the money which comes in the workplan, they should make sure to buy wood for X Primary school.
Presenter: How about the chairs, 1,000 students do not have seats.
Honorable Rusoke: I don’t understand that because I personally left having put desks in that school. If there is a security problem, we have to address it, because now every school must have a watchman. How did that happen to see that X Primary school, 1,000 students sit in the dust? We have to find out, how many children are in X, the headmaster has to give us a report. Lastly, I respect Honourable Kayondo [in the studio, who criticized her] very much, and in that meeting he is talking about, there was the RDC, LC5 chairperson, the person responsible for presidential pledges because we had seen in the Red Pepper [a tabloid] that the youth wanted to demonstrate because of the pledges which had not yet come from the president and that we the leaders are inefficient, we are lazy, and have failed to follow up. […] Then I got up and said, demonstrating is not helpful because it affects all other people. Let us look for a permanent solution to the problem of the school.40

46Apart from using their own money, local leaders are judged according to their ability to attract central state resources to their region. Local elections are strongly influenced by the prospect of benefitting or not from national development schemes and by the concern not to be marginalised by the executive if the opposition wins in the area (Muhumuza 2012). Yet in ordinary conversation, in campaign discourses and in public debates, it seems to go without saying that the fact of benefitting from the networks of redistribution of the State does not depend on rights but on the negotiating ability and networking skills of the representatives and the local leaders. President Museveni declared this openly: in order that his promises and his commitments be kept, Ugandans must elect NRM candidates at local level, since the opposition leaders would only “sabotage” the government’s development schemes (Ibid. 141). During the 2011 campaign, he compared MPs to a malwa, the long straw used to drink local beer. Thus, the MPs function was pictured as to suck up the resources of the central State and to redirect them towards their constituency (Ibid. 148). Recently, during a by-election for a LC5 council, the President declared: “I have the money you need for the social services, but if you make the mistake of voting for the opposition, you will block the pipeline because they won’t be able to come to see me” (Osobo and Musengeri 2015). This vision of the member of parliament is clearly apparent in our interviews. The former secretary general of one of the forums told me:

  • 41 Interview, 31 October 2016.

“We have that secondary school, I think you have seen now it is built. Government had allocated us 3,6 billion (shillings) to build that school… (...) We were supposed to have upstairs, and we had got that money 3,6 billion, under… ADB (African Development Bank)… […] Other schools were built, but ours was not… Just because we had a leader who could not follow up because money was there but it was swallowed by the prime minister office, and (the former MP) was very much related to the prime minister, so we expected that he would have used this influence of friendship, which he failed. (...) Some of the money it was almost expired of the lease of the quarter they had not released our money but we called (the new MP) because he is from here, when we called him he went to the ministry, they released 150 million which we have used to construct an administration block…”41

47But it is not enough simply to elect an MP with a working relationship with the President, or another bigwig within the State system. It is also necessary to ensure that within the constituency this person will take care of or favour a particular locality, according to what Angelo Izama and Sam Hickey (2016) describe as “populist modes of service delivery,” involving a strong “politicisation of the bureaucracy.” It is not only the materiality of the donation that counts to pass as a good leader. Nor is it only the destination of the funds (a community project rather than the individualised distribution of cash). On radio, it is also the knowledge of the area, of its most specific needs in terms of infrastructure, the mastery of the bureaucratic knowhow, and the ability to activate the right levers within the State that make a good leader.

48In the radio programmes, leaders show how they give access to public services: repair a road, build public toilets… They show how able they are at navigating bureaucratic circuits. Wealth and redistribution are not enough: on radio they are articulated to a demonstration of one’s power to steer State resources within its complex channels towards the people. We know that bureaucratisation is based on a whole panoply of knowhow which makes it possible “to subject reality to abstract and simplified formalities, reduce the tangles of relations to simple and standardised causes, mask the complexity and ambivalence of social relations by reducing them to the technical and the mechanical” (Hibou 2013, 16). It is the hallmark of bureaucracy to be permanent and impersonal, not to rely on the social actors who personify it. What these radio programmes imply, however, is that while the bureaucratic solutions and tools are there, they cannot be effective without the goodwill of the leaders. This adds strength to the idea that the procedures are good ones, and the leaders more or less up to the task.

49Thus in this context the good patron is also the good bureaucrat, in the sense that he or she knows how to mobilise the channels of the State so that his or her constituents can benefit. The classic arrays of status, the mobilisation of resources and personal networks, the establishment of privileged relations with one’s clients, are not incompatible with these distinct forms of the establishment of authority, based on the ability to navigate the waters of bureaucratic subtleties that (also) condition access to the resources of the central State. On the radio, leaders must appear as contractors on a construction site, must know the nooks and crannies of their constituency like the back of their hand and, above all, know the issues facing each locality in terms of infrastructure, including in the most technical aspects, from engineering issues to official regulations. Whence this response from the Chairman of the LC5 of the district of Kabarole to listeners’ questions:

  • 42 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“If you see anything wrong, inform us and we correct it, before it is late. I did that in Busoro, Kagoro bridge, I did it every maternity ward, I did it at Nyabuso maternity ward, I did it at Mukumire bridge, I did it at Nyakabira bridge, I did it Bwanika bridge, I did it at Nyabwina primary school, I did it at Rwenkuba primary school and I did it at Bwanika. You know I have done that. Fortunately, people are responding, at St Kizito Primary school, you hear people calling you saying, this one is using Kicuma sand [low quality sand from Kicuma], I had to call the contractor and we went there. We had to put the situation in order. (...) If you go there, the roads we have been making, we did Busoro, Kiburara, we did Butebe-Mugusu, Kyezire-Kyatuura, we did Kabonero uphill, we left and went to Rwimi, Buheesi, Nyamiseke to mention but a few. And all the roads we did grading and compacting we did not put on murram because we did not have the money […] We thought if we have our own grader, we will work on those roads by ourselves. Up to now, we have never got our own, the one we have we borrowed it from UNRA (Uganda National Road Authority). The work we were doing reduced by 40% and 60% remained. Even you if you see your road, I left it in the middle at Kahungeera. Even all the others that we worked on were not finished, the contractor needs profit and other things. But in another financial year, we shall finish them and that of Kinyankende needed murram, the bridge Kihwera, I will send someone there, experts, to see and tell me what is missing.”42

50The radio encourages the assessment of leaders in this register, which should be distinguished from the question of personal redistribution (even if one does not rule out the other, of course). Money must be distributed, personal needs must be met and a whole range of infrastructures must be funded to guarantee the wellbeing of the “community” (notably schools, health centres but also churches), but the leader must also be a technocrat, knowledgeable about bureaucracy and engineering. Deploying networking skills among the executive, attracting the attention of the President is valued, but on the radio, that is not enough: you have to act according to the (bureaucratic) rules of the game.

51Leaders display their technological knowhow, make a show of their “transparency,” by providing details of the procedures in progress and of the circuits that they must be follow. This offers the means to justify delays, to be absolved of responsibility, by explaining for example that it is another agency that is responsible for dealing with the issue. However, this absence of a mandate is sometimes side-tracked, and leaders take advantage of this to valorise their zeal in their pursuit of change and to prove that they can use their influence to work the bureaucratic circuits even outside of their usual mandate, in order to make the State more “efficient,” to acquire funding or to speed up a procedure for the benefit of specific projects or populations. The following radio extract is a good illustration of this process of differentiated mobilisation of the bureaucratic system. The LC4 Councillor present in the studio had taken a particular interest in a project to provide public toilets for the use of drivers of collective taxis (who have considerable powers of mobilisation), in one of the three divisions which made up the town of Fort Portal. The presenter accused him of only taking an interest in one of these divisions rather than in the whole municipality:

  • 43 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“LC4 Councillor: When we went to the Taxi Park of Nyakaseke, they expressed their sadness that the toilet was in a terrible state and yet they pay the highest taxes. In fact, I want to ask for forgiveness on behalf of the council, because all those years they have been suffering going to a bad toilet, but I run and went to Mr. Herbert Mugisa and his council, we agreed to share the costs so that work could begin. At the moment, that toilet will be state of the art toilet, because it is very outstanding, it has tiles in it, it all has showers when you come from somewhere you can even bathe and prepare, all those rooms are in it. We have put it back to standard not like the other one where one goes skipping these faeces. […] [In reality, the funding came from LC3 but] my contribution was to work hard to encourage the Town Clerk and the Procurement to speed up the tender process so that someone can start building the toilet quickly before an outbreak (of a disease). […]
“Presenter: Probably you are asking for water or roads in Kijanju Parish and others as you explained. That is not good leadership, in brief give us a broad picture because you keep talking about south division […] I want you to explain so that we understand that when we voted you, we did not put you at the south division, we put you at LC4.
“LC4 Councillor: If something needs to be done, I go to the works committee, at the works committee, you find leaders from the east division, west division, south division. I explain to them that such and such a road needs to be worked on, after that, I go to the Finance and explain that we need this and that here, I need your support and they note down that, then I go to the social works committee and infrastructure, I also ask for support, I go to other departments and ask in form of lobbying. When a person from west [division] lobbies and the one from east lobbies, we combine our intelligence and say now, let this service go to this division first, the second phase, it will go to this division, third phase, it will go to this division and when we finish that, we go to the general council and pass a resolution. We say that the Nyakagongo road, we should pass that one because the councillors from Nyakagongo asked for the road. We say even the councillors of Bazaar asked for water and we pass that one too and that is the togetherness at LC4. That is why I want to show that if something is wrong, from LC4 I take it to Mr Herbert and his council, we agree and when they are going to do it.”43

Explaining the meanders of the State: pedagogical domination

  • 44 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)
  • 45 Ibid.

52In Rutooro, to talk of accountability, the presenters, listeners and guests in the studio use either the word ensoborra, or, more often, the word embalirra. The translators who worked on the radio shows, Wilfred Mukonyezi and Irene Kangume, as well as people I talked to on radio and amongst listeners and development workers usually translate embalirra in English by the words “accountability” or “budgeting,” with an idea of accounting. For example, the moderator of the show may express himself thus: “You are still listening to Better FM and we are sponsored by Tooro Development network to see that political leaders come here and make accountability,”44 using the word embalirra. The word ensoborra is also translated into English by the word accountability, but may also be translated with the word “explanation,” with a distinct nuance. One could argue that the “accountable” leader is both the one who opens up his accounts ledger and a person who explains. And indeed, leaders in the studio often adopt the posture of an educator, pose as “the explainer.” As a presenter said, the radio programme should “explain (nitubasoborra) the issue to our people.”45

53As we know, the neoliberal narrative on empowerment largely places the responsibility for their own poverty on the populations and generally absolves the State of its mission of taking care of their wellbeing (Bacqué and Biewener 2013; Calvès 2009). Nevertheless, it does not necessarily deprive political and economic leaders of means of control (Vadot 2014) nor of registers by which to legitimize their domination. In a neoliberal context, the political authorities must find the answer to a difficult question: what use are they in a world where citizens are supposed to “take themselves in hand” and “find for themselves” the solutions to their problems? In our case, the role assigned to leaders is to encourage people and guide them in their task of taking on responsibility and getting down to work on their own initiative. The idea that the responsibility of the leader is to “shake up lazy young people” is present in numerous discourses, as in this interview with a listener in Mugusu, a few kilometres from Fort Portal:

  • 46 Interview, Mugusu, 11 April 2012.

“Leaders don’t do what they are supposed to. I asked leaders if they had ever reached youth and encouraged them after saying they are jobless. Leaders just look at youth taking marijuana. So I ask who are you leading, go to the hospital and see the people who are going mad, they are youth. We have dropouts, and people playing ludo [local board game], it’s a big problem because they are gambling. Why don’t you put a law saying they would only play after work, after 4 P.M.! Not 7 A.M. before even going to work. The leaders have not helped.”46

  • 47 “Bufunjo People’s Forum Accountability/Launch Meeting held on 15th April 2013.” Unpublished report

54Generally speaking, this pedagogical dimension is prevalent in neoliberalism: citizens cannot become responsible on their own, they need to learn to become responsible, or even to “be made responsible” by others (Kemp and Berkovitch 2013). As it happens, the insistence on citizens’ responsibility goes with the reinsertion and redefinition of the role of political leaders. And this role is to teach people how to become themselves, how to become responsible citizens, sometimes even by force. Thus, during an accountability meeting organised by a forum, one of the members, who is also a LC1 chairperson and LC2 councillor, blamed the (higher) sub-county authorities for “the impassable village roads (because of the) lack of support (from the sub-county) for local leaders who try their best to encourage citizens to clean their village roads and punish locally those who tend to be no compliant.” Taking himself as an example, he told how “he was taken to […] court by one of the locals whom he penalized for not attending […] community work and the sub-county authority was just looking at this and giving no support which he said put all local leaders at fear of engaging people in such activities.”47

55We can see here the permeability between the language of participation on the one hand, and the language of coercion on the other. We see how the idea of a “global participatory turn” can convey a strong sense of novelty to earlier practices of development, or even of forced labour. But we see too how the language of empowerment partly absolves the State of responsibility without allowing its domination, nor even political constraint, to fade away.

56The route to empowerment is partly paved with the acquisition of knowledge, via the ToroDev workshops or the radio programmes. As we have said, talking of a subject without being “well-informed” is assimilated with irrelevance, or even impudence. The radio programmes in Fort Portal as elsewhere are often the occasion to remind citizens that they need guidance if their civic virtue is to flourish. And that to learn, they need a teacher. The participative radio debates thus enable political leaders to reinvent themselves as teachers, and thus to endeavour to reassert their authority.

57As we recalled in the introduction, as soon as radio, and particularly participatory programmes, were introduced in Africa, they were presented as an educational tool. There is therefore a historical precedent for this interconnection between radio and teaching. “Explaining” is often presented as a fundamental democratic task, and radio as a useful tool to achieve it, as a LC3 Chairman explained during a show:

  • 48 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“You know moderator, when we come into politics, we don’t have any other leaders apart from the voter. (...) Our people who voted us, if we don’t take their voices there, and we see what we are supposed to do for them, and we bring back information to them, and we come to the radio, to explain to the people (tukasobororra abantu), then we are doing nothing.”48

58To assert themselves as “explainers,” leaders must first establish the ignorance or the incapacity of their audience. To do that, in our case, the highly bureaucratic and technical character of participation that we described can offer new rhetorical and political resources to justify political hierarchies in a context of strong injunctions to “empowerment,” because of the complexity of the cases that are being discussed. Whence this declaration by the Kabarole LC5 Chairman during a programme:

  • 49 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“Now let us come to contracts, the bad thing the contracts are very many and work is a bit overwhelming. When you give out Bills of Quantities, that is true, at the sub counties we are still trying to send them. But they are technical, a common person even you Solomon [ToroDev producer], you are educated but if you did not study engineering, I can give them to you but you cannot make a lot of meaning out of them. So, we said we are sending there BoQs and Statement of Works. What is Statement of Works? That is a document written in words, that we are going to make a 13 kilometres road, we are going to put shaping on this road, we put water channels, we will compact it, we shall bring this machine roller bomberg, after grading we shall compact it. Now when a person reads it, he/she gets meaning out of that.”49

  • 50 On the ambivalent and profoundly political effects of the pedagogy, see Rancière (1985).
  • 51 Interview with Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal, 14 April 2012.

59After giving a diagnostic on an issue (here the impossibility for people to understand the technical subtleties), the figure of the leader as a deliverer of solutions to the problem can be sketched.50 The leader raises the veil of ignorance thanks to his personal technical and bureaucratic knowledge, re-establishing a distance with the electorate. The highly technical nature of the discussions offers the means for the necessity of the teaching to be reasserted. These modes of address paint a portrait of a population seeking edification in order to perfect their competence as citizens and thus be authorised to make a valuable contribution to the debate. This definition of the leader as teacher is validated by listeners in varying degrees. Some contest it. For instance, the MP for the municipality of Fort Portal recalled how one evening, when he was in the studio, someone phoned in, furious about his remarks on the fact that people were not in a position to know everything about the issue of petrol: “Are you saying we are not able to know about oil? When have you come to our area?” To these accusations, the MP replied that he was only talking about the technical aspects.51

  • 52 See for example what Nyerere said of Museveni and of the necessity for political leaders to be tea (...)
  • 53 This importance of the pedagogical posture among the leadership is not specific to Uganda. One thi (...)

60This case study illustrates the affinity between the pedagogical spirit of neoliberalism and the historical trajectory of Uganda, within which the figure of the leader-teacher is far from being new. In the 1990s, during the process of constitutional consultation, Richard Banégas had observed that the level of education was the first criterion of legitimacy to be valorised (Banégas 1998b, 230; Perrot 1999). Education plays a central role in the registers of legitimisation of the NRM regime. The latter has invested a great deal in popular education, showcasing the intellectual qualities and academic qualifications of its elites to justify its domination, together with the celebration of the bush war, constructing the figure of the “intellectual guerrillero,” as opposed to the counter-model of Idi Amin and his army of “drop outs,” as a true incarnation of moral, social and political “backwardness.” The Constitution (Art. 80) requires MPs to have at least their A-level, reinforcing the association between political representation and formal education. After each election, controversies break out: MPs are accused of having fake degrees, and some are dismissed. Even if access to education has been extended under Museveni, in the political discourse the references to education are deployed to reinvent a fundamental separation between representatives and represented, the leader becoming the teacher of citizens who need educating. Since he took power, Museveni has repeatedly been represented chalk in hand in front of a blackboard, explaining the basic notions of economics to citizens and to political leaders alike.52 For Kassimir (1990, 660), “Museveni’s pedagogic activity, while linked to the paternalistic side of his style, is still connected to an image, and to popular perceptions, that he reaches out and engages the people.” In his autobiography, Museveni asserts that intellectuals should explain to the people what are the best ways to improve their lot, and to help them not to linger in backwardness: “One function of leadership in a backward country is precisely to teach the people means of tapping wealth, because they do not know how to do it on their own” (Museveni 1997, 208).53

61Museveni’s revolutionary rhetoric should not mask the fact that these conceptions are based on older, partly colonial forms of socio-political hierarchies and the legitimisation of domination. This idea of the moral obligation, for political leaders, to be responsible for the education of the masses was very present in the 1960s under Obote’s regime, which encouraged students to dispense their knowledge in the rural areas (Byaruhanga 2006, 52). John Iliffe and others have sketched out remarkably well the way education has become central in definitions of the legitimacy to govern, and to take part in the political process in Buganda in the first quarter of the 20th century, and these analyses may easily be extended to other parts of the country (Iliffe 2004, 222–223; Fallers 1959; Apter 1997 [1961]; Chibita and Fourie 2007).

Bureaucratisation as a Patriotic Mission

62In 2012, one of the listeners’ forums, the Bufunjo People’s Forum, adopted a Constitution. Its aim, as declared in Article 2, is for a group of “concerned citizens” to remind “their leaders of the expected service delivery and demand for accountability for good governance and public accountability,” but also “to promote, create and strengthen civic awareness of Bufunjo people” (Art. 6). Its vision, as declared in Article 5, is “to have a highly civilized community of Bufunjo, that can have capacity to engage leaders for good governance, public accountability and service delivery.”

A meeting of the Bufunjo People’s Forum

A meeting of the Bufunjo People’s Forum

Picture by Richard Mwangushya, November 2016 (with his kind authorization)

  • 54 The events of 2015–2016 revealed a discrepancy between the technical interpretation of the situati (...)
  • 55 I warmly thank Valérie Golaz for informing me of the existence of this very rich study.

63As we can see, the possibility of making the authorities face up to their responsibilities is conditioned by the construction of a civil society.54 Bufunjo is one of the sub-counties of the district of Kyenjojo. The administrative capital of Bufunjo, Kifuka, where the forum is based, is situated 30 kilometres away from Kyenjojo, in a remote area served by a bad road that is often flooded. In the region, this area is often described as a “very local” place, with all the contempt that word can convey. It often represents the archetype of geographical remoteness, or even social backwardness. Yet it is highly cosmopolitan and open to the outside world: its population exhibits a strong ethnic mix and great diversity of migratory pathways, with different generations of migrants pouring in from throughout the west of the country to settle there (mainly Bakiiga, but also Banyoro, Bafumbira, Banyankole) (Hartter et al 2015).55

  • 56 Ibid., and interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.
  • 57 Between 1946 and 1975, about 80,000 people migrated from Kigezi to Tooro. See Hartter et al (2015) (...)

64To understand the aims and the significance of the forum, we must be mindful of the local history. The Bufunjo People’s Forum is in phase with particular dreams of modernity, in continuity, or coherence, with other civilising projects in the area: to migrate, to introduce schooling, to civilise. The region around the forest reserve of Kibale was for a long time depopulated by very severe epidemics of sleeping sickness which considerably emptied the rural areas.56 From the 1950s, the population did however begin to increase very rapidly, with the massive influx of Bakiiga migrants who came as part of a vast project of colonial development intended both to deal with the land shortage in Kigezi (in the extreme south-west of Uganda, the homeland of the Bakiiga) and with the shortage of labour in the tea plantations, the copper and salt mines and the cement factories in Tooro.57 During this first wave of migration, “the population grew by 34 % between 1948 and 1959” (Hartter et al 2015). Land was abundant, the migrants cleared it, gaining ground over the forest to grow corn, part of it destined for industrial farming, re-establishing the region’s links with the outside world. The value of the land rose rapidly (Ibid.). In Bufunjo, this settlement was carried out peacefully. It resulted in many inter-ethnic marriages, and this migration was largely considered as beneficial by the Batooro in the area.

65A LC1 Chairman, mutooro, who has held this position since the mid-1970s, reconstituted this narrative of decline, and then demographic, moral and political rebirth of the area in terms which show the migration as something desired, planned and as a source of social and moral renewal:

  • 58 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

“Before I was born, this place had a big population, people were many here. And people were cattle keepers, but after, there was an epidemic for cattle, they died and people shunned this place and then migrated. [Because of the] tse tse fly… And after some time the population reduced to only 80 households. It was a subcounty, and they merged it with Katoke (neighboring sub-county) and they took the administration headquarters to Katoke (15 km away). So not until the Bakiiga started migrating to this place… […] At first [in the 1970s] this place was so bushy, and there were elephants. So they complained to government. Because it was government land… The food would be destroyed by wild animals so they cried to government to allow them give out this land to other people. The authority was given to the chairmen so they were the ones who allocated land to those people. So I was the one [to do it]. They used to sleep outside guarding their gardens with spears.”58

  • 59 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

66The profiles of the members of the forum reflect the succession of different generations of migrants. John Bosco Tibeeha, the Secretary General of the forum at the time of my second field work survey in 2013, a teacher born in the neighbouring region of Bunyoro, came to set up his own primary school at Kifuka in 2006. His decision to migrate and create a school was motivated by economic and professional reasons, given the scarcity of educational facilities on the region, but he also presented it as an endeavour to modernize the area.59 In the forum, there are also Batooro, Bakiiga and Bafumbira who came in different waves of migration in the 1990s and 2000s, or children of migrants who had arrived in the 1980s.

  • 60 Interview, Kifuka, 11 May 2013.

67The chairman of the forum is also the head of a school, and it is no accident if one of the main mobilising themes of this group has been the rejection of the suppression of a system of bursaries for secondary school pupils. The aspiration to intellectual development and to professional training is central in the motivations expressed. The other priority is the improvement of the conditions of care at the sub-county health centre, situated near Kifuka, notably by disciplining the state employees whose assiduity left much to be desired. According to several members of the forum, this problem could be explained by the fact that the staff are “outsiders” (defined in terms of place of residence and not ethnic origins), and thus by the fact that they did not have the interests of the area at heart. The challenge is thus to train local people who could take over.60

68The forum is thought as part of the continuity of the positive and civilising action of these waves of migration, and is presented as a means to counteract the very poor reputation the region suffers from, as the Secretary General explained:

  • 61 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

“We wanted to elevate (the area) also on the political arena. So that it can also be regarded as a subcounty with potential people. Because even outside there even if you ask someone else, the picture outside was that Bufunjo is so remote even the people there… can’t easily do something reasonable. So it was like making a challenge to the outside subcounties that we can also, that we can also manage… (...) You see… At first the whole of this subcounty was a forest and people shunned to live this side… so those who came, the roads were very poor and there were no services. (...) Lack of services… Being very far gave people an impression, and by the way people who would fail life in those other areas, would come this way. So… It looked as a place of failures. (...) Because at first, those who were this side at first, they were regarded as people who could not easily relate with others. So people who could be like… as isolated from the community would come this way. As it was a forest. (...) That impression although there were steps of development, that impression remained in the people and when you are outside there some people still say ‘I can’t live there.’ Who can live there? So meaning that whoever is living there is dense, remote, like that… (...) People who were criminals would come this way. At one time it is said even people, how do they call them… cannibals, you know cannibalism, those were the people who were this way. In the early 80s. Those were the people who had come, who had settled this way. So that one brought an impression which has lived with people all that long, though the situation now has changed, given the upcoming of religion, hum… People change and the modernity… People change their behaviour and most of those who were old people, they have gone now fazing out… we no longer have them in the community… But still people have that impression…”61

69The Forum and Citizen Participation are Conceived as Responses to this Situation:

  • 62 Interview, Kifuka, 11 May 2013.

“People in Kyenjojo [town 30km away] are dismissive of Bufunjo. People outside have a tendency of demoralising this place. This brought us the envy of doing something challenging to prove them wrong. (...) In the past, Bufunjo was unreachable. It was thick forest, no road, a lot of wildlife. People decided to come and get land. […] People still think it’s the bush. They associate it with digging and with ignorance. Someone sent a text message to me recently to demoralize me because I’m from here. Our people are used to be given things. We come with a different, participatory approach. People could do better if they participated with one true heart.”62

  • 63 Mazeaud, Nonjon and Parizet (2016) emphasise how much the strategies of territorial distinction ar (...)

70The forums in general are seen as a potential way to morally reform society, and notably the youth. For their members, they are a way to establish their respectability and their image as responsible and upstanding citizens, of acquiring a status comparable to other sub-counties. A means to become modernised, to become legitimate interlocutors of the authorities. In this sense, this rhetoric contributes to a patriotic vision and project.63

  • 64 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

71It is of interest to note that the listeners’ forum does not only represent the enterprise of moral reform and the purification of the morality and reputation of the area prevailing at Bufunjo. According to the LC1 Chairman cited above, criminality and witchcraft were “a common issue to many places (...), even here but you could not easily identify a cannibal but now such issues went, they no longer exist, because of the coming of our God.”64 The god the Chairman is referring to is Owobusobozi Bisaka. Although it is impossible to give exact figures, it would seem that a important number (the majority, according to the Chairman) of the inhabitants of Kifuka had converted to his doctrine, the Faith of Unity. The Ugandan press suggests the figure of two million disciples spread as far as the Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan (Mugerwa 2012). His cult was initially banned by the government and, between 1989 and 1995, Owobusobozi Bisaka was arrested several times. But today this church is in vogue among the political class: President Museveni himself frequents it, as well as other influential leaders, notably MPs of the region, in particular in order to ensure the electoral support of their flocks. Some have openly converted, whether they are NRM or opposition members.

The Faith of Unity

The phenomenon of the Faith of Unity emerged in the context of the resurgence of witchcraft in the region, and in particular the presence of so called “cannibals.”a The issue of cannibals is often raised in Tooro by a very diverse range of population categories. In the 1990s, for example, the Uganda Martyrs Guild (UMG), an organisation linked to the Catholic Church,b organised crusades and sessions of exorcism against witches and cannibals, which they accused of being responsible for violence, disease and poverty, at a time when the insurrection of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) was particularly violent in the region. The UMG was however strongly opposed to Bisaka, and some of the crusades were organised against him.c Bisaka himself was born in 1930.d He did not succeed in becoming a priest, but he was a catechist and composed hymns. He had a revelation in 1975, received powers to cure and gradually moved away from the Catholic Church. In 1983, he had a new mystical experience and became the medium of Owobusobozi, the spirit of power, force and electricity, an joined the Holy Trinity to form a Holy Quaternity, combating Evil with the assistance of an army of angels. He affirmed the presence of God on earth through his intermediary, contested the Bible, which he accused of being a fake, an instrument of oppression by white missionaries, and wrote his own holy book in 1987. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

a. Heike Behrend devoted a major work to this question (2011). The data presented here are all taken from this book.
b. The UMG was formed in 1897, after the death of the martyrs in Buganda in 1886, as an anti-witchcraft and evangelical movement.
c. See Behrend (2011, 91).
d. Ibid., 90–92.

72The degree of bureaucratic refinement observed in Kifuka definitively sweeps away stereotyped considerations regarding the “informality” of African societies. Of course, this bureaucratic system of “transparency” is also the result of strong injunctions from the government, related to the adoption of the NGO Act of 2016, and aimed at defusing the accusations of subversion or attempts at criminalisation that some organisations might be the target of. But this bureaucratic system is not simply reactive and strategic: it is meaningful with regard to the type of civic culture that these actors wish to see emerge.

73The structure instituted in the forum through its 2012 Constitution is complex, based on a two-fold system: a Board which includes ten members and an Executive composed of fourteen people. The text also specifies other posts: the technical staff, in charge of raising funds, maintaining the premises and the equipment, and of the implementation of projects; the community-based trainers, in charge of the training of “communities” in “good governance”; and the village monitors, responsible for overseeing the functioning of the public services at the lowest level. The document also describes the modes of financial management of the group, and the accounting rules to follow.

74Through this, the creators of the forum showcase their regulatory and bureaucratic knowhow, which is a necessary condition, according to them, for being taken seriously by funders and political leaders, but this also corresponds to their ideal of a civilised modern society. The meetings are documented and reported with care (in writing and with photos), and are organised according to a precise and standardised timetable.

75As mentioned earlier, the Bufunjo People’s Forum is, for its organisers, a means to prove their respectability, as citizens, and to raise the sub-county to the rank of civilised sub-counties. To make it a sub-country like any other, as it were. To do that, the power of standardisation and universalisation of bureaucracy is useful. The “common language” of bureaucracy offers the means to avoid being encumbered with differentiated historical heritages, to efface antagonisms. As Béatrice Hibou wrote, “the process of bureaucratisation entails a system of knowledge and knowhow considered as the ‘right practices’ to follow” (Hibou 2013, 15). Thus, participatory bureaucracy offers a way to express an acceptable and respectable form of citizenship at the same time that it provides a mode of social distinction (some of the members of this forum are leaders-to-be, or in any case express political ambitions).

76What is also highlighted in these radio programmes, in the interviews and in the reports produced by the forums, is the necessity of displaying one’s virtuous good citizenship, and even of showing zeal. Indeed, it is not enough to be a citizen and to have rights: to benefit from the resources of the State, one has to show that one deserves it. To prove that one is not just a citizen but a “concerned citizen,” as the programme presenter, Wilfred Mukonyezi, put it while addressing one of the members of the Kicwamba forum:

  • 69 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred (...)

“What efforts have you made to see that your leader at the level of a councillor 3–5 to give them a direction to correct him because during the campaign, this is what you told us that you will do this service, you told us that we will get water as an example or electricity. But it seems you are talking about (political) parties mainly instead of people who respected you and gave you responsibility, what have you done as a concerned citizen? (mulimoki ogwokozere aho nka concerned citizen)?”69

77In the literature produced by ToroDev, these “concerned citizens” take on the features of the entrepreneur. One of the ToroDev concept papers, published prior to the launch of the forums and entitled “Promoting Good Governance through Improved Public Accountability and Democratic Engagement by Using FM Radio in the Rwenzori Region, Western Uganda,” begins thus:

  • 70 “Promoting Good Governance through Improved Public Accountability and Democratic Engagement by Usi (...)

“At ToroDev, we strongly believe in innovation and entrepreneurship. […] Entrepreneurship is a process through which individuals identify opportunities, take risks and allocate resources, and create values. […] Great and successful entrepreneurs world over, always see ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities,’ by taking action to identify solutions to addressing them. These problems can either be social, economic or political needing accomplished entrepreneurs to turn them into opportunities for real positive development change in a given society. Therefore, our partnership with local FM radio stations in the Rwenzori region, Western Uganda is to tap and expand the potential of local citizens and leaders to sustainably develop our community together through knowledge that shapes development opinions—Real entrepreneurship.”70

78It is on this condition—being able to demonstrate that simple citizens have attained the superior level of “concerned citizens,” that they are virtuous bureaucrats, faithful to the spirit of “true entrepreneurship,” and that they have taken the initiative by themselves to lift themselves out of backwardness—that the State will intervene. This idea was clearly expressed during an accountability meeting organised by the Bufunjo People’s Forum and supported ToroDev:

  • 71 “Bufunjo People’s Forum Accountability…,” report cited.

“[...] The secretary for works Mrs X. at the same time who is the vice chairperson LC3 Bufunjo explained to members the roles of different stake holders in the management of the different types of roads in our locality. She informed members that government comes in to help communities that have had something done in regard to their demands. […] It therefore remains a cardinal role of community members to maintain some of these roads especially those in villages which many people have neglected and transferred all the blame to the government for the bad roads.”71

  • 72 On the desire of the populations to be seen and taken account of by the State, see Lund (2013).

79To expect aid from the State without doing anything is presented as dishonourable. According to this ethos, citizens should mobilise themselves if they want the State to intervene—which gives the State a privileged place in the imaginaries of good development.72 Bureaucratised participation is seen as an opportunity for the populations to reform, to improve, to thus find themselves in a better, more legitimate position to call on the State to take care of them. Of course, that does not guarantee with certainty that the State will intervene (it is likely, as we have seen, to intervene on the basis of other political calculations), but that adds weight to their demands, gives them credibility and enables them to be publicised on the air. In order to be able to demand accountability, citizens must be recognised as virtuous, decent, and deserving by the radio station and by political leaders. The ethos of the bureaucratic responsibility of the Bufunjo People’s Forum authorised them to formulate credible demands, in a language which corresponds to the injunctions of donors and which is considered “acceptable” by political leaders. As if it is not enough to be a simple citizen. As if citizenship should be “qualified” in both meanings of the term, enhanced by bureaucratic virtue and knowhow. Thus differentiated intervention according to the causes, the spaces, the population, is morally justified in the name of this “concerned” and virtuous citizenship.

The Homeland of Concerned Citizens

80The radio polity is a technocratic democracy, where clerks are key figures who promote a form of procedural and bureaucratic participation which prolongs the State and offers a way to overcome its shortcomings in terms of the identification of problems in remote areas. A polity focused on well-being defined as access to public services: education, health care and the road infrastructure. Listeners are encouraged to call in to ask their leaders for accountability. They are encouraged to imagine themselves as beneficiaries of public services: a loose and inclusive community, which overrides any other form or scale of belonging. In order for this enhanced citizenry to flourish, people need to be trained, educated, acquiring practical competencies which associate practical knowhow based on experience of the failures of public services (Sintomer 2008) with expertise in terms of public works and local administrative law, in order to be able not only to identify the issues, but also to formulate demands for a solution in an “acceptable” form. ToroDev seeks to produce citizens who follow the bureaucratic procedures, while making use of the radio.

81These radio programmes are not only spaces for the promotion of a “foreman” or “construction site inspector” form of citizenship, but also of a kind of political authority that is “expert” and “technocratic,” plunged in the details of the procedures, the materials and the mechanisms (in the literal sense of the word) of construction and infrastructure. Rather than breaking away from the leader-led hierarchy, these “participatory” phone-in programmes are an opportunity to restore a kind of leadership figure that is tried and trusted in the sub-region, that of the “teaching leader.” The radio is, unexpectedly, less a space for the manifestation of a charismatic form of politics than the place for a highly procedural and technical form of politics. The good leader is not only the one who uses his influence and his privileged relations with the President to channel resources towards his constituency, who makes good his missions to take responsibility for the collective wellbeing by means of redistribution practices that are ethical because productive for the community. He is also the leader who masters technocratic and bureaucratic knowhow, who knows how to mobilise the machinery of the State, who is familiar with its inner workings, and who knows how to ensure the circulation of its resources.

  • 73 It goes without saying that these mechanisms and this logic are not specifically African.

82The emphasis on the responsibility of the citizens to take control of their destiny restores the State to its central position on the development chessboard. The State is omnipresent, in people’s ambitions and desire for intervention. But it is only responsive for “concerned” and deserving citizens, who furnish the proof of a kernel of bureaucratic self-organisation. It is this linkage between bureaucracy and morality that the present article seeks to emphasise. The listeners’ forums entrench the idea of the legitimacy of differentiated interventions, targeting “deserving” populations, with a “concerned” and decent body of citizens, thus disqualifying alternative forms of demand and limiting the circuits of accountability to certain categories of the population: those who possess bureaucratic knowhow. Of course, the mechanisms of patronage actually follow other logics, but these radio programmes provide the rhetorical resources to legitimize these differentiated interventions. The politicized bureaucracy, the variable geometry of the deployment of the services of the State, find here a form of legitimacy.73

83Through the promotion of a whole range of ethical imperatives and tools, radio plays a role in the “bureaucratisation of the world.” As we have seen, this bureaucratic system reflects the policy of surveillance and control of a regime plunging ever further into repression, but it cannot be reduced to a superficial strategy of protection: it is at the core of the projects of civic and moral reform carried by “concerned citizens.” Jean-François Bayart has shown how the bureaucratisation of the world intervenes in Africa, ironically, largely “from below,” and from the core of sectors said to be “informal,” as a means or hope for the subaltern or marginalised classes to get a foothold, to integrate the State, and through it the networks of economic accumulation (Bayart 2013). In Bufunjo, conceived as a vector and the manifestation of modernisation, bureaucratisation is also part of a patriotic ambition. And it is paradoxically because of its effects of abstraction and universalisation that it is desired and integrated in this desire for the promotion of a region. Its non-historical, non-localised, non-specific language is seen as ennobling. Standardisation is a means, for the ancient refuge of the “cannibals,” to get back in line.

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1 As recently explained by Alice Mazeaud, Magali Nonjon and Raphaëlle Parizet (2016), there has not been any homogeneous “conversion” to a single model of participation, but a multiplicity of appropriations, each with its own social logic.

2 In the fullest sense of this idea, that is, always in the manner of a dialogue, in an unequal negotiation between dominated and dominant, see Bayart (1989, 302–304, 329).

3 Similarly, on the effects of advocacy on activism, see Ollion and Siméant (2015).

4 This article is based on a two-month field study undertaken in two phases, in 2012 and 2013, and on follow up interviews carried out in 2016. Five two-hour programmes, broadcast by Better FM, were transcribed in Rutooro and translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi (to whom I offer here my warmest thanks). Many observations were made in the studio, and in the workshops organised by ToroDev and other organisations. Numerous reports from the organisation have been analysed. About twenty interviews were carried out in English with producers, ToroDev staff members, journalists, political leaders and members of several listeners’ clubs in the districts of Kabarole and Kyenjojo, where observations were carried out. I warmly thank the many people who gave me the benefit of their time and their help in Uganda. The staff at ToroDev, more particularly Johstone Baguma and Solomon Akugizibwe have been immensely kind and patient in answering my questions. They were generous enough to share with me a lot of very interesting reports. I also thank the members of the Listeners’ forum for their help and friendship: especially Gilbert Rwaheru, and the members of the forum in Bufunjo which was the main focus of the study, and where I was welcomed with much warmth and kindness, especially by JB Tibeeha: thank you for your time and for sharing your perspectives with me.

This research was carried out in the framework of the project New Communication Technologies and Citizen led Governance in Africa led by the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR) at the University of Cambridge. It was supported by the Cairns Charitable Trust and the Isaac Newton Trust. I take this opportunity to warmly thank my colleagues at the Centre, Sharath Srinivasan, Iginio Gagliardone and Alastair Fraser, for our discussions on this research which greatly enriched the present article.

Finally, I thank the editors and reviewers at Sociétés politiques comparées, whose comments have enabled me to improve this text, as well as Marie-Aude Fouéré for supporting its translation and republication in English in Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est/The East African Review, and finally Michael Paul for the meticulous work of translation.

5 Quotation by André Clavé, Director of Sorafom, the colonial radio production agency, cited in Robert (2007, 14). Regarding these clubs, see also G. Robert (1967, 84). On the OCORA and radio clubs, see Thomas Leyris’ ongoing PhD research: “Brodcasting in French Sub-saharian Africa during the Period of Decolonizations (1944-1969),” Other clubs were in contrast openly elitist and exclusive, the melting pots for the development of a culture of the bourgeois class (Larkin 2008, 53–54).

6 On the registers of the justification of the control of profane discourse on the radio, see Brisset-Foucault (2019).

7 Interview with Johnstone Baguma, Fort Portal, 17 April 2012.

8 There is a whole body of literature that provides a basis for adding complexity to the explanation of the adoption of international participatory models by taking into account the profile of the exporters, the lability of the exported models, and the constitution, in the importing countries, of sectors of “professionals” of participation with an interest in promoting these tools: see for example Cheynis (2016).

9 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012. In 2016, ToroDev spoke of around twenty of these forums in the whole region.

10 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

11 Which encourages the planting of trees by distributing seeds to the farmers, offering training in business activities to its members and financial aid for school fees for their children.

12 Interview, Kifuka, 11 May 2013.

13 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

14 Ibid.

15 Interview, Kyenjojo, 18 April 2012.

16 For good counter-examples, however, see in particular Englund (2011) and Grätz (1999) ( For an approach questioning normative analyses on the media in Africa, see Capitant (2008).

17 The question is thus raised of the relations of the rural populations with the State less on the basis of the way they are (or not) integrated in relations of production than through their relations with its representatives and its institutions. See Issue 14 of Politique africaine, “Les paysans et le pouvoir en Afrique noire” (1984), which revisits Goran Hyden’s famous thesis. Ben Jones, in Beyond the State in Rural Uganda, recalls with reason that “development interventions, which provide the focus for so many studies of change in rural Africa, are only occasional and exceptional variations of what can be found” (Jones 2008, 6). Based on a case study in eastern Uganda, the author stresses that certain areas remain largely ignored by development projects and by the State representatives. Thus, there is no claim to any representativeness of the dynamics described here.

18 Conversation with ToroDev staff, Fort Portal, 12 May 2013.

19 Interview with the coordinator of the forum, Kicwamba, 16 May 2013.

20 Interview with the coordinator of the forum, Kicwamba, 16 May 2013.

21 Article 44 in particular aroused various concerns, especially in pro-LGBT circles, as it proclaimed that an organisation should not engage in “any act, which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.” Another section prohibits “campaigning” for a party or a candidate, which might sometimes be interpreted somewhat broadly (Paulat 2015). The text of the law can be downloaded at [archive] and read online at [archive].

22 On the draft law, which was much more intrusive and which triggered numerous reactions, see Okuda (2015).

23 Interview with the Chairman of LC3, Kicwamba, 16 May 2013.

24 This was the case in Buganda, where radio was heavily frequented by royalist patriots (Brisset-Foucault 2013). The Tooro monarchy does not trigger the same fervour: it has even sometimes, in these programmes, been the focus of criticism for its lack of transparency and democracy, understood as the respect of bureaucratic procedures.

25 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

26 Furthermore, one may observe a polarisation of these discussions: a programme devoted to a project aiming to put an end to free schooling in urban areas triggered direct on-the-air attacks on the presidency, and in particular against the budgets allocated to State House, and against the NRM (National Resistance Movement). “The Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012. Sometimes, the partisan labels re-emerge (programme on 14 April 2012), when the leaders were criticised on the basis of their partisan affinities. Thus, the bureaucratic framework did not necessarily have the same depoliticising effect that it might have elsewhere.

27 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

28 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

29 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

30 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

31 Interview with an LC3 Chairman, 16 May 2013.

32 “Know Your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

33 Conversation after the programme, Fort Portal, 14 April 2012. It should be pointed out that this councillor was strongly opposed to the mayor.

34 Toro Development Network, “Improving Local Governance through Radio in the Rwenzori Region,” Project Report, October 2011-September 2012.

35 Toro Development Network, “Using Radio as a ‘Hub’ for ICT Convergence to Improve Public Service Delivery in the Rwenzori region, Western Uganda,” Project Report, January 2013.

36 Interview, Fort Portal, 6 April 2012.

37 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

38 Interview with Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal, 4 April 2012.

39 These sums vary according to the political allegiance and the region and increase spectacularly during electoral campaigns, see Collord (2016).

40 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

41 Interview, 31 October 2016.

42 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

43 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

44 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

45 Ibid.

46 Interview, Mugusu, 11 April 2012.

47 “Bufunjo People’s Forum Accountability/Launch Meeting held on 15th April 2013.” Unpublished report.

48 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 4 March 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

49 “Listeners’ Forum,” Better FM, 15 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

50 On the ambivalent and profoundly political effects of the pedagogy, see Rancière (1985).

51 Interview with Alex Ruhunda, Fort Portal, 14 April 2012.

52 See for example what Nyerere said of Museveni and of the necessity for political leaders to be teachers in Museveni (2000, xv).

53 This importance of the pedagogical posture among the leadership is not specific to Uganda. One thinks, of course, of Mwalimu Nyerere, whose political philosophy was influential on Museveni.

54 The events of 2015–2016 revealed a discrepancy between the technical interpretation of the situation encouraged by the forum on the one hand, and the local political conflictuality, largely linked to the electoral context on the other. Indeed, ahead of the presidential and general elections of 2016, the secretary general of the forum became the assistant of one of the candidates to the general election. The chairman of the forum supported another candidate. The competition between the two was very tight and the election was followed by accusations of fraud. In June 2016, the election was cancelled by the high court in Fort Portal, citing irregularities: intimidation, fraud and corruption. See Tusiime and Edon (2016); Kajubu (2016). Violence against a presumed supporter of Muhumuza were reported after the decision (Mwebembezi 2016).

55 I warmly thank Valérie Golaz for informing me of the existence of this very rich study.

56 Ibid., and interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

57 Between 1946 and 1975, about 80,000 people migrated from Kigezi to Tooro. See Hartter et al (2015) and the study by Grace Carswell (2007). A little further north from Bufunjo, in Bunyoro, these migrants and their descendants started suffering attacks and land evictions from political leaders and activists presenting themselves as “autochthons” in 1990s, see Baligira (2020). As mentioned earlier, the situation in Kyenjojo is not exempt from tensions and sometimes some politicians try to mobilise along autochthonous lines as well, but so far no violence comparable to what happened in Bunyoro has unfolded.

58 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

59 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

60 Interview, Kifuka, 11 May 2013.

61 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

62 Interview, Kifuka, 11 May 2013.

63 Mazeaud, Nonjon and Parizet (2016) emphasise how much the strategies of territorial distinction are a driver of the adoption of participative schemes.

64 Interview, Kifuka, 30 October 2016.

69 “Know your Leader,” Better FM, 14 April 2012, translated into English by Irene Kangume and Wilfred Mukonyezi.

70 “Promoting Good Governance through Improved Public Accountability and Democratic Engagement by Using FM radio in the Rwenzori Region, Western Uganda,” Toro Development Paper, November 2011, p. 2.

71 “Bufunjo People’s Forum Accountability…,” report cited.

72 On the desire of the populations to be seen and taken account of by the State, see Lund (2013).

73 It goes without saying that these mechanisms and this logic are not specifically African.

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Florence Brisset-Foucault, « The Radio Polity: Construction-Site Democracy, Technocratic Domination and Bureaucratic Patriotism in Uganda »Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est / The East African Review [En ligne], 57 | 2022, mis en ligne le 29 août 2022, consulté le 30 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Florence Brisset-Foucault

Institut des mondes africains (IMAF) − Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

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