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The Politics of Gender in Uganda: Symbolism in the Service of Pragmatism

  • Dan Ottemoeller
Abstract:

This essay outlines a realist explanation for an increase in women's participation in formal political processes in Uganda. The essay notes that a variety of factors influence women's participation in formal politics, such as demands for increased participation from women and women's organizations, the influence of the worldwide feminist movement, and Uganda's turbulent political and economic history which has created openings for novel political initiatives. However, the paper's central argument asserts that women's role in formal politics in Uganda is expanding principally because women constitute a potentially influential voting bloc in an era in which the liberalization of African economic and political systems limits politicians' abilities to build electoral support based on patronage. The essay suggests that in this context, politicians will seek to build support around issues that can be addressed with symbolic solutions. In sum, this essay asserts that women's increased role in formal politics in Uganda has been brought about by power-seeking politicians who are sympathetic to feminist issues because (1) electoral strategies are severely limited by liberal political and economic values and (2) politicians can secure support from women with relatively low-cost symbolic political initiatives. The paper concludes with a brief examination of the implications of an expansion of women's influence in formal politics in Uganda, especially concerning the potential for women's political support to “cross-cut” historical Ugandan political allegiances defined by ethnicity, religion, region, and political party affiliation.

Résumé:

Cet article esquisse une explication réaliste de la participation croissante des femmes dans le processus politique en Ouganda. Notons aussi que divers facteurs ont contribué à la participation des femmes à la chose politique, tels que l'exigence par les femme et les associations féminines d'une plus grande participation, l'influence du féminisme mondial et l'instabilité de l'histoire politique et économique de l'Ouganda qui a ouvert les portes à de nouvelles initiatives politiques. Cependant nous soulignons que le rôle croissant des femmes dans la politique en Ouganda s'explique surtout par le fait que les femmes constituent un corps électoral potentiellement influent dans une époque où la libéralisation des systèmes économiques et politiques de l'Afrique limite les capacités des politiciens à se construire une base électorale fondée sur le patronage. L'article suggère que dans un tel contexte les politiciens chercheront de l'appui dans des questions susceptibles à être résolus par le recours à des solutions symboliques. En résumé, cet article insiste sur le fait que l'intervention croissante des femmes dans la vie politique ougandaise est due dans une large mesure au fait que les politiciens en quête de pouvoir sont sensibles aux problèmes soulevés par les féministes parce que, premièrement, les stratégies électorales sont sévèrement limitées par les valeurs politiques et économiques libérales, et deuxièmement les politiciens peuvent s'assurer l'appui des femmes avec des initiatives politiques symboles de moindre coût. L'auteur conclut en examinant brièvement les conséquences de l'influence croissante des femmes dans la vie politique ougandaise, surtout parce que potentiellement l'appui des femmes peut permettre d'aller au-delà des allégeances historiques dans la politique ougandaise qui était fondée sur l'ethnicité, la religion, la région et l'affiliation politique.

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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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