In recent years several democratically elected African governments have abolished primary school fees following pledges made during presidential election campaigns. Among these cases, Uganda's universal primary education (UPE) programme, launched in 1997, has received particular attention, due to the massive increase in primary school enrolment, as well the sustained increase in public spending on education that it has entailed. This paper asks whether the Ugandan government's policies in this area can be explained by the prior establishment of competitive elections in 1996. It provides several reasons to believe that the move to UPE has indeed been linked to democratic politics, and that this outcome has depended on the salience of education as an issue, as well as on the public's access to information about UPE. As a result, recent Ugandan experience helps show why the establishment of competitive elections might prompt an African government to spend more on primary education. However, it also suggests why in many African countries a democratic transition will have little effect on primary education provision.
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