Semi-presidentialism in Uganda

A recent comment about Uganda encouraged me to include a separate entry rather than just a reply.

According to my information, Uganda became semi-presidential in 2005 following a constitutional amendment. However, it is clearly one of those cases that is at the cusp of the definition. Please correct me if I have interpreted the constitutional situation in Uganda inaccurately.

The current constitution of Uganda dates back to 1995. There is provision for the direct election of the president (Art. 103) for a fixed term (Arts. 105 and 107). In the 1995 version, there was mention of individual ministerial responsibility to parliament, but not collective cabinet responsibility (Art. 118). Also, there was no mention of a prime minister. Instead, there was mention of a vice-president (Art. 108). So, in 1995 the Ugandan constitution was clearly presidential.

In 2005 The Constitution (Amendment) Act was passed. It changed many articles of the constitution.

Article 108A (1) now reads: “(1) There shall be a Prime Minister who shall be appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament by simple majority from among members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected members of Parliament.

Thus, in theory at least, parliament could withhold its support of the president’s choice of prime minister.

Article 108A (3) reads: “(3) The Prime Minister shall, in the performance of his or her functions, be individually accountable to the President and collectively responsible for any decision made by the Cabinet.”

This clause seems to add just about enough collective responsibility to allow Uganda to be classed as semi-presidential. For example, it introduces a greater degree of collective responsibility than can be found in the Argentine Constitution, where there is the individual responsibility of the head of government to Congress, but no mention of any collective responsibility. However, even with this clause, Uganda is on the cusp of semi-presidentialism and many people would no doubt class the Constitution as presidential still. I am still wavering, though I tend to include Uganda in my list of countries with semi-presidential constitutions.

To my knowledge, the changes were made as part of a political deal that was designed, in effect, to reduce the powers of the president. On the basis of the Constitution, Uganda is an example of president-parliamentary form of semi-presidentialism. In practice, the president is the main political actor within the executive.

In this instance, is less informative than usual. There is no list of Vice-Presidents, though President Museveni’s website clearly identifies the current Vice-President, Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya. It also identifies a prime minister since 1980, though I could not find any link to the current incumbent, Apollo Nsibambi, from either the president’s website or the parliament’s site and the link seems to be inactive.

This posting was motivated by a comment on a previous entry. In answer to one question that was raised in the comment, to me it does not seem important from the perspective of a definition of semi-presidentialism that the prime minister does not have to be a member of parliament. In many countries, deputies have to resign their seat in parliament once appointed to government. Also, in France, for example, there is no requirement that the prime minister be a member of parliament. I am confident that there is no such requirement in many other constitutions too, even if prime ministers are usually appointed from parliament.

There is a good page with details of the 1995 Constitution and the subsequent amendments, including the 2005 changes.

2 thoughts on “Semi-presidentialism in Uganda

  1. Reed Rasband

    I noticed that Uganda is not listed in either your list of current semi-presidential countries or your list of historic ones, yet on this page you do consider it to be semi-presidential (although marginally so). Could you please let me know your current opinion regarding its classification?

  2. Robert Elgie

    Thanks. I did change my mind about Uganda. The Constitution says that parliament has to approve the nomination of the PM. However, Art. 108A (4) lists the circumstances in which office of the Prime Minister shall become vacant thereafter. Here. there is no mention of responsibility to parliament. Only the president may dismiss the PM. Also, the constitution implies that the PM’s initial appointment is individual. Only afterwards is the PM collectively responsible for the cabinet’s work and then only to the president and not parliament. So, Uganda is a difficult case. Is it enough for a country to be semi-presidential when it is a one-shot individual PM appointment game, or does there have to be some opportunity for parliament to dismiss the government collectively afterwards? I switched from the first interpretation to the second at some point. I switched at least partly because individual ministerial appointment is common in presidential systems, whereas collective cabinet responsibility thereafter is not a part of presidentialism. This seemed to make Uganda fit the constitutional characteristics of presidentialism rather than semi-presidentialism. I hope that helps.


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