Participation and support for the constitution in Uganda

Devra C. Moehler
2006 The Journal of Modern African Studies  
Printed in the United Kingdom for countries as diverse as Iraq, India and Nigeria. Though there is considerable interest in this model among policy-makers, we lack empirical evidence that participation does enhance legitimacy, especially at the individual level. This article tests the claim that public participation in the Ugandan constitution-making process built support for the new constitution. Contrary to the optimistic predictions of most academics and activists, my evidence indicates that
more » ... participation did not have a direct effect on constitutional legitimacy, though it did educate citizens about the constitution. Multivariate analysis of survey data shows that Ugandans who were active in the constitution-making process were no more supportive of the constitution after its adoption than were those who were not involved in its creation. Participation does not automatically confer constitutional legitimacy, as advocates have assumed. What accounts for this unexpected and (for many) disappointing outcome? Drawing on quantitative and qualitative analysis, I argue that the political leaders in a given area, and not public participation, influenced whether citizens came to view the constitution as legitimate or illegitimate. The constitution-making process, and the constitution itself, were difficult for ordinary Ugandans to evaluate. Due to deliberate efforts by leaders to influence public opinion, and given the scarcity of alternative sources of information, both active and inactive citizens were highly influenced by elite rhetoric. In most areas of Uganda, elites communicated positive messages about the process and the constitution ; but in some areas citizens learned from their local government leaders that the process was unfair, and therefore concluded that the resulting constitution was deeply flawed. Given some of the democratic shortcomings of the process and the constitution, the opposition leaders and their constituents had good reasons to withhold their support. This research warns policy-makers about the difficulties of using participatory constitution-making to build constitutional legitimacy. In transitioning states, most citizens lack the information and skills to assess the fairness of the constitution-making process on their own, and so they turn to local leaders for guidance. As a result, elites mediate between participation and constitutional legitimacy. If elites are divided and debates are antagonistic, citizens are likely to develop polarised views of the process and the constitution. In a polity with a robust opposition and no consensus, participatory constitution-making may significantly reduce rather than enhance constitutional legitimacy. This article proceeds as follows. The first section introduces the theoretical literature on constitutional development and participation. The 276
doi:10.1017/s0022278x06001637 fatcat:slpfun2zlbba5kqytjetdguqui