This paper analyses the structural challenges, root causes and dynamics of conflict, (in)stability and resilience in Uganda, with a particular focus on their relation to recent refugee movements. The first section of the paper explores the national dynamics that shape conflict, (in)stability and resilience in Uganda. The second section analyses the refugee flows, policies, impacts, challenges and sources of resilience. The third and fourth sections focus on the conflict and (in)stability dynamics specific to the north-west/northern and south-west/western regions.
While conflicts in the great lakes region are increasingly pushing refugees into Uganda – particularly the northwest and southwest. Uganda’s current situation is one of relative peace, compared to previous decades. As a recent ICG (2017) report explains, ‘Uganda is not in danger of renewed civil war or rebel violence’, but it does risk ‘sliding into a political crisis that could eventually threaten the country’s hard-won stability’. This slide towards a political crisis is being fuelled by the top-down, repressive, clinging to power of President Museveni and his circle, combined with the grassroots dissatisfaction of a young population with limited economic prospects and environmental vulnerability.
The unprecedented numbers of refugees flowing into Uganda are putting a significant strain on the government, its development partners, on host communities and on the refugees. This is even more concerning as conflict in the countries of origin (particularly South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) look likely to continue, and more refugees are expected to arrive. There is a large funding shortfall for the refugee response, and thus food rations have been cut, and some refugee settlements are close to full.
No recent literature finds widespread conflict related to refugees, but small-scale conflict over natural resources (especially water and timber) is reported, plus sporadic small-scale protests (Khadka, 2017, p.5). Most of the literature reports of heightened tensions between refugees and host communities, usually based on the overall poverty and vulnerability of both groups, combined with increased competition over resources, basic services, land and livelihoods. Older literature on refugees in southwest Uganda finds a more mixed picture – with reports of localised conflicts over land, and of negative attitudes towards refugees. With increasingly scarce land, environmental degradation, an increasing population and a funding shortfall, the sustainability of Uganda’s progressive refugee policy is at risk. The public feelings of discontent could be mobilised by political actors at some point, however, Museveni’s regime is in favour of the current policy.