The Ugandan capital, Kampala, increasingly appears to be a city in a crisis. Constant political interventions from the central government have repeatedly frustrated efforts towards improved planning for the city, while the city government itself - starved of resources and hounded by corruption scandals - is failing to provide basic services to the burgeoning urban population. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that the central government has tabled a bill that would enable it to take over the management of the city, in a dramatic reversal of Uganda’s celebrated decentralisation programme. Meanwhile urban unemployment, poverty and seemingly intractable struggles over the land tenure system have compounded with deteriorating relations between the government and the leaders of the Buganda Kingdom in which the city is located, resulting in deep-seated unrest that culminated in violent riots that left 30 people dead in and around the city in September 2009. This paper argues that formal institutions for managing the city - particularly those relating to land, planning and decentralisation - have been consistently undermined by informal bargaining between elites and urban interest groups. Far from just being a case of 'getting the institutions right', the paper suggests that the city’s problems cannot be resolved unless this disjuncture between formal and informal institutional processes is fully recognised
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