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This report examines which aspects of Uganda’s self-reliance model work, for whom, and under what conditions.

Uganda’s refugee policies have been widely recognised as among the most progressive in the world. Through its self-reliance model, it allows refugees the right to work and freedom of movement. This report explores what difference the self-reliance model makes in practice, which aspects work, and how its different elements influence welfare outcomes for refugees and host communities. Given that Uganda’s model has become an exemplar for development-based approaches to refugees, an evidence-based understanding of the conditions under which self-reliance policies lead to enhanced welfare outcomes matters for policy, programming, and advocacy. In order to answer the questions, the report compares outcomes for refugees and host community members in Uganda and Kenya.

Market in Nakivale. Credit: N. Omata

Drawing upon quantitative and qualitative research, including a survey of over 8,000 refugees and host community members in urban and camp contexts, we identify four major advantages to Uganda’s regulatory framework: greater mobility, lower transaction costs for economic activity, higher incomes, and more sustainable sources of employment. Nevertheless, there are some limitations to Uganda’s assistance model, notably in relation to the viability of its land allocation model in rural settlements, the inadequacy of access to education in the settlements, and the ineffectiveness of urban assistance.

Overall, the research offers a strong endorsement of the value of allowing refugees the right to work and freedom of movement, but calls for a more nuanced view of the strengths and weaknesses of refugee assistance in Uganda.