Property rights, social protection and social justice are the focus for the Mwananchi programme in Uganda. The themes were identified by consultation meetings, stocktaking exercises and a baseline context analysis and the programme will engage formal and informal governance structures and organisations in at least three districts in the country. More >
New in Mwananchi Uganda
Mwananchi Uganda is pleased to present its Annual Report for 2011-2012. The report reviews the main activities and achievements during the year, and learning from the programme and some of the innovative projects that are funded.
The annual report also includes several short stories about emerging impact from Mwananchi's interventions to strengthen voice and accountability in Uganda, including:
- In Miiyra sub-country, Mwananchi's partner, Masindi District NGO Forum, has been workign with local people to increase accountability in local health services. As a result of presenting evidence from public expendidture tracking, the forum was able to convince local officials to conduct spot checks on health centres, resulting in better service for local people.
- Community-based informal justice courts in Kibaale are speeding up poor peoples' access to justice by providing fair and open decisions at a low cost.
By Emily Drani
In Uganda, all the 65 ethnic groups have clans, predominately headed by men. This leadership is often referred to as the council of elders. A clan leader may inherit this position of leadership or may be selected on merit and personality traits that appeal to his elders or members of his clan. Clan leaders play important roles in the day-to-day management of different societies, especially at local governance levels. Although interaction amongst the clan leaders of the same ethnic group is common, social courtesy calls and exposure visits are rarely part of their interaction with clan leaders who are not of the same ethnic group. This is a short story of how exposure to knowledge can potentially stimulate pluralism – a desire to cross boundaries of difference to engage and learn about “the other”. In March 2012, CCFU supported one clan leader and chief from Panyimur (Nebbi), Charles Ombidi, to travel over 400kms to visit, share knowledge and learn about his counterparts in Pokot.
“I learnt about the Pokot council of elders at the dissemination event for a publication on ‘Culture in Governance’ organized by the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda. Overcome by curiosity, I called CCFU and asked if they could take me along the next time they were visiting the Pokot. I wanted to learn more about the Pokot. Usually clan leaders do not leave their traditional territories to visit other clan leaders but I felt compelled to meet with the elders in Pokot,”
In some urban communities, where people have access to diverse authorities and avenues to address their concerns, clan leaders or council of elders, may not be perceived as relevant. For rural folk, however, the ruling of elders or clan leaders makes the difference between life and death. The Pokot in Uganda are one such community where the council of elders makes a significant difference in the lives of rural folk.
In 2011 when the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) carried out research on Culture in Governance: does it work? clan leaders and elders from Tooro, Pokot, Alur and Lango had their contributions to development in their respective regions documented. These contributions ranged from speaking out on corruption using the radio, managing the land tenure system and protecting women’s land rights, upholding justice informed by traditional values and ensuring community cohesion and security using traditional conciliation mechanisms. They were inspired by the acknowledgement of their contributions and encouraged by the knowledge that they were not alone.
This work was followed by an initiative to support clan leaders and elders develop charters that define their roles (past, present and evolving), outline the values and principles that inform their conduct and highlight their relevance in the current and future development of this country. With support from the Mwananchi Programme (under DRT), CCFU worked with clan leaders in Tooro, Pokot, Lango and Alur to develop clan leaders charters. Their reactions to this process ranged from self-criticism, rediscovery (especially by the younger clan leaders), and affirmation of their relevance among others. In this process, comparisons were made and information shared about what happens in the different regions and reaffirmed the findings in our governance study.
While in Pokot, Charles Ombidi noted differences and similarities between the Alur and Pokot culture.
“I spent four days in Pokot, meeting with the councils of elders, the karachuna women and local government officials who interact with the traditional institutions. The Pokot council of elders is recognized. It is interesting how they are supported by the karachuna and peace committees that consist of the youth. The age sets, ranks and traditional initiation of young men help to clarify the hierarchy in this society and probably this reduces conflicts over power sharing. This is something we do not have in Panyimur. It is a good way to ensure continuity of tradition” he noted. “I am impressed by the traditional justice system managed by the council of elders, which many people we met said this is still functional amidst hardship, migration, cattle rustling and the disarmament exercise!”
The Pokot which recently became a district, is remote and has limited access to development programmes, judging from the number of non-governmental organizations and government programmes. The communities also have limited access to public services such as schools, medical facilities, electricity and running water. Chief Ombidi observed, “The Pokot are very isolated and it looks like they have limited support from state authorities, and lack public services. The roads are almost impassable and yet many of us take this for granted.”
The Pokot council of elders is also isolated in respect to engagement with other political and traditional institutions. “It is good to know that there is a national Traditional Leaders Forum for cultural leaders. We did not know about this. We will consider being represented as you advice.” Chief Ombidi, who noted that this forum is a good space for traditional leaders to interact, had encouraged the council of elders to send a representative to the Forum, where they are currently not represented.
At the end of the journey, Chief Ombidi sighed and said “Going to Pokot has really been an experience to remember. There is so much that I can share with the clan leaders in Panyimur when I return.”
Often barriers and stereotypes are created because of limited knowledge and exposure to that which is different. By taking the initiative to find out more about the Pokot, Chief Ombidi not only had an opportunity to learn about the Pokot, but to reflect on the limitations of his traditional system in terms of support from the youth but also appreciate the benefits of having access to various public services that are often taken for granted - an experience that was quite an eye opener.
Like the Crested Crane, one of the most beautiful birds found in Uganda, networks and coalitions beautify the Civil Society landscape. Like birds of the same feathers, the networks and coalitions flock and dance together. This is even reflected in the grantees that are part of the Mwananchi programme in the East African country. In a sense the country’s history has acted as a magnet that has brought most Civil Society Organisations together and with it the realisation that there is strength in numbers. For example, it has been learnt in Uganda that when engaging policy makers it was better to approach them as a coalition than as individual organisations. In this respect the ‘community of practice’ concept of the Mwananchi programme can easily find a nest on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Of the grantees that have been selected so far, the elements of networking and coalitions are even visible within their names, for example ‘forum’ and ‘network.’ Working together brings broad support for proposed changes to laws, policies, service delivery and also helps to deepen proposed solutions to problems and issues common to good governance, not to mention the saving of money, time, improved coordination and better understanding of issues. Equally significant is that the grantees work is linked to specific districts as the names also suggest. On the issues raised by the projects one sees community development, accountability, budget tracking, improved health delivery and better education.
The grantees and their project titles are as follows:
- Community Development and Child Welfare Initiatives: Increased number of people benefitting from the community Driven Development Programme (CDD)
- Forum for Women in Development: Enhance the capacity of grassroots communities to demand for accountability
- Lira NGO Forum: Reduction of public funds in Universal Primary Education schools in Lira sub-county
- World Voices Uganda: Mwananchi Justice Agenda Project
- Kalangala NGO Forum: Promoting citizens’ engagement to improving maternal health service delivery in Bujumba sub-county
- Masindi District Education Network: Improved learners performance in Masindi Primary Schools
- Kibaale Civil Society Network: Enhancing community participation and community monitoring of community development programme.