Social accountability vital for building trust in post-election Uganda

Development projects that pay greater attention to social accountability can improve citizen–state relations and trust in Uganda and other fragile countries, according to new research by International Alert.

The report, titled Making social accountability work: Promoting peaceful development in Uganda, evaluates two large-scale development projects undertaken in Uganda and has been published following the recent elections in the country that have been undermined by widespread unrest and allegations of corruption.

The report states that development projects that build in transparency and accountability components can nurture more constructive government–community relations – vital for closing historical divides between citizens and state that fuelled the civil war in Uganda, and helping people feel they can influence change.

Richard Businge, Country Manager for International Alert in Uganda, said:

“Uganda is not alone in the region in experiencing tensions around presidential elections. It is vital that we avoid post-election violence of the kind seen in Burundi at present and in Kenya in 2008, which points to the urgent need to help more people participate in decision-making and ensure the government and development agencies respond to their concerns.”

An informant of one of the report’s case studies commented that people in northern Uganda had previously felt neglected and humiliated by the government, but relationships improved “quite tremendously” after the project integrated a social accountability component. Teaching communities conflict-management skills also empowered them to resolve more local disputes among themselves.

It was also found that accountability initiatives can help make communities more cohesive. For example, forming local groups to interact with the district government and give voice to local concerns is an effective way of improving citizen–state relations, laying stronger foundations for building mutual trust and understanding.

As well as being a critical component of development projects, the report reveals that technology can also amplify citizen voices and enable better information sharing, therefore strengthening social accountability.

Jo Robinson, Programme Officer on International Institutions at International Alert, author of Making social accountability worklead author of Making social accountability work, said:

“Online spaces can sometimes represent more open forums for discussion on state behaviour than those offline, allowing people to engage frankly in democratic debate not just during election time, but whenever decisions are being made which may affect their lives.

The report findings will be presented at the World Bank Group Fragility, Conflict and Violence Forum in Washington DC on 1–3 March 2016 (website).

The research was based on two projects: Lakes Edward and Albert Fisheries Pilot Project (LEAF I), funded by the African Development Bank; and the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund Project (NUSAF II), funded by the World Bank.

Photo © Andrew Pacutho/International Alert