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 peacebuilding organisation International Alert published yesterday.
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 which 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, says: “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, lead author of “Making social accountability work”, comments: “Online spaces represent more open forums for discussion on government behaviour than those off line, allowing people to engage in democratic debate not just during election time, but whenever decisions are being made which may affect their lives. It is important to preserve this space even during an election process, ensuring people feel able to express their opinions frankly.”