Thursday, December 17, 2009

Compulsory Community Involvement

Most development projects these days rightfully focus on community involvement, in other words, getting beneficiaries to contribute to the success of a project. This fosters a sense of ownership, which should allow whatever is being done to last far after the implementing organization has left. I've seen many failed water systems here in Uganda, most likely done in because the local community had no stake in the construction or implementation process.

The ACTS GFS project in Bwesumbu is following the current thinking by working hard to include the local communities that will benefit. There are 5 "cells", comprising about 8,000 people. One Ugandan staff member is dedicated to meeting with local government and religious leaders to encourage them to moblize their communities to contribute to digging (and there's a lot of digging to be done). While this has gone pretty smoothly on previous ACTS projects, it's proving to be a challenge here.

In fact, on several occassions the local police, in a happy show of their own authority, have set up a road block on the main road that winds through the hills. All travelers are stopped, and those living in the project area have been "encouraged" to get off their bodas or trucks, grab a shovel, and get to digging. And the work sure has sped along on these days.

The police set up a road block to gather workers
But unfortunately, while such tactics are popular here in Africa (the local police captain told me that Africans are "lazy". I nodded politely), they circumvent the entire purpose of community involvement - ownership. If the beneficiaries must be compelled to work, they clearly have not fully understood the benefits of the project. And compulsion fuels resentment.

I suspect this current project is moving slowly because of the sectarian split between the Church of Uganda (Anglican) and the Seventh Day Adventists. Neither wants to work unless it's clear that the other is also. We have therefore worked especially hard then to reach out to local government leaders. Unfortunately, there appears to be a talent gap in the local leadership department, which is hampering our efforts. However, we will be back in force after the new year, ready to redouble our efforts to convince the community about the enormous benefits of the project.

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