Amplifying resident voices for better infrastructure in Uganda

In Uganda, traditional community engagement events called ‘barazas’ have been adopted and adapted by CoST - the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative to promote meaningful participation and improve delivery. CoST Uganda initially began to use the events with a focus on infrastructure delivery in Wakiso District, outside Kampala to help to rebuild a broken relationship between residents and officials and rectify key issues on an infrastructure project.

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This innovation highlights the impact of giving local Ugandan residents a say in how infrastructure is designed and built. It looks at how using and improving on a traditional civic engagement activity opened lines of communication between decision makers and residents, tapped into the local knowledge pool and delivered better infrastructure in the process. The approach has since been used across other districts in Uganda and across the African region.

CoST – the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST) began to explore how traditional community engagement events in Uganda known as “barazas” could be an effective means of highlighting key concerns around infrastructure projects. CoST first recognised the need to increase public participation following a review it carried out on infrastructure projects in Wakiso District, a rapidly expanding urban area outside Kampala.

After years of haphazard infrastructure development and unaccountable decision-making, trust in Wakiso authorities was low, with residents reluctant to support new infrastructure improvement plans. This was the case in 2015 when Wakiso District Council developed the ‘Strategic Road Plan’ to address some of the area’s transport and accessibility issues. The plan included building new, tarmacked roads which required residents to give up community land, but with relations being poor and communication infrequent between decision makers and residents, a smooth acquisition of this land was unlikely. After approaching residents directly,
officials came to better appreciate how a lack of consultation made residents highly sceptical of their plans and resistant to give up their land. Only once the plan had been explained and a chance for Q&A offered did residents agree.

From this experience the council learnt an invaluable lesson on the need to bring in the community in infrastructure delivery from the outset, but questions remained on what the best means of engagement should be going forward. CoST Uganda saw the opportunity this presented in promoting to the council much wider and inclusive participation to enable more meaningful engagement. In the CoST Uganda review known as ‘assurance’, which assesses data on infrastructure projects and highlights key issues, recommendations were put to the council to use barazas, which, if tailored correctly would serve as a good platform for constructive dialogue and give sufficient space for technical issues to be explained clearly and for residents to fully feedback on how the project was impacting their lives. The council took on the recommendations just after the review was published in August 2017 and the district and CoST Uganda began preparations for the first event in December.

The first baraza allowed community members and district officials to focus on key issues on a major road upgrade project in Wakiso called ‘Namasuba Ndejje Kitiko Road'. In a mix of plenary formats lasting throughout the day, the council were able to explain their infrastructure plans for the road in depth, so that residents could fully understand them, ask questions and be given information first-hand. Whilst the CoST review had highlighted several issues concerning the road upgrade, hearing directly from residents made officials appreciate the full impact they were having on everyday life. Residents relayed how dangerous the road had become, causing significant concern for the well-being of their families. Without speed bumps on the road, heavy trucks and cars were driving recklessly which led to five fatalities recorded in one year. Consequently, families began to prevent children from going to school for fear of being struck by a car on route and businesses along the road suffered as less customers visited them.

Within a few months of the baraza, authorities had put in place measures to rectify this and other issues highlighted. More meaningful direct engagement with residents had ensured measures were swiftly taken and the relationship between citizens and Wakiso District Council also began to transform. CoST is now replicating this example of success in its other countries of operation in the region in Malawi, Ghana and Tanzania.

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Year: 2017
Organisation Type: Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)

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