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.
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.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Local civic engagement can be a box-ticking exercise, leading to misunderstanding of genuine needs and concerns. Before the Wakiso baraza, officials had carried out sporadic consultation which was motivated by the need to acquire land rather than by a belief in the value of participation. CoST Uganda used its personal experience to pitch the value of the barazas to officials, knowing that they would ensure inclusion of all residents to discuss the issues at length.They knew that better dialogue would ensue if individuals were given time to think over the issues first, and so together with the council they advertised the event well in advance, using an array of communications tools from social media to radio broadcast to posters displayed in the community. Awareness messages targeted women in particular, female speakers were selected to address attendees and the moderator was briefed to ensure the voice of females was heard.
Collaborations & Partnerships
A host of stakeholders were involved. Community leaders welcomed residents to join the event and community groups used entertainment to encourage them to speak up when there. District officials and CoST Uganda worked together in both planning and monitoring the event's success. Civil society and the media helped to highlight the issues raised to further accountability. Finally, private sector contractors of the project shared technical information with residents in a clear way.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The principal users were residents and district officials, with the innovation’s core objective being to better the understanding of the infrastructure project to the residents and to better the understanding of the issues the project imposed on the residents to officials. Its other core objective was to improve trust between both stakeholder groups. Finally, private sector contractors of the infrastructure project have benefited as residents were more willing to comply with necessary requests.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
As mentioned, just two months after the baraza, the district had responded to issues raised by installing speed bumps on the road and since then no fatalities have been recorded. Other issues such as flooding were also rectified by culverts being put in place along the road. Importantly, beyond this direct action a far greater relationship has been built between district officials and residents. District Engineer, Samuel Mwesigwa who had been working in Wakiso for over five years noted that whilst previous barazas were full of accusations and finger pointing, this one was different. He described it as a ‘turning point’ which opened minds to the need of involving residents from the outset of infrastructure projects during their planning stage. Residents were much less sceptical of district plans and this was shown most notably when they offered additional land for drainage works, realising that doing so would improve the areas surrounding the road.
Challenges and Failures
Whilst we are seeing increased buy-in of the barazas among officials at the district level, funding the events has been limited, meaning that events can only be held once-twice yearly. We hope that funding to local authorities for these events will increase so they can begin to self-fund the baraza in the future, without or with limited support from CoST Uganda. If the benefits of such events continue to be seen, resulting in better quality infrastructure, the case for further support is a strong one.
Beyond financial challenges, planning around the schedules of the procuring entities of the infrastructure projects has sometimes been an issue, but as more procuring entities are calling for the events in recognition of their value this has been much less of a challenge.
Conditions for Success
The leadership, guidance, human and financial resource provided by CoST Uganda has been key to the Wakiso baraza success and those that followed. CoST Uganda were the first to recognise how they could address gaps and ensure wide participation and inclusion of disadvantaged groups, such as women and people with disabilities. They understood the local context and knew that barazas were a known and trusted concept to residents and, therefore, that organising this intervention would be appropriate at a time when scepticism over authority decisions was high. As CoST Uganda worked with the authorities to organise the baraza they could shape it in a meaningful way, for example, they selected an appropriate facilitator who understood the local context, and particularly encouraged disadvantaged groups to speak up at the event. They also led on the wide publicity of the event, using their contacts in civil society and the media to help to publicise it.
Following the success of the Wakiso baraza in 2017, several others have been held in the district and other regions of Uganda. These have replicated the format of the baraza but been adapted to the context and infrastructure projects in question. They have also built on the successes of the first baraza, including furthering the active participation of women - female participation was recorded at 40% for the first baraza which then increased to 48% in a second baraza organised in the following year.
CoST used lessons learnt to replicate success in Malawi and Ghana too, and will be looking to hold an inaugural baraza in Tanzania. The Malawi baraza brought together an impressive 450 attendees where awareness was raised and dialogue ensued on critical road projects in the local area.
1. Although an obvious point it is one worth reiterating, strategic engagement and tailored messages to groups involved will always deliver the best results. In CoST programmes worldwide, this engagement begins as part of the 'CoST assurance process’ where infrastructure projects are selected for review so that key issues can be highlighted and less likely to occur going forward. Once the projects are selected, CoST works with the procuring entities of the projects, constructively engaging them to enable more open data. This is important as otherwise procuring entities could feel the exercise is concerned solely with finger pointing rather than an opportunity to rectify key issues and better infrastructure delivery. Taking this approach has seen data disclosed on hundreds of infrastructure projects as part of CoST assurance. This same approach and specific messaging has encouraged procuring entities to become involved in the barazas, where they have been assured that it would not be a finger pointing exercise but one to enable greater dialogue and build trust.
2. In the Ugandan context specifically, the programme has sometimes encountered a culture of secrecy across government agencies. For instance it found that government agencies focus on applying the Official Secrecy Act, 1964 to circumvent applications as part of the Access to Information Law, 2005. The programme has learnt through experience that changing the culture is a gradual process and requires persistence. Yet by taking a step-by-step approach, positive results will ensue and the first effective step in doing this in Uganda has been at the local level which has then influenced the national level.
3. Finally, the value and enthusiasm of residents should not be underestimated. When residents are armed with information and the space to engage encouraging results will be seen - they will feel valued and go the extra mile to make the intervention a success.