Into the Field

This past week, the pace of my work changed drastically as I left the Transparency International central office in Kampala for “the field.” To ensure that the GIS trainings would continue to run smoothly while I was away, a necessity given that the classes will begin their independent research projects next week, I spent last weekend crafting exercises and Robert taught this week’s classes. In these classes, data aggregation techniques were reinforced and students were taught how to use several external applications, such as Tabula, which pulls information from tables in PDF documents and places it into an Excel spreadsheet.

The purpose of my trip, which took me through Uganda’s south and west, was to gain hands-on experience with Transparency International Uganda’s Voluntary Accountability Committees (VACs). By studying these committees, which are made up of democratically-elected community members who monitor local service delivery and participate in budgetary planning processes, I could acquire a practical understanding of TI-U’s outreach and citizen empowerment efforts. This experience would then inform my data visualization work with the Action for Transparency program, which facilitates similar bottom-up advocacy and monitoring efforts.

For the first leg of the journey, I traveled with TI-U staff to Kalangala in the Ssese Islands, which has undergone drastic economic and social changes due to the introduction of “Oil Palm” and the construction of several plantations in 2003. Here, we met with the district’s “community development officer” and the “production and marketing officer,” both of whom lavished praise on the VACs. Because the VACs provided an informational linkage between government officials and community members, they were better able to direct government services to address local concerns. For example, government officials clamped down on illegal fishing after VACs raised concerns and identified officials that were complicit in such activities.

The Kalangala District Headquarters; construction funded by Irish Aid

The Kalangala District Headquarters; construction funded by Irish Aid

Following this, we made a quick stop in Masaka (which served as a “home-base” for the next few days) and then moved on to Lwengo District in the south. Here, we met with VACs that were trying to monitor education service delivery in the area. At the Kitambuza and Kayagoga primary schools, we saw that the Ugandan government, which had recently taken over these schools and promised to provide scholastic funding and renovate buildings, had reneged on many of its commitments. The VACs documented this and will use this information to pressure policymakers and determine where the allocated funding has been spent.

Justin DeShazor and several VAC members outside of Kayagoga Primary School

Justin DeShazor and several VAC members outside of Kayagoga Primary School

After several other stops, including a National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS) annual review, we attended a community meeting at the Kasagama Sub-County Headquarters. Here, Transparency International staff members and VAC representatives spoke with concerned community leaders and advised them on how to ensure that promised services were delivered.

Aside from giving me a clearer picture of life outside of Kampala, this week’s trip and meetings made community organizing and citizen empowerment, both abstract concepts, far more real. When I restart my work in Transparency International’s central office, I will have a far more complete understanding of the processes, challenges, and promise of programs that seek to strengthen informational linkages and give stakeholders the tools they need to press for change.

Comments

  1. Darice Xue says:

    Hey Justin! As a fellow Summer Fellow, I’m quite jealous that you had a chance to go out into the field…it sounds like a truly enlightening experience. I was just wondering about what language you guys used to monitor the progress of the projects — was there any resistance or reluctance to participate from the local citizens? At my think tank this was of big concern for field work, since it would involve often young educated women going into rural or agricultural areas to work with farmers, most of whom were men and had relatively less education. Did you encounter similar communication barriers?