Like many developing economies, Uganda’s efforts to develop its infrastructure improve its agricultural and industrial sectors and promote science and technology comes at a cost that can’t be met only by using its limited resources. Such projects have to be financed through international financial institutions whose priorities align with those of the government’s. An increase in investment projects all over the country means the acquisition of resources that are owned or managed by communities where these projects are being planned.
When conflicts arise, as they often do between communities and financiers, I am always impressed by the range of solutions proposed by communities to protect or claim their resources. Depending on the level of community empowerment, different means are devised including engaging local authorities to prevail upon investors, staging protests, obtaining court orders to stop project activities or outright violence. In most cases, civil society organizations intervene when the crisis is full blown requiring litigation or mediation. But these organizations could play a more active role in empowering communities to engage with development plans throughout the project cycle.
To bridge this gap, the International Accountability Project organized a training on the Early Warning System for nine civil society organizations in Uganda. This system ensures local communities, and the organizations that support them, have verified information about projects likely to cause human and environmental rights abuse. Drawing from their organizations’ work on community resilience, trainees interpreted the early warning system as a set of strategies aimed at building farmer communities’ resilience in the face of adverse climate changes that affect their productivity. Reflecting upon this understanding, the introduction of this system in the field of investment was a perfect start to working around defining community ‘resilience’ in the development process. The system would be used as a tool to develop clear strategies for advocacy against investors, national governments and international financial institutions.
It’s worth noting that if CSO’s and communities are to meaningfully engage with investors and financiers, access to accurate project information is crucial. The discussion around what CSO’s felt communities could have done differently if they possessed project information pointed to the ability to use it to have focused community demands and to hold investors accountable for their actions. With the limited resources for organizations to support community litigation cases, the alternative lies with the use of Early Warning information to empower communities to participate in consultations prior to project approval and to monitor implementation.
As noted by Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” this system presents that opportunity to empower communities to participate in the development process. If this is realized, development will be lived by the people it was intended to help.