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Bridging the gap: Churches and communities engaging for accountable governance

Blog | January 26, 2017 | Ciana-Marie Pegus

This week, I was invited to speak on a panel at the UK Parliamentary launch of international faith-based organisation Tearfund’s MAVC-funded research - Bridging the Gap: The Role of Local Churches in Fostering Local-Level Social Accountability.


For over 15 years, Tearfund has supported Church and Community Mobilisation (CCM) in over 25 countries, an asset-based community development approach that harnesses the social capital of faith communities.

CCM tries to shift the perceptions of communities as a ‘list of problems and needs’ (see Kretzmann and McKnight 1993, p.2), and enables individuals to make changes to improve their individual and community situation. In Uganda, CCM goes by the moniker ‘Umoja’, the Swahili for togetherness.

The event brought together a diverse audience including Members of Parliament, peers from the House of Lords, funders from international trusts and foundations, development practitioners from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics, Tearfund staff and long-time supporters of Tearfund.

During my trip to the north of Bangladesh, when I was in the foothills of the Himalayas with Tearfund, I saw the thrill in people’s eyes, when they see they can change their lives for the better… and the transformation in the community when people start to hold government to account for the things they lack. – MP Caroline Spelman, former shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Making all voices count through CCM advocacy in Uganda

Recently, Tearfund supported their partner, Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) to incorporate advocacy training into the CCM process in Uganda - where the pilot showed significantly high levels of service delivery. With the help of a MAVC practitioner research and learning grant, the team conducted applied research to critically reflect on the role of local churches, through CCM advocacy, in fostering transparency, citizen empowerment, inclusion, government responsiveness, and shifting power dynamics.

Tearfund studied 18 church communities in the region of Teso, and it sought to understand what worked, what didn’t work, and why, in order to draw lessons on how to scale CCM advocacy in Uganda and beyond.

Through CCM, citizens collectively imagine a new reality, identify their individual and collective resources and take action. Power in unity is a recognised strength of CCM and CCM advocacy: emboldening individuals to take action together, actions that they would not have considered themselves capable of before.

In Uganda’s Olechio village, a CCM group dug wells, cleared roads, upgraded teachers’ homes, and started a nursery school even before they began advocacy training. Those communities who then went on to complete the advocacy training were able to build on initial community initiatives by drawing down resources from government.

In Owii, the CCM advocacy group identified health and education as key concerns. The local school had a thatched roof, no walls and volunteer teachers. The closest clinic was a 2 hour boat ride away, and a 1 hour walk after that. The people in Owii offered community land, home made bricks and their labour to help build the school, and they petitioned local officials to supply teachers, salaries, desks and a roof. Within a year, a new school was built, and mobile clinics also started coming to the community once a week. - Joanna Watson, Partner Advocacy Team Leader, Tearfund

CCM advocacy also improved relations between government officials and citizens. In Owii for example, prior to CCM advocacy, citizens were very dissatisfied with service delivery, and the Sub-District Committee Chairman was suspicious of the motives of citizens - he went so far as to bring police protection to a community meeting.

After the advocacy training, citizens collected data on their communities and made evidence-based demands. They were focussed and strategic, and the advocacy process was iterative and adaptive, and not rigid. Through dialogue and engagement with local government officials, citizens have become aware of their challenges and limitations.

The impact of the CCM advocacy shows that government is more responsive than we sometimes think. - Nigel Harris, CEO, Tearfund

Limited access to information – a key challenge

In Uganda, there’s a robust legal framework establishing political decentralisation, but local government institutions are overstretched and under-resourced. It’s hard for citizens at the village and parish level to access information on government planning cycles, let alone input into them.

And even if information were readily available on government plans, policies and budgets, it might not be in a decipherable format that is easy for interested citizens to use, therefore suggesting a need for Tearfund to partner with other organisations in Uganda that work as infomediaries, to ensure that government data is used effectively.

What next?

84% of Uganda is Christian, and the church is a trusted institution. The lead researcher, Charlotte Flowers, visited some communities a decade after CCM was initiated, and while some CCM initiatives may have stalled, there was still great enthusiasm for the process.

Pastors and church leaders serve as a bridge between the government and the citizens, and sometimes they have links with non-religious leaders at higher levels of government.

Government officials so often choose to work with the church because it is there before NGOs, remains after NGOs leave, and it is still there when the funding stops. - Nigel Harris, CEO, Tearfund

Tearfund has supported its partner PAG to achieve advocacy successes at the local level, and through PAG’s denominational networks and other Tearfund partners in Uganda, it has forged close relationships with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Sports.

A priority for the organisation is scaling local level accountability, and establishing mechanisms to connect CCM groups with each other, and to identify patterns of common issues that emerge at the local levels so that Tearfund can support its church partners to leverage their networks and contacts to link local level advocacy to national and international campaigns.


About the author

Ciana-Marie Pegus is research officer for Making All Voices Count, based at IDS.
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