Is it because Uganda has been a donor darling since the early 1990s? Or because the civil society is marked by poverty of ideas? Or perhaps because everybody wants development and nobody wants change (see previous post).
Whatever the reason, the civil society sector in Uganda can be summarised by one word: workshopping. Or ‘workshop hopping’. Civil society activists hop from workshop to workshop, at their regional capitals or, mostly, in Kampala:
To be consulted on a particular issue, such as the new NGO Amendment Bill or the indictment of the LRA leadership by the International Criminal Court. To be sensitised on a value that is deemed important, such as rights-based approaches to development or gender equality. To discuss issues that confront their own sector, such as NGO accountability. To have their capacity built in, say, decentralisation policies or stakeholder analysis methodologies. To be briefed about a new funding opportunity such as an EU development programme. To engage with the local or central government in ‘dialogue meetings’.
This culture of workshopping has generated three challenges:
- The need to translate workshop knowledge and ideas into real work, at desks and in fields across the country.
- The need to follow up the resolutions and ways forward generated at the workshops; to see how far things go once the participants leave the hotels, conference centres and community halls.
- The need to de-monetarise knowledge and skills. At the moment, workshop participants get, expect and rely on transport refunds, per diems, out-of-pocket facilitation, allowances for accommodation and dinner… you name it.
The other day, a Head of Department at the Apac District administration lamented that his department cannot get community members to attend his meetings, sensitisations and workshops because he does not have a budget for the various forms of ‘facilitation’ which they expect. Farmers leave the meeting on, say, new farming technologies or value addition once they hear that there will be ‘no facilitation’ such as a transport refund or an allowance. It is a real problem.
During most workshops, the first session will concern ‘Expectations and Fears’. It is common to hear participants list ‘transport refund’ as an expectation and ‘not enough facilitation’ as a fear, after which the workshop organisers will have to explain which levels of ‘facilitation’ their budget allows.
One day, I gave a lift to Kampala to four workshop participants. We reached the conference centre earlier than planned; the invitation had just told up-country participants to register in the evening, so as to be ready for the morning session on the following day. They complained that the workshop organisers probably only had booked dinner for them, and not lunch. That now they would have to meet the cost of the lunch themselves. Perhaps they forgot that if they had been in Apac, they would have had to buy lunch for themselves; or that my lift had saved them the transport cost, since they would get a transport refund at the end of the workshop.
Their thinking, it seems, indicate that in Uganda there exist a culture of workshopping, a particular set of seemingly self-evident practices and interpretations of life and the world. It is so central to the whole NGO set-up of this Equatorial country, that this blog will explore its many aspects over the coming months.