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You would think that the phrase ‘fake accountability’ was an oxymoron: how can something provide accountability and then fake it at the same time? Well, it is very well-known concept here in Apac. In fact, I was yesterday asked to contribute to it! Fake accountability is when accountability is doctored, made up. It is mainy ‘paper accountability’ – receipts, attendance lists, quotations – that are falsely made up; ‘physical accountability’ is more difficult to doctor as it concerns real things on the ground: whether the contract is performed, whether the purchased item physically exists, whether something is available?

Yesterday I attended a dialogue meeting organised by an NGO. It was a fruitful exchange of ideas (and blame) between CSOs and Lower Local Government officials, both elected and appointed, with the aim of ensuring that Apac district will perform well in the up-coming Local Government Assessment. Every year, Apac fails the assessment, and thereby loses 20 per cent funding from the Ministry of Local Government. Which means 20 per cent less spending on public services. The underlying reason for this constant struggle to pass the assessment’s minimum criteria is the nature of governance in Apac.

Following the end of the Cold War, and particularly the way in which it ended, the donor community and Western governments thought it wise to democratise Africa from below: the invested heavily in a civil society, which was supposed to keep the state in check. As the civil society thereby stands conceptually opposite the state, it is often supposed to be substantially opposite too – but, it is not… Often, the civil society mirrors the public sector, perhaps because the underlying reasons for public conduct are societal.

Yesterday, as I signed the attendance list for the dialogue meeting – a list that would constitute part of the evidence that the event actually took place – I was handed another attendance list. That of another meeting, which never had and never would take place. But for which money was already spent. The list would be presented to the donors as proof of expenditure on transport refunds, lunch and sitting allowances for the participants. Four people had already signed the document, with or without noticing the discrepancy in meeting titles.

The list was never circulated further, and the first sheet was thrown away. Wisely or unwisely. You see, the organiser of the fictitious event is a relatively powerful person in Apac. Paradoxically, the meeting was themed good governance in the civil society sector.

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The no. 1 ingredient that almost all donor-recipient relationships contain is the need for the recipient to feel a sense of ownership. Ownership of the project or programme. Of the development process or initiative. Of a change process which has only become possible because of a factor from without: the idea, the rationale, the money, the equipment.

The million-dollar question is: it is possible? It is possible to define the (often narrow) parameters of funding, select the recipients, fund the programme – and at the same time transfer ownership of the objectives, activities and entire process to the recipients?

Ownership means that the (local) recipients own the project and determine a range of factors, from recruitment of project employees to budget allocations. It assumes that you take better care of things you own, that you become more dedicated because you own it.

But the donor often needs to satisfy her own donors, whether governments, larger organisations or the general public in the West, and therefore does not feel that she can let everything be determined by the (new) owners. Because, what if the recipients take decisions with which the donor disagrees? Should the latter step in and ‘remind’ the recipients of the ‘right’ path, the objectives of the partnership, or should she stick it out, risking that the project takes on unforeseen or undesirable dimensions, becomes subject to non-liberal local dynamics, or is used for private rather than public gains? If the answer lies somewhere in between these two options, the question remains whether a path between donor control and local ownership exists at all. And, if so, which amount of donor control would disable the sense of ownership?

The jury is still out, I’m afraid.

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The organisations within the civil society ‘fraternity’ – as its members are fond of calling this sphere – which are involved in advocacy and anti-corruption work, seem to have taken their activities to a new and higher level. They go from articulation to prosecution, from the radio studios to the court rooms. In Arendt’s universe, they jump from words to deeds. Until recently, the sphere of advocacy work by the CSOs existed in relative isolation from that of law enforcement; perhaps due to structural and personal reasons. But now they are able to file charges against corrupt officials and individuals, and thus to complement their activities with formal prosecution in some of their cases. At least this is how it looks to the informed outsider…

Here follows four cases which hopefully will illustrate the point without inconveniencing anybody:

Transport fares become a common problem: The Coordinators of NGO Link Forum Apac (NLFA), The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition (TAACC) and a Save the Children representative advocated for lower transport fares between Apac and Lira, sparked by a letter to the mini-bus operations by the TAACC Coordinator. The three activists thereafter participated in and ad hoc dialogue meeting with the taxi operations, called and mediated by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC). The issue was not resolved completely, but had now been catapulted from the private into the public sphere and was hotly debated on Radio Apac FM.

Farmers released on human rights grounds: TAAc and the Coordinator of NLFA have been involved in advocacy for the release of the ‘Tarugali farmers’ who were arrested for attacking a pastoralist and his 75 cattle in October 2007. 27 farmers suffered human rights abuses during their arrest, inviting criticism from Amnesty International. TAACC-sponsored legal aid to the farmers led to the release of a majority of them.

Charges filed against the embodiment of justice in Apac: TAACC filed a case against the Resident State Attorney of Apac, aiming at the tip of an iceberg which signifies widespread corruption and extortion by a ring of individuals in the local council system, the police and the court. Needless to say, the Resident District Commissioner is trying to sort this case out.

In Kampala and Apac, some people are watching these developments, holding their breaths. The public sphere in Apac has proven itself to be one of interest but never charming.

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Garden in twilight

The light wraps you in its mortal flame.

Abstracted pale mourner, standing that way

against the old propellers of twilight

that revolves around you.

::

Speechless, my friend,

alone in the loneliness of this hour of the dead

and filled with the lives of fire,

pure heir of the ruined day.

::

A bough of fruit falls from the sun on your dark garment.

The great roots of night

grow suddenly from your soul,

and the things that hide in you come out again

so that a blue and pallid people,

your newly born, takes nourishment.

::

Oh magnificent and fecund and magnetic slave

of the circle that moves in turn through black and gold:

rise, lead and possess a creation

so rich in life that its flowers perish

and it is full of sadness.

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