Luuka district is found in the Eastern Uganda Busoga sub-region, located approximately 33 KM by road, north-west of Iganga the nearest largest town and approximately 44 KM by road, north of Jinja the largest city in the sub-region. Luuka has a population of 241,453 (Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) 2014 – Census) an 85% increase since 1991 (130,408). Luuka’s total land area is 650.1 KM sq. with a population density of 401.3 KM sq.
Over the last 10 years, Luuka district has been debilitated by poverty – with poverty quickly turning into a ‘brand’ unique to most of rural-Uganda, the people of Luuka (Ba-Luuka) are a reflection of that brand-strength, as the metrics below from UBOS show:
Poverty Indicator Metrics – Luuka District:
Percentage of population that never studied beyond primary school level – 74%
Percentage of population that studied beyond secondary school – 3.8%
Percentage of population that does not own land – 36%
Stunting among children – 47%
Poverty density (Number living on less than $1 per square KM) – 62% (highest in Busoga)
During one of my many christmas-holiday escapades, in the female-anophelese mosquito & poverty infested Nakabugu village, i came across an old friend in development Dr. Peter Waiswa of Makerere Univeristy – Kampala. A medical doctor that grew up in poverty stricken rural Naigobya town also in Luuka district, Dr. Waiswa has spent most of his adult life helping poor people in Uganda and Luuka district escape the evils of poverty, including disease. I have seen cutting-edge programs that Dr.Waiswa has initiated in Luuka and other districts in Uganda. Referring to me as a person that has been exposed to global poverty eradication challenges and solutions, and i wasn’t sure if that was a complement from him or not esp. since an effective poverty-eradication model is still elusive, the doctor threw a challenge at me:
How can we ‘effectively’ tackle the evil of poverty in Luuka district?
The question above may deceitfully look simple after-all contemporary development professionals have been at it for the last 65 years, yet it is loaded with meaning and complexity. Luuka like other districts in Uganda has benefited from various development projects: i.e. from the Government of Uganda, bilateral and multilateral donors, International development organisations, local civil society organisations to mention but a few. However, as the metrics above show, poverty is still deeply embedded in the DNA of Luuka district – we have to ask ourselves, why Luuka is still poor despite all the above development investment. Perhaps, it is the latter issue that perplexes Dr. Waiswa and the trigger for his solution seeking process.
So, we have to ask ourselves; if there has been attempts to address poverty in Luuka district, why is it still prevalent?
Well, it is safe to assume that Luuka like most of Uganda is still poor not because Ba-Luuka are condemned to a life in poverty, but because of:
Poor leadership at all levels – i.e. from the grassroots, to midlevel government governance structures like Local Council (LC) III, all the way to the district local government (DLG) and national level. Poverty can never be eradicated if the leadership is bad. Luuka’s leadership and at all levels including civil society smacks of corruption, a persistent lack of accountability, and an ineffective vision for poverty eradication.
Uncoordinated development interventions – specifically, a non-unitary approach by all development actors in Luuka whether it is the local/national government, civil society, or International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) and as a result, poverty eradications efforts are disintegrated and piecemeal. As a result, Luuka district has witnessed a lot of good poverty-eradication models, but unfortunately, they are applied to the wrong context i.e. how do you deal with nutrition issues in Luuka district without addressing the underlying food-governance and security challenge re.: a DLG that allows poor-households to use almost 100% of their land for growing sugarcane a non-food crop? Civil society organisations are not any less guilty – for example, civil society in Luuka district are designing and implementing poverty-eradication interventions, less holistic-analysis of the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability – as i have written before in my blogs that challenge contemporary development approaches, this is like ‘painting a room in the dark!’
Development ‘products’ less market survey (mandate of the poor) – development actors of all ilk, have traditionally imported poverty-eradication models from text-books and other external contexts, without taking time to listen to the ‘voices of the poor’ in their locality. Most of the poverty eradication models i have witnessed in Luuka district are INGO or government centric – i simply haven’t seen the ‘voice of the poor’ informing poverty eradication interventions, and the direct result of this is ineffective development interventions that do more harm than good
Lack of effective-lobby (get rid of the word ‘ advocacy’’ that has been stained by half-baked development actor advocacy efforts) at grassroots, district and national levels – development actors continue to acquit the government of its development obligations. I’m of the firm view that nation-states and their secondary government organs like the DLG in Luuka are accountable for the development of its people. Unfortunately, development actors have taken it as their responsibility to deliver development, and treat the nation-state as the ‘enabler’ of development. In Luuka, there is no evidence of lobby, especially of the DLG to fulfil its development obligations to the Ba-Luuka – the district bureacrats are simply let off the hook. For whatever reason, the Luuka District members of parliament (MP’s) seem to have gotten into an ‘unhealthy’ partnership with the DLG hierachy – under normal circumstances, if there is anything like normal in Luuka and Uganda at large, we have to assume that one is meant to be a check and balance on the other but they instead seem to reinforce common vices. It is not surprising that when you talk to the Ba-Luuka, there is a feeling of hopelessness and surrender – the latter continues reinforce and institutionalise a lack of accountability and the emerging kleptocracy amongst DLG hierarchy.
Development considered ‘charity’ instead of ‘business’ – the post world war II philosophy of looking at development as ‘charity’ has failed and it may be about time we started to ‘genuinely’ pick cues from our private-sector friends. I use the word GENUINELY when referring to the learning from private-sector because development-sector learning has been by choice and not a matter of ‘life and death’. The sector continues to cherry-pick lessons and ways of working from the private-sector without pushing the boundaries hard enough. I dare ask whether poverty eradication should not be led by ‘deve-prenuers’ and not government and other development actors that have had their opportunity and failed? Poverty eradication should take to the private-sector model where products that make the market and earn massive profits, meet customer needs. Such products are informed by proper research and experimentation to fit customer-need. I challenge the Ba-Luuka ‘deve-preneurs’, if they exist at all, to address this fallacy of development where the provider of the product dictates the market and not the client that is meant to be served by the product.
The emerging educated and in tow, semi-educated development-elite, that illegally amass wealth from district development projects targeting the poor – starting with NAADS programs to INGO led development interventions, Luuka is seeing the emergence of the rural based development-elite, that have a knack for networking, oral communication, and ability to speculate on matters related to development. They have fronted themselves as genuine and well intentioned development actors, only to embezzle development funds allocated to eradicate poverty among the Ba-Luuka. There has to emerge a vetting mechanism to identify genuine as opposed to masquerading development-elites. I’m tempted to conclude that the latter is a mere symptom of highly institutionalised-corruption in Uganda, but let us plan to have that debate another day.
And finally a ‘voiceless Ba-Luuka’ citizenery & the systemic powerlessness – I have spent a lot of time during the last two weeks with my ageing mother Mrs. Phillipa Isota. A teacher by profession, extremely enterprising and wise even in her old age (77 years), she is the perfect model of an empowered citizen. My mother will ask relevant questions re.: any radio talk or one on one conversation – this is the opposite of many Ba-Luuka women, even those that are educated like Phillipa Isota. Not until the average citizen in Luuka demands ‘effective-accountability’ of their leaders, shall we see ‘value-for-money’ in development interventions. No amount of lobby and advocacy will substitute for the power of Ba-Luuka holding the vote that brings the politician to power.
Some of the poverty-sitings i have come across when traversing my village Nakabugu, in the last two weeks:
So, what is needed to start shifting ground against ‘brand-poverty’ in Luuka district?
It is becoming a moral and human-rights imperative for development practitioners not to stick to failed poverty-eradication paradigms. It is against that background that i want to submit to all of you ‘deve-prenuers’ in Luuka and readers of this blog, that development has to be managed in a different way in order to see ‘effective-change’ in fortunes of poor Ba-Luuka. It can no longer be business as usual, as what is usual and known, has failed us.
Below are four (4) variables necessary for us in Luuka district to start shifting ground against poverty and its ills:
1. Transparency and accountability in aid and other government programs, starting with the district local government, local civil society organisations, and the donors. Lobby or advocacy (with a personal warning shared earlier on) has to be taken seriously by civil society actors in Luuka. Local civil-society should hold spaces and firmly at that, to be able to hold to account Luuka DLG and to lobby for change in local policy frameworks. A powerful lobby has to be operationalised, informed by day to day happenings in government institutions like government schools, local councils, to monitoring allocation and spend of DLG budget. Local civil society and other development actors have to explore tools that create an accountability-loop between local leaders and the Ba-Luuka constituency.
2. Changing the modus operandi to poverty-eradication management. Poverty solutions should be driven by the ‘voices’ and ‘actual-needs’ of the poor first, then poverty management theory diktats like log-frames, donor and national government budget cycles. Development actors need to research and develop cutting-edge, real-time, e-technology driven tools for poverty-eradication. This will need critical thinking and bold action from ‘deve-preneurs’. The key role of ‘deve-preneurs’ should be developing-industry-disrupting poverty interventions and tools. I want to outline a few of the potential disruptions below, but i’m sure you all have or can conjure other industry disrupting thought:
- Knowing that all local civil society entities in Luuka are extremely resource constrained, consider a case to share scarce human resources – i.e. why doesn’t civil society consider hiring one M&E professional and pay the staff from a pooled pot of money? After-all, much as M&E is key to successful development, many of the entities are not ready to have a full time M&E professional. In addition, why not consider having a joint, perhaps on-line M&E portal that can be managed jointly and used by all entities? The latter may even offer leverage in attracting donor resources.
- Using the power of e-technology to deliver development i.e. as opposed to sending hordes of development resource people to sensitise poor communities in Luuka, why don’t we consider using the power of mobile-telephony through the design of text-message appropriate courses, delivered to the poor over a period of time?
- Just like our private-sector friends, make clear choices of what your organisational core-competence is. Avoid being a jack-of-all-trades. Brand clarity will in the medium and long-term bring you local civl society actors skills-depth, relevant experience and learning – and from all three will come positive impact on poverty, organisational brand strength, and resources ($). The decision to choose depth vs. breadth in development, may cost entities significant amount of resources ($) in the short-term – but, i strongly believe that entities that will survive long-term, will have to undergo short term pains related to making right choices of what to focus on – generally changing how current development ‘works’ and ‘thinks’ – the age of big and audacious development entities is fast coming to a close. Small, nimble, focused, and with a clear trail of VFM shall long survive and thrive
- In all practical terms, AID is a subsidy – steer clear of AID subsidy and the dependence it causes, and have a firm foundation and belief in the principle of self-help. Only through self-help shall Ba-Luuka make sustainable progress in poverty eradication. A dependent mind-set and attitude are one of the challenges to solving poverty among the Ba-Luuka and all development actors need to constantly challenge that status quo. I would wish to see development entities in Luuka that have been bold enough to steer clear of providing ‘hand-outs’ to the poor of Luuka, and instead encourage them to think different, embrace self-help and the firm belief that only they can extract themselves out of poverty – i recommend that you visit nascent but philosophically strong entities like bigeme at Nakabugu town Luuka district, an entity that is approaching poverty eradication from ‘private sector’ and ‘mind-set change’ lenses. bigeme while still small, has rejected funding that is not in line with its principle of ‘self-help & no handouts’ and the whole organisation survives on about $300 a month. I look forward to seeing bigeme scale-up its business-model without comprising its values and philosophical foundation – obviously, we all know that in growth of organisations like bigeme, lies the un-written rule of mission-creep and the resulting loss of sustainable organisational-philosophy.
3. Belief in the private sector vice that success comes from proper product research and positioning – all Luuka based development actors should only bring to scale properly researched and tested poverty-eradication models. We should desist from turning Ba-Luuka into development guinea-pigs. Just like the pharmaceuticals industry treats with extreme care the dangers of untested drugs on humans and animals, we should in the same manner, treat the dangers to the poor of untested poverty-eradication models. Perhaps some of the ‘mind-set and attitude’ damage towards poverty eradication among Ba-Luuka, has been caused by untested development interventions. I don’t have to share the long-list of such interventions, witnessed all over Uganda and Luuka district. There are some emerging models that we can all learn from – the Human Centred Design (HCD) is one that comes to mind.
4. Effective local civil-society partnership in Luuka district – whilst i’m a firm believer in the principle of competition and what it brings to the value-chains of our businesses, in development, competition is welcome, albeit in a slightly different context. Poverty is too complex to be solved by any one entity or even government, and we all know that no civil society organisation in Luuka district can successfully tackle poverty alone. Therefore, whilst those civil society organisations doing exactly the same nature of work should be encouraged to compete, all civil society organisations in Luuka district need to form an umbrella-body that facilitates them to bring their different comparative-advantages to the development-table – only when the latter happens shall we realise a critical mass that will impact poverty successfully. I recommend that all civil society organisations in Luuka jointly:
- Conduct an underlying cause of poverty and vulnerability analysis in Luuka district
- Determine what is required to address the poverty challenges
- Map the required solutions to civil society individual comparative advantage
- Apart from official pilots, only Implement poverty-eradication models where piloting has been done & concluded successfully
- Design a shared resourcing business-model for all civil society in Luuka district: i.e. (i) joint research, analysis, reporting, & monitoring (ii) joint civil society incubation & organisational ranking business-model, properly informed by a multi-stakeholder feedback framework (iii) and joint lobby & ‘advocacy’
Like many of you, i’m a firm believer that the answer to sustainable development in Luuka district is via local civil organisations like bigeme, UDHA etc implementing work on the ground. It is my firm belief that civil society will seamlessly fulfil its mandate, if there is transparency in their work, genuine internal accountability and organisational-rating-mechanism that rewards entities that excel in their work plus have others that are weak learn from the stronger entities
When the above firm foundation for local civil society is in place, there will be a natural progression towards more complex and higher tier partnership i.e. INGO’s and local civil society, cultural institutions like obwa-kyabazinga and local civil society, DLG and local civil society etc
In effect, what i envision in this so called effective local civil society partnership in Luuka district is a kind of civil society ‘collective-agency’ that will be sold to and used by national, regional, and global development actors that want to help the poor of Luuka district. This is a kind of development cooperative (a SACCO of local development-entities in Luuka to make it more ‘tangible’ for some of you) – perhaps in its name, could come ideas like ‘ POVERTY ERADICATION & DEVELOPMENT COOPERATIVE’ (PEADCO).
Poverty will stay with us Ba-Luuka, until we change the modus-operadai towards poverty-eradication – my poverty analysis in this blog is heavily tilted towards leadership and power, private-sector approaches, and a changed mindset/attitude to poverty-eradication by the poor i.e. from being provided-for to self-help. Yes, it can be done my fellow poor Ba-Luuka. I’m not in for the orthodox capacity building approaches, handing out goods to the poor etc. Let us start to have ground-breaking solutions to poverty eradication – yes, we may fail from time to time, but it’s when we learn from failure that we will change this ailing development industry.
The foundation for a viable organisation and society is built around: entity-effectiveness, that is in turn built around robust and grounded strategic thinking and implementation, built around a strong-mindset to keep-working and the agility to learn and change, until problems are solved. Poverty-eradication is hard work, but have we worked hard enough in Luuka district?
What my friend Dr.Waiswa asked of me was a short think-piece on what can deliver effective development in Luuka – i want to believe that i have delivered to the ask, in this blog. I can now only invite you to share your views on a piece that could shape the first local civil society driven Luuka Poverty-Eradication Business Plan (LPBP).
As i prepare to return to my day job in Kigali next week, i know that opportunities to give back to the society we come from don’t come to us all the time. Is there an opportunity better than this for you Ba-Luuka and well wishers to contribute your wonderful ideas towards creating a sustainable business-model for poverty-eradication in Luuka district?