Ureport: Community Empowerment via RapidSMS - UGANDA
Youth in Uganda ‘Stand Up and Speak Out’ on Critical Grassroots Issues
Development is too often a top down process, with communities neither consulted nor empowered with information to enact change at the local level. As a result, accountability is weak, precious donor funding is not maximised, and communities lack ownership of key public goods.
In response, UNICEF Uganda developed Ureport, a user-centered social monitoring tool based on simple SMS messages (poll questions, results, and useful information) designed for young Ugandans to strengthen community-led development and citizen engagement. Ureport allows citizens sto peak-out on what is happening in their communities, provides a forum to amplify their voices through local and national media, sends alerts to key stakeholders about the issues their constituents are facing, and feeds back useful information to the Ureporters, so they are empowered to work for change and improvements in their localities themselves.
Uganda has both the world’s youngest population, with more than half of Ugandans under the age of 18, and the highest youth unemployment rate: recorded at as high as 83 per cent in 2008.
Every year, govern-ments and inter-national organiz-ations provide nearly $150 billion to developing countries to finance economic and social develop-ment
UNTAPPED FEEDBACK FROM COMMUNITIES
Every year, governments and international organizations provide nearly $150 billion to developing countries to finance economic and social development. Yet not all of this funding actually reaches the individuals, communities, and facilities for which it is intended. Corruption, bureaucracy, and most importantly a lack of accessible information both from and to recipient communities themselves prevent serious tracking and accountability. Citizens may not know what their governments have invested, what their local services should be delivering, or what their rights are. Communities in partner countries possess incredible amounts of untapped knowledge, but lack mechanisms to capture, combine and amplify their collective voices to civil society, government and development partners.
According to a recent World Bank report (Africa Development Indicators 2008/09) Uganda has both the world’s youngest population, with more than half of Ugandans under the age of 18, and the highest youth unemployment rate: recorded at as high as 83 per cent in 2008. The country continues to have an extremely rapid population growth, and there are nearly 8.4 million Ugandans living below the poverty line, with the largest group of the poor being children.
These figures point to the challenges facing Uganda in delivering opportunities to its young people – and also highlight the potential for increasing youth dissatisfaction that can lead to participation in crime, armed conflict, and other forms of violence that grow from despair and frustration.
In the field of education, where opportunity should be nurtured, Uganda has one of the best records in Africa for raising enrollment in primary school (93.3%), and the country seems likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goal in universal primary education. However, student retention rates drop off drastically after enrollment, and in some regions primary school completion rates are at an abysmal 7.5 per cent. Girls’ completion rates continue to be much lower than boys.
The quality of education that is available is also of concern: nationally only 51% are competent in literacy and 44% in numeracy at Primary 6 level. Teacher vacancies and absenteeism is rising because of the poor working conditions, low salaries, and the problems associated with recruitment and deployment of teachers, particularly to remote areas. Other challenges include poor school infrastructure and equipment, low community and parental involvement, and the inability of the local governments to monitor the schools. There is growing evidence of sexual harassment and abuse at schools, which cause girls to drop out.
While Uganda is on track to meet many of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, progress towards reaching key health targets is still lagging. Preventable diseases and illnesses – such as malaria, pneumonia and malnutrition – cause up to 70% of child mortality cases in Uganda. A failure to prioritise interventions that are most likely to prevent deaths, problems with the supply and management of essential commodities such as bed nets for malaria prevention, vaccines, ORS, and antibiotics, and the absence of community-based care continue to be a challenge.
These problems have been compounded by an increasing tendency to decentralise services that has not been accompanied by adequate strengthening of district management and local performance assessment. This creates a major challenge to implementation at district level, and a substantial reduction in deaths will not be possible unless district administration of commodities and community-based service delivery are improved.
An additional problem affecting implementation is that the communities are often passive players, rarely consulted and with little systematic use being made of their potential as a force to improve care seeking on the part of the public and accountability on the part of the health care system.