Members of Makuyu Community Farmers Group in Mbale District hold a discussion to determine a project that they would work on with support from Spark Microgrants

‘The development journey of a community starts from within’ — the remarkable potential of community mapping

By definition, community mapping is an open ended, dynamic and broadly inclusive way to bring community members, civil society and government together to better understand the places in which communities live, the social, economic and political issues affecting those places and the means by which those issues might be addressed. It is an exercise through which knowledge embedded in people’s spatial memory is converted into explicit and externally useable knowledge. I had an opportunity to talk to two organizations with different community mapping models.

One such initiative was developed by Uganda Land Alliance to protect the land rights of pastoralist communities in Karamoja region. Communities were mobilized to identify their common grazing areas for formal registration and facilitated to form Communal Land Associations to manage them. I consulted Emmanuel Adiba, a GIS Officer responsible for the project who explained that;

“The development journey of a community starts from within, based on the people’s ability to identify their resources and organize around their use. The community mapping process played a major role in ensuring tenure security for pastoralists’ communal grazing lands in the Karamoja region and has since been applied in the different regions where Uganda Land Alliance operates.”

Indeed, this initiative has been embraced by member organizations of Uganda Land Alliance particularly the Coalition of Pastoralist Civil Society Organization (COPACSO) to ensure that they protect pastoralist grazing lands and promote peaceful co-existence between pastoralists and other land users.

Another initiative is a community engagement model supported by Spark Microgrants in Uganda where communities define their development priorities and determine means of achieving them. Spark Microgrants engages communities for an initial period of six months to decide a community project, design the budget, elect their leadership and determine rules and regulations.

I spoke to Fred Onyango about community participation and ownership of the final project. He noted that;

“Our role as Spark Microgrants is to facilitate the process but a community makes decisions on what it wants to do. We never rush them through the planning process because all the people in the community need to contribute to the final decision. In fact, in every meeting, we record the number of people who have made submissions to gauge the level of participation.”

Spark Microgrants engagement with a community takes three years sequenced in the planning, implementation and post implementation phases upon which communities are believed to be self-sustaining and able to advocate for better service provision.

In the discussions, I realize that the different community engagement models place communities at the center of the development process. Time and effort is devoted to community organizing to build cohesion amongst the community members as a foundation for collective decision making. Regular community visits are conducted for community dialogue on what their priorities are, how they can be achieved and vital partnerships to facilitate and/or support them through the process. While speaking to Akabu Namugoye, a community member of Kigunga Village supported by Spark Microgrants, he revealed that;

“In only three months of this program, the process has built community cohesion and has increased the number of people in the community’s Savings and Credit group that I lead. It had members from only my village but has grown to include people from five neighboring villages. This is major for our communities’ goal of improving household incomes by 80% by 2021.”

Consequently, regardless of the difference of results from the interventions by the two organizations, it is evident that communities are the ultimate beneficiaries for they stand out to drive the development process. Communities supported by Uganda Land Alliance formed Communal Land Associations that effectively manage their common lands while those supported by Spark Microgrants implement their proposed projects using available community resources and with support from local governments and development partners. This has enhanced community vigilance and provided for sustainable community growth.

A major challenge though, is the limited engagement between communities and the local government institutions to provide community plans for decision making on the appropriate government development programs for different communities. I was informed that active community organizers had been elected into leadership positions within the local government councils but their presence hasn’t helped align community priorities to proposed government programs.

As development partners, we still have a role to play in building the capacity of communities and their leadership in identifying open spaces for engagement with government. If that is done, the local leaders will be able to make informed contribution to the local government planning process and to provide feedback to their communities for follow up.

John Mwebe is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Uganda.

International Accountability Project works to defend the rights, land and livelihoods of people threatened by destructive development projects.

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