How have you strengthened citizen participation in local governance? Share your stories!

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How have you strengthened citizen participation in local governance? Share your stories!

To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:

  • What tactics did you use to strengthen citizen participation?
  • How did you carry out these tactics?  Tell us about the steps involved.
  • What was the role of the community and civil society organizations?  What was the role of the local government?
  • How did you work with local government institutions to strengthen citizen participation? What formal and informal 'spaces' for citizen's participation and involvement did you use or create to strengthen citizens' voices in local decison making?
  • Who else did you work with to carry out this work?  Other allies?
  • Share your stories here!

Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!

Moving from the politics of resistance to participation

In the Philippines, citizens' participation in local governance has become more significant because of two important changes:

  1. A law, passed toward the end of the Corazon Aquino presidency, gave greater powers, including finances, to local governments, a shift from the overly centralized governance system. There is greater reason to engage local governments if they have power and resources. Otherwise, citizens will devote their efforts toward central government, or at least through their representatives to the national parliament.
  2. The shift in orientation, among social movements and civil society organizations, from what we call the "politics of resistance" under a more repressive regime, to the "politics of participation" under a more democratic regime.

This dynamics between central - local and repressive/authoritarian - democratic give us the boundaries and possibilities, not just for for citizens participation in general, but for effective participation.

Politics of resistance vs politics of participation

Any more details on the definition/ charateristics of politics of resistsance and politics of participation, whether it tends to be a national phenomenon or there are variances across the country, and what influences these variances?  

Working in Tanzania, which is a young democracy with a still dominant ruling party from the previous one party socialism era, this distinction seems relevant where space tends to be opened and closed at local level intermittently and depending on how well a district is coping with the change to democracy- questioning state related actions currently at local level can result in citizens being branded opposition. The idea of democracy doesn't appear to be well understood at local level.

Any learning on how countries move through different stages of resistance and particpation particularly in an emerging democracy?

Investing in the community-based leaders

The work of the Education for Life Foundation started out in 1992 as a more general commitment to developing grassroots community leaders, primarily in rural villages. Given our limited resources (not just funds, but people), we thought that investing in the community-based leaders (formal and informal) is the cost-effective way to insure sustained mobilization of the village residents, even if there are no more outside resources.

The key sets of skills (and corresponding attitudes and knowledge) that grassroots community leaders had to develop are

  1. communications,
  2. negotiations, and
  3. conflict resolution.

Most of the of the first batches of grassroots leaders came from the resistance movement. They had to both unlearn and learn in order to adapt to the politics of participation. 

Moving from confrontational tactics to sustained engagement

In the Philippines, one of the influences from the 70s is the CO (community organizing) theory and practices associated with Sol Alinsky. At its core is the "conflict-confrontation" approach to building up "people power." In a context of repression-resistance, this could easily merge with an oppositionist, even revolutionary, strategy toward government, national and local.

Even with the restoration of formal democracy, the Alinsky tradition maintained is preference for "pressure' tactics (with various degrees of healthy mischief), and the strengthening of autonomous community-based alliances of people's organizations. This made sense then, and even now, in situations where local government is not open to substantive (and not just formalistic) engagement by their constituency.

But in situations where local government has some openings, the confrontational approach needs to be adjusted, if the citizens' organizations and alliances are to have sustained engagement, and not just one-off or sporadic encounters with local officials.

Confrontation to sustained (and sustainable) engagement

I see this a lot in Egypt too. National level engagement by advocates has failed to produce seats in the parliament, and activists are increasingly locked out of official political processes post-revolution. Perhaps the local government positions (where the most productive activity happens and the most sustained structural shifts are possible) is a great angle for activists looking for viable pressure points. The confrontational approach (of head-to-head, national level engagement and street clash narratives) must evolve if the power of advocates that took part in the uprising is to translate into structural power in the emerging Egypt. 

Edicio, how do you see this playing out in the Phillipines? Are there any good examples of successful engagement strategies at a local level?

Three adjustments in tactics to promote sustained participation

There are three adjustments in tactics that have proven to be useful for promoting a more effective and sustained citizens participation in local governance.

  1. For citizens to understand and use the formal institutions of power - laws, processes, budgets. ELF developed learning modules for  2 courses on citizens participation in local governance: Paglilinang, which focuses on understanding the barangay (the basic unit of governance), its history, its profile, the powers and responsibilities of the officials, the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Salubungan, on citizens advocacy, using case studies to illustrate different methods of influencing policy and practice.
  2. Together with local NGO partners, we realized that we needed to help develop not just the leaders of the people's organizations. We also needed to help local elected and appointed officials to develop their own skills for governing in a participatory way. In our work in the villages, this meant having two distinct (and initially separate) training programs - for citizens on how to participate, and for government on how to encourage and respond to citizens participation.
  3. The two distinct training programs converge at the end with the citizens' groups and the government officials doing a joint participatory rural appraisal, which led to the joint formulation of a barangay development plan (BDP). The priorities of this plan guided the use of the barangay development funds (BDF).
Experience from the Uganda Perspective

Rwenzori Community Development Foundation is involved with establishing the Citizen Participation in Local Governance Project in Uganda.

This project aims at supporting the creation of an interactive platform as a forum that will avail key information to stakeholders so as to bring together the various actors involved in governance at the local level including the citizens for periodic consultation and deliberation on matters concerning the social welfare of citizens and well-being of the whole community.

It will thus open up access to information about local governance and make participation easier and oversight more powerful.

The project has been involved in creating the first Ugandan Online citizenry interactive platform (website) that will disseminate to the public local leadership information. The public will also be able to send in their questions and comments directed to any particular leader concerned. This will help in the following ways:

  1. Citizenry will be empowered to demand accountability from their elected leaders especially at the local level as well as nationally.
  2. This will open the leaders’ to be subject to scrutiny thereby improving performance and transparence.
  3. It will open up and enhance channels of dialogue and cooperation between the different layers of government (central, regional and local).
  4. Local government is the legitimate key development actor at local level. This project will ensure equitable distribution and provision of goods and services because the citizens will demand for them, including the poor and marginalized groups who may have particular needs.
  5. And this may form as a catalyst for an effective empowerment of local citizens which will offers the opportunity to set up local democratic institutions in which the poor can actively participate and defend their interests.

Even though this project is still at the commencement level, the enthusiasm that has been gerenated among the leaders and citizenry is a welcome aspect that will help the program.

linking offline and online citizens

Thanks Sam for sharing this interesting experience.

Sam, I would like to hear more how the project worked with the challenge of connecting ICT illiterate citizens to the online platform and how the project connects people who have access to online and mobile technology and those who don’t?

There are a lot of projects now experimenting with online and mobile technologies to increase citizen's participation at the local level. One interesting recent example is the World Bank’s participatory budget monitoring at the local level in Eastern DR Congo.

In Cambodia, one of Oxfam’s partner organizations is working with so-called voter scorecards in remote localities to monitor if elected representatives from that community keep their election promises. As there is hardly any access to the internet available and mobile phone penetration is also still low, the partner decided to train three volunteers who have a mobile phone and know how to use it. These three volunteers are the linking pin between the community and the organizations headquarters. The volunteers will receive reports from the community on the progresses made in the community and report the information to the headquarters.  And vice versa, the volunteers will spread back to the community the information received from the headquarters how the parliamentarian is performing in parliament.

I would also love to hear others’ experience how to connect ‘online and offline’ citizens, especially in remote areas where mobile (usually higher) and internet penetration is still low.


Using mobile phones to engage citizens in local governance

Oxfam Novib wrote:

As there is hardly any access to the internet available and mobile phone penetration is also still low, the partner decided to train three volunteers who have a mobile phone and know how to use it. These three volunteers are the linking pin between the community and the organizations headquarters. The volunteers will receive reports from the community on the progresses made in the community and report the information to the headquarters.  And vice versa, the volunteers will spread back to the community the information received from the headquarters how the parliamentarian is performing in parliament.

Great tactic, Miriam!  Utilizing these 3 volunteers with mobile phones sounds like a creative and resourceful idea!  Thanks for sharing this.  It was also very interesting to read about the use of mobile phones in South Kivu, DRC to share important information w/ citizens (dates and locations of elections, outcomes, etc) and to collect important information from citizens (their perspective on issues and votes).  We have had a few dialogues on the use of mobile phones that are full of interesting tactics, ideas and resources:

It would be great to hear from others of how they have used mobile phones to empower citizens with opportunities to participate in a meaningful way in local governance!  And as you requested above - it would be great to hear of ways that practitioners are bridging the offline and online citizen engagement efforts.  Thanks!

Youth parliaments to teach youth about the democratic process

Edicio wrote:

  1. For citizens to understand and use the formal institutions of power - laws, processes, budgets. ELF developed learning modules for  2 courses on citizens participation in local governance: Paglilinang, which focuses on understanding the barangay (the basic unit of governance), its history, its profile, the powers and responsibilities of the officials, the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Salubungan, on citizens advocacy, using case studies to illustrate different methods of influencing policy and practice.

Thank you, Edicio, for bringing up the role of education and training in strengthening citizen participation.  Education is a crucial component of empowering citizens to effectively participate in local governance.  This is especially true in communities/countries that have experienced significant political change (like Tunisia and Egypt, recently).  In a post on the reboot website, Zack Brisson & Kate Krontiris describe the challenge now facing Tunisians:

[One challenge to political participation in Tunisia] is the inexperience that hinders many Tunisians’ ability to effectively engage with the political system. The transactional mechanics of participation, such as finding and vetting timely political intelligence, are new to most Tunisians. During a critically important period, citizens have had to learn these new behaviors quickly, often without adequate education or training.

One example of a creative way to educate citizens on political participation comes from the Palestinian Territory.  The tactic summary titled Developing youth parliaments to teach youth about the democratic process describes how the Culture and Free Thought Association established youth centers, run by youth parliaments, to teach adolescents about the democratic process and provide them with positive life experiences. The youth centers are now governed by the elected members of the youth parliaments. This program for youth sprung out of a need to illustrate the democratic process for young people who had never witnessed it.

The organization established five centers that targeted young people between the ages of 13 and 17.  After implementing the youth centers, the program began facilitating the 'Democracy Game.' Within the framework of rules about campaigning, election and terms of office, young people ran and elected candidate to serve on youth parliaments at each center. There was a 100% turn out of members for the election.  Monitors were invited to illustrate the importance of transparency in elections.   The monitors were invited from Members of the Palestinian Authority, the Ministry of the Interior, other NGOs, and their families. The entire process provides young people with the experience of participating in a democracy.

It would be great to learn more about your training efforts, Edicio!  I would also love to read of examples from others on training/education tactics that have worked for them!

How do NGOs train local gov't officials to be participatory?

Edicio wrote:

We also needed to help local elected and appointed officials to develop their own skills for governing in a participatory way. In our work in the villages, this meant having two distinct (and initially separate) training programs - for citizens on how to participate, and for government on how to encourage and respond to citizens participation.

I would love to learn more about your government training program, Edicio!  New Tactics had documented an example from Brazil of an NGO training police officers to help them understand the vital role they can play as defenders of human rights.   Perhaps there are some similarities in the way that NGOs train local government officials on participatory governing?

CAPEC’s goal is to create “interactive security,” in which public security efforts are planned and organized together with community members and in which responsibilities are shared, resulting in policing that effectively responds to the needs of citizens.  In order for its message to reach as many people as possible, CAPEC asks police departments to recommend officers who can share their training experience with others when they return to work.

The training courses, carried out in three two-day modules over six months, with community members participating along with officers, focus on showing law enforcement officers how important their role is in society and how their work affects the lives of individuals and communities. Officers explore what they believe and feel and how they relate with other human beings. They also learn about the many advantages of interactive security, including more effective policing and safer conditions for officers. Trainers use many stories, metaphors and examples taken from the experiences of the students and focus on educating rather than judging behavior.

Read more in our tactic summary titled Using a comprehensive training approach to persuade police officers to transform their relationships with communities

Local government officials play an important role in encouraging and responding to citizen participation.  How do you build the capacity of local elected and appointed officials develop their own skills for governing in a participatory way?

In the Philippines, there is

In the Philippines, there is an official training program by the Ministry of Interior and Local Government for local officials, from the province (80) to cities (170) to municipalities (1500) to barangays (42,000 villages). Given the numbers, it is obvious that a national centralized program isn't going to happen quickly and effectively. Besides, the tendency of the training programs is to focus only on the formal aspects of governance e.g. crafting and passing local legislation and policies, and annual investment planning.

NGOs who are into participatory local governance (PLG), like ELF, prefer to focus on the barangay-bayan level (the village in relation to the municipality). Part of the reason is our bias for the marginalized and excluded. Part of the reason is practical - the barangays are the end of a trickle down national training program. Some external funds are available for this, and we have tapped them.

Athough we "target" specific barangays as priorities, based on a variety of factors including poverty and marginalization, we prioritize training barangay officials who either invite us or who express interest after initial discussions. This interest includes their contributing to the costs of the training, in kind and in cash.

The first part of the training is for the elected and appointed officials only, so that they can freely discuss their concerns as government officials, in relation to citizens participation. But the second part is a joint activity with the participants of another training program for people's organizations. The joint activity is a series of three 1) joint participatory rural appraisal the methods that have been proven effective in many places e.g. history, key informants, transect walk etc. 2) joint participatory planning of the Barangay Development Plan. This may be a simple as a list of priority projects for the barangay, or it can be more intensive, using the methods of practical visioning (from the Technology of Participation) 3) joint stakeholders assembly, where the priority projects of the barangay are presented to higher local officials and invited national officials, including NGOs, who "pledge" support for the priority projects.

I asked barangay officials if they don't sometimes feel that there is "too much" citizens participation, exerting pressure on their time and limited resources. They did acknowledge this, but sid that it is better than the other situation where they sit in their office and hardly anyone drops in, or they choose projects that the citizens don't appreciate because they were not part of the process to identify them as priorities.

BTW, our partner NGO in Mindanao, Balay Mindanao Foundation Incorporated, has a very successful program of training community leaders in peace building, which led to requests from the local army command to train their officers and soldiers in the same course. At first, their interests was just to learn how to relate effectively with the communities, where they are often seen as outsiders representing a government that has neglected the communities and pay attention only when there is armed resistance. But now it has deepened to the point where the commanding general wants to redefine their mission to peace building rather than merely eliminating the "enemy", but he also acknowledges that this will be difficult to "sell" to the military as a whole.

The course has a live-in portion in a training venue, and a community immersion portion. One added advantage is that the soldiers who have taken the course look at community leaders who have also taken the same course as fellow alumni, and vice-versa.



Investing in building local government leadership from INSIDE

Ed - thank you so much for sharing these three tactical adjustments for promoting sustained participation, and how these have helped to maintain the potential for  "confrontation" when needed but expanding the range to included "engagement and participation".

On the question of developing local leadership:

I understand that the Education for Life Foundation (ELF) has also worked with local communities to identify, support and develop their own local leaders to the point where these people actually become the elected local officials representing their communities. Not just participation from the "outside" but leadership from the "inside" of governance.

Is ELF still engaged in this kind of mentorship and leadership development process?

If so, it would be great for you to share both the challenges and impact that this leadership process has had on communities are able to participate in their own local governance as well as holding their elected officials accountable to the community.

Hi Nancy. Yes, ELF is still

Hi Nancy. Yes, ELF is still committed to the formation of grassroots community leaders as our core mission. We used to have substantial financial resources (from Denmark) to do this autonomously. That gave us the opportunity to develop the program and methods, and "test" it with around 2000 community leaders.

The challenge, when outside resources are not available, is how to do this with local limited resources. this is especially true for the mentoring of those who have graduated from the live-in residential courses.

One innovation we have the developed (driven by necessity - the mother of invention) is to shift our focus from full-time paid staff doing most of the training and mentoring, to developing some of the leader-graduates to become community-based educators. One of our partner NGOs in Negros calls them GCEL (grassroots community educator-leaders). ELF uses the Filipino word "kaagapay" which means facilitator and guide. 

We give special training to the kaagapay, and ask them to organize small learning groups in their barangay ( 10-15 participants). They meet them once a week, in any venue available in the village. ELF provides them learning materials which we have developed as "distance-learning" workbooks. The kaagapay who is also a learners, facilitates the learning sessions. The kaagapay also visits the individual learners in their homes from time to time. Once a month, we convene the kaagapay for a reporting and mentoring session for them.

This approach which is part of our vision of a "community-based learning system" is more cost effective. The transport costs are minimal since the kaagapay and learners are from the same village. The venue is also usually rent-free. The kaagapay has a very minimal allowance. They tell us that their main motivation for continuing their work is the sense of satisfaction that comes from their own learning and the recognition they get form the learners.

In addition tot he learning materials from ELF, the kaagapay innovate my mobiilizing local resource persons from the community. Also, the modules they study include "practicum" like attending a session of the barangay council, or going as a group to visit s local official. 

Another component of this CBLS is the development of individual "learning portfolios" which is simply a folder where the learners collect their various certificates, and write their "learning claims" together with the evidence of their learning e.g application to a task or testimony of a neighbor. The kaagapay and ELF review these learning portfolios and they are the basis for the recognition and certification that we give them.


Political parties, too

Few people like political parties, but, in Latin America at least, parties have been very important in promoting and adopting citizen participation processes in local government.  It is not just civil society associations, local and international NGOs, and career government officials, but political parties, too. 

For example, in Montevideo, Uruguay, it was the Frente Amplio that introduced a participatory decentralization program, which has now been essentially adopted for the country as a whole (which is also under a Frente Amplio government); in Caracas and Ciudad Guayana, it was the Causa R that introduced the parish government program, which was later modified and included in the Venezuelan constitution; and in Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and other Brazilian cities, it was the Partido dos Trabalhadores that introduced participatory budgeting, which has now spread to a couple hundred cities in Brazil (as well as in dozens of other countries). 

In response to Jane's question above about politics of resistance versus politics of participation, in these three countries the new participatory processes were initially meant to serve as a form of resistance to the national political system that was viewed as excluding the voices of the poor.  Nonetheless, within these local participatory processes, citizens had to maintain some level of resistance or willingness to be "contestatory" in order to make the parties in office allow for some real decision making power to be granted.  Local social movements in Porto Alegre, for example, set up protests outside City Hall to force the government to divide the budget across more city districts rather than focus on a few large projects. 

In all cases of formalized local participation processes where the government is providing new channels of participation, there's a danger of citizens being co-opted, and their participation serving more to legitimize the party or person in power than to offer genuine empowerment.

What can political parties learn from their peers in L America?

Ben Goldfrank wrote:

Few people like political parties, but, in Latin America at least, parties have been very important in promoting and adopting citizen participation processes in local government.  It is not just civil society associations, local and international NGOs, and career government officials, but political parties, too. 

Fascinating!  Thanks, Ben, for posting these examples from Latin America of political parties promoting and adopting citizen participation processes in local government!  I am glad that you highlighted the role of political parties.

As citizens in Egypt, Tunisia and other communities around the world are developing new political parties that represent citizens and embrace their participation, what can they learn/borrow from the local political parties in Latin America that have been able to accomplish this? 

Latin American lessons?

kantin wrote:

As citizens in Egypt, Tunisia and other communities around the world are developing new political parties that represent citizens and embrace their participation, what can they learn/borrow from the local political parties in Latin America that have been able to accomplish this? 

That's an excellent and difficult question.  It's funny, too, because it seems that presidential candidates in Latin America these days all say they want to emulate Lula (former president of Brazil, from the Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT).  I do not know how well political strategies from Latin America would translate in other world regions (and even within Latin America there is a lot of economic, social, political, and cultural diversity).  Each of the parties I mentioned above (PT, FA, and LCR) are or were labor-based parties that advocated socialism through "deepening democracy" at least in their early years and achieved success at the local level before the national level.  I don't know if those kinds of parties exist or have a chance of getting elected in other world regions.  But if they do, once they're in local office and are committed to opening new channels of citizen participation, there may be some tactics they might learn from Latin American experiences.

Specifically, in studying the successes and failures of participatory budgeting (PB) in different Latin American countries, a few things seem to aid success in both getting citizens to participate and improving local services and living conditions.  These are (1) designing PB so that it's accessible and empowering (see below); (2) being in a decentralized country where municipal governments have resources and responsibilities; and (3) being in a municipality where the political elite is not vehemently opposed to new channels of citizen participation. Clearly, local parties, NGOs, and citizens have little control over numbers 2 and 3 on the list here.  What does one do when one lives in a not very decentralized country and in a city with powerful elites who oppose participation?

Another tough question with no easy answer.  Here are a few (not totally satisfactory) ideas.  First, in designing PB, the emphasis should be on creating spaces that are open to the participation of both individuals and pre-existing organizations/associations, and on ensuring that participants have some decision making power.  Second, the rules of participation and the budgetary information should be accessible and transaparent.  Third, where there aren't a lot of civic associations, those that do exist can try to strengthen their ties to one another around promoting participation in PB.  Fourth, where municipal technical capacity and resources are scarce, one can appeal for technical and financial aid from local and international NGOs and businesses (PB is very popular with UN Habitat, the World Bank, and dozens of other international organizations, and has been aided in different countries in Latin America by Oxfam, CARE, DFID, Swiss Workers AID, GTZ, and others).  Fifth, where there are strong political opponents to PB, those implementing PB can invite them to participate rather than exclude them from the process.

Participatory Budgeting for County Governments in Kenya

The question of how to make the voices of communities count in decision making is one that has proven to be elusive.  Many communities in kenya today feel that the only avenue through which they can engage their governments is through NGO's. This means that community organizing is highly dependent on NGo programs. PB might be the only way in which communities are able to participate directly in decision making. PB also changes the current way of practicing democracy where communities only get to contribute once every five years through general elections. Fahamu is hoping to introduce this concept in two of kenya's 47 counties. The new kenyan constitution has devolved power to the community level through the formation of county governments. Fahamu has taken this opportunity to ensure that communities are involved from the onset of the formation of the local governments. The idea is to make sure that communities set development priorities that will then be used by the county governments to develop proposals and budgets to the central government. At this point, PB has not been mainstreamed into the kenyan legal framework but the work with the two communities yields positive results, the push to have this included in the county government framework will be the next step for Fahamu and its partners. 

INESC Educates Brazil’s Youths on How to Influence Public Budget

Working in Brasilia’s poorly performing and under resourced Federal District schools, INESC uses budget analysis and advocacy to strengthen the capacity of youths to secure their rights through the monitoring of public budgets and policies that affect them. This work is based on INESC’s methodology of incorporating human rights concretely into public polices and the allocation of public resources. See the video (

INESC organized workshops based on the principles of popular media and art education, in which participation is vital to developing new knowledge, awareness, and sensibility needed for social transformation. Through this playful approach of combining art and communication, participants were introduced to deeper concepts and discussions on human rights, budget formulation, budget monitoring, and democratic participation. During the communications workshop, boys and girls were able to develop their capacity to understand the world and articulate their viewpoints in a critical and sensible way.

A key success occurred in 2009 when the students participating in the project met with lawmakers and public managers about the Federal District education budget. After conducting budget analysis, the students proposed a budget amendment of approximately US$ 1 million. The amendment was passed, and funds were allocated to build sports facilities and renovate schools.

INESC’s approach highlights the importance of incorporating participatory and creative methods with evidence-based budget analysis and advocacy. It demonstrates the impact that civil society participation can have in influencing budget allocations, and how active engagement by those affected can result in better allocations. The work with the Federal District schools also highlights the positive impact of including children and youths in the monitoring of public budgets. Because the young people conducted advocacy using solid evidence, lawmakers and public managers took their input seriously when finalizing the Federal District education budget.

The work of INESC confirms that building a culture of human rights through budget analysis and advocacy is viable and necessary. The young participants in the project developed a strong motivation for collective causes.

Fahamu's panAfrican Fellowship Programme

One of the tactics that Fahamu has used to strenghten movements and enable them to participate in local governments is through a mentorship programme (Fahamu's Pan-African Fellowship Programme:, which is designed to equip activists with necessary tools to engage their leaders at local levels.

Community based activists with qualities of leadership and innovation are identified within community based organisations and social movements and are provided with hands-on work experience, training and support. 
The mentorship is as follows: 
1. placement in host organisations
2. ongoing mentorship
3. a buddy system for peer support
4. monthly learning seminars

 The curriculum for workshop based learning during the fellowship program is organised in four main themes:
1. Theories of Change. This section covers various theories of change that have an impact on political, social and economic contexts of activism.
2. Practical Skills: the learner is expected to cover topics on documentation skills, financial and organizational management, resource mobilisation, working with the media and advocacy, amongst others.
3. Leadership and Personal Development: to respond to the need by the activists on developing their personal skills as a foundation for activism work. This includes personal development and self-awareness, working with diverse teams, presentation and public speaking skills, as well as self-care and wellbeing.
4. Creativity: this theme is intended to equip the fellows with tools to harness art (including cartoons, photography, poetry, performing arts etc.), new media, ICTs as well as their own creativity and imagination to create change.

You can read the stories of the Fahamu's PanAfrican Fellowship 2012 cohort in Kenya to find out more about what these activists were able to achieve.

State of the Union-Africa

In my introduction I mentioned a campaign that Fahamu is involved in called the State of the Union-Africa ( overall advocacy purpose of the State of the Union campaign is to sensitise the African Union, its member states and the wider African public that the many important decisions being taken at the continental level risk the danger of not being implemented at the national/local levels unless there is a change in the policies and practices od state and inter-state actors.

One specific outcome that the campaign is seeking to achieve is commitment from the African Union and its individual member states to institute their own implementation ans monitoring mechanisms for compliance with African Union standards/policies enshrined in various protocols, charters and conventions.

For the next four years (2012-2016), Fahamu and its partners in the State of the Union Campaign will be using three strategies to push governments to implement at local levels the rights and provisions that are in many African Union legal instruments. They:

1. Informing and empowering African citizens to act to claim key rights and freedoms enshrined in African Union charters, conventions and protocols;

2. Influencing the African Governments to ratify, popularise and implement key African Union instruments such as the African Youth Charter and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance among others;

3. Building an inclusive and vibrant national platform of civil society organisations, social movements, media, private sector among others to work on the popularisation and push for ratification and implementation of those mentioned AU instruments

Regarding empowering citizens, one tactic will be using football (find me at:, to mobilise as many citizens as possible to demand better services from their governments.

Currently, the State of the Union-Africa is active in nine countries namely Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Rwanda. You can find more on the organisations leading the campaigns in those countries by visiting our website:

Youth Participatory Budgets

One of the most interesting experiences in Portugal these days is the one related with Youth Participatory Budgets. Under these arrangements, it is possible to bring to the political arena all those citizens who are note able to vote in regular elections due to the age criteria. Many municipalities, including Lisbon, the capital city, have decided to allocate a part of their budgets to the development of projects proposed by the younger generations. These younger layers of society are very often accused of having little or no interest for the collective good. Although, this criticism is not totally fair as we many times do not have the appropriate data do promote comparisons between the younger members and the adults, including the assessment of the attitudes of their own parents. Even so, it is becoming clear that if the right means are used and if a good communication/information is enacted (e.g. through the usage of social media, with a less formal focus), the youth tends to participate in a fruitful and striking/creative way. In other words, this way of empower this particular group of citizens is of great importance. An interesting feature that many times arises is the fact that they are not only capable of suggesting interesting projects, but also to pinpoint the places where the projects should be routed. We tend to think that this has to be with the fact that young people do not always travel by car, so while strolling in the urban areas, they get better insights and knowledge about the territory.

Learning from phase 1 on fostering active citizenship- Tanzania

The programme goal of Chukua Hatua (Take Action) is to achieve increased accountability and responsiveness of government to its citizens. The programme aims to do this primarily by encouraging active citizenship, particularly for women – fostering citizens who know their rights and responsibilities, demand them, and are able to search for and access information. Underpinning the programme is the belief that if people demand their rights and entitlements, then the government will be increasingly compelled to respond. Chukua Hatua has taken an evolutionary approach to programming, using multiple simultaneous pilot projects followed by a review of the pilots’ successes and, based on this, a planned programme design to scale up the successful approaches. The intention is to find out what works as a catalyst to active citizenship. In the first phase the programme piloted five approaches:

  1. Election promises tracking: Training of ‘trackers’ in 36 communities prior to the 2010 elections. They made recordings of rally promises and took these back to their communities to agree priorities. They are now following up progress against the leaders’ promises and recording their findings using cartoon notice boards.

  2. Farmer animators: Orientation of more than 200 farmers nominated by their farmers’ groups of approximately 30 people, to understand principles of accountability, how to strategize to hold those in power to account, and how to share their knowledge and facilitate their groups to take action.

  3. Active musicians: Training 42 musicians from existing groups on principles of accountability to act as ‘seeds’ in their groups to influence their music, which is widely listened to by communities.

  4. Student councils: Activating an existing space that should provide a voice for students but is currently used by teachers to control students; sensitizing students and teachers on issues of democracy to enable students to campaign for leadership and to hold elections; linking students with community ‘champions’ to help them raise issues with teachers and school management committees.

  5. Community radio: Creating a new space in Ngorongoro district to enable pastoralists to share information and debate. Currently the only radio outlet accessible is a Kenyan station. Unfortunately, however, the government has not yet granted the radio licence.

What works in catalyzing citizens to act?

In some cases, awareness raising is enough. For example, the active musicians’ pilot was very successful in raising the awareness of large numbers of people who then took action, including demonstrating about plans for electricity supply being moved to another district and demanding budget explanations from the district council, while students demanded a voice in the way their secondary school was run. The election tracking was successful in getting citizens to continue to engage with governance structures after the elections, but elections are only one part of the governance puzzle, and in some instances communities were content to let the trackers take the follow-up action themselves. The farmers’ animation pilot managed to get farmers’ groups, or other groups such as school committees or faith groups, to take action. In the student councils’ pilot, students raised issues with teachers and achieved some small improvements on teacher absenteeism and lack of desks. This also provided students with a great experience of democracy.

Across the pilots, from farmers’ to musicians’ groups, a collective voice has been a mechanism for overcoming fear. Building on existing networks, forums, and relationships has worked as a way of achieving some traction in changing people’s mindsets; more can be done on both this and collective voice if the programme is able to continue to contribute to creating the conditions for social movements to emerge.

2. What influences the government respond, either positively or negatively, to a demand?

On the question of government response, some encouraging results have been seen, which could be attributed variously to good tactics, perseverance by citizens, leaders being sufficiently pressurized to act, or a willing local leader. More likely, these positive results are due to a combination of all of these factors. However, when citizens have the will but not the capacity to make appropriate demands, the response by those in power is more likely to be negative. For example, following the work with active musicians, people acted collectively but leaders chose to reject their demands through intimidation and threats. The election trackers were given some skills to record, track, and follow up on promises, but when leaders chose not to respond, neither the trackers nor the wider community knew what to do next. Likewise, the student leaders were trained to raise issues, but not how to find ways to ensure that they were listened to. Some teachers listened and acted, but others saw the new-found voice of the students as a threat to their own authority. In comparison, in the farmer animators’ pilot, where ongoing skills training and coaching were given on how to strategize in taking action, community groups were able to agree their most pressing issues together and decide on the best course of action. Although not always successful in getting a response, they had a higher success rate on positive accountability, with more than 30 known success stories.

What did not work – and why?

  • The active musicians were not able to work well in the pastoralist context of Ngorongoro, because the communities were widely dispersed and it was hard to reach them.

  • The community radio idea did not work because the government did not issue a licence. A different strategy is now needed.

  • The tracking of election promises worked better in Ngorongoro than in Shinyanga, because it was begun further in advance of the elections. This gave more time for sensitization of both communities and politicians. In future, an even earlier start would enable communities to push for demand-led promises instead of simply choosing from what was offered to them.

  • The farmer animators’ work was less successful than anticipated in spreading awareness beyond the groups that the animators belonged to. This might have been due to their lack of a ‘formal’ position in community leadership; other ways need to be found to promote widespread awareness in communities alongside the animator approach.

  • Students were able to make demands within their school environment, but the assumption that they would be able to take this approach into the community did not hold – there was simply not enough respect for young people’s viewpoints. The programme needs to prepare the ground for youth engagement in community decision making before students are able to question their elders.

What we have learned

  • The programme needs to do more to prepare for negative responses. Scenario planning with partners and communities will be one approach, and risk mitigation measures such as negotiation skills and conflict resolution will be embedded in all animation and active leaders’ training. Linking citizens and partners to national organizations such as the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition is another strategy. This approach will need to be continually responsive to the changing context.

  • The next phase will continue to work with local elected leaders. Oxfam has learned that the benefits of changing the behaviour and increasing the capacity of village leaders and ward councillors are two-fold: they are more likely to respond to citizens’ demands positively, and they can be key allies in campaigning to negotiate citizens’ issues upwards to central government.

  • Although there have been some notable successes, gender bias in Tanzania is very entrenched and work with women needs to be strengthened, in particular looking at women’s leadership, men’s attitudes to women, and women’s participation in public spaces.

  • The fact that there is little room for people to discuss issues and to interact with leaders is a major gap in local accountability mechanisms. This is perhaps the most exciting and difficult area of work in the next phase. A key element of the strategy will be aiming to open up spaces for such debate.

  • An evolutionary approach to development is working for the programme. An evolving model of change is perhaps a necessity in an environment as complex as accountability work in a young democracy such as Tanzania.
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