The Author was responsible for training the field staff of a British NGO in the methodology of social accountability in 2018 in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. His audience were experienced grass roots workers who understood how local government worked and how the poor and marginalised interacted with it. Their feelings about what was possible in applying the principles and practices of social accountability was, however, pessimistic – principally because they did not believe the pervasive corruption in their countries would allow it to work. In all three countries the Constitution and Laws were helpful to those interested in helping the poor to have a voice in the development of the state, and in helping them to achieve their rights and entitlements, but in all three countries the voice of experienced field workers suggested that the diversion and maladministration of public services and funds were such that the suggestions of social accountability were unlikely to work to the benefit of the poor and marginalised.
This is not a black and white situation: there were enough examples of positive impact from social accountability interventions in all three countries for it to be worthwhile continuing and expanding their application. It was important, however, to recognise the real difficulties of trying to apply social accountability practices. Experienced field workers were apprehensive that they would work, based on their understanding of the pervasive corruption that blocked its application. In the development world in general social accountability is being promoted as a valuable and effective tool, but it is valuable to reflect on the difficulties it faces in countries of pervasive corruption – which are many and varied. This article can hopefully bring a healthy dose of realism to those who promote social accountability.
The statements in this article derive from the conversations between trainer and trainees in a range of formal settings in all three countries, together with a consultants’ study into the opportunities for social accountability in 9 counties of Kenya. The academic study and its findings were discussed in the two other countries for comparison, and the field workers there recognised that there were many commonalities with their own countries.
This article is produced by Richard Holloway as the author in his own right, and does not represent the views of Voluntary Service Overseas