Royal danish ministry of foreign affairs - Go to the frontpage of   Publication  

The NGO centre

Arthur Larok
"NGOs must be better at mobilizing the grassroots,"
Arthur Larok says.

The Uganda National NGO Forum has established itself as the NGO centre in Uganda and strives to equip NGOs to meet the ever-changing challenges caused by the ever-changing role of NGOs.

 When the Uganda National NGO Forum was formed in 1997, the ambition was to become the broad-based national body for NGOs in Uganda and thus to contribute to building a coherent, respected and well-informed NGO sector actively striving to improve citizens well-being and safe guarding their rights.

Fourteen years down the line, UNNGOF has achieved quite a bit, Arthur Larok, UNNGOF director of programmes, notes.

“We are seen as the NGO centre in Uganda. we are in dialogue with all the important stakeholders and have a good overview of what is going on in Uganda’s civil society. we share best practices and information, and engage NGOs in policy-making where relevant.”

UNNGOF is an all-inclusive member organisation for all NGOs in Uganda and their networks. The present membership stands at 387, but UNNGOF aims at adding another 200 member organisations over the next couple of years.

Arthur Larok emphasizes that the role of UNNGOF is not only to criticize government, but also to look critically at the NGO community.

“Accountability within NGOs is also a challenge. Few NGOs have seen the handing over of leadership. We see what looks like lifetime NGO presidents and we should take care not to become part of a patronage culture.”

To address that, UNNGOF has launched a special initiative: the QuAM, the NGO Quality Assurance Mechanism.

’’Accountability within NGOs is also a challenge.

UNNGOF also does research and documentation through the Uganda Governance Monitoring Programme which produces thematic reports on governance trends in Uganda. The findings are widely used and quoted.

Service delivery, advocacy, mobilization

Most would agree that the role of NGOs in Uganda has completely changed over the past decades, from service delivery to advocacy. But Arthur Larok sees a new trend coming.

“NGOs have held so many workshops and conferences; we have produced piles of analyses and documentation. But that in itself does not bring about change. Our legitimacy is constantly questioned. we are asked from where we derive our mandate. We must be better at mobilizing the grassroots to show. we have to take the issue of how many Ugandans we involve seriously.

The Citizens’ Manifesto (see article page 19) is an example of this and it was a real success story.”

Since 2006, UNNGOF has received funding from Danida HUGGO, and this funding has been quite special according to Arthur Larok:

“Danida HUGGO has a very different approach from most donors. They did not come to fund specific activities but said they wanted to strengthen our capacity as a network. It is the only donor which gives us non-earmarked funding, which is absolutely necessary to strengthen our organisation. They don’t give a lot of money, but what they give is very important. Furthermore, Danida HUGGO staff is drawn from civil society and understands the context we work in and we have a very constructive and open dialogue. Most other donors are different: They just receive an application, grant the money, and wait for our report.”

From 2009-2011, Danida HUGGO provided NGO Forum with USD 250,000 in support of its strategic plan.

Getting rid of rotten Apples

With the mushrooming of NGOs and CSOs in Uganda the need to protect the credibility and integrity of such organisations increased. To meet this demand, Ugandan NGOs, including both the Uganda National NGO Forum and the Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA), developed the NGO Quality Assurance Mechanism (QuAM) in 2006. QuAM aims at promoting adherence by organisations to generally acceptable ethical standards and operational norms.

Those who do, ’the good apples’, receive the NGO Quality Assurance Certificate, while those who do not are advised as to how to achieve certification. But the process is, of course, also aimed at identi fying bogus organisations, ’the rotten apples’, and preventing them from operating and undermining the legitimacy of NGOs.

The QuAM process is quite detailed and demanding, perhaps too demanding. So far, only five NGOs have managed to complete the process and get the certificate.

For more information on QuAM:

The fire is still burning

J.B. Kwesiga has turned 70 and has just stepped down after 15 years as leader of DENIVA. But he has still strong views on the role and the performance of NGOs and the government in Uganda.

 J.B. Kwesiga is – or rather used to be – a professor and taught economics and politics at university. But then he discovered undiscovered human resources that were not put to good use.

“I realized that a lot of adults with no formal education were very knowledgeable and resourceful, but were looked at as empty-headed. I thought that their resources could be used and built on if addressed the right way. Otherwise we undermine them rather than equipping them. We should facilitate them to become owners of their own country, and thus I turned to adult education.”

It was a question of taking one step further in the same direction – mobilizing untapped human resources – when Kwesiga in 1995 decided to join the NGO-community full-time as leader of DENIVA, the Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations.

DENIVA was formed in 1988 to draw together Ugandan NGOs, not international ones. It now has some 700 member organisations. At the time NGOs wanted – and were needed – to rebuild Uganda and did a lot of service delivery.

“After some time a new breed of people entered the NGO scene and focus shifted to governance,” Kwesiga explains. “We realized that we needed to work with and involve people. If we fail to do that we risk falling back to repressive regimes. Note that we are yet to see a leader of Uganda hand over to a successor.”

“We have a sound constitution, it is pro-people, but is the role of citizens merely to vote? They should be active citizens, participate and hold government accountable. How can citizens reclaim their space? That is the challenge NGOs should now focus on and what DENIVA has increasingly done.”

Is decentralization positive?

DENIVA has received Danida HUGGO funding since 2006. Among other things, these funds have been geared to implementing a decentralization review programme with NGOs in two districts: Koboko in West Nile and Namatunga in the East.

“Decentralization is often perceived as positive, but is it? Our findings in the two districts question that. Or rather, they question whether real decentralization is taking place and whether the full potential of the decentralization is realized. Yes, people are consulted. But often it is done ceremonially and people become de-motivated. At the same time recentralization is going on. The LC5 chairman is paid by government and most of the local budget – 95 percent – is funded and more or less earmarked by central government. Until 2006 local authorities could raise their own tax revenue but it stopped with the abolishment of the graduated tax. So what is left to be decided locally?” Kwesiga asks. “We also found out that many of our members do not have fundamental knowledge of public planning and budgeting, governance etc. and that their access to information is often made difficult by local authorities. We train our members to participate. They need to know what a budget is and how to read it to check how much money is allocated to health, agriculture and education. And how much to allowances for politicians.”

“We have reported on the poor construction of public buildings, absent health staff etc. Some local authorities and politicians in the two districts welcomed it, while others were worried, saying that we were inciting people to rebellion. Who were we to mingle in their affairs?”

Kwesiga is happy that the foundations for increasing the number of active citizens have been laid in the two districts, but they must be followed up and nurtured, and they must be spread out to other districts.

“So, there is still a long way to go,” says Kwesiga, who may now have retired to farming, but who will continue to let his voice be heard.

J.B. Kwesiga

NAADS Overpricing

When farmers in Namutumba District were dissatisfied with the National Agricultural Advisory Services Programme (NAADS), the Namutumba District NGO Forum (NDNGOF) decided to investigate and found several examples of inflated prices. In one case NAADS had paid USD 8,820 for a hand tractor which, on the open market, cost USD 1,960. NDNGOF reported the cases to the district NAADS coordinator and various local authorities and a monitoring tour to all the NAADS projects in the district revealed mismanagement and several cases of inflation in the prices of inputs supplied to the beneficiaries. Some NAADS coordinators were arrested, others forced to resign and all the culprits were told to refund the misappropriated money. This has resulted in a remarkable improvement in the performance of NAADS in the district and the community members actively monitoring the services.

The almost one-stop shop for NGOs and donors

You had hundreds of Ugandan NGOs looking for funding and dozens of donors looking for the right NGOs to fund. Why not streamline it? The Independent Development Fund (IDF) was the answer.

 You may have heard of ’briefcase NGOs’, NGOs that only exist on paper. They usually have a fancy name, a popular purpose, a constitution etc. But in reality they are a one-man show, set up to attract funding from naïve donors.

Well, such briefcase NGOs might as well forget about even trying to apply for funding at the Independent Development Fund (IDF) which funds projects on the promotion and protection of human and civil rights. The screening and scrutiny that NGOs and their applications have to go through are impressive. And few actually make it. In IDF’s first year of operation they received 157 applications. 18 of them got support. In 2009 the number of applications doubled to 318. Still only 21 were approved for support. The maximum support is USD 100,000 and covers two to three years.

And IDF’s close monitoring of the NGOs does not stop when funding has been granted. Rather on the contrary. The successful applicants are followed very closely. Not just for control, but to train them, build capacity and make sure that the support granted is put to maximum use.

IDF was set up in 2008 to help both donors wanting to fund NGOs and NGOs looking for funding.

“At that time NGOs had to approach each donor one by one to raise funds. And each donor on the other hand received lots of applications which they did not have capacity, time or resources to react to in a meaningful way,” explains IDF grants programme manager, Frederick Bwire Ouma.

A number of donors and NGO networks got together with the idea of setting up a joint funding mechanism, a kind of basket fund for NGO projects, and the interested donors funded a consultant to work out a model that was to become IDF.

IDF is set up as a private company, but is not-for-profit, non-political and non-governmental. It has a board of directors drawn from Ugandan NGO networks like HURINET-U, UNNGOF, and DENIVA and donors like the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland.

Careful scrutiny

IDF calls for proposals twice a year through media and NGO networks and makes a big effort to cover the whole of Uganda, and the applications show that they do. Only existing organisations can receive funding and for specific activities.

“We screen all applications very carefully and even physically visit those who go through the first selection. Applications rarely give the full picture, so we visit to make sure that the NGO is actually in
busi ness, and we also talk to local leaders and NGO representatives,” Frederick Bwire Ouma says.

When funding is granted, the activities selected and the amounts allocated are made public to ensure full transparency. Initially some NGOs were sceptical about this, but they now find that it makes them popular with local authorities when they secure funding for local activities. IDF also provides the successful NGOs with financial management training and this, combined with close monitoring and counselling, serves as capacity-building which puts the NGO in a better position to apply for other funding.

“Every three months we visit the NGOs that have received funding to follow up,” IDF financial manager, Josephine Mugoa, says. “Every six months we also visit the supposed beneficiaries to check whether they are actually being reached. Some lamented that our requirements were higher than other donors, and we are revisiting these requirements to ensure they are not too complicated. But NGOs have come to appreciate that meeting our demands also serves as training and capacity-building.”

“IDF was launched with the one purpose of managing grants, so it really is our core business. We are professionals and have the knowledge and overview,” Frederick Bwire Ouma says. “Embassies and international agencies would never be able to deal with applications in such detail. In that way, we minimize fragmentation and handling costs and improve quality and efficiency. Embassies refer organisations to us and NGOs have a one stop entrance.”

No to political pressure

IDF takes their non-political platform very seriously, Frederick Bwire Ouma stresses, though it is sometimes a challenge.

“We have had visits by and calls from ministers and members of Parliament wanting us to support NGOs in their constituencies. But we have – fortunately – very strict guidelines and have been able to say no to attempts of pressure: we recommend them to go by the agreed procedures. This is not always popular and takes some courage.”

IDF disbursed approximately USD 1,353,000 in 2010 to local organisations protecting and/or promoting human rights in Uganda. A maximum of 15% of the total IDF turnover goes to administration. By 30 June 2011, 61 NGO projects had received a grant from IDF. Out of Uganda’s 112 districts 63, are covered by IDF grantees.

Frederick Bwire Ouma

The Dummy’s Guide

“A Dummy’s Guide to Press and Journalist Bill 2000”, this is just one of numerous reports and pamphlets published by the Human Rights Network-Uganda, HURINET-U.

Established in 1993 by a group of eight human rights organisations as the focal organization in the fight for human rights awareness, protection and promotion in Uganda, HURINET-U now has 35 member organisations and has managed to enter into a working partnership with both national and international human rights organizations.

HURINET-U specializes in campaigning, such as for public access to information, and in translating complicated legislation into easy-to-use manuals, like the ’dummy’s guide’. HURINET-U has been heavily involved in the campaign against corruption and hosted ACCU (Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda) in its first years. The International Criminal Court and indigenous people being evicted from their land to make it available for mining are other issues HURINET-U has dealt with. Moreover, HURINET-U played a key role in establishing the Independent Develop ment Fund (IDF), a basket kind of grant mechanism to support civil society, and the chief executive officer of HURINET-U, Ndifuna Mohammed, presently chairs the IDF Board.

Ndifuna MohammedHURINET-U is part of the international Human Rights House Network and dreams of establishing a Human Rights House in Uganda to house and nurture new and small human rights organisations.

HURINET-U has received support from Danida HUGGO in various ways and this is highly appreciated.

“Danida-HUGGO is the first donor to give us non-earmarked funds which is extremely important for us,” Ndifuna Mohammed says, but adds that the advice by Danida HUGGO on how to improve HURINET-U’s management and financial systems has also been invaluable.

During the period 2009-2011, Danida HUGGO granted HURINET USD 200,000 to support its strategic plan.

A fine balance

It is quite demanding to be taken seriously as both the watchdog against human rights abuse and government advisor. But the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative combines the two roles.

Every time a new bill is presented to the Parliament of Uganda, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) is consulted and invited to make submissions and appearances. It is a clear indication that the expertise of the organisation is well respected even though it is also known for challenging new legislation and even taking it to court if necessary. This double role of watchdog and government advisor is quite demanding and Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of FHRI, is proud that his organisation has made it that far.

He has been there right from the start as one of the founders in 1991. FHRI now has more than 300 individual members drawn from all sectors: teachers, lawyers, media, journalists, judges etc. It does not have member organisations, but net works actively with other organisations and spearheads various campaigns against torture, the death penalty etc.

FHRI has a research division and also makes submissions to international human rights bodies, producing periodic thematic reports on the human rights situation, amongst other things. The reports have been published since 1998 and are widely used both nationally and internationally.

FHRI depends heavily on donor funding, including funding from Danida HUGGO, and this has advantages but also a downside.

“When we release our human rights reports, some try to undermine our work, saying that we are donor-driven and that we promote donor agendas. But we have built credibility and are not easily dismissed. we make an effort to be seen as fact-based, consistent, non-political and non-partisan and to address and respond to issues that are important to the grassroots, the poor and deprived.”

Advocacy, research, documentation, activism are some of the tools FHRI and Livingstone Sewanyana use to promote human rights.
Advocacy, research, documentation, activism are some of the tools FHRI and Livingstone Sewanyana use to promote human rights.

Another challenge of donor-funding to be felt by FHRI is the uncertainty.

“Donor-funding is usually short-term, one to two years. When it stops, you have to lay off qualified people. Last year we had a staff of 52. Now we are down to 32. You also have to spend a lot of time and resources looking for funding rather than on activities.”

A FHRI achievement: Paving the way for legal aid

When asked about concrete outcomes of FHRI-U activities, Livingstone Sewanyana points to the development of the Paralegal Advisory Service which provides legal aid to poor and marginalized people in conflict with the law.

“We made a petition in 2006 challenging the practice of having so many people in custody much longer than the maximum 48 hours before being presented in court. We had gathered lots and lots of cases and documentation to support the case, and the Constitutional Court ruled in support of the petition. This put focus on the problem and was instrumental in creating the legal aid projects which have since developed.”

The Citizens’ Manifesto rekindled enthusiasm

In 2009, a feeling of political apathy was spreading in Uganda. If voters were to register for the upcoming 2011 elections in big numbers, an extra effort had to be made. NGOs gathered in the Uganda Governance Monitoring Platform (UGMP) conceived the ambitious idea of developing a Citizens’ Manifesto, a non-partisan but political statement by ordinary citizens outlining their aspirations and demands in the quest for a peaceful, prosperous nation.

The idea worked: The Citizens’ Manifesto actually materialised as result of a huge effort to involve the grassroots. More than 200 meetings were held throughout the country including Manifesto Days, radio programmes, other media etc. It is estimated that some 100,000 Ugandans were reached by these activities directly, while some eight to ten million were reached indirectly.

The Citizens’ Manifesto played a prominent role as a reference document during the electoral campaign. It mapped out the most pressing concerns of the Ugandan citizens and their priorities, including strong and decisive action against the widespread corruption and poverty reduction.

Another initiative, the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, was spearheaded by FHRI. It included no less than 600 civil society and faith-based organisations and ran an ’Honour your Vote’ campaign.

The campaigns – in the words of Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of FHRI – “rekindled the enthusiasm of the Ugandan voters.”

It also demonstrated that the huge number of Ugandan NGOs, civil society and faith-based organisations, and various umbrella organisations are able to join forces and work together.

For more on the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU):

The changing role of NGOs

The majority of Ugandans are still to benefit from the annual, economic growth of 6% and civil society organisations still have an important role to play to build rights awareness.
The majority of Ugandans are still to benefit from the annual, economic growth of 6% and civil society organisations still have an important role to play to build rights awareness.

Uganda has seen impressive growth and development over the past decades, but challenges remain. The NGOs may no longer be needed as service providers, but certainly as watchdogs.

“Uganda has seen much progress since the collapsed state in the 1970s and early 80s. The policy and normative framework is in place to move forward. On paper everything is there, but not in practice,” notes Arthur Larok, director of programmes, Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGOF).

“We have seen impressive economic growth. with a sustained economic growth of six per cent per year Uganda is among the top performers in the world. But prosperity has not reached the poor majority.”

“In the last 10 years in particular, politics have not worked for Ugandans equitably, despite progress. We have institutions that are not allowed to work: Parliament, local councils etc. There are huge discrepancies between formulation and implementation. Look at corruption. There are so many institutions put up to deal with corruption, but nothing really happens. We need to change that, and NGOs have an important role to play.”

But according to Larok, Ugandan NGOs do not operate in an enabling environment.

“Government was happy about NGOs when we were mostly doing service provision. Now that our role has changed to advocacy and rights awareness, we are no longer as popular. NGOs are singled out to be opposition implying again that something is wrong with opposition.”

The pendulum swings back

Larok’s views are echoed by Chief Executive Officer Ndifuna Mohammed of the Human Rights Network-Uganda, HURINET-U,

“The situation in Uganda is like a pendulum which is now swinging back. In the early days of the present regime very important steps were taken to create a robust framework to protect human rights. The Uganda Human Rights Commission, an Ombudsman and various other watchdogs were created. It had a very positive impact and sent an important signal. But after 2000/01 we have seen the pendulum swinging back as the regime does not want to let go. Democracy is seen as a threat. The view on media and NGOs etc. has become less tolerant and stricter regulation has been introduced. You see a state that is scared of everything; a government trying to consolidate itself rather than consolidating democracy.”

Donors cannot bring about change

According to Larok change cannot – and should not – come from donors.

“Donors are representatives of governments and feel more comfortable dealing with government counterparts, so it is difficult to see them pushing for real change. Donors have done good things, though: They have helped open up space for NGOs and we need that support from donors. It is for us, then, to use it.”

Godber w. Tumushabe, executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), adds that most donors lack an understanding of the political and practical environment NGOs work in, and even if they have it, their influence is no longer what it used to be. “Donors’ influence on government is eroding very fast. Donors have given in on their demands on good governance and fight against corruption in the interest of dialogue and diplomatic expedience. Their threats are never enforced. Government on its side uses donor funds for patronage and gets away with it. And with the future revenue from oil what remains of donor influence may vanish.”

Ndifuna Mohammed of HURINET-U agrees that it is for Ugandan civil society to bring about change.

“We as NGOs have a lot of work to do. Many people are aware of the problems, but remain passive. They don’t take action. Activism in civil society has not really spread, though we saw some of it during the run up to the 2011 elections.”

A champion of innovation

NGOs in Uganda talk about a special Danida HUGGO approach. An NGO veteran gives his description of it.

Godber W. Tumushabe“Danida HUGGO has championed very innovative ways and programmes to support and finance civil society. They have shown great flexibility and thus been able to meet the wide variety of demands.”

This very positive assessment was made by Godber W. Tumushabe, executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE). He is just one of many NGO activists in Uganda who talk about a special Danida HUGGO approach.

“An example of this flexibility is that Danida HUGGO accepts and processes applications on a rolling basis, not only once a year. As applicants we have a fruitful dialogue with Danida HUGGO staff and there is a very short processing time. This makes Danida HUGGO very responsive and able to actively support urgent issues arising, to support what you might call fire-fighting.”

Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Right Initiative (FHRI), agrees that Danida HUGGO has made a difference in various ways:

“Danida HUGGO has been instrumental in increasing funding for civil society, in supporting networks and in sharing best practices. Danida HUGGO has indeed been a dominant player, but also a catalyst. They are good listeners and team players and do not try to dictate.”

Tumushabe also praises Danida HUGGO for appreciating the link between development and natural resources and the importance of research and documentation:

“Credible advocacy must be based on proper documentation, but most donors prefer to support activities, claiming that the documentation is already there.”

Tumushabe regrets, though, that his own organisation – unlike many other NGOs – has only received short-term funding for specific activities and no core funding by Danida HUGGO.

Yet, ACODE has seen impressive growth:

“We started out with a staff of two in 2000 but now have a staff of 22 and an annual budget of USD2 million. Our profile has sharpened and become known. we have political impact and are among the NGOs that can engage at a high level.”


By depending so much on funding by Danida HUGGO and other donors is ACODE – and the many other Ugandan NGOs – donor-driven?

Godber w. Tumushabe smiles when asked this question, one that he has obviously been asked many times before.

“We really have moved beyond that. And you could ask government the same: It is heavily donor-funded; does that make it donor-driven? But of course we have to walk a thin line: we only rarely respond to requests to venture into activities decided by donors. This is a way donors can direct NGOs who in turn are perceived as donor-driven. But we develop our own programmes and apply for funding for them.”

But Godber w. Tumushabe is well aware that many NGOs struggle to survive and therefore take on donor requests.

ACODE – The NGO Think Tank

ACODE, Advocates’ Coalition for Development and Environment, is an independent public policy, research, and advocacy think tank. Since its creation in 2000, ACODE has established itself as a credible and committed organisation with a reputation for independent policy research, effective dissemination and strong credibility amongst policymakers.

ACODE does research and publishes reports which are widely used and quoted. The issues covered include the functioning of the multiparty system at local level, the implementation of the PRDP, (the Peace Recovery and Development Programme for Northern Uganda), and auditing the NRM regime.

ACODE plays an important role in civil society campaigns. Ahead of the 2011 general elections ACODE joined like-minded civil society organizations to form a platform – the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda – to influence the government to undertake electoral reforms.

This page forms part of the publication 'Governance for Development' as chapter 5 of 15
Version 1.0. 03-10-2011
Publication may be found at the address


  Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark © |