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5 Policy dialogue

5.1 Understanding of ’policy dialogue’ in the country context

Policy dialogue in the context of this evaluation is a broad concept which different stakeholders understand and interpret in different ways. For foreign governments and donors, policy dialogue often refers to the (formal) dialogue at government level. For country stakeholders, policy dialogue refers to both dialogue between Government and civil society and within civil society (horizontal and vertical), as identified in the Uganda Scoping Study. The process and nature of policy dialogue involves on-going negotiation of ideas, relations and power; thus, it is a process for establishing legitimacy, for mutual learning and for influencing. The process and nature of policy dialogue also means that it extends beyond “policy making” into implementation, review and monitoring and revision of policies. This chapter presents the understanding of policy dialogue by the CSOs interviewed and stakeholders.

5.2 CSOs and forms of policy dialogue

Definition of Policy Dialogue by CSOs and stakeholders

Typology of CSOs in Uganda involved in policy dialogue include faith-based organisations (FBOs), NGOs, the media, cultural institutions and associations, CS organisations set up by like-minded individuals, professional organisations and individuals.

Policy dialogue on the other hand is defined for purposes of the study as: the involvement of CSOs and the influence they have on the Government’s agenda”, according to the ToR. CSO dialogue includes the development and implementation of policies and strategies at national and local level that would hold governments to account. Perceptions about policy dialogue in Uganda, among the CSOs interviewed differed from one organisation to another. Some see policy dialogue from the viewpoint of policy development and implementation at different levels, while others describe policy dialogue in relation to the organisational processes for example actions taken by CSOs during the dialogue process. See Box 4 below for the views.[76]

Box 4 Some Definitions of Policy Dialogue by Ugandan CSOs and Stakeholders interviewed

Varying Definitions and description of Policy Dialogue by Stakeholders in Uganda

  • Organising round table forums with policy makers to discuss pertinent policy issues.
  • Participating in legislative drafting and contributing alternative reports on Uganda’s implementation of its obligations.
  • Engaging with policy makers on issues as they emerge. Having a collective voice on pertinent policy issues and presenting evidence to the policy makers.
  • Presenting Position papers to Government or to contribute to on-going policy formulation.
  • A transparent, participatory and inclusive process that incorporate issues of others and ensures responsiveness in government processes.
  • A process that allows Government to utilize alternatives views from CSOs, and to strengthen service delivery and democratic processes.

Uganda CSOs Definition: Source, Uganda CSO Study Scoping Study Report: 2011.

Different forms of policy dialogue

Policy dialogue according to CSOs includes the structured communication between CSOs and different levels of government (often referred to as “vertical dialogue”) and also includes communication between CSOs themselves (often referred to as “horizontal dialogue”). Policy dialogue in Uganda happens at every stage of the policy development process. The policy development processes in which CSOs have been involved comprise three main stages namely: Policy formulation (determination and description); policy realisation (implementation and dissemination); and policy learning (monitoring and evaluation).[77]

Policy dialogue happens at the point of interaction between CSOs and governments at the various stages of policy development and implementation. Dialogue is held for the purposes of exchanging knowledge and experience with the aim to have the best public policies. Often, CSO perceptions are linked to the extent of interaction with Government at the different levels, the nature of work done by the CSO, geographical location (national and local levels), and whether the dialogue took place at official platforms or were spontaneous and non-official. CSO policy dialogue takes various forms, depending on the issue and the entry point for dialogue and includes: Proactive policy dialogue, Spotlight, Reciprocal Policy Dialogue, and Indirect Policy Dialogue as set out in Annex F.

Each of the three case studies presented in this report have looked at CSO engagement in policy dialogue in the different policy development stages. Each case study is discussed more comprehensively below.

5.3 Power relations and spaces for policy dialogue in Uganda

Power and power relations are a major part of the enabling environment for CSOs policy dialogue. These relationships also define the spaces for policy dialogue, and how CSOs can effectively use this space to achieve their goals. The study uses the concept of space (invited, claimed and closed) to analyse the power relations useful for policy dialogue. Power in Uganda exists in four main recognised forms, visible power, hidden power, invisible power and latent power, all of which may influence the various spaces identified.

Based on findings from the three case studies, the Table 2 illustrates the power and power relations existing in the environment for policy dialogue in Uganda, the power centres, the dialogue spaces and their characteristics, and the strategies that have been used by CSOs to operate within the spaces and address the different forms of power.

Table 2 Power in the policy dialogue environment
Power centres across
the 3 case studies
Identified dialogue spaces
& characteristics
Cso strategies effective
across the case studies
Visible Power

The Courts of Law

The Cabinet



Donors (Multilateral)
Invited Spaces
(Submissions to parliament committees, briefs may be Contested, SWG)
Research & analysis

Policy briefs/ position papers

Influence in technical & decision making spaces

Public interest litigation
Hidden Power

Political parties

RDCs/District Security

Private sector interests

DPs (bilaterals)

Security Agencies
Uninvited spaces such as Sector Working Groups, Government Committees, may be contested, exposed by media & other politicians Media debates

Research & advocacy

Public debates

Community sensitisation

Participation in contested spaces
Invisible Power
Social structures

Religious, social, cultural beliefs & practices

Patriarchal structures

Religious structures

Cultural/traditional structures

Community groups
Contested Spaces
May be subtle

May be hostile

Realisation of change may be long-term
Education & awareness creation

Sensitisation programmes

Community drama

Community meetings/Barazas

IEC Materials, petitions

Participatory research

Media advocacy
* Latent Power (Added by the For Uganda Study original Power Analysis Matrix)
Public spaces

People power that may lead to mass action

May include crowds leading to “Mob justice”or lawlessness
Public space that may be dormant or suppressed.

May be peaceful but there action may be sporadic & volatile, out of control (e.g. Mabira Forest demonstrations, Buganda Kingdom riots both which that led to loss of lives)
Public demonstrations

Peaceful walks

Mass action/closure of shops

Call for boycott of products

Visible power: The most visible power in Uganda which CSOs interacted with and targeted in policy dialogue was the high level category of power centres that include the Parliament, the Courts of Law, the Cabinet, and the Executive including the Presidency. Additionally, some CSOs interacted with the multilateral donors based in Uganda and financiers of big projects at international level (for example the World Bank), which have strong influencing power.

The spaces for dialogue are given as a constitutional right and are provided for by law, such as the Local Government Act. From the study findings, it was clear that CSOs participated in policy dialogue in formal government meetings and processes and were provided with space to make contribution in their right as CSOs. The CSOs presented technical materials for submission, for example to Joint Sector Review meetings, during the National Development Plan (NDP) development process, and other parliamentary committees as needs arose.

The visible spaces in some respects could however be contested based on the sensitivity of the issues under discussion. CSOs cited examples where they have been side lined by government officials with their topics being removed from the agenda, thus disallowing them space to present their views. Likewise, CSOs have evidence of incidents where their views have been taken up and incorporated in government documents and processes (as was described in the case studies). For example, CSOs have been cited by government officials, DPs and other CSOs as having been instrumental in influencing the inclusion of forestry and gender as fundamental drivers for national development as given in the current NDP.

The CSO strategies that have been effectively applied in the visible power arena included identification of policy gaps through research and analysis, policy briefs and position papers. These documents have been used by policy makers allied with CSOs to provide input and support their arguments, for example during parliamentary debates.

Where spaces of influence have narrowed and been closed in visible power areas, CSOs have used public interest litigation to challenge issues that may not be resolved through dialogue. Examples where CSOs have gone to court are cited in the Forestry Governance Case Study (Butamira Forest and Mabira Forest degazettement), and CSOs challenge of divorce law (Case Study on Gender Based Legislation). Other court cases have been filed by CSOs to challenge the negative elements of the enabling environment, for example the court challenges of the NGO Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The hidden power spaces that are closed off to CSOs: As illustrated in the table above, the holders of ’hidden power’ include individual or groups of politicians with ’vested’ interests, political parties, private sector interests and the DPs, especially the bilateral partners of government. Bilateral partners wielded power in areas where they provide specific support for various sector support initiatives. Over the years, bilateral donors have made substantial investment in governance and accountability sectors, health and education, justice law and order, and Natural Resource Management/Forestry sectors. DPs tend to have substantial influence over the direction and detail of support in these areas and examples were cited where CSOs had worked with DPs to open up dialogue spaces with Government on matters that were of concern to CSOs, for example the NGO Registration Act.

At the district level, the Resident District Commission (RDCs) have ’hidden power’ which they tended to wield over CSOs. RDCs and security agencies such as the District Internal Security Officers or Sub-county Security Officers were seen by CSOs as critical in determining the extent of the environment enabling at district level.

The dialogue spaces occupied under the hidden power centres could be considered as contested and uninvited spaces. CSOs tend to get information after exposure by the media or other politicians, as highlighted in the anti-corruption case study. According to the case study, the anti-corruption debates are classic examples which often followed exposure by the media. The dialogue spaces were often not very visible but often contested. For example, issues related to high public expenditure such as funds given to MPs by Government and funds given by private sector to politicians or public servants, corruption scandals etc., are usually exposed by the media. Two examples include the lack of accountability of the UGX 20 million constituency monitoring fund allocated to each Member of Parliament which was exposed late in the process, and the parliament approval of UGX 103 million for each MP to buy a vehicle. CSOs used indirect messaging through public dialogue, research and analysis and the media debates, to pass on messages to these spaces they may not reach directly. According to CSOs, the spaces may also be characterised by lack of accurate information, and attempts to silence the dialogue with tactics such as bribery, secrecy and intimidation. Forestry governance has been an example where hidden power is at play and counteracting policy dialogue on policy implementation. The debate has also shown politicians and private sector investors as the major power blocks, who advance agendas that may contradict government policies.

Invisible power: The invisible power centres are more subtle, which many CSO find more difficult to address. These include ingrained social, cultural, and religious spaces. They often have beliefs, norms and practices that are so ingrained that their spaces are difficult to penetrate. In the Gender and Forestry Case Studies, it was apparent that CSOs have recognised these power centres and have targeted them with special strategies to get them on their side in order to have successful policy dialogue.

Gender-based policy dialogue had the most intense interaction with invisible power centres, especially on issues of culture such as polygamy, divorce and marriage. The forestry sector had some specific interaction where cultural and religious institutions (particularly in case of the attempted degazettement of Mabira Forest and the hydropower project at Bujagali Falls) played a critical role in policy dialogue. Although the invisible power spaces may be subtle, they are highly-contested spaces, characterised by resistance and sometimes hostility. The realisation of policy outcomes may also be long-term.

The CSO strategies used in the recent past in Uganda in the Forestry and Gender debates recognised the importance of ’invisible power’ and deliberately targeted the institutions that wield this power. For example, CSOs successfully worked with cultural and religious institutions to be proactive on issues of specific gender issues such as Domestic Violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and advocacy on forestry issues. There is also a move by the religious bodies to pronounce on anti-corruption and governance issues, which has brought them into direct public exchange with the Presidency, with the latter arguing that religious and cultural leaders have no business in governance issues and should therefore stick to their mandate. CSOs strategies for engagement in the invisible spaces have included education and awareness campaigns, sensitisation programmes such as community drama, community meetings and participatory research and methodologies aimed at changing attitudes.

Latent power: The latent power in Uganda as existing in public spaces, and the kind of power that is held by the people ’People power’ has characterised Ugandan society historically and may arise from high levels of public awareness or frustration. According to studies by Afro Barometer, Uganda exhibits one of the highest densities of associational life of any of the countries surveyed. With about 80% of those surveyed having attended a public meeting in the previous year, 60% having raised an issue, compared to 44% Africa average.[78] Further the study also reveals a high level of organisation with numerous umbrella bodies, networks and coalitions, where a study in Eastern Uganda alone showed that “… 60% of the NGOs interviewed belonged at least to a network of sorts either at the national, regional or district level, and that more than 80% of the districts have at least one district NGO Forum”. The groups rally around issues such as civic education, peace for Northern Uganda, HIV/AIDS, anti-corruption, environment and many others. At the individual level, the analysis in the study also reveals a high level of citizen participation with a median of fifteen hours per month contribution of unpaid labour by respondents, in community based initiatives, “reflecting the nature of Civil Society with the large number of community groups and organisations.” [79] The survey revealed that 81% of respondents provided support beyond their immediate family to the community on an unpaid basis, and that “volunteers constitute close to 50% of the manpower available to the CSO sector”. In a single Parish surveyed in Southwestern Uganda, “every local adult resident was a member of the traditional stretcher group”, (Ibid, on Care 2002). Accordingly, the organised citizen groups include drinking groups, burial associations, women’s groups, Parent Teacher Associations, service committees for water points, health centres and many others. Uganda also has a high level of political mobilisation at household level where every household and member of the population belongs to a Village Local Council.

While the public spaces may be seemingly dormant, they sometimes get awakened by issues that have been under dialogue between CSOs and Government. The CSO strategies have been to mobilise public demonstrations and peaceful walks. In the past, this form of power has led to mass action, for example the protests for Mabira Forest. The Mabira case included people boycott of Lugazi Sugar and closure of shops by the traders association. While CSO strategies may be primarily aimed at peaceful mass action, the public reaction may be unpredictable and sporadic, and may be volatile and get out of control. The latent power has in the past been characterised by running battles with police and security agencies, and has led to lawlessness and violence, for example ’mob justice’ by crowds.

[76] Some perceptions are from interviews with FOWADE, Action Aid, Environmental Alert, HURINET, FOWADE, ACODE & UWONET during the Scoping Study.

[77] Ibid.

[78] DENIVA, June 2005, Civicus Civil Society Index Project, Civil Society in Uganda: at the Crossroads?

[79] Ibid.

This page forms part of the publication 'Support to Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue' as chapter 8 of 19
Version 1.0. 07-01-2013
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