Building partnerships to advocate for freedom of assembly in Uganda

By February 25, 2021 CSO Standard, NMedia

‘Strong partnerships’ and ‘Advocacy for fundamental change’ are two of the 12 commitments of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability. Partnerships are an essential element of CSO work. Meaningful partnerships are based on commonly agreed values and principles such as shared decision-making; mutual benefits; clear responsibilities; and a results-oriented approach. In addition, the Global Standard underlines the importance of accountability regarding CSO partnerships in its commitment #6 on ‘strong partnerships.

Accountability in CSO partnerships relates to the mutual accountability between partners, as well accountability towards other stakeholders. It also involves addressing a set of questions such as: How is progress by partners assessed and communicated? How do partners contribute to the impact of joint work? What is the partnerships approach to learning?

In fact, accountability cuts across all Global Standards 12 commitments, including commitment #7 on ‘advocacy for fundamental change. This commitment refers to the need for CSOs to engage all stakeholders, including those groups and people on whose behalf advocacy campaigns are conducted, while ensure that their voices and priorities are heard and taken into account. That is, CSO advocacy must informed by experiences of affected people as well as by other sources of evidence. Thus, it requires that CSO advocacy work provide answers to the following questions: How do stakeholdersinputs shape the design and approaches of CSO advocacy efforts? How does a CSO ensure that advocacy addresses root causes and works towards systemic change? 

An alliance in Uganda, between the Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA) and other civil society groups such as the Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET-U), and the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, as well as key prominent public figures, speaks to the core of the two mentioned Global Standard commitments. The alliance aimed to challenge governments enactment of the Public Order Management Act (POMA – 2013), a law that regulates public gatherings, while providing discretionary powers to the police to disperse assemblies. Given the negative impact on the work for civil society, a joint advocacy campaign has been carried out to protect basic freedom of assembly in Uganda for the past seven years, which intensified during the past twelve months.

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID -19 pandemic, several cases of harassment and arrest of opposition leaders, civil society activists and other dissenting voices had been reported. Taking advantage of the COVID-19 related lockdown and ahead of the national presidential elections held in January 2021, the government then enacted this law, whose section 8 had already been declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Uganda in March 2020.

This experience poses a few questions: How do we assess cooperation among various parties within a coalition during a long period of time? How do we communicate and report on progress made concerning advocacy work where results might take some time before they get materialized? How do we become accountable to the members of the coalition, as well as to other external stakeholders whose right is being affected? These are some key questions that coalitions engaged in advocacy work must deal with when considering to embark in a long-term campaign.

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