Electoral apathy and overly commercialized elections in Uganda continue to disengage community cohesion and civic participation among young people. There is growing youth distrust in what leaders are obligated to do, and a declining spirit of collective engagement with duty bearers to ensure youth friendly agricultural programs, policies and services are provided. Connecting these issues is now at the core of Community Conversations, an approach implemented by Goal Uganda and KRC Uganda in the Rwenzori, Tooro and Bunyoro Sub-regions to stimulate youth voice and engagement in agricultural markets. Community Conversations is a process that allows the whole community to explore their daily concerns and issues to find solutions that improve their daily lives.
There are a number of factors for disengagement. Leaders for instance continue to defend themselves and justify their inability to engage the citizens especially the youth due to escalating effects of COVID-19 and the prohibitive costs of accessing media platforms, especially radio space. As a result, there is a widening gap and limited platforms for interface and interaction where leaders account and where citizens as the critical questions.
In order to address this gap, KRC-Uganda in partnership with Goal-Uganda with support from Mastercard Foundation, employed the Community Conversation Approach, a simple and non-linear process that empowers people to analyze and transform their community. It is a youth facilitated community discussion that utilizes participatory facilitation and Participatory Learning in Action (PLA) tools. It builds trust, strengthens relationships and creates space where everyone including the youth, school drop outs, PWDs, the rich, the poor, leaders and the elderly can discuss and reflect on concerns that affect their daily lives. Communities identify sensitive issues that are embedded within their social norms, and individual and communal values, attitudes and behavior as they are challenged to generate collective solutions to the issues identified, facilitate change that comes from within the community that is owned and sustained by the community. With the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown, especially on public gathering while observing the standard operating procedures of social distancing, wearing of face masks and hand washing, communities are being mobilized by KRC trained youth leaders known as Youth Champions. As a result of taking communities through the Community Conversation process, there is observed reawakening of citizens with young people in the lead. There is observable return of civic agency to formerly apathy-infected citizens, developing sense of community concern and the eagerness to find local solutions to local development challenges.
Through this approach, the Young Africa Works, Markets for Youth Program is stimulating a new sense of concern amongst young people, to seek opportunities for meaning employment and dignified work in the agriculture sector.
The community conversation process starts with issues identification. For instance, on 13th December, 2021, a community conversation meeting was held in Sayuni-Rugendebara Town Council in Kasese District where citizens observed the deteriorating sanitation in their community with potential to escalate the spread of disease. As result, community members agreed to carrying out a voluntary sanitation and hygiene campaign for the good of their communities. In the meeting, citizens and leaders committed financial support towards the initiative. True to the commitment, 6th /January, 2022, hundreds of young people and rest of the community members turned up to clean Sayuni Trading Centre. The leaders encouraged all community members to go and do the same in their homes.
Another example, on 5/12/2021 in Ibanda-Kyanya Trading Centre, Kasese District, leaders at district and sub county levels turned up for the community conversation meeting where they were able to give accountability and share governments plans and projects for their communities. In the meeting, the Parish Development Model, a new strategy by the government to deepen decentralization of services was rolled-out to the citizens and the leaders sensitized the youth how best they will benefit from the program.
Such are the intermediate outcomes of community conversations. The Young Africa Works, Markets for Youth Project is building capacity of rural young women and men have collectively and collaboratively increased their influencing power in the agricultural market system.