Ugandans study approaches to development

November 30, 2007

KAMPALA, Uganda — After five frustrating decades of stalled attempts at development, a group of Ugandans have come together to examine the experience in their country and search for effective approaches.

A cross-section of community leaders, policy makers, and educators discuss their thinking in a new film, which was premiered in Kampala last month before an audience that included former Prime Minister Kinto Musoke and other dignitaries.

"Development has not fulfilled its promises," states businessman Gimoro Laker-Ojok at the beginning of the film, which is titled "Opening a Space - The Discourse on Science, Religion and Development in Uganda."

"In the 1950s and '60s, the disparities between rich and poor in Uganda were not this marked," continues Daisy Namono of CELSOL Consulting Services. "There is a need to look at what went wrong."

From the Rev. Sam Ebukalin, who works with a program called Yiga Ng' Okola (Learn As You Work): "Development has, for the past 50 years, missed its target. ... What is missing?"

"We need to go back to the drawing board in some cases," says Elizabeth Kharono, program coordinator for Living Earth Uganda.

Produced by the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, a nonprofit corporation associated with the Baha'i International Community, the film then develops the gist of the argument - that development programs have tended to view the poor as "bundles of needs" rather than as contributors to solutions.

Former Ugandan Prime Minister Kinto Musoke participates in the discussion at the premiere of the new film. Slideshow
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Former Ugandan Prime Minister Kinto Musoke participates in the discussion at the premiere of the new film.

"They are looking at poor people as people who don't have anything to offer," states Basil Wanzira of the Poverty Alleviation Community Development Foundation.

"Opening a Space" promotes the idea that people are not to be considered passive recipients of aid, rather they themselves should help formulate policy and bring about change. And they should do this using knowledge gained from both science and from religion.

"There is a need to have wider participation by the very people who will be affected by the policy," Dr. J.J. Otim, presidential adviser for agriculture, says in the film. "We strongly now believe in Uganda, if there is any policy that the government wants to put in place, it must follow a participatory approach, ... it must not be designed in the offices."

Several other key themes emerge in the film:

-- Humans are spiritual beings, so for effective change to occur, spiritual realities should be considered alongside material well-being.

-- Science and religion offer complementary systems of knowledge, both of which should be applied to the question of development.

-- Not only do the poor need access to knowledge to address the many challenges they face, they themselves should help generate the knowledge that guides policy-making.

The debut of the film on 30 October 2007 drew more than a hundred people. In addition to the former prime minister, Sita Masamba, the director of UNAFRI, and John Mitala, head of the Ugandan civil service, were in attendance.

Rebecca Kadaga, the deputy speaker of Parliament, gave the keynote address. She said the ideas were so compelling that she would arrange for all the members of Parliament to see the film.

"There was a lot of excitement around the possibilities this dialogue could offer," said George Olinga of the Ugandan Baha'i Office for External Affairs. "This DVD has stimulated many ideas around new and different ways of thinking about development."

Dr. Haleh Arbab, director of the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, said Uganda now has four working groups who are discussing what development would look like if it were based on the concepts outlined in the film.

"We want people not to become consumers of packages offered by development organizations but to become creators, decision-makers," she said.

The institute she heads has promoted the discourse on science, religion, and development in several countries - notably India in addition to Uganda - as part of its mission to explore new concepts and models of social transformation.