Sukut Village in Kawowo Sub-county is your regular village, tucked away in Kapchorwa’s meandering hills and valleys.
Everyday life here is full of ups and downs; women and children walk, sometimes long distances, downhill to garden or collect firewood, and uphill to collect water that flows from the metamorphic rocks.
Such was Dorcus Chebet’s daily routine. When she didn’t have to collect firewood, the 31-year-old mother of two had to buy it or devise other means to put food on the table.
Today, it is a story she relishes to tell, for the past one year since she got a biogas installed in her home.
Around mid-2017, Chebet and other seven women from the village formed a savings group to stash away some money from their work-shy husbands.
As luck would have it, in early 2018, they were told about a project, phase III of the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf), which was rolling out in their district that they could tap into.
They enrolled; went through a sequence of training; encouraged other women to join their group to make 11 members and soon they qualified for money from the project.
But what would 11 semi-educated village housewives do with Shs10m? That bothered them too for a while, of course, with each one advancing an idea.
With hindsight of the financial literacy classes, Chebet and group zeroed in on buying seven heifers to be distributed among them while the rest would wait for the calves. But then with a cow comes dung, that is when she got the idea of biogas.
“At first, we were only interested in dairy but we also learnt there are other benefits,” Chebet narrates.
“So I don’t waste my cow dung, I use some for the biogas and the rest for my coffee and banana plantation. All I have to do is feed the cow well,” she says.
Three other group members settled for biogas as well.
She adds: “The money we used to spend on firewood can now go to education or health needs of the children, and if not, we save it.”
Chebet’s dairy project is among the more than 75 projects bankrolled in Kapchorwa under Nusaf III.
The projects vary from household projects such as dairy, apiary, fish farming and horticulture, to labour improvement projects like rehabilitation of community roads and trenches by the poorest communities, who are mobilised for the task to earn a living as opposed to hiring machinery like caterpillars.
The biogas component, according to one project brief, is specifically integral to safeguard innovations and good practices adopted by communities.
As a result, more than 120 biogas have been developed for proper waste management and meet clean energy needs for households in the Elgon sub-region districts of Bulambuli, Sironko, Kapchorwa, Bududa, and Manafwa.
The Kapchorwa District Nusaf coordinator, Mr Awadh Chemangei, says the projects received financing of up to Shs1.6b over the past three years.
The district was first considered for Nusaf during the 2016/2017 financial year with a pilot targeting a cluster of eight villages and later expanded to more than 20 villages.
“This has been useful in many ways, from the household level, if you look at projects like dairy, to empowering women; making them engage in gainful activities so they don’t have to rely on their husbands, to the community level; for example the community roads paved by the members themselves while earning,” Mr Chemangei said.
A mixed bag of fortunes
Not all the 75 projects financed in Kapchorwa are successful. Examined in detail, many projects are performing well, some are wobbly, while others have long withered as a result of various shortcomings. In fact, the trend cuts across everywhere Nusaf III is running.
Geographically, implementation of Nusaf runs in some 66 districts across eight sub-regions; West Nile, Lango, Acholi, Teso, Karamoja, the entire Elgon region, Bukedi and three districts of Bunyoro.
Coverage is based on areas that have been affected by the previous conflicts.
The project director in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Mr Robert Limlim, told Daily Monitor that the project’s mark is evident on the ground.
“In Lango, there are more than 40 oil- processing plants hence the demand for our people to produce oil seed such as soya beans and sunflower. People are supplying these processors as they market and get money,” he says.
“We have begun to see great investments in micro-processing and small-scale enterprises. Our people are now processing honey. You will find communities with hundreds of bee hives, harvesting and packaging their own honey. It is such a delight for some of us to see this happening because it is a nerve centre of economic progress,” he adds.
Mr Limlim added: “We now see communities reaping the benefits of the economic gains by establishing saving groups run under the principle of revolving funds. This has created liquidity in the villages and given cheaper capital because they would not access micro economic capital from banks,” he says.
In the grand scheme of things, the project, which winds up next March, is a mixed bag of fortunes. It has performed well in some areas like Lango, parts of the Elgon, to some extent in Acholi and not so much in Teso and Karamoja.
Nusaf III, financed by the World Bank to a tune of $130m (about Shs480b), is a successor project to Nusaf II, which ran from 2010 to 2015 to build the resilience of poor and vulnerable households and was expanded across other sub-regions in eastern and south-western Uganda.
Nusaf I, which was one of the first recovery projects for war-torn northern Uganda, ran from 2003 to 2009.
Unlike the first two phases which prioritised social-economic infrastructure such as local government infrastructure, which became a source of corruption and financial impropriety, phase III was repurposed to focus on interventions that have considerable positive impact on household incomes.
Also, during the first two phases, beneficiaries received grants for investment in income-generating activities of their choice, he adds but were not given any other support thereafter, leading to various progress and sustainability challenges.
Furthermore, in Nusaf I and II, resources were spread everywhere to finance small isolated project ideas, a model which did not create good impact or effect on sustainable livelihoods of the community but also posed a multitude of challenges, especially corruption.
So, the design of Nusaf III borrowed experience from the past and made a provision for capacity building of the communities to ensure better results and sustainability.
Additionally, the project adopted a watershed approach where the beneficiary districts select communities for interventions based on poverty and vulnerability status of the areas. The district technical staff then guide the targeting upon which the project planning model hinges.
Comparatively, the World Bank’s Nusaf III team leader, Mr Michael Munavu, told Daily Monitor in an email to our inquiries that the project has performed well—reached or surpassed most of its targets in terms of reaching the most vulnerable, providing public works and expanding livelihoods opportunities, a large part of which goes to women and young people.
“It has done so by learning from Nusaf II and strengthening the approaches required to deliver support successfully. It is a decentralised programme, where the communities themselves identify their priorities and needs and come up with solutions, which are then financed through the project (community driven development). This leads to more impactful activities, as well as strong community ownership,” he said.
Mr Munavu said the involvement of the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), towards the end of Nusaf II, has provided strong oversight in terms of transparency and accountability, which means “investments have gone to the right people at the right time, with very little room for misappropriation of resources.”
From interviews with numerous technocrats and going by the project blue print, the idea of Nusaf was, still is, to lift people out of poverty.
While there is not yet a definitive study quantifying its imprint on rural poverty eradication, the project’s contribution cannot be discounted; from Sebei to West Nile, there are thousands of project beneficiaries, some of whose stories are awe-inspiring.
Since empowering is at the core, this comes with requirement of massive trainings—to the delight of government functionaries implementing the project—which means a lot of money has been spent on capacity building, sometimes needlessly.
At the project level, members of differing capabilities are brought together on an income-generating stream but in effect they cannot match together.
In other instances, some projects were weighed down by natural factors such as weather and diseases, leaving members only telling stories.
There have also been reported cases of financial impropriety—officials dubiously colluding, especially in supply of inputs but then again that is the norm for most projects in the country.
With the ombudsman on watch, people familiar with the project indicated that officials are “cautious to be caught with their hands dirty” and as a result, any mismanagement, is not “on the surface kind.”
In its formation, Nusaf III specifically built in a component of Transparency, Accountability, Anti-corruption (TAC) overseen by the IGG to stem the massive corruption that marred the first two phases, and improve administration of project funds through putting in place systems used by communities and local authorities.
The systems include the IGG closely monitoring the projects routinely, and locals/beneficiaries monitoring and reporting any suspected foul play.
The project concept details that TAC was allocated $5m (about Shs18b), while other project components, labour intensive public works and disaster risk financing—where locals are employed to work on say grading and repairing their own roads—was allocated about Shs225b, livelihood investment support—the projects, Shs158b, and safety net mechanisms and project management allocated Shs73b.
OPM estimates that some 321,925 persons have benefited from the labour intensive public works and disaster risk financing component alone, with 57 percent females and 43 per cent males.
Initially, this was “resisted a lot” by OPM officials but as the project funders stood ground they eventually acquiesced, according the IGG’s director of project monitoring, Mr James Penywii.
But just because accountability is tightened doesn’t necessarily translate into project success. This, Mr Penywii acknowledged but said “it can improve the likelihood of success of the project and I would say it has in this case, because the tendency of diverting the money is less as people know that IGG is really here.”
The Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga’s report for the last financial year submitted to Parliament in January detailed that of the 27 districts sampled, which received some Shs58b, only three—Moroto, Alebtong and Apac—received funding in excess of their respective budgets, by 114 per cent, 65per cent and 10 per cent.
From the 27 districts where 75 sub-projects in a wide range of activities/enterprises, were audited, Mr Muwanga noted that 24 recorded notable achievements in their enterprises while 51 had implementation challenges that hampered progress in their enterprises.
“The sub-groups attributed the notable achievement to five factors, notably adequate monitoring and supervision (35 percent), training (32 per cent), and proper project selection (21 per cent),” the audit shows.
“The groups that experienced implementation challenges on the other hand gave nine reasons, of which the averaging three were poor monitoring and sensitisation (30 per cent), inadequate capacity of members to implement projects (18 per cent) and poor training (15 per cent).
Separately, a study commissioned by a Pader-based nongovernmental organisation, Advocates for Research in Development, on the performance of Nusaf III in Pader and Agago between 2016 and 2019, reveals that there are various encumbrances to implementation of the project such as communities poor attitude, limited technical capacity at the sub-county to provide oversight functions of the project implementation, political interference, inadequate and delayed disbursement of funds, and members failure to invest their savings.