Social accountability is one of those phrases that has become quite commonplace in recent years. It broadly refers to what citizens can do to hold their government, the private sector and other key actors to account. For Alpha Ntayomba, a native Tanzanian born in Arusha and currently living in the Morogoro region, social accountability has become his life mission. I met him through CIVICUS, the world’s largest civil society platform. Here he explains how he came to learn about social accountability and why it is so important to him.
Hi Alpha, tell me a little bit about you. How did you get involved in social accountability?
I didn’t know anything about ‘social accountability’ until four years ago. Before then, I had trained as a Forest Officer and worked for both the government and the private sector, mostly organizing tree-planting campaigns and providing advisory services. Then, in 2016, I received an invitation to attend a workshop hosted by the Tanzania Health Care and Environmental Conservation Organisation and learned about a tool that allowed citizens to track the public expenditure budget in the town where I lived, Mwanza.
I got curious about this tool – it could help track how local authorities spent public funding. I admired the tool because it allowed people to understand expenditures and funding allocations. The good thing is that people understand what’s happening and their level of satisfaction has increased by using the budget tracking tool. Citizen participation and transparency increased. People started seeing repairs and improvements in their water sanitation system. Their voices and rights were amplified as a result.
Later, through a German organisation I was connected to Shahidi wa Maji, a Tanzanian organisation dedicated to address sustainability, equity and accountability in water resource management. They hired me as a Consultant to implement social accountability monitoring for an improved water security project in the Kingolwira ward, Morogoro municipality. This project greatly contributed to improving water services in the ward.
Can you provide some context on the water security situation in Tanzania, and the Morogoro Municipality in particular?
According to the 2019 Water Sector Equity Report by the Tanzania Water and Sanitation Network (TAWASANET), only around 60% of Tanzanians have access to improved water services. Half of the population spends more than 30 minutes a day collecting water. This is a burden, especially in rural areas. Also, the average household spends 5% of its budget to get water, more than double the world average (2%). The problem is that we deal with an infrastructure that was designed to cater to a much smaller population: there were nine million Tanzanians at independence in 1961; today there are 59 million of us. If water resources are not protected, they cannot be preserved.
What lessons have you learned from your project so far?
Local grant-making associations like the Foundation for Civil Society provide technical and financial support to local civil society organisations to give citizens more voice through public expenditure tracking surveys. Civil society organisations hold meetings with government authorities, establish local committees [to monitor the performance of duty-bearers], use community scorecards and run radio programs to discuss challenges with public and key stakeholders. We’ve seen improvements in transparency and participation. Usually, 60% of committee members are women, because water collection mainly befalls them.
What needs to happen next?
We need more technical support to implement social accountability mechanisms in more areas, especially rural areas. Demand for these tools is very high, lots of civil society organisations are interested but the funding capacity of organisations like the Foundation for Civil Society is low. We collaborate with the Sanitation and Water for All and End Water Poverty coalitions, which are based in the UK. For example, End Water Poverty showed interest to work with the Tanzania League of the Blind to promote water rights and access to water services. Our target audience is made of students, we want to make handwashing facilities and toilets more user-friendly for people with disabilities, like blindness. The organisation I now work for, Tanzania Women Empowerment in Action, is first of all a member of a number of coalitions in Tanzania and across the globe and we hope to continue collaborating with them.
You have worked with the Tanzanian Foundation for Civil Society, as well as international donors like the World Bank and the European Union. What has been your experience seeking funding from these institutions? Have you encountered any similarities or striking differences between local and global approaches to grant making?
A good number of international organisations are friendly and supportive. If a local organisation submits a good, evidence-based proposal to an international organisation, they usually offer either technical or financial support. The national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have good staff and capacity. For local organisations, it is challenging to secure funding because of eligibility criteria and less competitive proposals. We are striving to submit good proposals for consideration. When we succeed, international organisations reach out to local organisations directly.
Some components of international funding cover ‘capacity building’ activities for local NGOs. For example, our ‘Voices from Tanzania’ project last year strengthened our ability to conduct research. International donors are interested in working with us but financial management is challenging. The low capacity of local organisations leads them to [receive] little support. This is why donors prefer to fund national organisations and is one of the reasons why we partner with national and global civil society networks, such as TAWASANET and CIVICUS.
Any advice or recommendation on how to engage on social accountability in Tanzania?
First, we need a good number of national and international actors to help us amplify our voices. People don’t know their rights to water, education or health. We need national and international actors to support our efforts to bring these issues to the attention of duty-bearers.
Other sectors in Tanzania, like mining, require social accountability. We have developed a concept note on amplifying the voices of miners in the water sector. Most mining areas are in remote locations with little water, no sanitation infrastructure and no toilets. Miners use mercury to extract gold without protective gears. We want miners to understand their rights, understand the value of conservation of precious natural resources, like water and trees. There is a high level of deforestation and water use in these areas.
Tanzania is now considered a middle-income country. Our government prioritises income-generating activities to ensure people’s economic independence but we need to balance these activities with environmental preservation. We want to seek collaboration in the mining areas; instead of mercury, we can use automated technology to harvest gold. We need capacity building and training to disseminate the knowledge of sustainable practices.
Anything else you would like to say?
I have seen the importance of social accountability and international partnerships in Tanzania. It is very positive to have a good number of active collaborations. As local associations, we need technical and financial assistance. Donors can start by building capacity and then implement initiatives in a participatory manner.
The Tanzanian government is very supportive towards NGOs and economic cooperation. There is room for partnerships on social accountability, gender-sensitive health systems, human rights and the development agenda.
Cover photo credit: WaterAid/James Kiyimba