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Budget Monitoring as an Advocacy Tool: Uganda Debt Network

By: Paolo de Renzio, Vitus Azeem, Vivek Ramkumar

This paper is part of a series of case studies meant to provide systematic analysis of the nature and impact of applied budget work conducted by civil society organizations in different countries, and to draw useful lessons for dissemination to other budget groups. The focus of this paper is an organization called the Uganda Debt Network (UDN), which was established in Uganda in 1996 as a coalition of advocacy and lobbying organizations to coordinate the campaign for debt relief that was then gaining momentum at the international level.

Since its early days working for debt relief, UDN has developed from a network of interested organizations and individuals into a non-governmental organization (NGO) that now conducts extensive budget analysis and advocacy, and anti-corruption activities.  UDN uses a combination of research and advocacy to undertake campaigns aimed at improving governance and stemming corruption in Uganda. UDN maintains its headquarters in Kampala but works in eight districts throughout the country. The organization has built a strong reputation for linking local budget monitoring activities with national-level policy processes, and through the coordinating role it plays in providing civil society inputs to the government in a number of policy arenas.

In this case study, we will explore the activities undertaken by UDN and we will examine the impact the organization has had in improving governance in Uganda.  We will also examine areas in which UDN’s work needs to be strengthened and deepened for the organization to enhance its impact. However, we feel that UDN’s experience can serve as an important example for other civil society organizations that are interested in undertaking applied budget work.

The methodology used to develop this case study combined research and field visits by the authors. The researchers also reviewed available literature and reports produced by and about UDN that were either identified from the Internet (especially the UDN Web site) and/or made available on request to the authors by UDN and its partner organizations. Annex 2 presents a list of the documents that the authors reviewed while developing this case study.  Field visits, which were conducted between the August 8-19, 2005, in various locations throughout Uganda (Kampala, Kamuli, Bushenyi), gave us the opportunity to interview the staff and members of the UDN as well as officials of Uganda’s central government and local governments who are the targets of UDN advocacy; donor organizations that support UDN activities; partner non-governmental organizations that work on various anti-corruption, budget advocacy, and governance-related campaigns with UDN; and other members of Ugandan civil society that have been involved with UDN activities. Annex 1 presents a list of the 43 people who were interviewed during the development of this case study.

The remainder of this first chapter examines the political and economic structures within which UDN works, including a brief overview of the budget structure in Uganda. The chapter also provides an overview of civil society in Uganda. Chapter 2 describes UDN’s origins and its different areas of activity, highlighting their complementarities and some of the existing limitations and problems. Chapter 3 looks at UDN’s internal organization and its external relationships. Chapter 4 highlights the main impacts that UDN has achieved at different levels and examines the factors that have contributed both to its successes and its failures. Chapter 5 presents the central lessons that other groups engaged in applied budget work can draw from UDN’s experience.