Social Networks and Community Resilience

Wirtschaftliche Herausforderungen, soziale Netzwerke und kommunale Resilienz im ländlichen Uganda

Social Networks and Community Resilience 

Can a community radio strengthen resilience and increase social capital in rural areas during the Covid-19 pandemic? A story from the Bunyoro region in north-western Uganda

21.09.2020

Uganda

Capital: Kampala
Languages: more than 50 spoken languages; English and Swahili are the official languages
Population: approx. 43 million

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We talked to Julius Kyamanywa and Allan Kalangi from the „National Association of Professional Environmentalists“ (NAPE) and Samuel Kasirye from the „Rosa Luxemburg Foundation“ (RLS). Since 2014, NAPE has been operating the Community Green Radio in the Bunyoro and Buganda regions. It has been established in cooperation with RLS. The radio broadcasts aim to strengthen the voices of rural communities in the political process of managing and using natural resources and serve as a platform for the exchange of information and for addressing environmental, educational and legal issues.1 In our interview, the radio managers an overview of the challenges and consequences of the global pandemic for the rural population in the Bunyoro region.

NAPE is an environmental advocacy organization dealing with oil, land and natural resources governance in Uganda.2 An advocacy organization commits itself to the promotion of others interests and ideas.3 Within their „Sustainability School“ training courses are offered to activists and NGOs, who assist communities in dealing with consequences of environmental degradation or unintended, but adverse outcomes of development projects. The self-proclaimed goal of the sustainability school is to advocate and provide capacities to disadvantaged communities or social groups, enabling them to participate in processes of economic, social, and political transformation. In other words, empowering and strengthning voices in political discourses on the village, district, and national level.4

Community broadcast forms a third category of media next to private and commercial radio shows. There is no clear definition of community radios, as their structure differs across countries, regions, and communities. According to UNESCO, communities are shaped on the basis of geography or common interests. The involvment of community members in governance and operational questions or programming is a major characteristic of a community radio. Additionally, certain services should be delivered by the broadcast to its listeners. Following the definition offered by UNESCO, this services include „local news […] educational programms, promotion of accountability of local government and private sector actors, information about local economic issues […] and information about social developments.“ Issues about gender and topics the youth is concerned with should be included in the program to ensure a diverse information sharing platform and taking different perspectives into account. Finally, a community radio is defined as independent from governments or particular private individuals. Community radios can be a tool to provide information access and participation opportunities in public discourses for rural, grassroots and minority groups, which  might not be covered by mainstream media broadcasts.5 

Impact of Covid-19 in rural Bunyoro

After the detection of the first Covid-19 cases, on 21st March 2020, the Ugandan government announced a country-wide lockdown that included a curfew, the closures of schools, religious sites, non-essential businesses and curtailed the means of private and public transport.6 Exceptions were made for essential services like the media, social and health workers, and suppliers of food items. Nevertheless, the constraints put on means of transportation seem to have a challenging effect on the rural population. Particularly small scale farmers and farm-workers who lived from daily earnings and could not accumulate sufficient savings, to cushion the reduction of economic activity. They were facing substantial problems to make ends meet. Especially the ban of „boda-boda“, motorcycles that usually carry people to their gardens, fields, and shops severly inhibited the agricultural production in the Bunyoro region, which most citizens are dependent on.
How do you carry workers to the farm? It has been very challenging for the farmers to carry labor to their farms or even carry their own families

Julius Kyamanywa

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However, not only the agricultural sector was forced to lay off staff. The closure of all non-essential businesses, seems to have led to a reduction of valuable income opportunities for citizens in rural areas, who run kiosks or small retailer shops, boutiques, and mobile money points. They were not able to maintain their staff. According to Julius Kyamanywa, the drop in income generating opportunities left some community members in the region in a state where food supply became scarce. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, areas around schools were co-opted as public space for interaction between citizens and used as market places for agricultural products. The shutdown of schools and face-to-face teaching additionally reduce marketing opportunities for small scale agriculturalists.

Another disturbing observation that was reported to the Community Green Radio and discussed by stakeholders was the increased number of children on the streets selling food items like maize, tomatoes or onions. Several interest groups in the region have expressed concerns as these children can not concentrate fully on their education which was conducted during the lockdown via television and radio broadcasts. This observation might also be an indicator of the severe economic situation several households might have found themselves in.

Food program of the Ugandan government

The government of Uganda suggested to give food relief to people that cannot bear up. Nevertheless, the food programme could not cover the whole country and was restricted to central areas like Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts. The whole programme was aimed to provide basic food items for 1.5 million Ugandans who live from hand to mouth, for elders who cannot make a living, for the ones suffering from deseases or lactating mothers. 7 Nevertheless, critics condemned the programm as too small scale, calling for a nation wide food relief scheme. Additionally, logistical inefficiencies and missing structural frameworks slowed down the process of food distribution leaving almost a half of the designated areas without any assistance. 8 The limited scope of the food relief scheme also affected citizens in the rural areas in the Bunyoro region.
The rural communities who depend on their farms that are even distant from where they live have been left really in the suffering state. They can’t reach out to their gardens. The government food is not coming through

Julius Kyamanywa

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© Benjamin Rukundo via unsplash

Police brutality

Another challenging result of the lockdown affected the state of human rights. The Community Green Radio was informed by their listeners about human rights abuses which occurred repeatedly committed by police forces to put through the lockdown measures. „There have been cases of beating out people who, failed the curfew and moved beyond 7 pm Ugandan time. They were arrested, beaten up and some of them imprisoned.“ – Julius Kyamanywa. The information was pooled and has been a discussion topic of a broadcast, published by the Community Green Radio. Among the participants were human rights activists, community members and a liaison officer from the central police station in Kiboga, one of the districts covered by the radio. 9

Networks and resilience

While the economic crisis due to lockdown measures hit parts of the rural households with sever strength also bright spots have been identified as community members put efforts in supporting each other. In every county in Uganda, district Covid-19 task forces were set up to coordinate and enforce the responses to the pandemic on the district level. They are in frequent contact with the communities and local radio stations, like the one NAPE operates, distributing information and education materials in local languages and engage in community meetings for further coordination of responses to the pandemic.10
Some people from the communities who had food for example have been able to contribute to these task forces, on a district and a national level. So we have also seen a spirit of solidarity with less fortunate people in the communities

Samuel Kasirye

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Allan Kalangi brought up another example, in which health workers, who are members of a community group providing care for orphans, took up actions voluntarily to provide their community members and even neighboring ones with essential drugs. The medicines could not have been obtained without their assistance given strict curfew times, limited access to public transport and generally long distances needed to travel to reach out to health facilities. Women groups within the realm of the Green Community radio crafted reusable face masks using cloth or others came up with innovations for hand wash equipment.

The sustainability school, runs like a network organization connecting the communities but also linking the communities to the service providers

Allan Kalangi

The notion service providers, for instance, refers to the district Covid-19 task forces, health facilities, NGOs, other political advocacy or social groups in the region. These networks are valuable entities to communities and their members, not just during a global pandemic, but also during less troubling times. Nevertheless, the stories above indicate the value of relationships and connections community members build up due to the exchange and encounter with others, directly or indirectly through network organizations.

Through this interconnection, help has been moving from one group to the other, using the connection that the members already had. But again, our groups have been using their organizational capacity to reach out now to the service providers like the head of the Covid district task force.

Allan Kalangi

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Resilience and social capital in literature

The interconnection of individuals via social groups and civic organizations within and across communities is addressed by literature on community resilience and crisis management and might guide the stories told above into the dimensions of analytical categorization. Aldrich et al. (2015) state that during and after a crisis, social networks provide their members with financial (i.e. gifts or loans) or non-financial resources, for example child care during recovery periods, emotional support and information.11

The latter might be crucial in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic as similar to gifts in the form of food contributions, access to drugs, or health facilities. The kind of ‚values‘ households treasure up via networks is referred to by Aldrich et al. 2015 as social capital. The concept initially stems from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who defined the notion as the sum of actual or potential resources that are connected or made available by the incorporation of individuals in a social network which is characterized by mutual acquaintances and recognition.12

Additionally, the community radio itself might facilitate the building of social capital as well. Lewis&Mitchell wrote an article that was published in 2015, referring to the role of community media in enabling social gains. These might be achieved when a community broadcast is capable of providing opportunities for its listeners to participate in disucssions and is intensifying connections between different listeners. Further, spreading information about services made available by local administrations and organisations is another feature of community radios.13 The program of the Community Green Radio for instance, entails a talkshow in which listeners can contribute to discussions with members of parliament about environmental, health or education issues via SMS or phone calls. Another show is related to cultural norms and practices of the region Buganda, involving riddle and storytelling by elders and book reading by children from the listeners communities. Additional parts of the program are related to discussions on policies and government interventions giving the listeners chances to exchange ideas and opinions about government actions and legislation, or are dealing with youth and gender issues.14

Conclusion

This accumulation of social capital through a diverse network structure, facilitated by the community radio as a network platform, might have made the bright spots within the crisis possible. Giving at least some individuals and communities valuable resources to cushion the negative impacts of the current crises and enable cooperation and general resilience. Due to the distribution of food items or information transfer to district task forces and service providers, households or communities in need of assistance could receive support. Reported information on human rights abuses can be channelled to officials to ensure complete clarification.

Moreover, the access to information on measures and developments of the pandemic is vital to communities to adapt to changing circumstances. The links within networks might be decisive in creating alternative opportunities in the current situation of constantly changing challenges and uncertainty in Uganda, but also around the globe, where communities and households are facing the troubles and consequences of a global pandemic.

References

  1. National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) (2020): Online available: http://www.nape.or.ug/
  2. Keck, Margaret E.; Sikkink, Kathryn (1999): Transnational advocacy networks in international and regional politics. In: Int Social Science J 51 (159), S. 89–101.
  3. Community Green Radio (2020): Online available: https://www.greenradio.ug/about-us/
  4. National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) (2020): Sustainability School. Online available: http://www.nape.or.ug/projects/sustainability-school
  5. UNESCO (2020): Defining Community Broadcasting. Hg. v. UNESCO. Online available: https://en.unesco.org/community-media-sustainability/policy-series/defining
  6. The yelling 20s: Im Kampf gegen HIV während Covid-19. Online available: https://theyelling20s.com/uganda-im-kampf-gegen-hiv-waehrend-covid-19/
  7. Nathan, Isabirye; Benon, Musasizi (2020): COVID-19 relief food distribution: impact and lessons for Uganda. In: Pan Afr Med J 35. Online available: https://www.panafrican-med-journal.com/content/series/35/2/142/full/
  8. Acidri, Emmanuel Malunga (2020): Implications of COVID-19 for Right to Food in Uganda. Hg. v. Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Online available: https://www.kas.de/documents/
  9. Community Green Radio (2020): Online available: https://www.greenradio.ug/human-rights-activists-call-for-respect-of-human-rights-in-the-fight-against-covid-19/
  10. World Health Organization (WHO) Africa (2020): Uganda to win or lose COVID-19 war in communities. Online available: https://www.afro.who.int/news/uganda-win-or-lose-covid-19-war-communities
  11. Aldrich, Daniel P.; Meyer, Michelle A. (2015): Social Capital and Community Resilience. In: American Behavioral Scientist 59 (2), S. 254–269.
  12. Bourdieu, Pierre (1986): The Forms of Capital. In: J. Richardson (Hg.): Handbook of Theory and Research for Sociology of Education: Greenwood Press, S. 241–258.
  13. Lewis, Peter M. (2015): Promoting social cohesion: the role of cummunity radio. In: Manuel Chaparro (Hg.): Medias de Proximidad: Participión Social y Politicas Públicas: COMandalucia, Universidad de Málaga, Laboratorio de Communicación y Cultura.
  14. Community Green Radio (2020): Green Radio Program schedule. Online available: https://www.greenradio.ug/green-radio-program-schedule/

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