Our approach is to make the voices from the micro sphere reach the macro policy-making world through mobilizing and organizing opinion against the dominant corporate-led economic framework that mostly works against the interests of the poor. The Center implements a capacity building programme whose aims to build awareness and strengthen local village leadership around the common cause of a new resource exploitation framework. This process has seen the emergence of networks led by committed local men and women who can now articulate the aspirations of the deprived and the dispossessed and offer a united voice to the fragmented struggle for livelihood rights, land redistribution, access to forestland and implementation of social legislation at state level in order to effect long term change.
Ujamaa Center works with communities and community groups in policy-oriented action research, awareness creation networking and advocacy for effective policy implementation. Through its collaboration with community groups, the Center helps build the capacities of these groups for policy research, analysis, networking and advocacy. In this connection, the Center sees participatory and accountable local level environmental governance as the foundation for democracy and security. How does Ujamaa work?
i) Taking the Human Rights Debate to the masses
Under the theme slogan “It is time” and though a rich modular process of capacity building conducted by CMs in select core villages the Center launched a vigorous village based project “Building capacity for community control over natural resources in the coastal region of Kenya”. The aim was to establish coastal peoples’ rights and control over, and efficient, sustainable use of local livelihood resources. From this process communities can now see the direct link between poverty and inequality of access to land following Ujamaa’s advocacy that took the view that economic, social and cultural considerations of land must be seen within a paradigm of rights. They now know that their landless or near landless condition is a violation of human rights. People are now talking about re-distribution and restoration of expropriated land. They are demanding that these injustices be redressed even as the elites who acquired large tracts of land and consolidated their interests resist efforts to reopen these issues. Through public interest litigation some progress is being made that has seen absentee landlords accede to demands by squatters to have the former alienate part of their lands to the latter.
ii) Community based Mobilisers, Style and Focus
The fact that Community Based Mobilisers lead Ujamaa’s processes at the local level ensures the community owns these struggles. This affords the Center support and respect from local leaders. Ujamaa’s village based workshops have thus become a crucial asset for community debates and action planning for local development. Ujamaa constantly critiques its practice through rigorous reflection forums. The community mobilisers meet once a month to review their practice, draw learning and insights and express solidarity with each other. The process is inspired by Paulo Freire’s idea of “praxis” as closely linking practice and reflection thus avoiding the pitfalls of disconnected “verbalism” and “activism” They occasionally invite experienced practitioners to lead the internal self-reflection. The CMs as blood and life members of the respective communities have interpreted their task as that of facilitators and community catalysts who help sustain the process as the issue based groups and peoples’ organisations formed take over the process on their own grow. It is clear that as a result of the quality and seriousness of our engagement so far, more people in the locations know and appreciate Ujamaa Centre, its mission, objective, and strategies. There is also a general understanding of the unique nature of Ujamaa and its interventions in comparison to other NGOs. The CMs provide critical solidarity, leadership and accompaniment to the communities anchored on indigenous knowledge systems. This is supported by a further effort at strengthening local level institutions for effective delivery of services and genuine participation of all stakeholders.
iii) Strong Networks and Linkages
Ujamaa has created functioning linkages and networks horizontally and vertically with other NGOs, CBOs, FBOs and individuals from the grassroots up to the regional and national level. These are crucial assets for advocacy work that constitutes the cornerstone of the Center’s work. Ujamaa has led the establishment of several key networks among them the annual coast social forum; Pwani Coalition for Good Governance; a CBOs forum; a CM practitioners’ network; among others.
iv) Innovation and Creativity
Ujamaa subscribes to an organizational culture within Ujamaa Center and its constituency that is innovative, inclusive, constantly creative and responsive to the needs and visions of the focus communities while remaining alive and connected to the broader socio-political realities in the world. This means that the center works to foster opportunities for diverse practitioners, both domestic and international, within the centre’s programs by encouraging short exchanges, consultancies, study visits, visitor programs, internships with a view to enhance critical solidarity, particularly between countries in the global south. In this regard the Center has worked with the “Friends of the Earth Central America”, Mindolo Peace Centre Zambia and VSO Jitolee (the Global Xchange Program); Foundation for Sustainable Development Volunteer program with US experts and students.