After a year in Washington, DC, my work continues at home

by John Mwebe, Program Coordinator, IAP

John Mwebe speaks to communities about Sustainable Land Use and Management

It is clear to me that people know they should have a role in the development process.

However, communities often lack access and resources to effectively engage at the most critical moments with the wide-range of local, national and international actors normally involved in development.

Too often decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods are made without them.

I encountered this first hand, before joining IAP, with my work with the Uganda Land Alliance. Communities in Kiboga and Mubende districts in Uganda were evicted without compensation or means to sustain themselves by the New Forest Company in a project financed by the World Bank.

As a community facilitator in the mediation process between the communities and the company, I realized that I needed more information to address the human and environmental abuses stemming from the implementation of development projects. With the mediation process ending in providing land and facilitation to affected communities, I now had proof that the World Bank could intervene in cases of rights abuses by project implementers.

The people in had interacted with in the mediation process alerted me to an opportunity to work on bank advocacy which I applied for to share my experience. In 2014–2015, I moved to Washington, DC to work with IAP as its Policy Coordinator / Kothari Fellow. I now continue my work with IAP at home in Uganda.

Being in Washington, DC, where the World Bank and US Government are located, enriched my understanding of development finance and the means through which communities can engage directly with decision-makers. After spending a year in Washington, DC, I was excited to return to my home country and work directly with communities.

John Mwebe, (extreme right) conducts a training with community members

With IAP in Uganda, I analyze project plans for development that are not yet approved by the international and regional banks providing the funding. Once I summarize the potential human and environmental concerns, I reach out to the local communities and organizations nearest the proposed project. Once informed, we can exchange tools and resources to support their community-led responses. I also work to strengthen existing linkages through community meetings about development.

Much of what I do is within the global Early Warning System initiative, which ensures that local communities’ and the organizations that support them, have verified information about projects likely to cause human and environmental rights abuses and to provide support for their community-led response. A case in point is the ongoing process for the approval of Lilongwe Water Project in Malawi where a local organization is using the early warning information to inform communities about the intended project and advocate for their involvement before it is approved by the World Bank. This is an opportunity for communities to participate in the development of the project and mitigate risks during its implementation.

Ultimately, from working with communities to “fire-fight” harmful effects of development to supporting their participation in the development process, I look forward to a future where communities determine their own development initiatives.

John Mwebe is the Program Coordinator at the International Accountability Project and is based in Uganda. Before joining IAP, John worked for Oxfam GB and the Uganda Land Alliance.

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