Participatory action research, strengthening institutional capacity and governance: Confronting the urban challenge in Kampala

Shuaib Lwasa
Gilbert Kadilo


Urban governance presents the most daunting and challenging task for sub-Saharan African countries in this century (Rakodi, 1997: 3; Rakodi, 2001; 5; McGill, 1988; 6). Africa is urbanizing faster than any other region. The level of urbanization stands at 39.1%, with annual rates of growth ranging between 8% and 13%. It is estimated that by 2025 half of the African population will be urban. This demographic shift, particularly in the sub-Saharan region, presents major problems for urban management. Although urban management programs of infrastructure development, financial management, economic development, environmental planning, spatial development mechanisms and social services provision continue to be enhanced, there is a mismatch between the program outcomes and need. Due to this shortfall, alternative strategies have been sought but with little documented evidence of successes, failures and lessons because of limited evaluation. The importance of research-informed policy is underscored by the apparent disconnect between actors in the urban field. These actors include city managers, researchers, political leaders and most important, communities. The latter are often disregarded yet they largely influence the development path and shape the fabric of urban space. Even where communities are engaged, they exert less influence than other actors on urban policies and programs. This paper examines how participatory action research is changing the relationships between researchers, communities and city authorities in a search for alternative approaches to address urban poverty and environmental challenges in Kampala – in particular service delivery, solid waste management and flood control. Based on an action-research and development project conducted in Kampala since 2006, there is evidence that communities can be galvanized not only to design solutions to their problems, but also to engage with city authorities through information sharing platforms about their needs and thus bolster outcomes of urban development programs through improved governance.

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