The political economy of social accountability in rural Uganda

Sophie King

Social accountability has become an important new buzzword among development actors seeking to understand the forms of state-society synergy that may be supportive of better public services. Advocates suggest demand-side initiatives are key to increasing the power of the poor in service provision but sceptics are concerned such mechanisms may generate mistrust of existing democratic processes while failing to challenge structural inequalities between disadvantaged citizens and political elites. This paper advances these debates by presenting qualitative research findings about political capabilities outcomes for different stakeholders within rural health and education services resulting from the social accountability interventions of a research and development NGO in Western Uganda. The paper supports arguments in the literature for NGOs to engage in more politicized strategies aimed at tackling structural inequality when seeking to advance the political capabilities of disadvantaged groups. The findings also suggest however, that within the restricted political space of rural Uganda at the current juncture, NGOs can generate limited improvements to service provision by bringing local state and civil society elites together for deliberative problem-solving.