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Decolonising community building in Africa

March 29, 2022
topic:Indigenous people
tags:#Uganda, #indigenous people, #education
by:Cyril Zenda
The Tat Sat Community Academy in Kasasa, Uganda is challenging inherent inequities in the nation's education system by making indigenous knowledge, cultural practices and skill-based training an integral part of education specifically and community building more broadly.

The rural municipality of Kasasa in Uganda and a US-based non-profit, The InteRoots Initiative, are working towards opening a school and cultural institution in the east African country. 

The Tat Sat Community Academy (TaSCA) will open a centre in Kasasa, at which the Institute of Indigenous Cultures and Performing Arts will be working alongside the country’s standard education curriculum to provide a platform for community elders, leaders and entrepreneurs to pass indigenous knowledge, cultural practices and skills-based training, among other things.

The project was devised in response to what many locals view as ‘Western-minded’ institutions (including those of the national education system) originally designed to control populations through colonial dogmas and the eradication of indigenous knowledge, skills and values. 

Criticising the national secondary education system, TaSCA states that, “Secondary education is devoid of relevant life skills development, arts education, and local culture. 

What’s more is that secondary schools in Uganda have been largely privatised, and are mostly available for wealthier segments of the population. According to UNICEF, while more than 1 out of 4 children aged 6-12 in Uganda attend secondary school, “access remains inequitable: the secondary level enrolment of the richest 20 percent of the population (43.1 percent) is five times that of the poorest 20 percent (8.2 percent).”

UNICEF added that it is mostly children in urban centres (primarily in the capital, Kampala) who have access to secondary education, while those in rural communities rarely get this opportunity. 

To tackle this inequity and restore the vitality of indigenous communities, TaSCA is developing three main initiatives (“the three pillars”), all of which are interwoven and are on a 3-year path towards autonomy and sustainability: a Secondary School that will fuse communal knowledge, skill-based training and formal education; The Institute of Indigenous Cultures and Performing Arts (ICPA), which is designated to “engage the larger community in the cultivation and preservation of common heritage”; and the Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (SACCO), which provides community financing, student and family financial support and economic education. 

FairPlanet spoke to several of the people leading the Academy about the origins of the project, what makes it unique and whether it can be replicated to empower rural indigenous communities elsewhere.

FairPlanet: What is the TaSCA project about?

Nabuzze Julimina (Community Board Member): The ideal outcome is to offer affordable, quality and unique knowledge to our community through an improved education system unlike the current one. I see this project as a centre for communal interaction - an inclusive and respectful way of community innovativeness, and unity for progress. 

I see a well-balanced dissemination of knowledge and a vibrant community interaction in the formulation of community solutions to its challenges. I see the project facilitating many aspects of community growth and personal understanding of each other. 

I see a community centre in this project that concerns our children and their future in many directions. We do not have a secondary school in this area, but for me, what is even more special is the fact that even if there was a good secondary school in this area, this project would still function as a model because of the way it convenes community concerns.

Mustafa Beine (Community Board Member): We don’t own any secondary school around; other schools are very far from our community so we indeed need this project […] our children and teachers have to walk long distances every day to [areas like] Sanje, Kiganda, Kijonjo, all these are quite far for any student, so the establishment of this project is of paramount importance to the people and the community as a whole and it will be saving students all sorts of risks they encounter on their way to these distant schools. 

But what is very important for us here is that this project is not only about children going to school. It is about what the community really needs. I have been concerned about what children learn at school for a long time. I have four children and they all walk to school every day. But, I have never got any feeling that these children are aware of their pasts, their community, and I have never gotten any feeling that the schools really teach any traditional values and morals. 

What is special about this project is that it is not only about the western system of education Uganda is following. It is also about nurturing the children in their traditions and making them aware of who they are, who they can become and to also know that not all solutions are [found] in western ideologies, but also in the local community. 

For me, my being on this board is mostly encouraged by the fact that the whole set up of this project gives value to our social values and gives them importance at equal levels as the foreign ones. 

Really, how can we solve our community problems by only looking at communities who barely know what we go through here? It is not fair -  it is not realistic! I am very convinced that we will sustain this project. The establishment and integration of the Sacco is perfect for the community, not only to boost their daily incomes, but to be able to afford tuition, basic requirements and their financial projects too. 

For the community, by the community

What makes this project so unique? In other words, what makes it different from other community development projects in Uganda, Africa or any other parts of the world?

Ssalono Kizza (TKCB Chair): This community has a lot of potential. And by potential, I don’t mean how much someone has gone to school. I mean the social cohesion, we can develop ourselves, we work hard, we are willing to learn and adapt to things we think are important to us. 

I think we need this project in order to improve our standards of living, but in our own ways - in the ways we understand best, first without being exploited for not having gone to school so much. For example, Project Sacco [Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation]: We have many banks in this district, but my personal problem with them is that all of them do not care about the local community. All they care about are their profits - and they do that in a way that suppresses the same people who contribute to their profits. We need something that we have a stake in. We need something that is understood by us. We have a good stake in the programmes of Sacco, and from what we know it is community-friendly, especially because it feeds into the local community efforts. 

The best idea about this project is that it combines both personal and community development, with individual and community members’ collaborations. This is for the community, by the community. I may not know that much about other parts of the country and Africa, but as far as I am concerned, there is no other institution anywhere in Kyotera that has really recognised and put trust in our communities like this project suggests. 

How did the idea of this partnership between the Kasasa community and The InteRoots Initiative come about? Whose brainchild is it?

Ssalono Kizza: InteRoots was founded by its Chair, Ronald Kibirige, and its Executive Director, M. Scott Frank. Ronald and Scott’s friendship was sparked in 2008 when they led a musical collaboration between students from Stanford University and children of the Peace Africa Children’s Ensemble, a non-profit from Uganda. The music was an inspiration, highlighting the innate human ability to connect and communicate beyond barriers of language and history. But the experience also provoked a larger discussion regarding the barriers between us, especially those implicit in our partnerships despite the best of intentions. 

Over the next decade, the conversation developed, ultimately focusing on how non-profit work could evolve to address inequity and better serve communities. In 2018, Ronald and Scott founded The InteRoots Initiative to put this conversation into action. 

The pilot project of the initiative centred around a partnership with the community of Kasasa Uganda and their vision of the TaSCA project. The partnership was ideal for InteRoots because its co-founder already had ties with the community, and there was a level of trust already established that would allow each party to test systems, norms, and processes. The project itself is the brainchild of the community and its representative body selected to guide the project, the TaSCA Kasasa Community Board (TKCB). All of the project’s elements come from the community itself and the needs it has self-identified.

non-colonial philanthropy 

How is this initiative different from that of other Western NGOs that approach countries in the global south offering what - in their own views - are “solutions”, which often result in top down (one-way) interactions?

Ssalono Kizza: Too often non-profit work fails due to mistaken assumptions on what communities need. Rather than designing, implementing and evaluating projects from the top-down, InteRoots believes that communities can accomplish all of these steps from the roots-up. 

A community knows best what it needs, what it already has, and the challenges that need to be overcome to bring about lasting change. It’s an assumption not of scarcity, but that a wealth of knowledge and skills already exists in any community. The question is, how do you create a structure and agreement and trust between people to unleash those resources that are already there in the people? It’s not about something needed to be brought to a place - that’s the colonial mind-set. 

InteRoots is a response to that mind-set. Through a model we call non-colonial philanthropy, InteRoots serves as a resource to communities as they develop projects to address self-identified needs, on their own terms. We view ourselves as a kind of a shell, a structure the community can leverage to connect to resources. InteRoots itself, including its Board Directors, is made up of members of the community. In this way, equity is at all levels of the decision-making process. 

In what ways would this initiative be empowering local communities and how can similar partnerships be forged between communities in Africa and larger NGOs and charities?

Ssalono Kizza: The success of this initiative will demonstrate that a community-led approach in similar initiatives is not only viable, but in the best interest of all partners. The success of this project will allow organisations of all levels to challenge core assumptions that currently guide work of this nature; it will open the door to innovation through proof of concept. 

What brings you optimism that this partnership will deliver the desired results?

Ssalono Kizza: The TaSCA project is already in its third year of partnership, with over $300,000 invested in developing project facilities and other activities. Over that period, we have seen the model and approach exceed expectations on all levels. The project has been highly efficient, responsive and accountable. Community ownership of the project has driven down costs, catalysed local investment, and attracted enthusiastic support from local leaders. 

Most importantly, community members are excited and involved in their project, seeing it as an initiative that is truly community owned, initiated and guided. 

Is there anything else that you might want to add?

Ssalono Kizza: I come from a small village on Masaka Road, in Uganda, and most of what I have achieved in this life is and has always been connected to my community life, upbringing and understanding. The TaSCA project and its community compliant model is an unfolding manifestation of the real meaning of community, known as entababuvo bwawamu [In Luganda], with genuine life coexistence and communal support. 

Ronald Kibirige (InteRoots Chir): The power of self-trust and collaborative engagement that come with such local community self-regenerating systems of knowledge and understanding should not be underestimated. They should be supported in their own right, and on community’s self-identified terms.  

Indeed, there is a lot to learn from this community initiative. 

Image by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Members of the new SACCO at the Tat Sat Community Academy.
© Photo Courtesy of TaSCA
Members of the new SACCO at the Tat Sat Community Academy.
Construction of the school and cultural institution at the Tat Sat Community Academy.
© Photo Courtesy of TaSCA
Construction of the school and cultural institution at the Tat Sat Community Academy.
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