Allan Kalangi


Social transformation remains important in the international development agenda influencing the formulation and implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Accordingly, the United Nations (UN), through UNESCO, has established a programme for Management of Social Transformations, commonly abbreviated as MOST. The MOST programme roots for transformations through social inclusiveness and social innovation, which are reflected in the Agenda 2030 and ultimately in the SDGs.[1] However, despite UN member states committing to adhere to the global development goals, there are still many challenges in realising them especially in the global South. Conversely, there is evidence that poverty levels are increasing and accelerated by global enterprises/transnational companies, which make unholy alliances with local elites and political leaders and act against the interests of local host communities. These corporations often dispossess the host communities of their land and engage in activities that have detrimental effects on the environment. There is, therefore, need for new concepts and new approaches aimed at tackling the tailbacks that limit the realisation of sustainable development.

Social transformation

There are different schools of thinking on how to conceptualise social change and social transformation. Different from concepts that focus on the individual as an agent of change, the conceptual framework used to identify success factors is the framing of change as formation of collective entities that can pursue and achieve common goals through collective action. For example, Tuckman (1965) and Tuckman and Jensen (1977), came up with five stages of social transformation which are: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning.[2] Deragon (2011) added weight to the fifth stage which he called transforming.[3] Deragon emphasised that to undergo each of these stages it is inevitable for people to associate for purposes of facing challenges, tackling common problems, finding solutions and working together for a common good. In linking the conceptual framework of change with the conceptual perspectives of Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, the combination of the Sustainability school with the Community Green radio approaching Uganda is rooted.[4]

Conceptual perspectives of the Sustainability School

The Sustainability School employs learning methodologies that emphasise sharing, participation, dialogue and collective action. The learning methodologies are premised on Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Learning follows andragogical rather than pedagogical approaches. Andragogy is a learning methodology in which learners have a role in determining what, when and how to learn. In addition, learners learn from each other and with each other. In this learning methodology, reflection and action go together. In this way the knowledge generated through reflection is tested through action and confirmed as valued knowledge. Creating awareness and consciousness on the magnitude of the challenges faced by the oppressed is key in the Sustainability School approach. This is in line with Freire (1972)’s observation that:

The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be "hosts" of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. The pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization.[5]

Freire’s criticism of the concept of banking also plays a big role in shaping the Sustainability School concept and approach in Uganda. 

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he- justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teachers’ existence - but, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.[6]

The contribution of Ivan Illich to the Sustainability School concept is mainly in encouraging people to learn and unlearn some social constructs and perceptions initiated by some individuals or bodies that take themselves to be masters of all knowledge.

Welfare bureaucracies claim a professional, political, and financial monopoly over the social imagination, setting standards of what is valuable and what is feasible. This monopoly is at the root of the modernization of poverty….Modernized poverty combines the lack of power over circumstances with a loss of personal potency.[7]

It therefore becomes imperative that for social transformation to take place there is need for new approaches to engage the people, especially the majority at grassroots, to change their mindset about the order of things that affect their well-being. People need to be sensitised to appreciate their own power and abilities to cause change that is in their favour.

The Sustainability School in practice in Uganda

Uganda is faced with serious and far reaching problems threatening both people and the environment. These include ecological destruction due to large-scale development projects, violation of human rights by government and other development actors including transnational corporations, early noticeable impacts of climate change and a largely civically passive citizenry amongst others. Yet, Uganda is regarded as one of the new oil states in the world having discovered huge commercial deposits of oil in its western Albertine Graben. As of June 2016, 6.5 billion barrels of oil had been confirmed in Uganda according to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.[8] The discovery of oil in Uganda and the start of exploration activities have been met with anticipation and widespread optimism. Financial investors, multinational oil corporations, land speculators, the Ugandan central government, the Bunyoro Kingdom, local governments and local communities – all hope to tap into the stream of wealth expected to start flowing from oil extraction. Most prominently, President Yoweri Museveni has been particularly outspoken in his support for oil production and the associated development benefits that he says will transform Uganda into a middle-income country.[9] It has been noted, however, that from the very beginning oil activities in Uganda have been marred by human rights violations. Thousands of people have been displaced from their land to pave way for the oil industry related infrastructure with inadequate or no compensation at all.[10]

In addition, the Albertine region of Uganda where oil installations are being erected is host to sensitive ecosystems and biodiversity. The region is dotted with lakes, rivers, swamps, natural forests and is home to different kinds of animal species.

The Albertine Rift region of Africa is one of the most species rich regions in Africa, and contains more threatened and endemic vertebrates than anywhere else on the continent. Many of these threatened and endemic species result from their isolation on mountain tops during the fluctuations in forest during previous ice ages and as a result are likely to be sensitive to climate change.[11]

It should, therefore, be a prerequisite that before any large-scale activities are carried out in such sensitive ecosystem area, thorough, independent environmental and social impacts assessments be carried out. Close monitoring on the impacts of the activities of the corporates on the environment and host communities should also be done continuously. 

Against that backdrop, the Sustainability School was introduced in the region in 2010 with the aim of mobilising communities affected by oil, bringing them together to share and discuss their challenges with a view of getting solutions.

The Sustainability School is not a physical school with structured classrooms and learning sessions but is based on non-formal and informal learning. One basic principle of the Sustainability School is “think global, act local”. This principle recognises the global implications of local actions while at the same time emphasising working on specific local issues that are of importance to the community. The Sustainability School’s aim is the transfer of power from dominant groups -the state and its partner development agencies - to the poor, marginalized disadvantaged and disenfranchised who are the majority. The Sustainability School advocates and seeks to give the communities capacity to effectively participate in socio-economic and political change processes.

The approach works through the establishment of Sustainability Villages which are not bound to specific political districts or areas but are based on issues of concern to a particular community or communities. The Sustainability Villages at community level are focal points for facilitating sharing and learning as well as mobilizing and advocating for action on identified issues of concern to the community. In cases where issues could be affecting many communities in different geographical areas, there is close collaboration between such communities who are usually grouped under one main thematic area like ‘Oil Governance’. The School also works through collaborating institutions such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs).

Formation of Sustainability villages

The Sustainability School in Uganda is part of the worldwide Sustainability School initiatives that have roots in Latin America. Friends of the Earth International (FoE) has largely been promoting Sustainability Schools at the global level. It is, therefore, Friends of the Earth Uganda Chapter also known as National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) that introduced the Sustainability School approach in Uganda in 2010 with support from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.[12] Ten initial Sustainability villages were established in eight districts of Uganda through consultations and sensitisation workshops among NAPE local partners.  

Since 2010, 24 Sustainability villages have been established in eight districts of Uganda. Ten of the Sustainability villages are in the oil region (Buliisa and Hoima Districts). In the oil region of Uganda, the Community Green Radio (CGR) was born out of the Sustainability School to ease learning and information sharing among oil host communities. The CGR is aimed at beefing up the Sustainability School work by amplifying further the voices of the communities in oil debates and other natural resource management processes. Twelve listeners Clubs of CGR have also been formed. The first three listeners clubs emerged out of the existing Sustainability villages and based on their examples, other listeners have formed themselves into clubs with assistance from the radio technical staff and Sustainability School educators. The Sustainability Villages and listeners’ clubs provide listenership and content to the radio programmes. In that way, their voices are not only heard, but they also in away shape the agenda of the radio station and attain empowerment from the exchange of knowledge through the radio. 

Positive spill-over effects of the Sustainability School in Uganda’s oil region

Perhaps the most important success of the Sustainability School is in transforming the minds of the targeted beneficiaries to act on their own without direct intervention of NAPE and other NGOs. In addition, it makes it possible for local beneficiary communities to push for their agenda especially when government is bent on curtailing the activities of national NGOs in the oil region. This is one of the ultimate goals of the Sustainability School. This has been largely possible because of the method of implementation pursued by the Sustainability School. Mr. Frank Muramuzi of the National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) had the following to say on the reasons behind the success of the school

The Sustainability School is a pro-people approach which gives ordinary people power to challenge the status quo. The school makes people realise their own potential and knowledge is built through horizontal sharing of experiences not that there is one monopolist of ideas who must think for others.[13]

With the contribution of the Sustainability School work, most communities that had been dispossessed of their land to pave way for oil related infrastructure are getting compensated and others are still demanding. In December, 2016, about 1000 people that had been living in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPC) in Rwamutonga village, Hoima District, following their eviction from their land to pave way for an oil waste treatment plant were able to return to their land. Using the Sustainability School approach, the affected communities chose leaders amongst their own who would facilitate at their own meetings and also act as liaison people with other activists and well-wishers outside the camp. Exchange visits from other sustainability School activists and media personnel helped the suffering communities to remain hopeful and resilient despite the hardships. The community Green Radio offered a platform for discussing the plight of the internally displaced people and putting it in the broad context of the land grabbing problem as a result of oil and other development related work. A video documentary was made on the situation in Rwamutonga and widely disseminated.[14] This was only possible because the people in the camp had already been sensitised on how to defend their human rights and the dangers of not speaking out when faced with such an injustice. They therefore poured out their hearts before the cameras just like they were doing in their other media encounters. The documentary was sent to human rights bodies like the Uganda Human Rights Commission and used in multi-stakeholder dialogues. The pressure mounted forced one of the land grabbers to hand back the land to the victims.[15]

In August 2017, the refinery affected communities in Buseruka sub-county, Hoima District, refused to accept houses that the Minister of Energy had come to commission claiming that they were not constructed according to the agreed upon standards. They prepared a statement on their own explaining their reasons and presented it to the Minister.[16] The learning and sharing of knowledge within the Sustainability School involves sharing tips on advocacy and writing petitions. All activists therefore participate in implementing what they have learnt and afterwards get an opportunity to share information on their activities with other activists.

Following the influx of many people in the Bunyoro sub-region targeting oil, the target communities of the Sustainability School were able to realise that it won’t be long before the region was plunged into a food crisis. This realisation was made out of experience sharing across regions on oil production. The Sustainability School members are also much exposed to many public and multi-stakeholder dialogues on topical sustainability issues. The issue of the relationship between food and community sustainability is key among those that the Sustainability School actors are now cherishing. They engage in the food sovereignty campaign which encourages them to be at the centre of growing, storing, replanting and selling whatever surplus they want as opposed to relying on the seed companies. They have now established multiplication gardens for indigenous seed varieties and are building traditional granaries for storing their harvests.

The indigenous seed species are threatened in Uganda ever since the current political regime started encouraging the growing of the so called improved and high yielding seed varieties. The small-scale farmers now through knowledge sharing platforms have started realising that the traditional seeds had more advantages over the modern hybrids and are therefore supportive of revival efforts. The Community Green Radio is helping in researching and disseminating this information.[17] The communities are getting more engrossed in the food sovereignty campaign despite the fact that parliament recently passed the Bio-safety/Bio-technology Act which is supposed to give a big boost to the growing of GMOs in the country.[18] The good news is that the President appears to have adhered to the call of CSOs and in December, 2017, refused to sign the bill into law.[19]

The Sustainability School puts women at the centre of its activities pushing harder to remove gender based inequalities in the community. The women have been deliberately brought on board through the selection of the community educators for the sustainability villages where it is compulsory to have equal number of women and men as activists/mobilisers. This also applies to the listeners Clubs of the Community Green Radio. The women are the main bread-earners in their households and their involvement has greatly helped in making the Sustainability School more relevant to the lives of communities.[20]

The groups that have been mobilised under the Sustainability School have gone ahead to establish income generating projects that are friendly to the environment. In Butimba and Kigaaga communities in Hoima, for example, their apiary and tree seedlings projects fetch the members’ good money. The Butimba group has been able to buy a piece of land using money got from sale of honey and tree seedlings and establish a community converging and learning center.

Threats to the Sustainability School work how they are being overcome

While the Sustainability School is apparently doing good work in the communities, it faces constant threats from mostly the state in Uganda which in recent years has been on a mission of curtailing civil society space. In 2013, Parliament of Uganda passed the Public Order Management Act which limits the power of citizens to mobilise and associate and the new NGO Act (2016) puts stringent conditions for NGOs to operate in the country.[21]

There is, however, much hope for the continuation of the Sustainability School interventions since most of the work is done by activists in their communities with little intervention of supportive CSOs. The Government, therefore, would find it difficult to crackdown on the Sustainability School work being done by ordinary community people. The CSOs role mainly remains in organising capacity building trainings and facilitating other knowledge sharing platforms.  

 Allan Kalangi is a Programme Manager at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) based in Kampala, Uganda


[1]Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform-The United Nations (accessed February 2018)

[2] Tuckman, B., ‘Developmental sequence in small groups,’.Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399, 1965; Tuckman, B. & Jensen, M, ‘Stages of small group development,’ Group and Organizational Studies, 2, 419-427, 1977.

[3] Deragon, J. ‘5 stages of social transformation,’ The Relationship Economy, 2011

[4] Freire, P, ‘Pedagogy of the oppressed,’ Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1972, Illich, I, ‘Deschooling society,’ New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1971.

[5] Ibid.1972

[6] Ibid .1972

[7] Illich, I. (1971) De-schooling society, New York, NY: Harper & Row.

[8] Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, (accessed February 2018)

[9] Francis Mugerwa, Tap into oil opportunities, Museveni tells Bunyoro, Sunday November 12 ,2017 Daily Monitor

[10], Beatrice Ongode & Flavia Nalubega,  Oil fuels land grabs in the Albertine Region, Friday, 12th September 2014, Oil in Uganda; Francis Mugerwa, Combating land grabbing in the oil-rich districts Saturday, December 31, 2016 Daily Monitor; Edward Ssekika, Oil-rich Hoima struggles to solve the land question, July 29, 2015, Observer Media Ltd; Robert Katemburura Turyomurugyendo,  Kigyayo and Rwamutonga Land Eviction cases in Hoima-a test on Uganda’s judicial system, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)

[11] S. Ayebare, R. Ponce-Reyes, et al, ‘Identifying climate-resilient corridors for conservation in the Albertine Rift,’ 2013.

[12] National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE, ‘Five years of building community resilience in Uganda through the sustainability,’ Oil in Uganda, 2015

[13] Ibid: 2015

[14]  Seeds of The Oil Curse, National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE

[15]Francis Mugerwa, Hoima evicted families get back land, Daily Monitor, December 21 2016.

[16]Julius Kyamanywa, ‘Oil Refinery affected persons vow to continue pressing government over relocation promises,’ Community Green Radio Uganda, August 17, 2017, 

[17] Dorcus Drijaru, NAPE strengthens food security campaign in Bunyoro Sub-Region as Community members adopt the use of traditional granaries, Community Green Radio Uganda

[18]Francis Emorut , Uganda allows GMOs use, New Vision, October 6, 2017

[19]Ephraim Kasozi, CSOs back Museveni for rejecting Bio-safety Bill, Daily Monitor, January 3, 2018

[20] Dorcus Drijaru, Kaiso-tonya women’s group applaud nape for boosting up their sustainable livelihood activities, Community Green Radio

[21] Lizabeth Paulat, Ugandan Parliament Passes Controversial NGO Bill, Voice of Africa, December 15, 2015.