In Gibe Woreda, Social Accountability Committees (SACs) have served as a participatory tool for local governance and social accountability, and led to substantial improvements in social outcomes.
Problems and Purpose
Ethiopia is one of the largest and oldest countries in Africa and boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Paradoxically, it is also one of the poorest countries and faces a number of socio-economic, democratic, accountability and governance-related problems. Even though there are well-structured governmental and legal frameworks, there is little engagement of citizens at the grassroots level and little awareness of duties, rights, responsibilities, and roles among service providers and users. Thus, there are nationwide failures caused by poor governance and accountability practices at the community level. For instance, in Beneshangule Regional State, poor governance and low citizen participation has meant that only 44% of project period allocated budgets have been spent on services to address water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) problems in 2018  with the same pattern the performance is 48% nationally. Similar challenges exist across many regional states, as political and economic interests are not inclusive or participatory, resulting in poor handling of democratic, governance, and public accountability.
In Gibe Woreda (District), community members have poor access to social services, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. Specifically, poor women and vulnerable groups have less access to health and education services, and children from those families have lower educational achievements. They are thus exposed to negative effects of child labour and child marriage.
Since 2010, Love in Action Ethiopia (LIAE) initiated two project entitled Creating Child Labor Free Zone through Fostering Education Programs (CLFZ) and Ethiopia Social Accountability Program2 (ESAP-2) in Gibe Woreda in order to address child employment through the creation of access to quality education and to tackle the lack of awareness of service providers and governors regarding their duty to be responsive and accountable to their citizens. Similarly, the community itself was unaware of their role in engaging with local service providers and governors, and to hold them accountable for their decisions and actions. This situation resulted in a lack of trust, low citizen participation, resentment towards governors, political unrest, poor service delivery, unstable leadership, financial crises, and corrupt practices in the community.
In this context, the purpose of the Social Accountability Committees (SACs) was to improve governance, accountability and democratic values and practices among the grassroots communities. SACs were established to solve problems faced by citizens at the community-level (Kebele or Woreda), with a view to curtail the spillover of democracy, good governance, and public accountability (DPGA) issues at the grassroots level.
Background History and Context
Ethiopia has a population of 107, 534,882 of which 20.6% live in urban areas. It is the only un-colonized African country and the third diplomatic hub in the world and has the fastest growing economy in the world with 8.3% increase in gross domestic product (GDP) per year. Ethiopia is a federation of states, subdivided into nine regional states based on ethno-linguistic lines, and two chartered city administrations. The states/regions are administered by State Councils (led by the President) whose members are directly elected by each of the Woreda communities. The states/regions have Executive Committee members who are selected and approved by the Council. Each region has a Sector Bureau, which implements the Council mandate and reports to the Executive Committees. Each state is divided into three additional political and administrative levels: Zones, Woredas, and Kebele (in descending order). At each level, power is exercised and organized in the same structures and patterns as indicated for states or regions. Since 1991, the Government of Ethiopia has a multi-level governance structure, whereby service-delivery and authority are shared between various administrative levels, namely: States/Regions, Zones, Woreda and Kebele.
Gibe Woreda is located in the Hadya Zone of Southern Regional State of Ethiopia, and has a population of 133,443 (Ethiopia Central Statistics Authority, 2007). It is divided into 21 rural Kebele administrations and one urban town. The SACs were implemented in many Kebeles, and this case focuses particularly on the experiences of 4 Kebeles, with an approximate total population of 17,000. LIAE implemented two related projects in Gibe Woreda; the ESAP2 (2010-2019), and the CLFZ projects (2013-2018).
Gibe is one of 10 target Woredas (containing 105 target Kebeles) where a strategic relationship between the ESAP2 and CLFZ projects was established in connection to the role of SACs—that is, the social accountability and good governance program is used as an approach to support other community activities aimed at developing a conducive social environment and adequate capability to implement the education, child labour, and early marriage programs (including CLFZ project).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Love in Action Ethiopia (LIAE) was established in Ethiopia in 2001 as a non-profit organization working in four regional states. It has reached over 1 million beneficiaries directly and over 10 million people indirectly through its work on education, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); health and capacity building focused on promoting social accountability issues and providing financial, technical, and material support to various like-minded organization and associations.
The ESAP and CLFZ projects are funded and supported by management agency multi donors trust funds, Kinderpostzegeles-Netherlands, and Ethiopian government offices working at Zone, Woreda, and Kebele levels. Also, various local community structures and systems have been providing technical, material, and financial supports to the projects under consideration to this case study. The ESAP program focuses on promoting social accountability concepts and practices and deepening its values among the community of service users and providers by using various information and feedback collection tools. The program is implemented and monitoried by SACs working voluntarily as committees and in association with local governments and stakeholders.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In association with government signatory offices, LIAE staff organize, recruit, provide orientation, and empower SACs at the Kebele and Woreda levels. LIAE Woreda Coordinators provide monthly support, while Kebele-Level Facilitators provide weekly supports to Woreda and Kebele SACs respectively. They empower SACs through the provision of different trainings on social accountability, group management, recording, and documentation. They also ensure close follow-up, and they organize regular consulations, joint planning on service improvement, joint action planning meetings, and experience-sharings visits.
Woreda Social Accountability Councils (WSAC) and Kebele Level Social Accountability Committees (KSAC) are comprised of 10–15 voluntary members and are organized from the leadership of relevant governments sector offices. Members include opinion leaders, direct project beneficiaries, community representatives, LIAE staff, and other area-specific representatives who are independently and autonomously working within community systems and structures. Besides the defined roles allotted to each of the members, SACs have their own offices, operation plans, and leadership structures. SACs at all level are expected to raise awareness on social accountability issues among the community and are responsible for creating citizen demand by exploring issues, educating and organizating citizens, and monitoring and evaluating performance and results. They also play a critical roles in linking service users and providers.
Methods and Tools Used
In implementing social accountability at the community level, WSACs and KSACs have received appropriate training and have used a number of tools developed around the world (and often supported through World Bank funding). As part of the SAC project, these include:
- Citizen Report Cards: a comparative, survey-based quality assessment tool used to enhance quality and accountability in service provision across multiple sectors/services.
- Community Score Cards: a participatory, facilitated, facility-specific process engaging service users and service providers in assessing the quality of a service and developing joint action plans for enhanced accountability.
- Participatory Budgeting: engaging citizens in budgetary decisions mostly at the Kebele and Woreda levels. SAC reprsentatives also actively engage in regional budget planning processes through their participation in Finacial Transparency and Accountability (FTA) meetings.
The CLFZ project employed additional participatory tools such as:
- Child Risk Level and Service Delivery Assessments: used by the community to collect qualitative and quantitative feedback on early childhood education, student performance and outcomes, early child marriage, female genital mutilation, child labour, and other related issues.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
To support their objectives, SACs received training on various DGPA subjects, including basic public accountability, citizen engagement, financial transparency and accountability, gender budgeting, participatory budgeting, participatory video, and evaluating DPGA tools. This contributed to the proper operation of their programs, and helped SACs organize and present their results to all key players. In addition, SACs received regular coaching from professionals, consultants and exposure visits to provide to learn from innovative ideas and experiences connected to their mandate.
Through SAC leadership, community members were then invited to participate in structured and curriculum-based discussion sessions focusing on topics such as:
- how to access information;
- service standards;
- public budgeting;
- assessment of services and needs; and,
- good governance.
SACs also organized various teams and committees through the local schools to enhance community involvement in child protection and the provision of quality education to affected and out-of-school children and families. Those included: school parent–teacher–student associations, school management committees, in-school girls’ clubs, in-school youth clubs, community facilitators, health extension workers, social enterprises, and corporate social responsibility teams.
Following the workshops, the trained SAC members supported communities to formulate action plans for their communities through a structured community scorecard process. Action plans were then presented to service providers (government, NGOs, other community-based organizations) and representatives of service users based on the prioritized issues in the joint action plans (JAP). Once JAPs were developed, interactions between citizens and decision makers continued within their local structures and systems, with the involvement of SAC members. In this partnership, SACs were responsible for:
- the design and implementation of JAPs;
- facilitating face-to-face meetings for service users and providers;
- participating in administrator and council meetings at regional levels;
- participating in District budget preparation and planning processes; and,
- engaging with traditional structures.
In the process, SACs included the participation of people with disabilities and other socially marginalized community groups, which empowered the community to diligently and boldly demand the services and rights to which they are entitled.
To monitor the progress and implementation of JAPs, SACs met every quarter with community representatives and service providers to review their plans and prioritize action agendas before presenting it to the service providers, politicians, government planners, and policy makers—who would use the plans to inform and improve policy and planning. The reviewed JAPs were also implemented through the SACs’ effective mobilization of the local community and use of various service provider resources.
For instance, in certain Kebeles faced with low access to quality education because of social marginalization, early marriage, and child labour, SACs used a cyclical community engagement process called the Community Mobilization Cycle (CMC). This approach increased public participation in the community around combatting child marriage, child labour, and marginalization. As a result, the SACs put pressure on the government offices of Gibe Woreda and challenged LIAE and other donors to focus on improving equity and quality of education in the existing schools, rather than building additional schools in their areas.
Community feedback gathered through this process was systematically organized to serve as input into action research and baseline data. Using various stuctured information channels, information and data were fed back to various levels of government to be used as inputs for budget preparation and operation planning processes.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
As of 2018, target communities in Gibe Woreda are organized in more than 421 citizen groups and have gained the knowledge and skills required to identify community problems and prioritize them accordingly. Community participation resulted in increases in the quality of health, education and WASH services at the local level. Communities have agreed on and participated in monitoring JAPs developed by SACs in over 20 schools, senior care homes, health centers, water points, and shelters for people experiencing poverty, and persons with disabilities across the target Kebeles of Gibe Woreda.
Combatting child labor and early marriage
As a result of internal pressure and efforts made by SACs and citizens, LIAE constructed over 20 schools—including four in Gibe Woreda—for children affected by child labour, early marriage, and marginalization to provide quality education for children who were otherwise out of school in remote areas. SACs also invested in their capacity to engage in community education to combat child labour, early marriage, and marginalization.
Improved relationships between citizens and government
SACs regularly provided information about the community needs and held discussions with local government officials during the JAP process, face-to-face meetings between service users and providers, and Financial Transparency and Accountability (FTA) meetings. SACs pushed government and service providers to put in place confidential mechanisms to get information and comments from the community, such as suggestion boxes and comment books in areas open and accessible to the public. As a result of enhanced confidence and increased channels of communication, SACs and citizens also voiced concerns over six government officials who had been in their district-level political office for an unreasonably long period.
At the regional/state level, SACs contributed to developing regional partnership and participated in joint monitoring meetings organized by the Bureau of Finance and Economic Development (BOFED) with the Social Accountability Team and FTA Team. This enabled deeper engagement around national-level DPGA issues and allowed for dialogue with policy makers and planners on the community-level information provided by SACs.
Increased citizen confidence, capacity and agency
Interactions between citizens and service providers through JAP meetings, face-to-face meetings, FTA meetings, small group discussion, community mobilization meetings, coaching programs empowered citizens to claim their rights and entitlements.
The efforts made by SACs also contributed in addressing and reducing abuses of power by government officials in their dealings—sometimes disrespectful—with citizens. Practically, SACs at the grassroots level have developed the capacity of citizens in Gibe Woreda to protect their rights. As structures that promote citizen voice, SACs became powerful community mobilizers that could counterbalance undemocratic actions and unaccountable behaviours of service providers and political actors.
Citizens’ capacity to ask bold questions in political spaces has also increased. In Gibe Woreda, SACs organized the citizens to request a transparent public display of the detailed total budget for Gibe Woreda and Kebeles. Citizens voiced their opinions on corrupt officials, leading to actions in response. They also began speaking out for socially-marginalized people (namely, Fugas), demanding that officials, community leaders, and the public be fair and equitable in their treatment of these groups.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The process led by SACs and offered a number of insights into promoting participatory governance and public accountability (DPGA).
SACs as effective local engines of DPGA
To address challenges related to DPGA, local-level structures like SACs play a crucial role. These committees can be effective drivers of socio-economic and political progress in their localities. Indeed, the ideas and values underpinning DGPA can sustain and empower existing local-level structures, systems, and social relations. This is the level at which community relationships are organized and bind personal, family, cultural and community structures. As such, it is a powerful sphere within which to build relationships of accountability and to collaborate to improve community development outcomes, including quality service delivery. Connected to this, deepening a DPGA approach at the national level is more effective and efficient when engaging also at the local (Woreda and Kebele) level.
Connecting the personal and cultural to the political
The ideas and practices required of DPGA have an influence on how people behave and interact, and often times confront particular practices and values existing in an area or community. Conversely, DGPA values and practices are conditioned by people’s values, beliefs, customs, and opinions. Again, this reinforces the importance of focusing the work to advance DPGA at the micro or local level (e.g., village, urban, rural) or around a particular community (e.g., vulnerable community group, high risk areas) such that people are affected by DGPA issues from a similar set of structural or systemic factors.
The two main challenges faced during the implementation of the projects are conflicts and disputes with government structures and limited resources for the implementation of ambitious JAP activities. Because citizens were publicly challenging government decisions and policies, some decision makers resisted the public criticism. To address this challenge, LIAE tried to create space for regular discussions and dialogue between community members and decision makers. To address the limited recourses for JAP implementation, LIAE continues to attempt to diversify funding sources as much as possible.
 Ethiopia One Wash National Program. (2018). A multi-sectoral SWAP: Review of Phase I. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/ethiopia/reports/one-wash-national-programme
 Worldometers. (2019). “Population of Ethiopia (2019 and Historical).” Accessed on May 5, 2019 at https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ethiopia-population
 World Bank Group. (2017). Global economic prospects: A fragile recovery. Washington: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/26800/9781464810244.pdf?sequence=14&isAllowed=y
Ethiopia Social Accountability Programme, Phase 2 website www.esap2.org.et.
LIEA Website www.loveinactionethiopia.org [expired domain]
Love In Action Ethiopia Annual Report 2018 (pages 58-65 for ESAP project and pages 39-57 for CLFZ project) https://www.loveinactionethiopia.org/Documents/Annual%20Report...
LIAE Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/loveinactionethiopia/:
The first version of this case entry was produced and submitted by a graduate of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University with the support of J. Landry and R. Garbary.