Go translate! Anchoring the SDGs in Uganda

BY Elisabet Frisk | December 23, 2015|Comments 1

The bottom-up approach taken worldwide to formulating the SDGs has indeed been unprecedented. In order to maintain this approach in monitoring and implementing the agenda, we need to ensure the population comprehends it. People need to understand the commitment and role of national and local government, how they can hold duty-bearers to account, and their own role and responsibility for the sustainable development of their communities.
In Uganda, the Government has requested UN support in developing a SDG Communications strategy geared towards reaching as large a portion of the Ugandan population as possible with localized/contextualized and easy to grasp-messages that can be applied by national stakeholders and the UN alike in campaigns and communication products.

To implement this strategy, we will need to work together with youth and other community members to develop the messages and connect them to local concepts as well as translate them into local languages. The vision is that wherever you go in Uganda people will have a basic understanding of the concepts of sustainable development.

This past October, for UN Day, we launched a publication on Uganda’s journey to Sustainable Development entitled, “Our Constitution, Our Vision, Our SDGs”, highlighting how the concept of sustainable development is nothing new or foreign, but already embedded in national foundations and frameworks such as the Constitution, the Vision 2040, the Africa vision 2063 and the Ugandan national anthem; which all provide the basis for the notion and ownership of Sustainable Development in Uganda.

translating the sdgs

In the publication we have also attempted to identify local concepts or notions of sustainable development, such as Ggwanga Mujje! Ggwanga Mujje! (which can be explained as “Community come”: rally the community for development causes through the beat of the drum).

Building on the concept of beating the drum to rally the community, the launch event for the SDGs held 26 October was named “Beat the Drum for the Global Goals.” The event, which included an exhibition to visualize the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with relatable materials, drew a crowd of over 400 people from civil society, government, youth, UN and development partners.

That same day the President of Uganda H.E Yoweri K. Museveni also championed Goal 16 – something which attracted a lot of media coverage.

To take the SDGs to the people across Uganda, the UN has set out to tackle the lack of technical capacity and awareness within Local Governments to respond to citizen’s needs and to the localization and implementation of the 2030 agenda through Local Government Plans. Through a collaboration between the UN Youth Convergence group and Restless development Uganda, 40 youth researchers in Northern Uganda have been sensitized to the SDGs and have helped to translate the SDGs into local concepts and languages.



This training session was particularly lively and enjoyable for the youth researchers! The researchers critically analysed which local language expression conveyed the true meaning behind a given goal. This required a deep understanding of each goal by reading the full SDG document. It also spurred debate around the meaning of the words themselves (what is industry? Infrastructure? Consumption?) People also had a keen desire to align the goals to local and cultural concepts (through proverbs, for example) and find a translation that would be accessible for the majority of people in their respective regions.

Some of the local concepts and proverbs that were identified to explain the concept of sustainable development include:

  • Luo: Dongo lobo labongo apoka poka pi tin ki pi diki – Development without inequality for today and tomorrow
  • Luo: Tong gweno ma tin loyo latin gweno ma diki – An egg you have today is better than a chick you have tomorrow
  • Ngakarimojong: Eyakaune ngolo ruba – Being there forever.

Some examples of translating the short titles of the SDGs into local languages include

Goal Translation into Local language English Translation
Goal 5 – Gender equality Luo: Tero mon ki coo labongo apokapoka Treating women and men equally
Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth akarimojong:  Ngiticisio ngulu ajokak ka amucurusanu Good work and booming business
Goal 13 – Climate action Luo: Tic ikom alokaloka me piny Working on earthly changes
Goal 12 – Responsible consumption and production Ngakarimojong: Kimunji Totamunete AkitIYAUN Eat and remember to work for it

The work done by the youth researchers will help inform the UN communication strategy for the SDGs, but will also feed into the next phase of the UN/Restless Development project where  youth researchers will discuss real-time data (U-report SMS data) on regional priorities with communities and local governments. The youth researchers have already identified which goals are aligned with the key youth themes emerging from their research, as well as thinking about how the fulfillment of these goals can support change in their local communities. Researchers were able to accurately align the findings of their research with the global goals.

Through this process the researchers also highlighted the inter-relatedness of the goals and discussed how the achievement of one goal would support others. They felt that the majority of issues affecting young people were incorporated in the goals and that their achievement could solve many of the problems that their community youth are facing.

They were informed about the presence of Hon. Kutesa (President of UN General Assembly’s 69th session) and H.E President Museveni at the launch of the global goals in New York as well as the commitments that they made. This spurred them on to use the SDGs as a policy framework and a tool to support their advocacy efforts on youth issues and to hold their local leaders to account.

Initial feed-back from the youth researchers’ engagement with Local Government (which is ongoing) indicate that anchoring the SDGs into local concepts and languages, and leveraging the framework for discussions on priorities and responsibilities is highly useful.

This is a time for UN to make sure that this new agenda is not seen as a UN framework but is truly owned and understood by the communities it is there to serve! Go translate!


Elisabet Frisk Elisabet Frisk is Coordination Specialist, RCO Uganda. Follow UN Uganda on Twitter.


  1. Sandra Villegas says:

    From Bolivia I send you Congratulations for such a good job. Translation of SDGs can help people to understand them and make them part of their life. Good and practical idea as well as simple and creative. Keep working that way.

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