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CPAID impact

Using research to make real-world impact

Research at the Centre for Public Authority and International Development has direct implications for governments, NGOs, and courts of law. Its researchers make real-world impact through clear recommendations, expert reports and policy-oriented workshops, all based on empirical evidence.

Incorporated into four surveys, the project continues to feed into UN discussions about how Hunger Courts can be used as early warning systems.

Dr Naomi Pendle, CPAID researcher

Changing the course of a landmark trial at the ICC

Ahead of the trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen in 2015, CPAID's Professor Tim Allen, Dr Holly Porter and Dr Anna Macdonald were invited to talk about rape at the International Criminal Court.

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Drawing on their research into how public authority relates to sexual violence and accountability, they provided a complicated and nuanced explanation of rape and its aftermath. They argued that the Western understanding of what is appropriate is dependent on consent, a concept that does not exist in the Acholi context. Instead, through analysis of the Acholi-specific context, the research showed that the LRA sex was nonetheless transgressive. In February 2021, the ICC found Dominic Ongwen guilty on 61 counts.

Find out more

Evidence for the prosecution of Dominic Ongwen

The research had significant impact by helping the prosecution expand the charges against Ongwen to include sexual and gender-based crimes: forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery, and enslavement. CPAID provided to the prosecutorial team formal briefings and a confidential expert report based on research with former LRA women in forced marriages. Professor Allen was invited to act as the 'expert witness' in the trial and his testimony provided further information about the LRA’s organisational relationships, its training and use of child soldiers.

In February 2021, the ICC found Dominic Ongwen guilty on 61 counts. The ICC judges stated explicitly that Allen’s testimony was accepted to be credible by both Defence and Prosecution. The first 14 paragraphs of the published judgement are drawn directly from his testimony, which is cited in relation to several subsequent points in their judgement.

Setting a precedent for the international trial of sexual crimes

The research established an important precedent in the international trial of sexual crimes. Drawing on long-term observations of former LRA women in forced marriages, CPAID's expert report argued that it would reduce the risks both to the potential witnesses and to the veracity of their testimony if they were able to participate in the trial quickly and with as little exposure as possible.

The report was a key submission in a successful proposal to allow victims of sexual violence to provide witness testimony and be cross-examined from Uganda, before the commencement of the trial. This aspect of the Ongwen case set a ground-breaking precedent in the ability to prosecute international crimes of a sexual nature.

Should the precedent be applied more broadly, it will ease the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence in both domestic and international jurisdictions. This view has already been advanced in the International Criminal Law Review, which has hailed this aspect of the Ongwen case as 'a milestone precedent for future cases, not just in terms of circumventing situations of witness interference but, more importantly, in safeguarding vulnerable victims and witnesses, and preserving their evidence for any eventual trial'.

Read more about the trial and the full report.


Gedion Onyango at Wilton Park

Gedion Onyango, CPAID Reseach Fellow, attended a closed workshop in March 2024 at Wilton park with FCDO and other diplomatic actors from the US, EU, Germany and Norway to engage his expertise on East Africa.

Gedion Onyango at Wilton Park Gedion Onyango at Wilton Park
Gedion Onyango at Wilton Park

His expert knowledge on local actors, including public authorities, was a primary topic across three days and he was later approached for further collaboration.

CPAID Humanitarianism Course

CPAID researchers ran two workshops in Juba and Kampala on the role of public authority in humanitarian work. 

CourseMarch 2024 (747 x 420 px)

The course was attended by development professionals, researchers and academics. 

To find out more about the course please follow the link below. 

Learn more about the 2024 CPAID course

Working with the EHRC

Professor Tim Allen and Nicole Stremlau were invited to attend an event in Addis Ababa with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on transitional justice and were engaging for their expertise on hate speech and media throughout transitional justice processes. They were also approached by EHRC who were very interested in further capacity building/training from CPAID on the role of media in transitional justice.

Freedom House

Rebecca Tapscott was invited as a topic expert to feed into Freedom House’s 2023 report on Uganda, specifically contributing on rights, electoral processes, government structures and authoritarianism in Uganda.

Protecting children through grassroots research

Eliza Ngutuku ran a research engagement workshop in Uganda with practitioners, government officials and NGO staff, discussing her research results on how to better support grassroot actors working on the protection of children against sexual and gender based violence. 


Eliza was also an invited panelist at the September 2023 Biennial Conference on Equity and Social Justice in Child, Youth and Family Welfare, run by the European Scientific Associated on Residential and Family Care for Children and Adults, where she was on the panel Confronting the Impact of Colonialism on Child Interventions

Professor Melissa Parker advises SAGE

CPAID Co-Investigator, Professor Melissa Parker, contributed to the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) and the ethnicity subgroup of SAGE. Between 2020 and 2022, SPI-B provided advice to SAGE on a range of issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Supporting early warning systems for famine in South Sudan

The aid community has often been slow to anticipate and respond to famine in South Sudan.

unmiss-south-sudanCPAID research showed that local chief-run courts – named luok cɔk or ‘Hunger Courts’ – are used during famines in South Sudan to redistribute food. Part of government structures, these courts suspend all but the most serious cases to rule on how to redistribute food within clans during times of famine.

Dr Naomi Pendle found that the Hunger Courts responded to a period of severe food shortages in May 2018, even though humanitarian agencies failed to notice the famine-level hunger until July. Because they were closer to the ground, the chiefs could see the emergency coming earlier.

Supporting the World Food Programme

The World Food Programme conducts large surveys in South Sudan twice a year to assess hunger, which is chronic in the country and often escalates to  famine proportions. After informing the Word Food Programme and the UN-affiliated REACH initiative about CPAID's findings, these organisations agreed to include questions on Hunger Courts in their surveys. They asked Dr Pendle to help draft the text. Incorporated into four surveys so far, the project continues to inform UN discussions about how Hunger Courts can be used as an early warning system for famine.

Advising on development and diaspora policy in Somalia 

CPAID’s research into business networks and business-state relations in Somalia has revealed the aid sector has created perverse incentives within the local political economy, which are linked to political violence and terrorism.

Research on public procurement and logistics powerbrokers found that the aid sector has funded monopolies and cartels for decades. As a result, infrastructure development has become a contributor to violent conflict, rather than a facilitator of peace.

Through presentations and workshops, Dr Claire Elder has pushed the World Bank, OECD, UN, and the UK government's FCDO to rethink aspects of their private-sector development and privatisation agendas. She has advised on the private sector’s interests in conflict contexts, and how contracting and procurement undermines a legitimate central authority. Based on the work, the Aid Coordination Unit, responsible for overseeing Somalia's aid architecture, has reviewed its support for infrastructure development that might perpetuate insecurity.

Diaspora policy in Somalia 

As seen in many post-war contexts, diaspora-centred development dominates post-war development and peacebuilding in Somalia. Through long-term research on diaspora return to politics in Somalia, Claire Elder’s work developed a new theoretical framework to understand the impacts on governance and society.

Based on her research, Dr Elder has advised on different aspects of diaspora policy, including the formation of national legislation and specific programmes targeting technical assistance. Her research has prompted an internal investigation by the Aid Coordination Unit and prompted donors, including the World Bank, to abandon the diaspora component of its Capacity Injection Programme in 2019. Since 2020, she has become an expert adviser for an International Organization for Migration working group to draft a new diaspora policy for the Somali government.

Advising the OECD on approaches to peacebuilding

Core members of CPAID have formed a reference group and met with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to shape the organisation's understanding of effective peacebuilding.

At a two-day workshop in March 2020, CPAID researchers questioned how aid donors often enter conflict and fragile state contexts, uncritically assuming that certain actors – governments, civil society organisations and the private sector – should remain at the heart of their work. The CPAID group argued that this blanket approach to interventions may have adverse effects, such as contributing to ineffective ‘peace economies’ and thereby creating forms of economic dependence, hierarchies of peace actors, and hegemonic narratives.

During the workshop, researcher Claire Elder presented on the need to challenge the often-bifurcated understanding of both the diaspora and the private sector as agents for peace or conflict. She drew attention to how foreign aid subcontractors in Somalia constitute an established class of economic and political brokers with a destabilising influence on state-building. Researchers Naomi Pendle and Anna Macdonald highlighted the importance of rethinking transitional justice programming, reconciliation, and the importance of understanding how local peace processes impact national peace agreements.

Group of Nations: G7 - G20 Solutions through Inclusivity | virtual summit, October 2021

CPAID researchers formed a panel at the Group of Nations: G7 - G20 virtual summit. The panel topic, 'Innovative Approaches to pandemic governance' addressed community engagement as local authorities. The CPAID panel discussed the benefits of investing in these relationships or ‘social infrastructures’ to build more resilient and equitable societies.

CPAID impact blog series

In this blog series, CPAID investigator, Dr Duncan Green speaks to fellow researchers to evaluate the real-world impact of research from the Centre for Public Authority and International Development. 

Duncan spoke to Anna Macdonald and Kara Blackmore about how artwork can help us understand the difficulties of refugees and combatants returning home

To Holly Porter about How research into sexual wronging changed the course of the landmark trial at the ICC

And to Ryan O’Byrne and Charles Ogen about how How research impacted the reform of Ugandan refugee camp aid systems

Bukavu blog series

CPAID has supported the ‘Bukavu series’ by Congolese researchers. Over 30 long-term collaborators from Central Africa wrote about the visibility of African researchers in global North-South research arrangements, and contributed to growing debates on decolonising knowledge production.  

The Bukavu series led to widespread interest from aid donors as well as researchers, and was subsequently published as a book, with Congolese cartoonist Kash Tembo illustrating the key concepts for an online exhibition

Idjwi blog series 

CPAID, alongside the Open University, supported the Idjwi Island Writing Workshop in 2019. It included 19 participants, including researchers, lecturers, and graduate students as well as humanitarians and human rights activists. Participants came from Uganda, Burundi, and the DRC, representing l'Université du Burundi, l'École Normale Supérieure, Impunity Watch, Uganda Christian University, l'Université du Lac Tanganyika, and LSE.

The workshop was a unique opportunity for scholars to exchange ideas, interact, and have the space and support to work while receiving mentorship from senior academics. Published in English and French, the ‘Idjwi Blog Series’ produced by the workshop has spurred debates on regionalisation and decolonisation in practice.