Friday, 27 January 2012

Three Photos

I will write a longer post tomorrow about my recent field visit to Kericho, however thought I would quickly share three photos from the past week with you.

Photo 1. The Colour of Water

We have running water at my house only one or two days a week.  During the rainy season we had running water 3 days a week, but now that it is the dry season we've had less.  We have a large water tank which automatically fills when the main water supply is on and we can pump that water into the house to use in the kitchen and bathrooms - although with 4 of us living here we do have to constantly be careful to conserve water.  On the one or two days when we do have running water, we also fill extra storage containers with water to wash our clothes.  

This is a picture of the colour of the water last week.  The water up until now has been clear - but has turned quite brown.  Not sure why.  I thought water turned brown after rain - but it hasn't rained for weeks.

Water in Nairobi is "treated" - but there are some sceptical as to what that actually means and how consistently it is carried out.  We regardless boil and filter our drinking water.  This is a process which can take quite a while - the water has to cool before it can be put into the filter and the filtering can take up to a day as well.  So the key is to boil today the water you want to drink tomorrow.

Photo 2: Work Permit

When I arrived in Kenya I had a 3 month single entry visitor visa, and last week I was issued a 2 year work permit.  It was not issued without its fair share of complications - VSO told me it was ready however when I went to collect it I found there was no visa in my passport.  Three other staff in the VSO office also looked through my passport and confirmed it was not there. Apparently my paperwork had been seen by the Kenyan immigration office and they approved my work permit but forgot to put it in my passport.

Having moved to the UK at the age of 22, I am relatively familiar with immigration processes, permits and visas.  I was on 5 separate visas/permits in the UK before becoming a permanent resident last year.  So I was quite surprised that this long awaited work permit was in fact a hand written note. Surely I could have done that myself??  I now realise I may have inadvertently caused long term problems for Kenyan immigration as the readers of this blog (all 12 of you - hi mom and Rachel!) will now be copying my work permit into your passports and coming to Kenya to find employment.  With that kind of influx, I may be single-handedly starting the transformation of the issuing of work permits from scribbles to stickers or stamps.  Watch this space!

Photo 3: Matatu Art

On Sunday morning my housemate Andrea and I went to go see an exhibition by Kenyan artist Dennis Muraguri entitled Matatu Project.  The exhibition happened to be held at a lovely restaurant set in a beautiful garden - so we may have spent more time drinking coffee and eating crepes than looking at art - but that's besides the point.

Briefly - a matatu is the main form of public transportation here in Kenya.  They operate within cities much like a city bus system would, but also are the main means to get around the country as well.  They are large people carriers (15-passenger vans for my American audience) that drive around on set routes (although sticking to the routes is at the driver's discretion) picking up passengers and dropping passengers off.  They are meant to fit 14 passengers - but 14 passengers is the bare minimum they hold as a matatu will not leave the stage (the starting/terminating point) until it is full - and then will continue to collect more passengers along the way.  I have been in one with 21 passengers - however another volunteer said he was in one with 24 passengers and a chicken.  Matatu drivers are notoriously unsafe - often using the pavement (sidewalk) as an additional traffic lane. However they are a quick and cheap way to get around.  The government recently announced that they will stop licencing matatus - at moment only vehicles with a yellow stripe on them are official transportation vehicles - in a move to phase them out (by letting the existing ones slowly die off) and then plan to introduce new 24 seater buses in the future.  

Muraguri's works were great - he used several different mediums/styles including wood cuts, newspaper and comic format as above to depict different aspects of how matatus feature in Kenyan life - from simple transportation to being used as a stage in a protest. There were certainly many things in his works I didn't pick up on - subtle references - as I'm not Kenyan and haven't lived here very long, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pieces nonetheless and may even try to purchase one for myself before I go.  Anyway, I am not an art critic so will stop there.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A Political Discourse

I mentioned last week that I was going to write about political reform work my organization is embarking on.  It’s quite a meaty subject, and I have had the luxury of two months emersion, so I will do my best to dilute and make sound interesting!  First, some background:  Kenya’s last general election was in 2007 and was marred by terrible post-election violence (PEV) during which 800 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced within Kenya and outside of Kenya (many having fled to neighboring countries like Uganda).

The PEV was a strong signal that despite having an international reputation for being one of the most stable and developing countries in Africa, this was not necessarily the case under the surface.  Last year the country voted to adopt a new constitution – a particularly progressive document which includes movement toward greater equality for marginalised groups such as women and people living with disability.  The constitution also sets out plans to devolve the government through the creation of 47 counties.  Previously, government in Kenya was comprised of a very heavy central government, which lent itself quite naturally to foster all kinds of corruption, and the next level down was some 250 districts which held very little local power and through which very little representation took place.  The new counties have clear devolved power to make local decisions about issues such as economy, industry and education, will be run by an elected governor and councillors. 

Kenya’s next election will be either in August, December or March of next year (there are legal questions around when the election should be and the courts finally handed it back to the President and Prime Minister and said it will take place 60 days after they dissolve their government – the latest date of which can be March next year).  There is a lot of national and international attention on the upcoming Kenyan elections for two reasons: first, will it result in wide-spread violence as it did previously; and second, it is the first time that local governors will be elected and there is uncertainty about what that will look like in practice.

The photos in this post are of the book launch event.
This is Mike, CEO, making his remarks.

Mike, the CEO at ICL, has recently published a book which is his proposal for how to elect and hold County leaders to account.  His concept involves working with stakeholders in counties (corporates, universities, community-based organisations, and local leaders) to first conduct an asset mapping of the County (in order to identify the particular economic and social strengths of the county as well as the gaps) and then to develop a County Strategic Plan which will be the blueprint for how that county will achieve economic growth and social improvement (including health, education and employment).  The County Strategic Plan will then be used as a guide for how prospective candidates will be vetted – the idea is that those running will need to demonstrate to citizens how they will deliver on the Strategic Plan and what qualifications and experience they have which makes them a suitable candidate (very much based on a corporate recruitment model).  Alongside this is civic and voter education which involves working with community groups to provide education on the importance of voting and what to consider when determining how to select the right leader for the County (voting in Kenya has a tendency to follow tribal lines rather than be issue-based) and how to hold elected leaders to account. 

The Government Spokesman signing the first copy of the book.

Mike’s idea is really to create a movement within Kenya to change the political landscape and tone of the country.  The Constitution has been voted in, however still has yet to be actioned and Mike believes strongly that this next year will be the time when either Kenya embraces change and takes a big step forward or reverts back to the status quo and continues to live with corruption and ineffective government. He believed if you can solve government, then infrastructure in Kenya will improve leader to higher quality of life (health, education, employment).  Mike hopes to see half a million people read his book and join the movement by the end of the year and for another five million to receive messaging about the movement through media.

Some attendees and the press.
 In order to create buzz in the run-up to the launch of the book, a website was launched, wristbands developed, and Mike proactively engaged a number of government bodies and departments in order to get their support for this ideology – which I was fortunate enough to be brought along to (although realized afterward that he also expected me to take notes at these meetings – which I’ve learned I’m not particularly good at!)  He succeeded in getting support from every committee, council, group, and department we visited (all of whom sent a representative to speak at the launch of the book in support of the movement).

Apart from my poor attempt at minute taking, my role in this work has been predominately around looking to bring in funds to support the idea.  In my role I work alongside and support members of the Resource Mobilization team to develop and write proposals, and as such have been working with one particular staff member on this project.  Finding places to apply was not difficult - there is a lot of funding out there at the moment for democracy, governance and accountability programmes, much more so than for HIV&AIDS programmes.  Our challenge was translating a fluid ideology for political reform into a definable programme with outputs.  Basically, we worked hard to put the movement into a box.  Around five proposals and concept notes have been submitted so far.  We are quite realistic that ICL does not have a track record of delivery for this kind of work which may be concerning to funders, but we have put our best foot forward and now wait.

It’s been an interesting experience for me for two reasons.  First, being in a country in such a period of political transition while working in an organisation forcefully pushing itself into that arena is very exciting.  This year will be very telling for Kenya, and ICL has in a way signed up for the ride.  The country has the opportunity to make a real change, and if it does not and it reverts back to a place where corruption is overlooked and violence is used as an expression for discontentment, ICL too will suffer consequences, even if just emotional disappointment.

Secondly, it has been interesting from an organizational learning perspective (thank you Cass!).  The line between Mike’s idea and passion and the operations of ICL has become blurred (or has dissolved entirely).  The launch and delivery of the movement has been made the core business of ICL, however this is not a criticism – only an observation in the process of learning.  Mike is the Founder of ICL and as such the organisastion has always followed his ideas and passions (and has grown immensely over the past few years under his direction).  He has also not acted alone, the Board of Trustees has supported the organizational shift from HIV&AIDS to include other socio-economic factors such as leadership and governance.  However putting this into practice presents some significant challenges.  So far there is no designated funding for the project, yet it is requiring a significant amount of the organisation's financial resources and time investment from staff who are expected to deliver on this project alongside existing objectives.  But maybe this is the way great things happen. Mike is an innovator, and he is dynamic and inspirational.  It is people like him who are change-agents, and I am fascinated to see if this year (and the methods being used) are leading to the evolution of ICL into a national player in governance and democracy, or if not, how the organization regroups afterward.

Ok, this has been quite a heavy blog – which is what I promised after the lovely photos of my holiday and animals last week which I'm sure you all enjoyed.  I will understand if the drop-out rate this week has been high, but thanks to those of you who are still with me (hi mom!).  Tomorrow I am running my first Resource Mobilisastion Team Meeting and Training Session (which 8 other staff not on my team are sitting in on too) – so should have some good material for next week’s blog! 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Krismasi na Mwaka Mpya

A very delayed blog update, I will admit.  But the holidays generally keep one distracted with good company, food and adventure - and I have had more than my fair share of all three.

I spent Christmas weekend at home in Nairobi with a handful of other VSO volunteers and UK special guest, Nick.  Along with my house mate Andrea and neighbour Harvey, 3 other volunteers who are based around Kenya in rural placements came to Nairobi for a few days of urban Christmas festivities.

We spent the days in the run up to Christmas decorating our very large house with thanks to the creative genius of Andrea, who demonstrated a secret gift for the arts and crafts, and the box of surprise decorations our UK guest brought us.  Christmas decorations are expensive in Nairobi, and Christmas trees more so - but we were lucky enough to have been provided with several pine branches that, through some magic I believe, were fastened together into our very own tree, a la Charlie Brown.

Christmas morning we prepared a grand English fry up full with sausages (beef, chicken and veggie), beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, eggs, toast and this Irish potato thing I can't remember the name of - but which was very nice.  With only 2 hobs cooking the full breakfast involved careful strategising, compounded by the fact that the electricity went out about half way through.  But one of the core VSO selection criteria is flexibility and adaptability, and with that many VSO recruited brains around we figured it out.  

Things got a bit tense later in the day when an epic game of Urban v Rural Placement charades took place (the urban team won, naturally) and Scrabble Slam was introduced to Kenya. Things did calm down later, however, when Harvey pulled out his ukulele and formed and impromptu sing-a-long. 

Spending Christmas in Nairobi was definitely different.  The weather was an obvious difference - December begins the Kenyan summer.  I actually missed the dark, cold, damp streets of London.  There is something about sweating on the bus home from work which just doesn't make it feel like Christmas.  And apart from the ex-pat heavy shopping centres, Christmas decorations are scarce.  One could almost miss it all together if you weren't looking.  Kenyans typically don't decorate their homes.  There is gift giving (we had a Secret Santa at work), but largely Christmas is about travelling back the region of the country you come from and spending time with your family.  What a novel concept.

After Christmas, Nick and I travelled 2.5 hours via matatu (for the bargain price of Ksh500 or about £3.50) to Lake Nakuru where I went to my very first national park in Kenya and saw... ANIMALS!!!  We saw rhino, hippo, zebras, lions (yes, lions!), baboons, impala, water buffalo, giraffe, and a leopard (from very very far away - but it was definitely there!).  Absolutely amazing.  I have included a few of my favourite pics from the game drive below:

Nick and Moses, our driver, next to our very cool safari Jeep that we could stand up in!

Kenya is synonymous with animals and there is something really fantastic about driving around and seeing them in the wild.  Lake Nakuru is a relatively small park at about 166 sq km (Masi Mara is about 1,000 sq km), but it was really beautiful and I highly recommend it.

After a few days, we travelled down to Lake Naivasha where there was an informal VSO New Year's residential, and we met up with around 12 others for a few days of camping, hiking and relaxation to bring in 2012.

Sitting around the camp fire.
A few of us decided to hike Mt Longonot on New Year's Eve, an inactive volcano about 45 min drive from where we were staying.  We were told the hike from the ground up to rim of the volcano was very difficult, but definitely worth it, and that the 11km hike around the rim of the volcano was pretty straight forward.

The photo above is a few of the group resting after the hike up to the rim before heading off on the hike around the rim, which includes hiking up and down the peak - which is off in the distance.  We were pretty pleased with ourselves after the hike up to the rim - it was difficult, but we made it in good time.  Little did we know what awaited us..  The photo above is the last photo I took as I was far too tired, dusty, and sunburnt to reach for my camera.  The hike was gruelling and hot.  I understand that photographic evidence of my appearance on this hike does exist - but I choose to ignore it!  However, it was an absolutely brilliant day - and I would happily do it again. The views continually changed as we scurried around the rim.  We could see almost the entirety of Lake Naivasha off one side, and the from the other we could see up out of the Rift Valley to the plateau that Nairobi is on many miles away.

The last night in Naivasha we went out to a local Kenyan kuku choma (roast chicken) joint for, well, roast chicken.  Great way to the end the holiday.  I'm aware this blog post has a been a bit light side.  Don't worry, next week we'll return to work updates - my organisation is currently launching a movement to change the political landscape of Kenya -  it's very interesting stuff you will get to read about next week!   Happy New Year to all of you, I hope that 2012 finds you well!

Kuku Choma!