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! 

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