Sunday, 4 March 2012

Devolution and Voter Education

Yesterday I travelled 2 hours to Kangundo to attend a community forum about devolution and voter education.  I discussed in a previous post (see previous post) that my boss, Mike, has written a book to launch a political reform movement in Kenya, and as part of that process the programme is being piloted in his home County.

The event took place at this church in a town called Tala which is in Kangundo constituency.

The pilot has so far involved the formation of a steering group made of about 40 community members to develop a draft strategic plan which maps out how key priority areas for how the County will develop in the next 3-5 years.  Mike believes strongly that the fact that Kenya has lagged so far behind in development cannot be blamed purely on corrupt and incompetent politicians, but that average Kenyans are also responsible for making sure their country develops, and that begins at the local level.

Constituents registering as they arrive. 

Waiting for the event to start.  It began an hour late, but ran over by 2.5 hours to compensate.
Now that the County Strategic Plan is in draft form, it is being taken around to each of the eight constituencies for consultation and to ensure local community leaders understand devolution and the new political offices it has created.  This is the second of these consultation events, and this one was hosted by my organisation so about 12 staff from my organisation arrived in force to ensure it was a raving success.

Wambui, Finance Manager, and Barasa, Programmes Manager, modelling the t-shirt.

Myself and Keter.  We were on photography and sales duty.
The meeting started about an hour late (which actually isn't too bad), with delegates continuing to trickle in over the first 3 hours. The delegates were specially invited by members of the steering groups and selected as individuals interested to contribute to this process and able to action change in their local area.  The forum started with prayer (as pretty much all meetings do), and greetings by the local chief and chairman of the local community development forum.  Mike then presented the concept behind the draft Strategic Plan and explained that while the plan highlights 13 specific areas for development in the County to ensure it's development over the next few years, it was up to the community to determine the priorities within those areas and specific measures.  Following this, the delegates broke up into 4 groups to look at and feed into 4 of those priority areas: water and sanitation, agriculture, finance and education. 

Mike presenting the outline of the Strategic Plan.
Group discussing water and sanitation.
Group discussing finance.
Then four members of the Strategic Plan steering group and who are experts in the 4 sectors being looked at came to share feedback from the small groups and background information on those particular sectors in the County. For example, currently while nearly 65% of children make it to primary school, less than 15% make it to secondary school and less than 4% attend any kind of post-secondary education (university or vocational). I've written quite a number of funding proposals and concept notes for this particular piece of work since arriving at my organisation, but it was the first time I actually was able to observe community consultation on strategic planning take place and it was really inspiring to see so many (nearly 400) members of this local constituency come together to discuss the needs and issues of their area and the changes they intend to make over the next few years.  Too often Strategic Plans are developed for individuals and not by them - and this demonstrated the start of real ownership of this process by the community.

Just a note that I was able to understand about 75% of what was said during the meeting.  The other 25% was in kikamba, the local tribal language.  But I think I got the general gist!

The best photo I could get of the whole group.
Koki Muli, key-note speaker.
The key-note speech was given by Koki Muli, a university lecturer and political columnist in a national Saturday paper.  She spoke about devolution - what it is and why Kenya has decided to devolve power - and what implication is has at County level.  I mentioned in a previous post the up to now Kenya has a very heavy and very corrupt central government and that the new Constitution (2010) has provided for a new devolved government which will be achieved through the creation of 47 new Counties.  The counties have been formed - but the upcoming elections will be the first time that newly created posts (e.g. Governor) will be elected, so the Counties aren't actually really anything yet as they have no government or resourcing.  Ms Muli explained that unlike American states which are fixed and permanent, the Counties can be easily changed, and she predicted where there are now boundaries for 47, if some are seen to be under-performing they will be merged with stronger Counties and so the result in 10 years time will likely be fewer Counties.

She also spoke about one of the key tenants of my organisation's political reform programme - which is leadership vetting, which is about creating a framework by which voters assess the candidates and select which is the right one for the job.  It is a key theme of the upcoming elections and the way my organisation is proposing to accomplish this is by using the Strategic Plan as a type of JD and then having candidates demonstrate how using their skills and experience they will deliver the plan. For me, it is a strange way of looking at candidate selection - that the community determines first what is to be done and then unanimously selects a leader to accomplish it.  My experience of elections is that there are often two quite different proposals from political parties on what needs doing and voters select the approach they most agree with.  What's being proposed in Kenya allows very little freedom for the candidate to present their own priorities and ideas for how the County should develop, but it is a very different context here and it is the common way of thinking - my boss and I actually just met with a Swedish development agency last week which is very interested in adopting our candidate vetting model across their governance reform programmes.

A bit of entertainment to keep everyone alert.
While there was no break during the 6.5 hour meeting,
we did distribute snacks of a loaf of bread and a soda or bottle of water to attendee.
The forum yesterday was really the beginning of this process - the introduction.  All the attendees have been asked to identify which sector they would like to work specifically on, and in coming weeks there will be a series of meetings for each sector to look at specific issues, objectives and targets at a constituency level to feed into the County Strategic Plan.  The meeting was 6.5 hours long, running 2.5 hours over, and I think if it hadn't been cut off could have gone on another hour or two.  People are excited and hungry for this kind of change and first the first time are being actively involved in shaping the change and being asked to directly contribute to it.  As I said before, it was inspiring to observe.

Briefly, in other news - I found out that my very first funding application has been approved since starting with the organisation 4 months ago (and considering average turn around time for most applications is about 6 months - this is pretty good!).  In addition, it was a (smallish) proposal to a UN agency and is as such the first piece of UN funding I've ever secured.  I can feel my CV getting fatter already!! 

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