Figuring out devolution

Over lunch hour today, I went to ShiftEye Gallery to see what was showing. What I found was an interesting look at the legislature, lawmaking and county budgets set up by The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA).

The exhibition starts off with a look at the gender equation at the national and county levels. It’s a jarring realisation; to see in figures a truth one may have gleaned by looking at images of politicians in Kenya. It then moves on to some Bills that have been brought before the  House this term (you can view them over at Mzalendo), a look at the sense or lack thereof behind CDF, a history of terrorist attacks in the Republic and ends at County poverty rates and allocations for different sectors.

The exhibition is interesting for this reason: it tries to give a visual sense of what the last 3 or so years have looked like and what the time before that was in the context of CDF and constitutional and legal standards. If you’re not up to date with some of these matters, it’s an interesting primer on what the state of the nation is in certain regards. It also raised some thoughts in my head. Here we go.

It helps to know what Bills mean, to get some citizen’s translation about what’s in it for you if and when a Bill passes. This is one of the things that I found most interesting as I looked at the posters they’d put up: the attempt to translate lawmaking for those of us who haven’t thought of these things since we sat KCSE History Paper 2. There’s also information about how to get Bills which are unconstitutional worked on by reaching out to your MP, or the President. I wished there was evidence of how well this works because if you remember what I wrote about citizen participation, a lot is easier said than done. How, for example, does your average citizen gain access to the MP, how do they get them to listen?

The figures on Turkana’s expenditure were telling: so much money allocated to the Governor’s office and that of his deputy (6.6%) that compares unfavourably with the 5.8% allocated to Education, Culture & Social Services. The figures out of Nairobi are no less discomfiting and it says a lot of the priorities of the people in power. I wished that the displays had been more harmonised with these figures; each display had its own standard and this made it hard to truly put one’s finger on what’s what. There was also inconsistency in terms of copy quality (typos galore) and the data visualizations (some were amazingly clean, some were a bit of a mess).

All in all, I found that the resources that are presented in the exhibit are a good place to start some conversations about funds, resource allocation, and citizen participation. It also made me realise your average Kenyan doesn’t quite know where to go so I’ll end this with a few places to go. When I needed  something done in my constituency, the National Taxpayers Association (NTA)site and Kenya Open Data helped me know what resources were available. TISA issues reports that would be of help in informing your conversations with legislators and Mzalendo is a good place to find out what, if anything,  your representative is up to. Lastly, the Society for International Development’s Kenya Dialogues Project will bring you up to speed on matters that would interest an active citizen.

If you know any other places you can find information that helps a citizen navigate the resources and opportunities due to them, please put it in the comment section. Thank you!







Education, Government

Citizens to the Rescue

In 2012, I had just left university and was working as a volunteer teacher at the local primary school in the part of Kakamega County in which my parents then lived. My brother was a pupil there and there was a classroom wall that had collapsed over Easter.

Nobody seemed to know how to fix that situation and the headteacher felt impotent because there was only so much he could do within the limits of the bureaucracy. Every day I saw the ECDE pupils play at the exposed wall, I saw them crammed into what had been the storage room because it was their class whose wall had collapsed. I didn’t know what to do but I felt this intense need to do something.

During this time, my mother and I had to go to the District headquarters at Khwisero to interact with officialdom. While we’re here, she said, we could drop by the DC’s office and tell the Mkubwa our local school has no wall to speak of. Sure, I figured, why not. I didn’t know the series of events it would set off so I walked in with the confidence that only the innocent possess.

The DC received us with as much warmth as an interrupted government functionary can muster. Here’s what happened when we spoke: she listened to these two women speaking English (it saddens me how, so long after independence, this language holds so much power) and saying they would not leave till they knew how the matter would be dealt with. She called the DEO (District Education Officer) and the DPWO (District Public Works Officer) and directed them to go to the school the next week to  inspect the facilities. We left with a date and this upsetting, but revealing, knowledge: both those officers had known about the issue but hadn’t dealt with it.

When the DEO & DPWO visited the school, the latter ordered the school condemned and the former directed that the pupils be enrolled in neighbouring schools. The school was started in the late 70s and was one of the oldest and largest in the area; this would be a disaster.

Enter the local MP: he called a community meeting to talk about how to ‘save the school’ even though the collapse had happened in April and it was September. He said how he would speak to the DC so she would direct her officers to withdraw their orders and the community members could continue sending their children to the school. What about the wall, I felt compelled to ask. Well, that will be fixed. When? This generated a lot of furore among the people present. Those my age spoke about what a visionary leader the MP was and said the 100% believed in him, that they knew he would deal with it. I was reminded that I had no children and was told to stop being a troublemaker. And yours, who you have, I asked them, do you want the class to collapse upon their heads? Remember- it was election period and they needed to obtain the Mheshimiwa’s favour; after the meeting ended, the men lined up and received KSh 200 apiece, the women KSh 100.

Something did happen: Whatever it was, the next week the MP called another meeting and told us that the CDF was allocating money to the repair of the wall and the school would not be closed. Over the next two or so months, it was fixed and the ECDE children were able to stop learning among the shovels and rakes. The money was emergency money, the job was not doe to the highest standard but it was done. I had left in October to take up a job in Nairobi so I couldn’t push but even then, I had felt a part of my spirit die in the face of the parents’ protests.

I tell this story to say that we the people have power. We are the activists we need, we are the change agents we need, we are the litigators, advocates we need. We can take back our schools, our clinics, our hospitals, our land; we can, and we should.