August 30, 2016

The long road to citizen power

Very frequently, and more so  lately, our team gets up very early in the morning and prepares to set off to Lanet Umoja location in Nakuru County. We usually leave at about lunch time, having made many small and important logistical preparations. On most days, we are ferrying boxes filled with paper forms – data that was previously collected by the community and which we have digitized for Chief Francis Kariuki, the local administrator of the location (see our earlier description of the relevant government hierarchy.)

The three hour trip is a very exciting one for us at Open Institute as we spend time bonding as a team – well, mostly the rest of the team makes fun of my driving. The A104, Kenya’s East to West main highway has become so familiar that we can almost close our eyes and still know where all the speed bumps and curves are along the way.

On many occasions, we include our partners in the trip and the discussions and debates have been considerably more fulfilling in the car  than  we could ever have had in the boardroom. Certainly the view is better as we pass the Rift Valley viewpoints and different wildlife such as Zebras and Antelopes around Naivasha and Gilgil.   

Over the past year that we have implemented Global Goals for Local Impact programme in Lanet Umoja, together with Chief Kariuki, we have clocked over 3,840 man-hours on the ground. We have, in that time, become integrated in the community. Usually when we get there we happily have dinner and great conversations with the Chief, his assistant chiefs and members of the community. While we do this, we gain a much deeper appreciation of the nuances of the community’s agenda and priorities. We get to understand the community’s perspectives in ways that we could not have captured in programme documents.

It is not lost to me that our physical trip to Lanet is much like the journey that the Community in Lanet and many other communities in Kenya and indeed, globally have to take to 2030, when the Sustainable Development Goals are due. Perhaps the most challenging part of our work is our determination to make sure that the ideals that have been stated in the SDG circles i.e. to ‘leave no one behind’ and that ‘everyone counts’, can be achieved.

It is tedious and painstaking work. It is a long drive to the destination where we strive to attain the community’s desired goals by engaging them, working with them to understand data and to be able to use data effectively to make fact based decisions and take positions. Often, the scenic view of curated data brings up information that was earlier a figment of our imagination. When the information becomes clear, the community brightens up the same way we do, when we spot the wildlife enroute to Nakuru.

Eventually, we sadly have to leave and come back to Nairobi. We are joyful to however get reports that the community continues to build on the work that we are doing and are moving to achieve things. It gives us great pleasure to hear about how the work that the Lanet Transformers, a group of young people who use the data, work with the Chief to improve things in Lanet.

In the past couple of weeks the people of Lanet Umoja have come together to discuss SDG5 (Gender – Empowering Women and Girls), one of the 5 SDGs that they chose to prioritise. Working together with Civicus Alliance’s Datashift, we have been working with the community to organise themselves to better respond to the issues that they must deal with. We met with more than 100 women’s groups in Lanet and the elected community leaders and developed a much better understanding of the community’s priorities with regard to gender.

We were excited to watch the community come to the realisation that the issues of  gender are not the sole preserve of the women and their groups. We were so excited to be in the meeting as the community elected, for the first time, men to form one-third of the location’s gender committee. The work of the gender committee is to organise and coordinate the activities of the location with regard to SDG5 and to prepare the community’s representations to the County and National Government.

I wager that this is likely the only gender committee at subnational level of its kind. And this is one of the reasons why, when we are in Lanet, we are happy to sing along with praise.


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