Director’s Diary: Combatting Development Chaos

by: October 26th, 2012 comments: 0

Kepha Ngito is Executive Director of Map Kibera Trust. This post is his first in a series of personal reflections on his experiences with Map Kibera.

The Accra effect

Recently I attended the ON (Omidyar Network) -Baraza together with the African Leadership Network conference in Accra, Ghana. Both events happened one after the other at the same venue, the Movenpick Hotel. Irony is that I found peace of mind to write down these thoughts while in a 5-star hotel in Accra, Ghana, and not in a tin, stick and mud shack in the heart of Kibera, Mathare or Mukuru slums in Nairobi. These last 3 locations are normally my dwelling places, not just physical dwellings but psychological dwellings and lately, professional dwellings. I was only a visitor in Ghana, a country with a lot of history.

Being in Ghana or say, the comforts of the hotel ironically provided a certain ‘peace’ of mind and quiet – a rare luxury for most people living in slums — that enabled me to reflect enough to write this article. Even though I don’t compare myself to those in prison or exile, I understood why they write better and longer articles.

For nearly 10 months now, I have been working as the Executive Director at Map Kibera Trust. I am also one of the founding Trustees of the organization. A quick attention grabber would be that we worked with the community to make the first digital map of Kibera and ‘placed’ it on the Kenyan map after decades of its depiction as a forest on the country’s official map. We have since done the same for Mathare and Mukuru.

With a team of about 45 people (15 in each location), we are a group of people who believe that mapping is the first step to affirming that a people exist somewhere, even when they have been pushed to the periphery of mainstream development and tagged as ‘informal’ or depicted as a forest, a quarry site, a swamp, an electricity reserve or a garbage dump site in official maps. For many years, over 60% of Nairobi residents who reside in the many slums in and around the city have occupied the ‘non –formal’ residential areas and built what is now known as ‘informal settlements.’ Putting them on the map physically, then socially, then economically and even politically by encouraging an information-driven culture of advocacy is what we have been working at in the last 2 and half years of our existence. In this way, we attempt to ‘formalize the informal’. It’s a pity that some people’s identities are carved for them by others and by circumstances beyond their control. Where we live or lived does not necessarily make us who we are. We believe that we are not products of our environment, we are the creators of it, we sustain its beauty or unbeauty and that’s why we must be the people to change what’s wrong about it.

‘Development’ chaos in the slums

Even as I waited eagerly to interact with other invited leaders from different parts of Africa and the world at the Accra conference, I couldn’t help but reflect at the journey we have made in Kibera, Mathare and now in Mukuru. This was a journey aimed at increasing the spaces of transparency, establishing credible information and data and making it open and accessible to people. Offering marginalized residents alternative citizen platforms to voice their own stories (see Kibera News Network or Voice of Kibera), making maps, updating them regularly and teaching people how to use them to discuss development issues at community level. Slums are like oceans with many things that cannot be discovered at a glance.

For many years, NGOs and organizations with good intentions swarmed into the slums each armed with a silver bullet – a philosophy that they strongly believed in. These projects were usually too brief to make any meaningful or sustainable effects in the community. They also had very fine points of focus with very strict statistical deliverables and timelines mostly targeting large amounts of quantitative data as the main outputs. As a result, beyond the beautiful statistics, published project reports and nice photos shared among their elite donors and ‘partners’, nothing much of substance came to or remained with the people when these projects came to an end. (Usually they tended to leave as soon as the project money ran out). This ‘development chaos’ characterized by competition for space, donor funds and the community’s goodwill led to the loss of professional integrity, lack of consistency and loss of the urge to network among like-minded initiatives. Corruption found a breeding ground and boom!, a ‘virtual slum’ was created, a slum made famous for the wrong reasons and constructed by NGOs and aid organizations whose ideas have failed to build the community and who have created idle structures that stand in the way of and frustrate new practical methods, ideas or development. And  while all this is happening, the real slums and their challenges remain in the shadows wallowing in ignorance, poverty, disease and crime, and watch every day as a new truck passes by full of visiting ‘partners’. The mama mboga sits at the same roadside mud kiosk every day and barely manages to turn away her face to avoid the camera flash glare. She probably wonders why some people are so interested in her picture. She can only complain by turning her head away.

Doing the other 90% in Kibera

by: May 31st, 2011 comments: 0

A lot of ink has been spilled writing about how technology is only 10% and all the other stuff you have to do to make the project successful is 90%. These two posts talk in detail about the issue: Allocation of time: Deploying Ushahidi and Why technology is 10%. Nowadays we all agree that this is true so I’m not going to add my two cents to this discussion. What I want to write about is how Map Kibera Trust (the Trust from now on) plans to start doing the 90% in Kibera.

Let me first paint a picture of the situation at the Trust at the moment. The Trust has around 20 on and off members, who were trained in basic GPS and OSM techniques, video editing and Ushahidi platform. Because of this there’s loads of information that exists mostly in cyberspace. We believed – and it was an honest belief – that if we opened up information, people would make good use of it. But apart from a small number of individuals, mostly foreign, that have used the data for their academic research, the data stayed untouched.

The problem was that we did things the wrong way. We collected information first and then started asking people if they need it. Our approach was supply driven instead of demand driven which was nicely pointed out to us by an independent IDS research: Mediating Voices. Because of this we have now backtracked to make a new action plan for community engagement.

The question we asked ourselves is: “Now what?”

The answer is not simple and to at least start working on it Kepha and I sat down over coffee, wrote DATA on the middle of a piece of paper and asked ourselves: “What’s next?” In a short brainstorming session we came up with a general plan of community engagement in Kibera. What we realized was that the Trust is going to need help. And the help needs to come from within Kibera, from the people living and working in the community.

We decided we will start by networking and organizing community meetings at which we will present the information collected so far. At these meetings we will organize so called “peoples committees”, each representing different issues.

I will explain the work of these committees with an example concerning education:

"Education Committee"

As I said, Kepha and I started with the word “data” at the beginning of our brainstorming exercise, which is obviously not the best way to start. But making the best of the current situation, we decided that through community meetings, networking, and presentation of our maps and database of educational facilities, we will organize an “education committee”. The committee will have two branches or types of members – Trust members and Stakeholders.

The Trust members will be the link between the stakeholders and the community. Their role will be to collect and supply the information, analyze and advocate for better and new ways of information usage. We see the Trust more as a supplier of information than an implementor or the end user of this information.

Collected information will end up in the hands of the second branch consisting of community members, NGOs, local administration, private sector, legal institutions etc. Their role will be to act upon this information by writing action plans, proposition statements, determining what kind of projects should be undertaken next, involvement of government representatives and lobbying for better service provisions in Kibera or other activities.

This will be a mutual partnership between the Trust and different types of communities in Kibera. The Trust’s role will be a steady supplier of information and the communities the implementer of activities. Of course this is just a general idea but we hope it will get something rolling.

So will the people want to be a part of something like that?

I believe the answer is Yes! I’ve seen people excited when they saw the data, the maps, and the videos. Organizations need information – facts – in order to do their work or to address certain issues. I’ve seen people talking at community meetings, contemplating how to use the data to plan activities or who to engage when information was presented to them in an understandable manner. In Mathare, where we began by talking about data to community groups, we found a large demand for data by community leaders, and groups. It’s something about having facts, a proof, in your hands that makes you fill with possibilities, with hope that you can actually do something and move from just talking about things to actively doing them. For once I’m optimistic.

General plan of community engagement

[Cross-posted from Mapping: No Big Deal]

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