The ride of a lifetime
I traveled 182 km today. In Canada, this distance might have taken me two hours to drive, but here, in Kenya, it took five-and-a-half.
It’s not just the roads that make Kenyan public transport an adventure; it’s the number of people in the Matatu, the 14-seater van, that often hold 15 to 25 passengers, and their chickens.
I’ve been in Kenya for a youth internship offered by the Coady International Institute, working at the non-government organization Community Research in Environment and Development Initiatives (CREADIS). The Coady, which receives funding from the Canadian government through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), offers internships to 60 recent university graduates for an overseas work experience with one of Coady’s partners.
Since coming to Kenya last August, I’ve learned a lot about civic education. In particular, CREADIS focuses on devolved funds. These funds are primarily government money passed down to communities for development work. However, in Kenya the rate of corruption is high, making it difficult for these funds to reach those most in need.
I met the mindset of corruption one day on a Matatu. The ticket seller told us his vehicle was going directly to Bungoma, my Kenyan hometown. However, we eventually got dropped off at another town called Kakamega. We argued with the ticket seller until he refunded us some of our money and then we got on another Matatu going to Bungoma. The penchant for lying among Matatu drivers made me realize how easily it is to slip into the mindset of looking out only for one’s self, even if it means lying and inconveniencing others.
In fact, Kenya has not passed the corruption test in order to receive Millennium Challenge funds, a source which the United States set up to aid countries in meeting the United Nations Millennium Goals, which were signed by all member states in 2001 with a target date of 2015. These goals include reducing hunger, reducing child and mother mortality, universal primary education, and greater gender equality, among other things.
The Millennium Goals remain firmly top-of-mind for a great number of Kenyans. Besides being in the news, Kenyans will also mention them in speeches at CREADIS’s events. These meetings are some of the most formal I have ever attended. Even in the smallest villages, each of the meeting’s participants gives a formal introduction.
My favourite moment at one of the events came when a chicken wandered into the meeting space. No one else took note of the intruder, which I took as a sign that the people there were too involved in the discussion about the process of implementing devolved funds. Obviously all of Kenya’s citizens – including poultry – want to become more educated on this topic.
Devolved funds are often used by communities to build school classrooms. At the District Accountability Forum, held by CREADIS and its partners, community members mentioned one project that highlights accountability issues surrounding these funds. In this case, one of the committees demanded kickbacks. To meet the committee’s demands, the contractor confessed that he skimped on building materials. This classroom collapsed shortly after being built.
CREADIS hopes that by training community monitors to perform monitoring and evaluation on these projects that communities can nip these types of problems in the bud. These trainings have already started to work. In the town of Ichinga, a dispensary was started, then left incomplete without any sign of progress for a year. Community members were confused by the delays. When a women’s group petitioned the town council to look into the matter, it was discovered that the previous councilor had not handed this project over to the new councilor properly. When this problem was corrected, the town council ensured the dispensary was completed.
This story gives me a great deal of hope because it proves that many people, both community members and government officials, want these projects to be completed properly. Also, this time around it was the women in the community who acted. This gives me hope that in time, perhaps Kenya will be relatively corruption-free, with the people and government working together for the betterment of all. B