Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pitfalls and potential in Kenya's slums


Kennedy Nyangau is standing in a small restaurant kiosk, looking up at new apartment buildings under construction on a hilltop overlooking Kibera.

�When they try to move people into those houses, there will be riots,� he says.

The new apartments overlook the oldest part of Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa. Here most of the houses are built of mud and wattle. There is no sewer system and limited access to clean water. The only roadways are footpaths paved with years of accumulated trash and red Kenyan soil.

Nyangau lives in a Kiberan village called Olympic. His family�s unserviced 10 foot square house is just a short walk away from the new construction. Within the next year, the Kenyan government hopes to move 600 households into the new apartments. The three-bedroom flats will have water, electrical and sewer service. But Nyangau, his wife and his three children will not move to one of the homes. They are promised to residents of a neighboring village in Kibera, called Soweto East.

Kennedy_4_web_4 �Only well-off people will be able to afford to live there,� Nyangau says. �At the end of the day, some people will be forced to start another slum elsewhere.�

As planned, 600 families from Soweto East will move into the apartments temporarily, while their current homes are razed to make way for more apartments. The same 600 families will then move into the new flats back in Soweto East and their monthly payments will go toward eventual ownership of the homes.

But Nyangau says he does not think the multiple moves in these villages on the east side of Kibera will go according to plan.

�[Rent] will be much more expensive for them now,� Nyangau says. �The rent will be much more than what they are paying [between seven and ten dollars a month]. Ninety percent of them won�t be able to pay.�

This housing project is one small part of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, a multi-million dollar plan to improve the lives of the estimated 5.3 million Kenyans who live without adequate shelter. Estimates of the growing Kibera population range from 500 thousand to one million people.

In a government building only a few kilometers from Kibera, the coordinator of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme is sitting at her desk, fielding a flurry of telephone calls. Leah Muraguri says Kibera is unlike other slum settlements in Kenya, or in Africa for that matter. The slum has been in place for almost 100 years. It is densely populated and sits in the heart of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Muraguri says the only thing that Kibera has in common with the other settlements where the program is operating, is the complexity of the interlocking challenges facing any upgrading effort. 

Footbridge_better_4_web_4 With so many private, business, public and non-governmental stakeholders in the slum, Muraguri says there is no way to bring improvements without meeting some resistance. She says the program is committed to not displacing people who live in Kenyan slums. But the question remains as to how they can ensure adequate housing for one million people on a 600 acre site. Muraguri says her agency intends to carefully execute development plans specifically designed for each settlement.

Despite the concerns of Nyangau and some other Kibera residents, Leah Muraguri says she is optimistic about the housing project in Olympic.

�Affordability has been an excuse for many years for not improving the slums,� she says. �The fact is, the cost of a house is inhibitive for almost all of us. We go through loans. And this is a low income person who doesn�t have [access to] a loan. Surely people will not afford, but should that forever be an excuse that these people should never live in good houses?�

Muraguri says as part of the Kibera project, the government will subsidize the rent of people who are moved into the temporary housing. When they move into the permanent apartments back in Soweto East, she says the government will encourage people to join housing cooperatives, so that their small monthly payments will eventually add up to home ownership.

Real ownership is central to improving the lives of people in slum settlements, says Daniel Vilnersson. He works for UN-HABITAT, one of the non-governmental partners to the national slum improvement program.

He estimates that 90 percent of Kiberans rent their homes from middle class Kenyans who have built the structures on public land, without the government's permission.

Kibera_roadway_for_web_3 �You don�t do any maintenance on your house because you are renting it,� Vilnersson says. �I think [a sense of ownership] will go beyond taking care of your house. It will also involve taking care of the drains, taking care of the garbage. We wouldn�t want to have people live in such small places forever, but as the situation is now, it might be better if they have a lease for the land so that they are not squatting and also own the structure.�

Vilnersson says, in the case of Kibera, the onus of handing over ownership lies with the government. The vast majority of Kibera is built on publicly owned land. In an ever-growing city of approximately three million people, Vilnersson says, the 600 acres of Kibera are very valuable.

Back at the Ministy of Housing office, Leah Muraguri says she wants to get rid of the idea that the program should give people free housing. She says the government and civil society can plan, suggest and develop some infrastructure, but they need the cooperation of people living in slum settlements to really affect change in the communities.

Working to own their own homes will help people building equity, Muragari says. It will also improve their self-esteem.

�What I�m so keen to see, is for people to accept that they need to improve themselves,� she says. �They can still afford, by mobilizing their own income, to pay off the cost [of the house.] Once security of tenure is assured, people can actually mobilize finances.�

Kids_4_web_4Muraguri says the Soweto East housing project is unique in the slum upgrading program.  The government is not building housing in most of the five settlements where it is operating. She says elsewhere the agency is focusing on development of social infrastructure such as schools, resources centers and community centers. Most of the program sites also include training and business development projects, intended to help people earn more money.

Muraguri says putting in hard infrastructure such as roads, lights, electrical lines and sanitation, will make it possible for more businesses to invest in the communities. That will mean more jobs and higher incomes for people who live in the area.

�Slum settlements have a very, very high potential to support the [national] economy,� she says. �Within the slum settlements there is a lot of informal industry. There are a lot of products that come from there.�

It is in the interest of economic development, as well as housing security, that the government of Kenya is aiming to upgrade the slums.

Spurred in part by the Millenium Development Goal of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers worldwide by 2020, the Kenyan government is hoping to spend approximately 12 billion dollars on the program over the next 15 years. Some of that money will come from the national budget. More, Muragari says, will come from non-state partners, including the private sector, and national and international civil society.

Muraguri says there are already countless non-governmental organizations at work in Kibera. The program aims to track and harmonize those efforts.

�If one is doing water and sanitation, you find many donors understand water is a basic [need],� she says. �They will put monies there. And then another NGO will do the same. In Kibera we call them spaghetti pipes: so many pipes from several donors. As a government, we want to remove all those pipes and put in one main.�

She says the programme is trying to build NGO�s confidence in the government�s capacity to plan and coordinate upgrades. When civil society projects are implemented as part of a larger plan, Muragari says, they will have a more lasting impact.

�Kibera is a very special area, since it�s so big and everybody knows about it, everybody wants to go in there and do projects,� says Daniel Vilnersson of UN-HABITAT.

In Kibera, Vilnersson and his colleagues are focusing on two infrastructural projects, while they wait to see how the government�s plan evolves. They are building shower and toilet boxes in Soweto East and they are building part of a road into Olympic.

�We�re providing the basic services to make the situation better for the people living there now,� he says. �Spending too much money, when we know the government has a plan for it, would not make sense.�

UN-HABITAT�s role is to give the government technical advice and to help coordinate other non-governmental organisations. At other slum upgrading sites, the UN agency is conducting pilot projects in education, low-cost housing and transportation. Other HABITAT staff members say the Kenyan government is one of the few African administrations that has such a comprehensive and active plan to address slum settlements.

Apts_better_4_web_5 Vilnersson and his colleagues, however, are careful to make it clear that while UN-HABITAT is involved in some housing pilot projects in slums elsewhere in Kenya, it is not part of the Olympic housing project. He says building permanent housing for people in Kibera is outside the agency�s mandate.

�Housing is huge. There are so many people in such a small area, that we would have to build highrises on most of the land available just to house the people who are there now,� Vilnersson says.

Based on his experience working in the settlement, Vilnersson says he understands Kennedy Nyangau�s concerns that moving people from their homes in Soweto to the temporary apartments in Olympic might stir up unrest in Kibera.

Apts_cu_4_web �The problem is that there are only 600 flats and 70 thousand people in Soweto East,� he says. �It will take an enormous time for even that village to be upgraded and when people realize that, of course, something might happen. I don�t think it�s unavoidable. It�s just a matter of informing the community in advance about what is going to happen.�

But standing just outside the gates of the new apartment complex, Nyangau says he and his neighbors are losing faith that the slum upgrading program will have any positive benefit for them.

�We are doubting,� he says. �How can you choose some people to move in there and some people to stay where they are?�

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Some People's Space

Img_4732_2 Pauline Kimani was standing outside the gates of the People�s Space at the Commonwealth People�s Forum, waiting for the guards to let her in. She�d been waiting for five hours.

Other Ugandans and international visitors were coming and going through the gate and security screening, on their way to listen to the local band performing on stage. 

�At the moment, it�s a People�s Space with a clause at the end: �Out of Bounds for Homosexuals,�� Kimani said.

OutsideKimani is a member of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Kenya. She was at the People�s Space with members of Freedom and Roam Uganda, a gay rights organization. The group was invited to make a presentation at the public venue, which was part of the civil society forum that preceded the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala.

Members of the organization were escorted out of Centenary Park venue shortly after they arrived on Friday, when people started calling for police to arrest them. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, punishable by as much as a life sentence in prison.

�A man with a State House security badge came up and asked to talk with us for two minutes,� Kimani said. �Once we got outside the gates, he said we had ten minutes to leave the area.�

Kimani said when she and the others did not leave, security guards started hitting them with sticks.

�After about five minutes, there were loads of police surrounding us. They said they had orders from above to make us go away.�

On Thursday, members of the group were part of a discussion about homosexual rights followed a film screening about homosexuality and discrimination. Alice Smits coordinated the film festival at the People�s Space.

�Yesterday the debate was heated, but there were no fights. It was really good,� Smits said. �It was the first time a real debate about homosexuality happened in Uganda.�

A demonstration against equal rights and protections for homosexuals was held on Thursday, at conference site far from the People�s Space. On the same day, the Uganda Joint Christian Council, released an open letter to the people of the Commonwealth, which listed �sexual disorientation� as a challenge to the human development of Commonwealth Nations.

�In many African societies [homosexuality] is considered a threat to humanity, African family values and a sin against God,� the letter said. �We as religious leaders in Uganda have objected to the possible focus on promoting the rights of the minorities and ignoring the rights of the majority as something that is unacceptable.�

Homosexuality is illegal in most of the Commonwealth�s 53 member states. Despite that, it was one of myriad social, environmental and economic issues that were slated for discussion at the People�s Space.

�The People�s Forum is designed to enable the diversity of the Commonwealth in all its forms to come together for exchange, debate, discussion,� said Vijay Krishnarayan, Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Foundation.

The Commonwealth Foundation and the British Council hosted the People�s Space. Krishnarayan said the venue was intended to make the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting more permeable to the public.

Previous meetings have been criticized for being exclusive, closed door affairs. The People�s Space was free and open to the public. It included music and theatre performances from around East Africa, as well as workshops on various cultural, political and environmental issues. Member of Freedom and Roam Uganda were invited to speak at Speakers Corner, a venue for discussing hot topics.

Anti-gay rights activists were invited to Speakers Corner at a different time. Kimani said it was members of that group who called for guards to arrest her and her colleagues. She said well-known preacher, Martin Ssempa, greeted the group shortly after they arrived at the site.

�The [anti-homosexual rights] demonstration on Thursday was led by Pastor Ssempa,� she said. �When we met him today, it was like we were just having a conversation until other people surrounded us and started shouting for soldiers to arrest us.�

Kimani said the police stopped harassing them when Smits and other conference delegates intervened. Smits and the others were kept off the People�s Space site for the rest of the afternoon. Smits was allowed back into the venue around six p.m., but she said other people who were seen talking to the homosexual rights activists were also banned from the site.

�Friends of mine are out there who aren�t even homosexual,� she said. �Ugandans are being kept out just because they know me.�

Human rights activists called the Commonwealth Foundation staff at three p.m. on Friday to tell them that Kimani, Smits and others were locked out. Vijay Krishnaryan said there was nothing he or the foundation could have done to force the Ugandan police to allow the homosexual rights group onto the site.

�Because this is Uganda and we respect the right of the government to regulate and govern the space,� Krishnarayan said. �For me the space was conceptualized as somewhere that people could be free to express themselves, but freedom doesn�t happen in a vacuum.�

He said the Commonwealth Foundation and the British Council worked with the Uganda government to host the People�s Space. Despite the confrontation over sexual orientation, Krishnarayan said he is happy with the overall outcome of the space and the Commonwealth People�s Forum.

�We are very pleased that it�s thrown up all sorts of new challenges for the Commonwealth.�

Standing outside the gates of the People�s Space on Friday night, Pauline Kimani was not quite as optimistic. She said, while Thursday�s open discussion about homosexuality was a big step forward for socially conservative Uganda, she was frustrated with the treatment on Friday.

Leaning against the eight foot high perimeter fence of the People�s Space, Kimani said, �It�s not the People�s Space. It�s the Some People�s Space.�


Thursday, November 22, 2007

�African doesn�t need aid. Africa needs its wealth back.�

I am in Kampala this week, covering the People's Forum of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Amid the frenzy of deadlines and staff management and on-the-fly philosophical debates, I had a chance to sit down and interview Sony Kapoor. He's an activist on international debt cancellation and stemming capital flight. You can read the full interview here.

Tell me a little bit about your background...

I got into this whole thing with taxing the financial system, trying to leverage my knowledge of the financial system but from a development perspective.

I worked quite closely on this project called Innovative Source of Financing. France and Brazil and Chile and a number of other countries got together trying to say that this traditional aid business is not working and there is a need to transfer some of the wins of globalization to those who have been left behind. They had this commission working on making feasible proposals for taxes on global public �bads� such as pollution, the arms trade and financial volatility.

As a part of that I helped develop a feasible proposal of taxing financial transactions, taxing currency transactions and taxing airline ticket transactions. Of all of these, the airline ticket levy is now a reality. It was launched last year and is being used to finance HIV/AIDS treatment. The process continues; we are hoping more will come through.

Was it easier to engender political will to tax airline tickets than to tax the arms trade?

I think in terms of political will, taxing the arms trade would be a far better target. The impact [impact of the arms trade] is far worse. But there are certain logistical problems with that. First, by taxing the arms trade and using the benefits for development, would you not, in some way, be legitimizing it?

The second is, a lot of the arms trade, especially the part that is most harmful - small arms, unauthorized dealers in Africa - you don�t know where they are. It becomes really tricky to tax them. With airline tickets, the administrative mechanism is in place. The levy is just one to two euros or dollars per ticket. It was an easier target.

With taxes on currency trade, we are still battling the big banks, who have all the lobbying power.

It was 2003 that I was lecturing about this when someone from the Jubilee Global Debt Cancellation Network asked me to help them. Bilateral debt had been cancelled whereas IMF and World Bank debt had not. The IMF and the World Bank had stalled progress by saying that they did not have the resources, they could not afford to pay for the cancellation of debt or they would go bankrupt. I used my financial knowledge to prove conclusively that both the IMF and the World Bank had more than enough money to pay for the debt cancellation program. That helped break the logjam.

So I was, in a backroom-dealing kind of way, helping coordinate a large part of what went into the 2005 debt cancellation deal. It was OK. It was some progress. It was far from satisfactory but, hey, there is some more money on the ground.

And then I helped launch something called the Tax Justice Network because I was looking at this overall phenomenon of financial flows to and from developing countries. You look at World Bank, IMF figures and things look rosy. The aspect that is stressed is the aid going in, the investment going in. What is not stressed is the money that is going out in the form of debt repayment and profits from existing investments.

Even if you look at the official data presented by the World Bank and the IMF, there is more money going out of developing countries [than coming in]. Developing countries are having to accumulate reserves as an insurance against the kind of financial crisis that happened in 1997, 1998. It�s very expensive buying this insurance. The money is invested in US Treasury Bonds, which ends in the absurd position that Uganda and Brazil and India and China are lending money to the United States, the richest government in the world, at an interest rate that is [above] market rates.

The worst part is that the biggest channel of outflow, capital flight, leaks out of countries under the table. It doesn�t get captured by any data, so you don�t talk about it.

What is capital flight?

The way I refer to it is money that illicitly flows out of a country. It could be money that was mobilized illegally or that was transferred out in a way that broke the law, money that was not declared to the tax authority. It is money that leaves the country more or less permanently.

If you have an active reason to hide a transaction and money leaves the country, then it is considered capital flight.

We talk about African corruption but there is a supply side and a demand side. It�s a moot point whether Suharto is guilty [of gross embezzlement]. How about the Swiss banker who visited Asia in pinstripe respectability and said, �Sir, we will keep your money safe. And nobody will know about it and we will invest and we will return five percent every year for you.�

I am well-educated, I am well traveled, but still when I hear the word �corruption� the image that comes into my head (and probably yours and everybody else�s) is someone who is yellow or brown asking for a bribe. What almost never comes to mind is these guys sitting in their posh offices in Swiss banks, in the UK, in tax havens, in New York. They are calling themselves wealth managers. They can help you �responsibly� manage your money, help you avoid taxes, take dirty money� The discussion is completely unbalanced.

Do you think more transparency is possible or will corruption and capital flight just go further underground?

There will always be some people who will have a reason to hide their stuff and will go to any length [to do so]. For the most part, having bank secrecy � these convoluted laws where you have shell companies and jurisdictions where the legal system is extensively designed for secrecy - it just makes the rewards so high and the potential risks so low that the extent of this flow is far higher than it would be in the absence of [financial transparency] legislation.

In a way the legal system in these countries has been hijacked.

There is a narrow view of corruption that it is something illegal, or public sector related. But it is really someone in a position of power being able to abuse their authority. That includes [political leaders] who have put into place a legal system which was written by KPMG to facilitate capital flight and tax evasion.

Does such a thing happen?

Yes it does. All the time.

The total estimates are that about 500 billion dollars leaves developing countries every year in capital flight, under the table. That is ten times the amount of aid going in.

It sounds like you have more of a concern about capital flight than about conditions on international loans or aid?

I am equally concerned about both. They are very strongly interrelated.

South Africa between 1994 and 2003 was losing 9.2 percent of its GDP every year as capital flight. It�s been getting half a percent of GDP as aid. Of every ten or 20 dollars you lose, maybe one dollar comes back as so-called charity. It has strings attached, which then restricts your policy space and makes you open your markets and reduced trade barriers, which has further implications�

Import tariffs in less developed countries are an important source of tax revenue because they are easy to administer. As part of aid conditions, Kenya among other countries was forced to reduce these tariffs to a very large degree. The domestic industry was subjected to international competition that it wasn't prepared for.

The Kenyan government suddenly lost 30 to 40 percent of their tax revenue. And that made them further dependent on aid and more susceptible to these aid conditions. All this whilst Kenya was losing five percent of its GDP to capital flight.

Every country that is rich, grew rich behind barriers. That includes China, Korea, India, and especially the United Kingdom and the United States. These were the two most protectionist countries in history. They seem to have forgotten that.

What role does the media have to play in terms of updating, reframing the aid dialog?

I think the media has a critical role to play. Whenever you talk about financing development, it�s �debt, aid, trade.� [But that is] such a small part of the equation that [the media coverage] sends this bad picture. It paints a very unflattering picture of recipient countries. [Debt and aid relationships] also indebt self-confidence. That�s part of the problem in Africa. If I were African, my confidence would be seriously dented [from the widespread perception that Africa can�t provide for itself].

The first thing that the media needs to do is put this capital flight issue at the top of the agenda so that people actually know what is going on. Most people don�t know about capital flight. The media need to put out there that there is between 500 billion to one trillion dollars in stolen wealth lying abroad.

African doesn�t need aid. Africa needs its wealth back.

It also needs domestic resource mobilization. Development is an internal process.

If you are a country that is resource-rich, you have enough resources. Norway managed to keep 90 percent of its oil revenues and grow rich. Africa is keeping 30 percent, at most. The rest is going abroad.  So you need domestic resource mobilization and domestic resource retention.

Aid is the third thing you need, in the case of states that do not have a wealth of resources. I see a role for aid as a mechanism for global redistribution. At national levels, we have progressive tax systems. That�s how Canada and Norway and Sweden are redistributing national wealth. This is the role of a modern welfare state.

I strongly recognized the need for an international redistributive mechanism and these innovative source of financing, such as taxing those who have benefitted from globalization, such as the airline industry, the financial industry, shipping etcetera and redistributing that toward those who have been left behind or those who losing� that would be a good starting point for a new vision for the future. I see that as playing, at most a supportive role. Everything else has to come from within.

What needs to happen in order for your average Jane and Joe to support a paradigm shift?

At the domestic level, if you are rich and powerful, you don�t pay your fair share of tax. This happens in rich and poor countries. I�m a liberal at heart but still I see a very strong role for government, especially in poor countries. There is a minimum level of service that they need to provide: health and education and infrastructure. And that money has to come from tax revenue. There is natural resource wealth.  Using the Norwegian example, 90 percent of the money from oil went to the government.

That needs to be supplemented with scrapping these tax holidays for attracting investment. They are counter-productive. You can have export promotion zones, but you need to supply them with a high level of skilled workers or something that is going to outlast the investment. The investor comes in, they enjoy the ten year tax holiday, and then they move on to Uganda, to Tanzania. In some cases [the EPZs are a form of] negative taxation. Not only is the government providing a tax holiday, it's building a road. It�s supplying electricity at discounted prices.

There is a clear need for everybody to have a more critical view of everything from aid to tax evasion.

Most people don�t like this concept of aid. People recognize Africa is rich. Given a little more information, a little more transparency and openness... I think there is a massive latent civil society outrage to be tapped into, to keep Africa�s wealth in Africa. On the debt issues, there is this whole new campaign on illegitimate debt. So, I am optimistic.

At an international level, there is some progress happening. I�ve just convinced the Norwegian government to start an international task force against capital flight. This is the first time that we are trying to put capital flight at the top of the development agenda, to look at who is actually financing who.

What you need to address this issue, are initiatives at the local and at the national level, and action at the international level.

I think there could be a good cross-constituency support.

There is hope.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kenyan Opinion Polling 101

As Kenya ramps up for the national election in December, polling companies have released a slew of survey results about parties, candidates and nominees. That's got me thinking about the roll of opinion polling in established and emerging democracies. Last week I got a chance to sit down and talk with a pollster and political analyst who has a lot of experience in Kenya.


Tom Wolf came to Kenya as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1967 and has since spend 30 years in the East Africa. He did research  in comparative politics in Coast Province, was a lecturer at Nairobi University and was Democracy/Governance Advisor for USAID/Kenya. As an independent consultant, he has been designing, conducting and analyzing survery research for Steadman Group, the Kenya affiliate of Gallup International.

You can read the entire transcript of the conversation here, complete with examples, mathematical problems and two bonus questions about early political polling in the U.S.

Q: What is the utility of opinion polling before an election, particularly for the Kenyan electorate? 

[long pause] 

You have a lot of room on your tape recorder or whatever, right? 

I�m hoping we�ll use all of it.

One of the reasons I�m hesitating, it�s such an important question. There are so many caveats one would have to make�   

What�s the utility of polling to public, as you posed it? That depends how the media� how good a job they do in reporting, what the political response is.   

Tryptich_for_webBut I think we can say, in general, we know now that more than half of adult Kenyans are aware of the polls, because we track that: a higher percentage in urban than in rural areas.   

They may not know whether they are fantasy, fabricated or factual but there�s been a huge increase in the number of polls that have been conducted in the last couple of years and, I believe, also in their credibility. 

I think [public opinion polling] is empowering to the public. I get congratulated by people wherever I go: cashiers in stores, security guards in buildings, taxi drivers.

Everybody loves them. Even, I might say, when people are not happy with the results because they show their preferred candidate, party or whatever [was not in the lead]. 

Kenyans definitely appreciate the fact that this is giving a kind of a voice to the public, more often than once every five years at an election. And that is almost intoxicatingly empowering to ordinary people. 

The media love it because it fills up space in the papers. [Poll results] make good headlines.   

Whatever complaints I might have, and others in the business have, about capacity problems in the media and deliberate political distortion and sometimes just exclusion� 

Q: Exclusion? Really? Complete exclusion of poll results? 

Putting them in funny places in the paper. Taking parts of our poll presentation which they would view as politically unfavorable and just not reporting some. 

Q: What I�ve been wondering is� there must be research into how much early polling effects election outcomes. Does it sway voters? 

As far as I know, we have no research in sub-Saharan Africa on this topic. 

Q: What about elsewhere in the world? 

A book on public opinion in America � I�m forgetting the author�s name right now � written more than a decade ago, the conclusion was: there�s no proof to show it makes any difference. 

In the [European] continental political science literature there is, I think, a fairly strong basis for findings that there is more of an impact in systems with proportional representation. Unlike the Kenyan, British, American systems of winner-take-all-votes-for-losers-are-wasted, minor shifts in the percentage distribution will make an actual difference in parliamentary representation. 

Proportional systems are more likely to have three or more viable parties with a face in parliament, unlike the U.S. system. Voters who can see that their party is not doing well enough in the polls to be, say, part of a coalition in the government, can switch to a party that is a little more viable and know that that vote won�t be lost. And also [they] can find something on the ideological spectrum that�s just a matter of degrees away from where their preferred party would be, rather than the black-or-white contrast in the American system, and to an extent the British system. Germany last year� with Angela Merkel. The polls, one month before the election, were showing her winning by around ten percent. Polls were coming out by multiple firms every week. She almost lost! She won by less than one half of one percent. So those polls certainly didn�t create any bandwagon effect.   

Q: Does polling have the potential to stoke the fire of conflict over difference, or to dampen it? Depending on how they are presented and how people are educated about them? 

You know, those are assumptions that would have to be tested. 

Q: Spoken like a true sociologist!! 

Well, my mother was a sociologist. I�m a political scientist� 

The one example I always like to give, I got from a gentleman who works for Radio France International.

He told me about the wonderfully sobering example of Congo Brazzaville, where in 1995 there was an election coming. President Lissouba had a secret poll done, which showed he was going to lose. He brought in the military to overthrow his own government, and that led to a three year civil war, in which hundreds of thousands of people died.   

Now if he hadn�t had that poll done and they�d had the elections, would he have just nullified the results and would there have been even more civil war? Would he have been so shocked by the results that he would have peacefully walked out of State House? I don�t know. 

It would be very na� to think that you could take such an integral part of public discourse and the democratic process [such as opinion polling], from a society where the institutions upon which such a democracy is based have had a long and often torturous history of evolution but are basically grounded in the framework of that society, and parachute them into a completely different context without having a lot of things go wrong. Like multi-party democracy for that matter. 

I�ll tell you one other thing, though. You can talk about the pros and cons of survey research or polling but, in a way, the starting point is, how methodologically sound are these surveys to begin with? 

Barometer_for_webQ: Clearly you have confidence in the surveys you write? 

I would not be associated with the Steadman Group if I had one shred of evidence that there was any rigging, manipulation, catering to clients or anything like that. I wouldn�t. 

Q: The competition on the other hand�? 

I have had some concerns with them at times. Beginning with what I consider an insufficient degree of transparency with regard to the sampling frames that they use. Even more so, the sloppiness with which some of them report their very own findings. 

There are many aspects of the quality of these polls that have to be seriously considered before we can talk about whether they are good or bad for Kenya. 

Q: With all the complexities and potential pitfalls, you are still choosing to do this particular work in Kenya right now. I�m assuming you wouldn�t do this work if you didn�t think it had a net benefit for Kenyans. What tips the balance for you?   

There has been a very top-down political culture in this country going back to colonialism. The kind of concentration of power, abuse of power, autocratic control, intolerance of dissenters that we saw in the first 30 years of Kenyan independence: it�s not a surprise to a student of comparative politics. If I thought that the contribution that this kind of works makes to opening up Kenyan society - particularly the lower levels of it through the voice of the people - if I thought that would lead to national disintegration, I think I�d be able to restrain myself and do something else.   

But I really do think that it is useful to those in government. It is useful to those who would like to be in government. It is useful to prospective voters and non-voters, to be able to express their views on public issues more often than once every five years.   

I don�t think that leaders should be slaves to opinion polls. A great leader sometimes has to make very unpopular decisions. I also know some leaders in many countries would do anything to wish these polls away. But what�s the alternative: for somebody to decide when you can do a poll and when you can�t? The alternative is so draconian...

Q: It sounds like there is also a real potential for polling to have a very constructive roll in development Cover_for_webof a multiparty system here. Do you think that holds true? 

Potentially, yes. But it could have another effect also.   

In most places in Africa, where parties are perhaps only marginally distinct in terms of their policy face, and where the control of the state is so important, they could have a rather negative impact.   

If one candidate or party is far more popular than the others, and this became known to the public through polls, they might just say, �If you can�t just beat them, join them. We might as well just have a one-party system.� Or, �If so many people think this is such a good President, let�s get rid of term limits and let him be a President for life.�   

We really don�t know and it�s not unproblematic

Just because you�ve got the freedom to do polling - even if you have the technical capacity of doing accurate ones, starting with an accurate national census frame, even if you have the cooperation of the public in agreeing to be interviewed and then telling the truth - I think there is great need for humility.

Taking everything into account, it may be a bit difficult to praise this type of toy in all respects, but it�s much more difficult to say it shouldn�t be there

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bread and Roses volume one

So many of the people I have met here are driven and passionate. They are hard-working and focused. They are kind and generous.

And so many of them struggle to meet their basic needs, let alone achieve their dearest dreams.

In keeping with the African Woman and Child Feature Service's mandate to get more female voices into the media, I am asking women I meet two simple questions:

1) Name one thing, other than money, that would improve your quality of life.

2) All practical needs aside, what is one thing that you dream of?

I have been so impressed here by the potential for Kenyans to succeed with just a little help: better access to education, better communications infrastructure, better health services.

The bread of Bread and Roses is intended to communicate directly the practical needs of Kenyan women.

But so much of the news out of Africa is of desperation and need, I wanted to give people a chance to talk about their sweet dreams as well.

The roses of Bread and Roses is an attempt to communicate the hearts of some of the people I meet.

So, with a nod to women working in Massachusetts textile mills a century ago, here is the first installment of Bread and Roses.

Grace Wakio Kireti, 19, Mombasa, Student

Download grace_bnr.mp3

Girl_1What is one thing that would improve your quality of life?

It�s sort of a challenging question, but�  I believe that, if I�ll get to a point where I have the integrity to not compromise about the principles that I have in my life. To live a positive life, a true life before my God and my people, that�s one of the best things. I believe it will make me come to a point where it will satisfy my needs and my happiness in life.

What is one thing that you dream of?

I have so many dreams. I used to dream that, when I am given everything� money, what, and have all that� my dream is to come and help orphans. To come and bring up a charity home. That is one of my big dreams in life. I usually dream of having a good life. I read. I learn and I get a good job. Then I come and open up an orphanage for charity. I would love that because I love helping small kids that are orphans.

Racheal Pendo, 20, Mombasa, Student

Download racheal_bnr_final.mp3

Girl_2What is one thing that would improve your quality of life?

I believe in faith. I believe that� I believe in prayers, that when I pray to God, I ask Him for something, He is capable of giving. That�s how I work.

What is one thing that you dream of?

Since I�m an orphan, I would like to be with my fellow orphans. The thing about orphans� other people are not capable of affording anything. Let�s say these poor families. I would like to help them. I would like to make, not like an orphanage, but to stay together with those people who are needy.

To make a family of orphans? Yeah.

About Bread and Roses

The Bread and Roses name comes from an old labour movement slogan, with the message that people ought to be able to meet their basic needs and realize loftier dreams. The women in a labor march in 1912 were asking for wages that would make it possible for them to buy not just bread (physical nourishment) but also roses (nourishment for their spirits).

Here in Kenya, this project should really be called Fruit and Cars.

Bread is an expensive luxury food here. Poor people eat fruit. Roses are cheap, since flowers are a major export item. Roadside vendors charge little for cut flowers that can't be exported because they are too close to budding.

But Bread and Roses sounds better than Fruit and Cars.

An Invitation

So far, this project has got me thinking a lot about interview technique, inter-cultural communication and my own learned social mores. But ramblings on those topics can wait for a future posting.

For now, whether you are male or female, please post your own answers to the two questions. If you want to include your hometown and your age, that would be great.

Thanks,  S   

Monday, November 5, 2007

Call me Waithera: reflections on expat life


The sun was setting over the harbor in Stone Town. Three Canadian expatriates and I were sitting around a table at Mercury bar, watching a group of Zanzibaris play soccer on the beach. Duncan grabbed one of the two digital cameras from the clutter of empty glasses and half-finished pi�oladas.

The setting was perfect: pink sky, silhouettes of boats, dark-skinned soccer players creating a tropical tableau. He took a couple of beautiful photographs. I grabbed my camera as well.

I took a couple of shots, but something about the set-up felt wrong. Surely the guys on the beach knew we were taking pictures of them. They were absorbed in their pick-up football game, but couldn�t miss the two people full of over-priced drinks, snapping pictures as they played.

I rarely take pictures of people. Portraits are often forced or awkward. I feel uncomfortable taking pictures of people without their permission. In East Africa, taking pictures of strangers seems even worse. The complexities of this continent are already a blur to most North Americans. I worry that the people in the photos may easily become exotic symbols of other-ness, divorced from their individual identities: names, histories, challenges and dreams. Without their voice, I don�t feel particularly comfortable presenting their faces.

But last week in Zanzibar, I decided to temporarily drop my attempts at cultural sensitivity and just be a western tourist in East Africa. I took pictures of the football players. I ate with my left hand and shook hands with Muslim men. I wore tank tops and a low cut dress in a town where the vast majority of local women wear hijab.

Traveling with my three Canadian friends, all of whom live in England, I vacationed like so many tourists in this region. We hired cars instead of using mass transit. We paid tour guides instead of wandering around asking questions.

It was the most relaxing vacation I've had in a decade. I enjoyed the beaches and the ocean, the drinks and the seafood. But I didn�t visit Zanzibar.

At some point during our time on the island, I remembered something that my colleague Juliana had said about expatriates.

"They don�t live in Africa," she said. "They are right next to the pulse, but they can�t feel it."

There are a huge number of expatriate North Americans and Europeans living in Nairobi. The city is the urban hub of East Africa. Countless international aid agencies and NGOs have regional headquarters here. Juliana says the expats generally keep to themselves.

"We work together but we don�t socialize," she said. "After work, they go home and we go home. That�s it."

To be honest, in my time here, I haven�t met many western expatriates whom I particularly like. At first, I was surprised by the prickly personalities of most of the Canadians I met. But three months into my stay, I am wondering if the prickliness is a psychological defense mechanism. Maybe it's a shield in the daily battles to pay a fair price, be understood and get work done within a Western time frame.

Many expats use another mechanism for both psychological survival and personal safety. They live in traditionally white enclaves. Although there are now Kenyan residents in those areas as well, if the complexion of a neighborhood can be equated with baked goods, theirs are more chocolate chip cookie than brownie.

My neighborhood is a marble cake. It�s not Westlands or Karen, which verge on shortbread. But it is within walking distance of four high-end malls that serve mainly white and Asian visitors, and upper class Kenyans.

Junction, Adams Arcade and the YaYa Center could be any upscale mall in North America. There are cafes for overpriced cafe au lait, gyms for maintaining western physical ideals, and antique stores full of colonial-era flotsam.

A Canadian acquaintance who works for the UN in Nairobi was laughing recently about the lifestyle of some of the mall expatriates.

"You know, we go to the Masai market to buy a handmade bowl to decorate the coffee table. We bargain and refuse to pay more than four dollars. But we pay 1500 dollars for an imported couch, because we need to have a nice couch.

"We want a flavor of Africa," she said. "But we don�t want to have to live here all the time."

But there are some expatriates who live at the other end of the spectrum. They are sporting dreadlocks, wearing antique Masai jewelry and they speak impeccable Kiswahili.

They are on a great safari, hunting rare prey: the Authentic African Experience.

I tend to dance this side of the tricky two-step that is life as a foreigner in Kenya. I was happy when my colleagues decreed that I wasn't really a mzungu and it was time for me to have a Kenyan name.

Call me Waithera.

On my way home from Zanzibar, I got to hear one Kenyan�s perspective on that particular type of expatriate life.

I caught a lift into town with a Kikuyu man who came in on the same Mombasa flight. On the way into Nairobi, he stopped off near Bomas of Kenya, to attend to some business.

Among a half-dozen other enterprises, he is developing a small farm on the edge of Nairobi National Park into a retreat center. He wants to rent it out to the innumerable NGOs in the city. His white neighbors don�t like his plans.

"I was trying to get electrical lines down this road," he said as we drove past new power poles. "My mzungu neighbor blocked the road for the power company. Can you believe that? This is a public road!

"And then, when we started building a small set of rooms, they came over at night and started knocking over the stones. When our watchmen found them doing it, they said monkeys had knocked down the wall."

The area was once a strictly European enclave. It is coveted for its views of the park. As Nairobi sprawls out in every direction, the old game reserves, ranches and farms are being subdivided into house lots.

"Do you think your neighbors are just worried about having more people around?" I asked.

"Yes. Maybe. They say they don�t want to wake up one morning and see a fence."

"Do you think it�s something about wanting to keep living a scene from Out of Africa?"

"You know, I wasn�t going to say anything... they want to live in the Kenya of 40 years ago. They don�t want to be in modern Kenya."

After checking on the farm, my friend treated me to dinner at a nearby nyama choma joint. Three wazees, old men, came over and had a long conversation in Kikuyu. I didn't understand a word but sat quietly, sipping tea and thinking back to Mercury in Zanzibar.

No matter how much of the country I see or how well I can speak the language, I will always be a foreigner here. I don�t fool myself that it might be possible to leap the great chasm of cultural difference. And so, for now, I am standing with the other wazungu, on the foreigners� side of the gulf. But I am also happily waiving to the locals on the other side, trying to shout a few words of Kiswahili across the way.




Saturday, November 3, 2007

A second photo miscellany




Some street food. Some Zanzibar.




Some giraffes. Some Maasai land.





Some nests. Some Kibera.

Termite_mound_for_web Jetty_sunset_for_web


Some writing. Some Mombasa.