Six pillars for building better societies with women

Opening remarks to the Timeless Women’s Conference 2016, Nairobi 

I grew up in a pre-dominantly female household of sisters. All of us went to school, all us had household chores.

Three broken bridges shaped my feminism as a man. Abrupt and unintentional teenage relationships with girls that left them very angry and me frustrated. A society in which power and priviledge leaves women and girls at danger from violence and rape. A continent in which women do 3-4 times more work than men and earn 30% less.

Since 1989, I have chosen to work alongside women to transform the world around me. From being a member of the Kenyan Mothers in Action in the 1990s to the Pan African women’s rights coalitions in Africa, the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights coalition in the 2000s and Kilimani Mums in 2014.

I have been single less than 2 years in the last thirty six years, married twice and parented a couple of super girls. Yet my journey into my masculinity and the transformation of gender injustice is far from complete.

Africa is deeply unequal. According to the UN Women, 89% Women still in non-formal sector and over-represented in unpaid work. Women still earn 30% than men. Yet, this inequality is not inevitable. Rights based policies and strategies and investment could transform all of this in a life-time.

Our homes and workspaces are deeply in need of new bridges of solidarity if we are to transform societies that layer power and privilege based on our gender. These bridges can easily be built on just six pillars;

  1. Equal pay for equal work
  2. Anti-harassment policies and practices
  3. Child friendly working environment
  4. Affirmative procurement for women owned businesses
  5. Career progression plans that target young people and especially young women
  6. Get out of the way

The UN Women 2015 report is a great overview and call to action

http://progress.unwomen.org/en/2015/pdf/SUMMARY.pdf …

Photo from MyDressMyChoice campaign: Ruth Knaust speaking to the movement (RIP)

Categories: Africa, civic education, Democracy, gender | Leave a comment

My Promise

zafaraniphotography 1 close up
TODAY, IN MY HOME TOWN AND IN THE PRESENCE OF OUR CLOSEST FAMILY AND FRIENDS
I IRŨNGŨ HOUGHTON CHOOSE YOU ROBYN T EMERSON FREE OF ANY CONSIDERATION OR COMPARISON,
TO BE MY COMPANION, LOVER AND WIFE
TO LOVE AND ROMANCE YOU,
TO SHARE ALL THAT I AM AND HAVE.
TOGETHER WE SHALL CREATE A FAMILY, A CITY AND A WORLD
OF LAUGHTER, LEARNING AND COMPASSION
I COMMIT TO LET GO OF ALL THAT COULD COME BETWEEN US
ACCEPT THIS RING, MY HAND AND HEART IN MARRIAGE ALWAYS
19.12.15
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Tribute to Elijah Agevi, RIP

Transition December 4 2015
From Irũngũ Houghton on behalf of the Kilimani Project Foundation
and Society for International Development
 
I met Elijah first in 1995. I was then a member of the NGO Council Executive Committee, he led the Shelter Forum, one of the Council networks. I last met him two weeks before he passed away. He was finding a way to stop public land grabs and wanted to hear our progress on protecting public primary and secondary schools.
 
Elijah’s strength was his ability to move between sectors, across spaces and bridge different communities. His life informs a vision of all Kenyans as planners, citizens actively dreaming, designing and building liveable towns for all. 
 
His vision was far ahead of us but a consistent theme in most first class cities  including those seeking ‘fair share’ housing plan (Miami Valley, Ohio ) or to provide dedicated land exclusively for open green public squares (Philadelphia). Here and elsewhere, community-devised and community-funded initiatives are part of long-term sustainability plans. Planning is not done to people but with people. Elijah believed in a future in which we all would be urban planners. In this understanding, I too am a planner.
 
Elijah was also an activist. He had a passion for the right to shelter and beautiful and safe public spaces. In an Africa, where ½ of Africa’s urban population live in peoples settlements, urban inequality is the 2nd highest globally with young men and women are 3 times more likely to be unemployed, we all need to be like Elijah.
 
This city, country and continent that I live in is therefore, is too important to leave to planners. I will honor Elijah’s vision.
 
I was happy to hear UN Habitat will honor him posthumously and the County of Nairobi Government will name a street or a public space in his honor.
 
Go well Elijah. The people’s settlements, NGO and Government offices that you know so well shall remember you fondly.
 
For more on Elijah Agevi, see https://goo.gl/r573iE
Categories: Africa, civic education, Kenya, Millennium Development Goals, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Closing remarks at the launch of the SID Policy Brief “Why Corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it” December 25, 2015

The @SIDKDP policy brief can be downloaded here Why corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it http://bit.ly/1NOsBOA

It is not the absence of laws, agencies and policies that Kenya misses. What we miss is the moral imagination that adopts the humility to recognise not all is well and the audacity to declare a new course of action. Every time it shows up, we are left inspired and ready to act.

The true cost of corruption and impunity is not millions and billions of shillings, it is the helplessness we learn when our leaders, agencies and we do not take action in the public interest.

On June 26, 14 organisations made 12 recommendations to the Presidential Taskforce on laws related to corruption. http:// goo.gl/AdGHeC 11 of those recommendations have now been adopted in the report presented to the President. There is much that we can support in the AG’s Taskforce report http://goo.gl/qLTAV2

On November 5, ten organisations including TI-Kenya, CRECO, Mzalendo, Africog, Inuka, KCA, ICJ, SID ACAC and the Devolution Forum advised the President to sack Cabinet Secretaries and reshuffle the Cabinet, review procurement processes and press for company transparency. We also called for lifestyle audits. We gave the President 30 days. http://goo.gl/1bxN8B

17 days later on November 23 and yesterday with the refreshing of the cabinet, three of the four proposals had been taken up by the President. https://goo.gl/nGzPE8

The important lesson here is that the state listens. It may take long, it may not be recognised, but we have voice and when we act we have influence. This is the essence of democratic governance.

We may not be invited to State House to meet the Pope today. We may not be recognised in the state commendations for 2015. This may not be important right now. The only questions are whether

* We have kept the faith of integrity lived and expressed by Pope Francis?
* Have we spoken and acted in the spirit of the constitution?
* Have we acted with humility in the public interest?

Nothing else matters.

On December 9, we move to Central Park, join us in the park or any other space to talk to Kenyans on what actions can they take to #KataaHiyo and build #IntegrityKE

Ends.

Categories: Campaigning, civic education, Democracy, Kenyan constitution, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflecting on owning a home in Kilimani

Robyn Emerson and Irũngũ Houghton were interviewed by Nancy Muthoni of the KTN Property Show, Sunday 2nd November 2015. Below is the interview. To watch the clip view start at 34:54 https://youtu.be/y5_4C-NfxC0?t=2094

How did you start the journey to home ownership?

Irũngũ Houghton: This is the second house I have owned. I sold a house in Runda to come live in Kilimani. I found Runda very exclusive and wanted a home closer to the city. I liked the feel of Kilimani.
Robyn Emerson: I owned my first home at age 20 in Austin. It is always to pay a mortgage than pay someone else’s.

What strategies did you take to own a home?

Irũngũ Houghton: I studied which banks had the best fixed rates. Unfortunately, the bank I was with then didnt have the best rate so I shifted banks. I stayed there for four years. A couple of years later after selling the Runda house, I looked around again and changed banks for the second time. When shopping for a mortgage important to look beyond your personal bank.
Robyn Emerson: Identifying the home comes first, affordability, needs, securing a down payment through my savings and a family loan, educating myself on mortgage financing,

What challenges have you encountered?

Irũngũ Houghton: Interest rates are daunting, no wonder there is only 22,000 mortgages in a country of 43 million. We need to make this available to all by bringing this down to a single digit. Decent and adequate housing is a basic right but without a radical restructuring of the housing industry this will remain an uncashable cheque not just for those in Kilimani but Eastleigh, Kariobangi and Kibera as well.
Robyn Emerson: Kilimani is rapidly changing, our neighbor’s 1/2 acre and single dwelling house just got sold and a 40 unit apartment bloc is underway. Managing the construction within the bylaws of not working over the weekend etc has been a major challenge. Staying knowledgeable of County bylaws and policies is a challenge for most of us home-owners. Another of our neighbors has built a chicken and chips restaurant in his garden and the doors open onto a major road without consulting on change of use. He continues to resist the County’s attempts to stop him.

What would you say are your home’s best features?

Irũngũ Houghton: I like the intimacy of a medium size house. Love the way the sun floods the sitting room in the afternoons. I love the rapport we have with our neighbors. Over the last five years we have become quite close. Recently, we climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with them.
Robyn Emerson: I love the driveway. It is an unexpected beauty behind the gate. It is welcoming to come home to. I love the garden, love the birds that come to visit. Location is critical.

What would you say is the beauty of owning a house?

Irũngũ Houghton: Freedom to change the look and feel, upgrade the plumbing etc Invested in opening up walls, the mazeras wall, the french doors to the garden, the kitchen table, creation of a bigger room downstairs. Finding the right contractor, overseeing the changes, value for money
Robyn Emerson: Equity and also the opportunity to leverage the equity to invest in other properties or hand down a property of value

What is your advice to aspiring home owners?

Irũngũ Houghton: Look around, look around and look around some more. I looked at 40 houses before I settled on this one. Be bold. I looked at several homes across Westlands, Kileleshwa and Kilimani, only to find a house on the road I was already living on and made an offer within 24 hours
Robyn Emerson: Patience and have enough finances to buy and live comfortably after you have bought the house. Keep saving. Investigate the building projections in your area. Know your rights and responsibilities as a home-owner

Do you have a parting shot?

Irũngũ Houghton: Homes are enlivened by the wider community. After Robyn, I and some residents formed the Kilimani Project Foundation a new possibility of relatedness opened up for us. This is not just a home for us, but a community of dynamic and interesting people. We continue to volunteer in this and other communities. Rent or buy a home and then go build a community.

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Statement at the funeral service of Alex Madaga, Saturday 24th October 2015

IH speaking at funeralfamily and funeral  nation funeral coverage

 

The statement was on behalf of the Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID)

The Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID) expresses its deepest condolences to the widow, son and community of Alex Madaga today in Isitsi village, Vihiga County.

Alex should not have died in this way. His death is both tragic and an injustice. Was his death meaningless though? Can we find sense in what has happened? His death has not been meaningless. Today we honour the power of one. If it had not been for Alex Madaga, the Council of Governors would not have committed to upgrade most of the county hospitals. Members of Parliament would have been pressed to accelerate and pass the Health Bill 2014 currently in Parliament. Nairobi Governor Dr. Evans Kidero would not have ordered his County Government to launch investigations into public and private hospitals that do not admit emergency patients. He would not have threatened not to renew their licenses if they do not have a policy of emergency care. For all this we can thank Alex Madaga for. I ask McDonald to never forget this. His father’s death has had a national impact and he can be proud of this.

Today we can also honour also others with the power of one. Cousin Oliver Esemere who called Nation journalist Eunice Kilonzo who woke up the nation. We can honour Brian Odhiambo, the para-medic who accompanied Alex on a journey that could have taken him from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

We will continue to keep Alex’s widow Jesca and son McDonald in our thoughts and plans. We will follow up with the various actions being taken including the Senate enquiry, the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board investigation and the CORD legal case. We were very glad that the Medical Board confirmed the widow’s allegation that the Coptic Hospital and Kenyatta National Hospital were negligent and hence had a case to answer.

Lastly, we call on our Members of Parliament to consider the Health Bill the Madaga Bill and hasten it’s passing through National Assembly. Many other Kenyans have died and will still die without the legal protection it offers. The Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID) expresses its deepest condolences to the widow, son and community of Alex Madaga today in Isitsi village, Vihiga County.

Ends.

The statement was carried partially by The Star http://goo.gl/GPYrXq

The funeral was covered by the following media houses

K24 coverage on Alex Madaga’s funeral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10-LR6ZIWuw

http://ntv.nation.co.ke/news/national/-/2725528/2929148/-/x8qsl9z/-/index.html

https://citizentv.co.ke/news/alex-madaga-laid-to-rest-103979/

 

Should you wish to give to the family contribute via Mobile Money visit http://bit.ly/1NTEbND

 

Categories: civic education, Finance for Development, human rights | Leave a comment

Issues impeding whistle-blowing in Kenya

Organised by Transparency International Kenya, over 70 men and women attended a half day public discussion on improving whistle-blower laws and protection mechanisms. In response to four questions, 70 people indicated they have a persistent complaint about corruption, 40 have gossiped about a colleague, 20 have reported a colleague to the relevant authority and only person has ever secured the successful prosecution of someone who has abused their office. The rapid survey reflects the extent of the problem facing Kenya. Too few of us are actively building a culture that underpins new progressive laws and policies.

In the context of gross impunity and grand corruption, whistle-blowing is the highest expression of active citizenship. It is the boldest demonstration of the spirit of Article 1 that vests all power in the sovereignty of people.

While laws and policies and mechanisms are critical and TI-Kenya have some critical recommendations in this regard, the greatest challenge lies in decisively shifting the behaviour of you and me.

The first fundamental step has to be to care enough about even the issues that indirectly affect us. Bribery, substandard public services, hate speech, domestic violence next door, abuse of public resources, exclusion of those in need. The second is to give up the language of being a tell-tale, a snitch, betrayer familiar since childhood. Are we loyal to our relatives, colleagues and ethnic group at the expense of being loyal to a core set of values and behaviour that works.

Whistle-blowing is not personal, it is not an attack on the person being reported on, it is a commitment to integrity, rule of law and a culture that works for all. We can all name ten corrupt public and state officers, but it is more difficult to name ten whistle-blowers? We have to find ways of honoring them.

Much of the thinking around whistleblowing surrounds making disclosure easier and safer. This is great. We also need to create a proactive push around that encourages (to enable courage) citizens within public service and the public. Proactive policies and mechanisms that incentivise this. How do we honour head-teachers that block school land-grabs, users that demonstrate that basic service provision sabotage is designed for private profit, NGOs that press for the PBO Act, journalists that expose high and low abuse of office, state officials that agree to be investigated by independent bodies?

We need to think more about the informal spaces. The greatest impact of corruption is felt among the poor, marginalised and the “mahustlers” who suffer continually from the lack of quality public services, protection of their property and assets and autocratic harassment. They suffer the invisible injustices.

While legal reform is a pre-condition, the promotion of whistle-blowing as a national culture is the surest way of eliminating corruption. How could we encourage our children, families, friends and colleagues to take action?

Ends.

For some excellent resources on whistle-blowing, see three policy briefs on building comprehensive laws, confidential and effective systems for whistle-blower protection www.tikenya.org

Categories: Africa, Finance for Development | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro: A place to shine

_DSC4098.NEF

Eight weeks back, a dear neighbor Dorothy confided that hiking Mt Kilimanjaro was on a bucket list of things to do before she turned 50. Never one to pass up a challenge, my family agreed to join her family. Last weekend, seven of us left the comfort of our Nairobi sofa sets and hiked the length of the Machame route to the Summit. In doing so, we smashed all pre-conceptions of our capabilities and learnt a little about the beauty and promise of our East African region.

Team Kili Kili, we called ourselves. The first Kili was for Kilimani, the Nairobi neighborhood we live in. The second was for the rooftop of Africa. We were mostly Kenyan, adults and children ranging from 15 to 50 years old at various levels of physical fitness. Over the next 60 hours of hiking, we were to see few other East Africans and no families.

IMG_20150825_080019_panorama_edit

Each of us had people or causes we were making the climb for. They ranged from the freedom for Palestinians and peace in Syria to our mothers and ourselves. I walked for my late father who had attempted to climb the mountain in the eighties. He, my mother and sister had to turn back after a bout of mountain sickness. As the climb got tough, having reasons bigger than ourselves became important. If the reason was only oneself, it was increasingly easier to give up. For me, it would be giving up on completing the journey my father started. There is a broader life lesson here.

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The challenge of the mountain started in Nairobi. What clothes and equipment did we need? Done properly, the investment per person could easily be Kshs 40,000 (US$400) for materials you may never use again. Could we rent the equipment and buy the clothes cheaply. Nairobi has a few outdoor shops but by far the most popular and economically friendly is Toi Market off Ngong road. Here, our neighbor Joy, was able to get all they needed at a third of the costs in the Malls. Friends quickly came to the rescue. Great, but my question still remains, why can’t Kenyans rent most of the stuff? Moshi does have a few rental shops but it seems there is a business opportunity for a rental shop in Kenya. Until then, Tanzania will still dictate access and the ease of domestic tourists from the region.

The five day climb to the 5,895 meter summit was easily the most physically demanding exercise we have ever done. 60 hours of hiking over 52 kilometers across four ecological zones mostly upward but also down into beautiful valleys. We climbed between 8 and 15 kilometers each day and slept in four tented camps. Each of the camps had 200 to 500 hikers from all over the world. Their size and organization reminded me of some of the refugee camps elsewhere in the region. Yet unlike refugees, we had chosen to be there. Unlike them, wrapped very carefully in plastic ziploc bags were our national identity documents that allowed us to go back to our homes if it got too difficult.

Mentally, I found myself preparing for team meltdowns and personal tantrums. How could I manage them? How could I bring out the best in the group? Each of us grasped for oxygen that dwindled with every step from Barafu camp to the Summit. Mark risked hypothermia every time he lay down on a rock. Nyambura struggled to overcome mountain sickness. Robyn kept muttering, “Exactly why are we here?” My 16 year old son Cuba demonstrated the reason for his name by displaying a personal resilience and purpose that still inspires me to this moment.

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With every step, I knew the team meltdowns and personal tantrums grew near, but they never happened. In the process I stumbled across an unexpected but important insight. Pre-judgements about others capacities have no reality outside the corners of our heads. While I spent time assessing and weighing each of us, each of them just got on with what was needed at every stage. No drama, just actions inside of their intention to summit, and then, all seven of us summited.

2015 Kilimanijaro

Kilimanjaro is epic in many kinds of ways. The myth of Kaiser Wilhelm demanding Kilimanjaro from Queen Victoria. The call by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to light a torch on Kilimanjaro to signal hope for the total freedom of Africa from colonial rule. The fact that 25,000 people from seven continents attempt to climb it each year but only 66% ascend to the Summit. The fact that it is the highest point in Africa. All this, informs its majesty.

IMG_20150827_103316_edit_edit

Foreign and domestic tourists also earn Tanzania upwards of US$50 million annually. Personally, the first time the porters sung the song “Jambo bwana, habari gani, karibu Kilimanjaro” I cringed inwardly. I cringed not because I have a problem with the tourism industry that has spawned this, but that hospitality falls short of the understanding and friendship that is possible on Kilimanjaro.

Rather than serving those of us that climb this mountain, the thousands of guides and porters own this mountain. Whether they have come from Nairobi, Singida, Arusha or Moshi like our guides Dickson, Nuru and Albert, Kilimanjaro belongs to them. As their temporary guests, we owe it to them to mobilise leaders and citizens to act and stem global warming. Should we succeed, our children and theirs in turn, will have the opportunity to also stand on the snow rooftop of Africa and see one of the wonders of the world.

IMG_4042

For those of you yet to climb the mountain the local Wachagga people call Kibo (snow) and in Swahili “ngara” (to shine), we went literally from the couch to the mountain. Not for the fainthearted perhaps, but then again I don’t know what you are capable of. Do you?

2015 Kilimanijaro-001

Thanks to The East African for carrying the story in full on 14th September

Kili EA article

@irunguhoughton

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Sister Michelle, Obama just had an Af-ROmance: Reflection note on President Obama & Public Benefits Organisations leaders exchange, Sunday 26th July

obama IH

Still reflecting on aspects of Obama’s visit last week, three memories will probably linger on from a face to face encounter at the newly built regional Centre for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in Kenyatta University. Firstly, the last two years of acute tension between the Kenyan State and PBOs have been costly. Mutual trust and suspicion has probably been at their lowest since the early years of the 1990s and the re-establishment of multi-party democracy. More importantly than the historical comparison, these tensions have blocked the possibility of Kenya taking decisive steps towards a non-discriminatory, democratic and active society. Yet, they are transformable, as Obama’s personal journey from Community Organiser to the Presidency demonstrates this.

The second issue lies in a growing sense of global connectedness. Fifteen years ago, I remember being coached by an American NGO lobbyist to invoke the memory of the Twin Towers crashing to the ground on September 11 to illustrate the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa to an American Congressman. The parochialism of the American leadership was probably at an all-time high. Watching President Obama in the last week powerfully rebuke third term hugging African leaders in their presence at the African Union Headquarters or firmly draw parallels between gay rights and civil rights in Nairobi or gingerly challenge the absence of democratic traditions in Ethiopia, I was left with a greater sense of a policy sophistication with regards to Africa.

Yet, a wider review of US policy to Africa during his tenure will probably be less impressive. Over the last six years, the US has missed opportunities to decisively side with African nations on the global issues that have mattered to them. This includes climate change, trade reform, UN Security Council reform, financing for development and tax justice. Which will be the real legacy – 30 hours of Nairobi euphoria or previous years of neglect?

Having said this, Kenyan citizens seem increasingly to be connecting and learning from the daily struggles of ordinary American people as much as from their leadership. We have common challenges. Some of these include speaking and acting for all to be equal under the law. #BlackLivesMatter but so do #SomaliLivesMatter when fighting terrorism in East Africa. We can do more against corruption and the stripping of public spaces, public and natural resources by those with power and privilege.

I hope President Obama and President Kenyatta both internalised the sheer diversity, passion and professionalism of the Public Benefit Organisations (NGOs). Less leaders of Organisations, what I felt in that room with Obama was what informed and active citizens look and sound like. There were those innovating community conservancy approaches, peace-building, governance policy reform and whistleblowing to the boy mentors and the rescuers of girls from female genital mutilation. Activism looked very diverse and resilient in that room that afternoon. Finally, it is worth noting that very few of us in that room were USAID grantees.

The third lasting appreciation for me is that Kenya is still in a transitional moment. Our practices are short of our constitutional vision on integrity, public participation, non-discrimination and devolution. While as PBOs and citizens we must guard our right and responsibility to act independently of the state, we must look for new ways of deepening these freedoms. National self-depreciation and “disruptionist” thinking may have protest value but it has little power to guide us through the transition.

I for one, have drawn several lines. The first line is against entertaining “anti-nation” thinking in future. That the corruption or the ethnic and gender based chauvinism is genetically Kenyan. That we have the leaders we deserve or we are just like the leaders we may despise. Like its twin “disruptionist” thinking, this keeps us in protest mode and unable to powerfully create and own constituencies in the public interest.

The third addresses the holy grail of NGO development. As new international leaders from the global South have argued, the NGO project model with its flawless logical frameworks and activity based budget lines has no more power to transform our reality than an umbrella in a hurricane. We have got to get more connected to citizens’ collective action around public interest issues. We have got to find ways of building a progressive nexus between business – state – citizens. Many of the democratic and development issues we are passionate about, are now constitutional promises and national values.

We can walk into the middle of the room and inclusively lead.

obama

hmm…

Categories: African Union, civic education, Democracy, Kenya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Is the Government going in circles over PBOs?

An abridged version of this article was published in the The Star Newspaper, 22-07-15

The establishment of a Taskforce to review the Public Benefits Organisations Act (2013) by Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru in November 2014 broke what was becoming a predictable tradition of “NGO legislation by ambush”. It was hoped that consensus could be built on any necessary changes. It was also hoped that the Act, already dormant for two years, would finally be commenced. Seven months from the establishment of the Taskforce, it is difficult to see whether Kenyan taxpayers have got value for money.

The Taskforce Chairperson Sophia Abdi Noor handed over the Taskforce report to the Cabinet Secretary in the presence of the full Taskforce and the Media on May 21st. The report was not shared with the other 13 Taskforce Members, the Press, the 1,943 men and women who gave their views or the public. Only after three terse PBO press conferences, social media pressure and lobbying, did NGO Coordination Bureau Director Fazul Mahamed finally release the report to the public on July 6th by twitter.

28 of the report’s 40 pages are devoted to an unbelievably large number of pie-charts and matrices of those that participated in the consultations between January and April 2015. If you have ever wondered how many different ways you could describe the participation of 1,943 men and women in ten regional meetings, this part of the report is for you. Granted that a wide range of citizens, citizens groups, public benefits organisations, foundations, public officials and development partners had an opportunity to speak before the Taskforce, but did we need ¾ of the report to cover this?

The remaining ten pages contains the substance of the issues generated by the Taskforce. This is probably the most disappointing part of the report. Under eleven headings, the report regurgitates without coherency, seemingly random thoughts and ideas many of them not deserving of legislative attention. Little attempt is made to forge a clear set of recommendations that improve on the existing Act.

The first of the recommendations is that the Act needs to concretely define what a PBO is. The Taskforce however makes no suggestion nor explains why the clear definition that is in the Act, namely “all organisations serving the public or acting in the public interest” is insufficient. Five of the ten recommendations relate to strengthening executive control, introducing new taxes and representation of the Interior Ministry within the PBO Authority, the entity to replace the NGO Coordination Bureau. Another of the recommendations bizarrely addresses the danger of NGOs promoting terrorism and “indecent acts” in a single sentence. Do we still wonder why our efforts to counter extremist violence seems to lack singular focus?

The ten recommendations fall short of what we might expect from a process that pre-occupied the attention and time of 14 otherwise busy civil servants, PBO leaders and experts and the Kshs 20 million it probably cost. More tragically, the outcome that the Cabinet Secretary probably had in mind in establishing the Taskforce was lost. The consultations offered an opportunity to end the mistrust caused by clumsy legislative attempts to restrict civil space over 2013 and 2014. The decision by NGO Coordination Bureau Director Fazul Mahamed to not release the report to the public has now punctured any progress that had been made by the Taskforce.

The three PBO bodies on Taskforce namely the National Council of NGOs, The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya and the Kenya CSO Reference Group have now disavowed sections of the report, claiming manipulation by the NGO Coordination Bureau. They have also called for the Cabinet Secretary to immediately commence the Act that was passed nearly three years ago by the 10th Assembly.

Whether you hold the view that the sector is critical for eradicating poverty, fighting corruption and advancing human rights or is so corrupt that it needs closer regulation, nothing can explain why the Ministry of Devolution and National Planning has shown little resolution in closing the thirty six month legal vacuum. The Cabinet Secretary’s argument that she requires changes seems fair until you compare the public accountability provisions in the PBO Act (2013) and NGO Coordination Act (1990). The comparison is like a Porsche racing a Vitz on Mombasa road. As someone said recently of the impasse, “If you aren’t confused, you ain’t paying close enough attention”.

Many of the structures and the functions established in the NGO Coordination Act (1990) have expired or become redundant. The terms of the Chairperson and members of the NGO Coordination Board have long expired, the Board has not met in several months. Only the Bureau still exists. The important work of registering NGOs, processing work permits and applications for tax exemption no longer passes through the Board. The Bureau, where it does take action, runs the risk of overstepping its legal mandate. Where it does, many NGOs have complained about the inordinate delays in processing applications or receiving a response from the Bureau.

More recently, some international organisations have received visits from Bureau staff to press them to establish local governance boards with at least three of the Directors being Kenyan. While this is a desirable provision in the PBO Act (2013), it is not a provision in the NGO Coordination Act (1990). It would seem that the Bureau wants to selectively use some provisions while ignoring others.

While Kenyans wait a few more months for yet another set of amendments to the PBO Act (2013), the sector continues to work in legal limbo. The one-man show of a NGOs Coordination Board will continue to operate without the guidance of its Directors long gone. Important national and county level partnerships that could be forged to eradicate poverty and build institutions of integrity both within PBOs themselves and in the State will remain adolescent. Lastly, Kenya will continue to reflect hostility to a forty year old sector to the international community ahead of its hosting of the next Global OECD High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2016.

Having said this, the 1,493 men and women who gave their recommendations can be happy to hear that the Taskforce has buried many of the destructive recommendations in previous amendments. Gone is the 15% cap on foreign funding, compulsory re-registration of faith-based organisations and foundations and restrictions on domestic philanthropy and freedom of association. Let’s hope that the process of developing an amendment bill does not allow for them to be re-introduced against the wishes of Kenyans.

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