Reflections from the 12th SDI East African Hub Meeting
By Shadrack Mbaka & Rashid Mutua
The Learning, Monitoring and Evaluation systems are just like a skin, not your heart not your organs, these systems are meant to help communities do better, create transparency and enhance accountability of the Millions of Slum dwellers out there and more importantly to change our settlements and support the urban poor - Joel Bolnick, SDI Manager
Within diplomatic and international relations circles, when two or more nations convene to address key thematic issues affecting nations within the global arena; government delegations would be seen in sharp executive suits, serious gadgets at hand enveloped with tight security details.
Bilateral and Multilateral contracts and deals are signed, such high end meetings under the banner of what is for the best interest of “my country and my people”. This scenario begs the rhetorical question, “Suppose every government sets aside 20 percent of the “goody bags” to address urban poverty through an all inclusive integrated urban development plan, would we have so much urban poverty and squalor in our midst?
In the meantime, as this question bogs my mind, a contrasting scenario unfolds at the 12th Slum Dwellers International East African Hub (EAH) meeting, in Kampala on the 3rd to 7th of August 2014.A delegation of Slum Dwellers federations from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania convenes in Rubaga, Kampala on a mission; to share knowledge & strategies and more so learn from one another with the objective being; to go back to fellow slum communities and make life better for all of us.
The EAH recognizes the importance of cooperation on human settlement development; Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (KUT) share similar objective, approaches, practices and challenges pertaining to human settlements. Close cooperation under the KUT umbrella envisages leading a greater articulation of progressive developing countries’ housing and human settlements strategies and identifying new ways of engaging relevant players to allocate sufficient resources and support for achievement of the MDG goal for Informal settlements.
The 12th edition of EAH was officially opened by the Commissioner of Lands and Urban development, Mr. Sammy Mabala. His pronouncements were clear; the urban poor in informal settlements are a neglected constituency who hold the key to better planned and inclusive cities. “I am an adent supporter of slum dweller movements. I believe it is not a calling but a duty. I learnt about the slum dwellers movement five years ago, Jockin Arpathum (SDI President) and Joel Bolnick (SDI Secretariat Manager) begun sharing how things work in the slums and how communities take up the responsibility of implementing solution oriented for slum development,” recalled Mr. Mabala.
Solving the Puzzle
Government urban planning programmes, have a similar script; secure funding, hire heavy weight consultants, develop a contingency plan and implement a project that affects millions of lives and livelihoods. In his speech, Mabala recognizes that governments and supporting departments ought to work with urban development stakeholders to... “Mobilize people’s potential in changing slums; as a result of this realisation we partnered with SDI and National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) to improve informal settlements in Uganda. The second objective is to influence policy on urbanization, the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development is finalizing on the details and soon it will be tabled in parliament for adoption- the policy focuses more on redevelopment of slums, build and harness Private Public Partnerships and improve towns access to basic services in municipalities; sanitation, access roads, water provisions, electrification of informal settlements etc. The third objective is to empower the people on policy formulation, participation and implementation. Uganda has 400 Municipalities, this seems a daunting task, which will take time, and we need to expedite this process. In the spirit of the East African Corporation let us share strategies to improve our towns, learn lessons from others and implement them in our own towns.”
From the officiating remarks three key pillars emerge;
- Unity-For communities to address settlement priorities they must be united, but how..?
- Mobilise savings-For communities to attain unity it is important for communities to have a stake and a voice in community processes through savings for solving settlement problems
- Partnerships; let’s all partner with stakeholders in order to benefit from the synergies
The Power of Data and Information
“Governments lack adequate data to plan for informal settlements. This therefore offers a starting point for the SDI global networks to harness partnerships with other stakeholders to achieve community goals.”-Josephine Lubwama, Kampala City Capital Authority
The Hub improves capacities of urban poor communities to remain true to the urban agenda by negotiating for space to be part of the city. Of course this wouldn’t be easy if these communities are not organized, lack proper learning, monitoring and evaluation Systems, membership, financial and information systems, plans to aide their vision and most importantly, concrete data to state their claim to the city.
Splashed on the conference hall at the Pope Paul Memorial Hotel in Kampala, were sheets of paper, engraved with analysed data, giving a holistic purview of informal settlements in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (KUT).
Does data wield power? Communities took to the floor to give practical testimonies of how data has transformed their settlements and built bridges between slum dwellers and their governments. It was notably clear that data transforms into the kind of power urban poor communities can utilize to negotiate, leverage resources and work together with government for development.
Collection of community-led data, packaging and understanding this information remains a primary asset for negotiation with city-governments and their compiling becomes an opportunity “to learn to mobilize” communities towards communal actualization.
SDI is a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 34 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate federations network at community, settlement, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies such as ; Savings, mobilization, advocacy and problem solving strategies. Key areas of focus are; Learning exchanges, Projects, advocacy, Monitoring and Evaluation, Evictions, partnerships and linkages. Some of the key areas that federations capitalize on are;
- Strengthening federation systems
- Learning, Capacities and Exchanges; Some of the Learning Centres are ;Kampala, Accra, India, Capetown
- Settlement Insitu upgrading
- International Advocacy
- Long term sustainability
Do Federations need to Learn, Monitor and Evaluate?
Learning; federations learn by doing, practicing, sharing, and reviewing past experiences, clear documentation strategies and through well thought out and planned exchanges. Well defined LM&E frameworks build strong and functional systems for federations to create opportunities for learning and creating good and implementable plans that will result to better outputs. Clear vision not only impact settlements but empowers communities to position themselves to address city wide issues.
Monitoring; This sounds big, however, to communities monitoring involves; field visits, reporting, auditing of community groups and financial systems, generating activity and project reports that tracks growth, impact assessment, budgeting and developing work plans, tracking and proper open channel communications.
Evaluation involves analyzing whether planned activities and projects have taken place and if not why? Federations most often reflect on the project/activity, the capacities involved, review possible successes and challenges and outputs and adopt strategies to endvour the projects/activities. Through the country indicators, federations are well aware of the country reports on different federation fronts. This therefore enables the federations reflect on the positive and negative changes within the federation.
Monitoring and Evaluation is important to slum dweller federations because:
- it provides consolidated source of information showcasing project progress;
- it allows actors to learn from each other’s experiences, building on expertise and knowledge;
- it often generates (written) reports that contribute to transparency and accountability, and allows for lessons to be shared more easily;
- it reveals mistakes and offers paths for learning and improvements;
- it provides a basis for questioning and testing assumptions;
- it provides a means for agencies seeking to learn from their experiences and to incorporate them into policy and practice;
- it provides a way to assess the crucial link between implementers and beneficiaries on the ground and decision-makers;
- it adds to the retention and development of institutional memory;
- It provides a more robust basis for raising funds and influencing policy.
Incorporating the Youth in the federation Agenda
Federations have embraced the youth by developing activities and projects targeting the Youth below 35 years, albeit this initiative is yet to gather enough momentum. Movements are geared towards targeting the Youth by innovating programmes/strategy that are attractive and sustain the momentum of the Youth. Youths need the support to take up different roles such as; Profiling, enumerations, documentation, research among other activities as a way of keeping them engaged.
Twaha Bishaverka explains, “We appreciate the platforms federations have accorded the youth but we need to come up with strategic programmes that entrenches the youth to fit in the mainstream agenda.”“Youths need to draw up proposals on IGAs and share for planning. This is a sensitive group with special needs that warrants personal initiative.”-Michael Kasede-NSDFU
Erickson Sunday from Kenya said, “Youth agenda is discussed in low tones since they have not transitioned to engage and occupy the space to assume the first tire of leadership and they lack mentorship and sensitivity to build on their innovations. The Youth need to reflect beyond take up, and improve their capacities to change their environment.”
EmpowHER in federation building
As curtains closed on the 12th East African hub, one important subject popped up, what the role of women in federation, settlement and city is building? The federations challenged one another to embrace women empowerment and leaderships of the federations. “We should shy away from only appointing few women leaders as symbols of gender sensitivity. It is the women who keep the savings groups alive and strengthened.”-Jockin
EAH took stock of the affiliate growth in every country in result areas such as savings, tenure, housing, sanitation. With this communities compound a level playing field for engagement.