Erickson Sunday

Erickson Sunday

I'm Erickson Sunday, a federation leader. I have been in the federation for the last 16 years and I have been inspired a lot by the stories of my mentors about the struggles.

What motivates you?

I am a simple guy who believes in the ideologies of many. I believe in the federation process and policies, principles, rituals, and I believe in wider consultation with communities and people. I believe I am part of the people, the problem, and the solution. And time has come I must make a change, because a change actually begins with me. So I hail from a small village, and I believe my village is part of the global story. I believe in Kenya as a single community, that is part of global community, that is actually but divided by two tribes – the rich and the poor. And I believe I'm one of the tribe that works in partnership, in collaboration with other tribes to make life a better place.

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

I was part of the youth in the cycle of a rampant HIV/AIDS prevalence and there was a lot of infections. They started a youth group: educating youths, bringing youth together to understand that they are the future leaders and that they have to take care of themselves. We have done that one since 1998. Way back into 2000, we started outreaching to donors and to friends and to partners. We happened to bump on Pamoja Trust. Lawrence Apiyo took his initiative to come and visit our groups and we had a time with him and we had a lot of deliberations, like, today you are very busy educating people about getting protection against HIV AIDS; what about your coming life, what will you do? And we'd say, yeah, okay, we depend on parents, we depend on some support NGOs, partners in the region, we depend on training, we depend on incentives and go to do some activities for the NGOs (we'd go do dramas for the CDC). ‘Actually, there's need for you to begin doing savings. You need to save for your future. You are still youths, still young, still vibrant, energetic ... can you save? Can you start doing daily savings?’ As for me, always in the evening I would help my mum with the small business we used to do in the market, and ask my mum, can you give me just 10 shillings to save? And she would say, definitely, yes. I can remember at some point I had difficulties in paying my Form 1 school fees. I had to borrow some money from that savings.

So from then we started mobilising many mamas, many men, many babas, to join our saving group. Our savings group has grown from 18 member group to 250 people. It was the year 2001. Apiyo would come and visit us sometimes and see how we are saving, give us the books, and tell us, ah, this is great. Whenever he came, he finds that we have improved, and would say, this is great. Then, in 2001, late, then he came and challenged us: ‘How do you feel when you are doing this thing for yourself? Don’t you think other people will also need this kind of system?’ In Kisumu there is this poor culture of savings. ‘Can we not mobilize other people?’ So through these mamas we started outreaching to many groups in Nyalenda. So we started what is called the Nyalenda Network, and this local network would come and visit and support us with inspirational talks.

From then, my group alone had already raised 350,000 [shillings]. It was not revolving; we had kept this money in a bank account. So [Apiyo] would keep on telling us, why do you keep this money for businessmen to go and borrow from the bank to use, while you keep on doing dry savings? ‘You are keeping on struggling to raise ten shillings every day. And you are not marching, you are not even trying to borrow your money to build the income or resources where the daily saving is coming from’. So, actually, we buy the idea and we started the loaning. And we brought the loan forms and people were interested. They took loans. Some took 10,000, some took 5,000 shillings, and started improving on their businesses. And the federation started growing from that point.

So our group again was propelled in 2002, 2003, when we had our first exchange to Kambi Moto to see the housing. The reality now, seeing the family of the federation – the old wazees, the young youths. And you could even participate in doing daily collection in those exchanges. And it was fun! In fact, I remember, in our group most of the youths were now grabbing the responsibility of being collectors, daily collectors. Every day we have different daily collectors. After we've collected, you go surrender that money to the treasurer. The treasurer takes the money to the bank account. We used to save at Pandapia Catholic Centre Community Bank. That bank was just some kind of a card – you save, someone writes it in his own handwriting and signs it. And we just had to trust them, the old type process of banking, because we were not able to access the commercial banking and get the electronic verification of banking and so forth.

To me it was a call. It was so inspiring to engage the federation. I remember even at late 2000 I had to drop out of school because I couldn't manage school fees and said, I am engaging all my life into federation, I want to see this thing grow. Because my mum's business can't afford my high school fees, my dad’s income can’t afford my high school fee. So that’s where I started engaging fully in the federation. From that point I've never ever missed a point, or a day, or a single moment into the federation activity.

What were things like, back when you joined Muungano?

HIV AIDS was an issue that everybody aligned with. Then you'd be relevant in the society. And we coupled up the activities of HIV AIDS with the theatrics. We used to do theatre for peer education. We started having a disconnect, because the group was actually formed on the issue of championing fight against HIV AIDS, and here we have changed the directions now towards livelihood, loans, savings.

And we could just tell people, join, this is your book, this is an evidence that you're saving with us, this is an evidence that you've given me money; you’ve signed. Our able treasurer – may her soul rest in peace – Mercy. Sometimes if a collector would miss to reach her in a day, she would walk to the collector's house or homestead and say, you have not come, have you transferred the money, have you used the money for something else? So it was like everyone was, we were all webbed, not to mess at any point, because we had that inspiration of enhancing life through livelihood improvements. And then, every Saturday, we were meeting every Saturday in the afternoon. We started thinking about renting an office to serve as office, because, you know, if you're an organization that collects people's money, you must have a reference point, a physical location.

So, again, there as we continue preparing the federation, ideas just used to come in. There was a day that it was so challenging, that one of our collectors went to collect money to a member and the member was sick. The member had nothing to eat. And the member had really saved, actually 700 shillings. So this collector just came after collection at night, and we were sitting and he said, I went to Mama Sophie and I found her very sick, and I found the children there, they don’t even have food, what can we do? Then we started contributing from our own pockets. So later in the meeting we came and introduced this product: anybody can withdraw their money at their doorstep. Like you can’t afford a meal for the night – why would you save and you can’t eat? So we created that product, and the books were again drawn in the systemic way that anybody can withdraw. So that day when there is a withdrawal, the collector would indicate that there's a withdrawal by this person.

We had one of the collectors was a little bit rogue, and he would say that this person has withdrawn, he's say this person has saved. – so because we are dealing with the old people, so the person would just sign where he is supposed to sign and did not even look at the figures – so according to the collector's book, he has withdrawn, but according to the saver's book there's no indication of withdrawn, there was just indication that the saver has saved 20 shillings but have not withdrawn anything. But here in the collector's book, it was indicating the saver had saved 20 and withdrawn 100. So when you come to counter-check – like every week we would read to everyone their savings – then the person and the conflicts would start arising. Our mums, our dads would now say, oh, this youths are now ... if they start doing these things, these youths are now gaming, they need some control. And I said, okay, me as a leader we don’t actually lock leadership, if there's need for actually opening up for other people to engage, then we are ready – and we did open.

Now, again, we already have a huge number of savings, because we are giving out loans and people are repaying every day. So we had built a huge number of savings and we had secured a bank account, a commercial bank with Cooperative Bank. We are now in the formal banking. So, we open up, and we say, okay, we want you, the mature people, to lead this savings and loaning component of our group. We even gave up our signing mandate with bank to them. So from then, the money that we were collecting in the bank account keep on running in terms of being issued as loans.

City-wide enumerations in Kisumu

In 2005, that’s the moment we had now to open up to other informal settlements. To federate community groups in other informal settlements to savings groups. In fact, us, we just knew federation as a savings and loaning group, not even other solutions. So in 2005 is when we started what is called city-wide enumerations. All the informal settlements were enumerated under the Cities Without Slums programme – the UN Habitat and the SDI programme. So from then is that now we started seeing there’s a huge gap in terms of services, in terms of infrastructure.

So from that point we started advocating for services, started advocating for inclusivity, started advocating for voice and space for the people. Because, you will find there are issues like participation in governance, disenfranchising people to participate in their own affairs. So issues that were there was issues of sanitation – was very key, because you will find, like in my place Nyalenda where there's a section called Nyalenda A, that place was a place with a high water table. And there wasn’t a sewer line in that area, and the time we as the Oboch and Nyalenda local network just conducted a small research, and we realised that each and every neighbourhood, there are three pit latrines dug, and these three pit latrines they have sunk. So they have sunk with the old waste down there, so when it rains heavily in that area, you feel the smell – weird smell of the waste. And there used to be a lot of bilharzia, cholera in that area, and so forth. We wrote to the municipal council of Kisumu and told the municipal council that Nyalenda is a time bomb. We started advocating for the trunking of the sewer line up to that place, and also for the beginning of the adoption of the new technologies for the toilets. There was no land for any kind of public facility, so it didn't pick up very well, but current is they are out of drainage. There’s a lot of control on construction of pit latrines, and also there are a lot of plans to construct soil tracks.

The other thing also we were dealing with was about the loaning. Because Kisumu was the place whereby there were influx of microcredit institutions that will loan even 10,000 and take your electronics in the house as collaterals. If you fail to pay even once, all your collateral are confiscated and then disposed, to settle the loan. And it would be very bad. My mum was a victim at one point: a loan balance of two thousand shillings, our black and white wall TV was gone, our car battery, which was new, was gone, our aerial – you know by that time things used to be expensive – they were gone. Because of a 2000 shilling loan balance! We need flexible loans, social loans whereby everyone could understand ‘I don’t have today’.

The federation is currently dealing with enhancing the micro opportunities, the micro results, that we are actually seized through the opportunities to have people organized to do what is called social savings. To have people organize to demand for services, to have people organize to engage in policy. There is high level of participation of federation in county level, in terms of policy formulation processes. There is also a high presence of federation in terms of partnerships for development, consultations, and so forth. And the numbers and the membership is also huge, and that is also one thing we can commend as an opportunity resource as federation in Kisumu county. Probably we have 36 groups and these groups have got different membership, meaning that the federation does not lock anybody out. So you could probably have more than 5000 members in Kisumu county.

How have things changed over the years?

When we started, it was actually minimum people in terms of membership. The membership has grown tremendously. Also in terms of engagement, there have been a lot of space, and we have enough skills and capacity to engage. We can go and demand, and even seek, and even visit the governor and say, we’ve just come and visit you, what do you have informal settlements? And he'll say, okay, we have this street lighting program, and there is a lot of dissenting voices on the issue of land, can you help me? We have this kind of a police post that will be constructed at Nyalenda, and we proposed it. And also the will of the people to engage by themselves, the people's-led advocacy, is there. So from that kind of being passive, being unable to speak, but now able to speak; they are able to express themselves without fear.

In 2005, that’s the moment we had now to open up to other informal settlements. To federate community groups in other informal settlements to savings groups. In fact, us, we just knew federation as a savings and loaning group, not even other solutions. So in 2005 is when we started what is called city-wide enumerations. All the informal settlements were enumerated under the Cities Without Slums programme – the UN Habitat and the SDI programme. So from then is that now we started seeing there’s a huge gap in terms of services, in terms of infrastructure.

So from that point we started advocating for services, started advocating for inclusivity, started advocating for voice and space for the people. Because, you will find there are issues like participation in governance, disenfranchising people to participate in their own affairs. So issues that were there was issues of sanitation – was very key – because you will find, like in my place Nyalenda where there's a section called Nyalenda A, that place was a place with a high water table. And there wasn’t a sewer line in that area. And there used to be a lot of bilharzia, cholera in that area, and so forth. We wrote to the municipal council of Kisumu and told the municipal council that Nyalenda is a time bomb. We started advocating for the trunking of the sewer line up to that place, and also for the beginning of the adoption of the new technologies for the toilets. There was no land for any kind of public facility, so it didn't pick up very well, but current is they are out of drainage. There’s a lot of control on construction of pit latrines, and also there are a lot of plans to construct soil tracks.

The other thing also we were dealing with was about the loaning. Because Kisumu was the place whereby there were influx of microcredit institutions that will loan even 10,000 and take your electronics in the house as collaterals. If you fail to pay even once, all your collateral are confiscated and then disposed, to settle the loan. And it would be very bad. My mum was a victim at one point: a loan balance of two thousand shillings, our black and white wall TV was gone, our car battery, which was new, was gone, our aerial – you know by that time things used to be expensive – they were gone. Because of a 2000 shilling loan balance! We need flexible loans, social loans whereby everyone could understand ‘I don’t have today’.

The federation is currently dealing with enhancing the micro opportunities, the micro results, that we are actually seized through the opportunities to have people organized to do what is called social savings. To have people organize to demand for services, to have people organize to engage in policy. There is high level of participation of federation in county level, in terms of policy formulation processes. There is also a high presence of federation in terms of partnerships for development, consultations, and so forth. And the numbers and the membership is also huge, and that is also one thing we can commend as an opportunity resource as federation in Kisumu county. Probably we have 36 groups and these groups have got different membership, meaning that the federation does not lock anybody out. So you could probably have more than 5000 members in Kisumu county.

What have been Muungano Kisumu’s biggest achievements over the years?

First, the biggest achievement of federation in my county – let me just say because we started, the county came later, we started as a region – first the building of peoples-to-peoples organization was one of the biggest achievements. That there are people who knows they are ... they are the people, they are the problem, they are the solution, and unless they come together they will not be able to know what kind of a solution is very sustainable to them. That’s one key achievement.

Second is the door, the space, for participation with the county government. Because of what we have been doing, just by only making reference of what’s happening in Kibera, made us have a space to engage the railways authority in Kisumu. Because they feel like, okay, this is something national. And they will feel like now we are now more than informed, unlike the way they feel we don’t know anything, we can’t communicate. So the interactions between other counties and us has made us even to gain more skills and knowledge.

And also the improvement of livelihoods – the loaning systems, the loaning processes for the federations. Actually, if you are anybody, you will want to be in the federation to get a loan. Not go to a microfinance to take a loan, because of the interest and the understanding on some of economic needs that people undergo in their lives.

What have been Muungano Kisumu’s biggest challenges over the years?

The biggest challenge is managing the rapid growth, with high demands. Somebody will feel like federation is now the only vehicle that could give what people want. And that person does not want to give what he has to the people, he just only comes and grabs. People come take a loan, and go away, or fail to repay, because of our social process of understanding people and our social loaning system. So the repayments of our loans has been the biggest challenge. And managing the growth in terms of empowerment, because it’s very huge and expensive to hold a forum, especially at this point, whereby there are a lot of demanding needs in terms of sustaining life. So managing growth, and life, and participation is also an issue.

The Kisumu Muungano Development Fund

Muungano Development Fund was now a regional basket, responding to the mistreatment the poor people used to encounter when they get loans from the microfinance institutions. It was a fund which will loan a group, and the group will loan members, and members get money to do their business. So it started after 2005, in 2006 – in fact it was the first fund in Kenya, and every fund that was established in Kenya drew experiences from the Muungano Development Fund in Kisumu.

The design was good, but later, when it came to implementation, there was a miscalculation. People that were brought in; because it was a dream for the poor people, for us, but when it came to implementation, some people were brought it in that were not us. So those people just came because of the fund. They didn’t come because of the struggle that we've understood, the experiences we have learnt from the exchanges, the engagement we've been in different levels in national, and regional, and even community level. They didn’t understand Muungano's process is not just loaning and savings. But the Muungano Development Fund was just but to bridge the gap that the poor people can’t access formal financial assistance through loaning – because, one, maybe they lack collaterals; two, they lack enough money to march with what they want; and lastly, they are not trusted because locating them will not be easy. But as for Muungano, we knew these people, we know their unity is their collateral, and we know their small savings can earn them huge loans.

So we brought that loan and it started loaning people very well. Then later there was an interest. The people that came in had interest to privatize this fund as a microcredit. They again borrowed the other microcredit institutions' policies into this fund, and that was not acceptable to the members. So you find this fund was a fund of Muungano, but was not benefitting the members of Muungano in Kisumu.

So the fund collapsed, on the basis that you'll find an individual has taken a huge amount of money directly from the fund, which was against the policy – the policy was supposed to be the individual gets it from their respective group. So the policy was again reversed and individuals – the fund managers – they’ll be able to find they have a huge amount of money in terms of loans, which are not performing. They will take loans anytime they want. They take loans from the members savings, and that was not good. So until the federation started questioning this kind of a practice, a few started eloping with this fund. And we stopped it, and blocked bank accounts, and the members savings are stuck in that bank account. So, winning members trust, that our saving system is still the best, is still an issue when their little saving is stuck in the bank account. They can't get loans. That was the biggest challenge that we are still dealing with up to now.

But right now our main focus is about improvement of each and every individual livelihood. First we do housing improvements for community members who are willing. We have local network funds that are still running, they are still operating well, and they are loaning their members with the policies of the federation, and they are being led by the federation.

 What have been the strategies that really worked?

I have to commend the strategies the federation used. We take them forward because we believe if it has worked somewhere, it can work for you; if it doesn’t work for you at all, it can work for you partially. And one of the strategies that we believe on is the savings – communal savings and loans – where people begin to get into the central position of managing their resources, collecting their resources together, deciding where the resource is going to be used. And we’ve taken that one and we have upheld that kind of ritual.

The second strategy is periodic meetings, where the leaders have to respond, have to feedback to the members what's going on and what has to be done, what’s not working, and what is going to be changed at any point.

And there are strategies about exchange learning: to learn how people are dealing with their issues and how other people are engaging with the any kind of opportunity that presents itself.

So these are our strategies. First, mobilising people through savings and loaning. Organising and engaging people through meetings. And expanding our knowledge through exchange learning programmes.

What didn’t work? What did you learn?

There are things that actually didn’t work. When it comes to the issue of targeting a person, targeting an individual person, or tying an individual person with the results, it hasn't worked for the federation in Kisumu. Communal engagement, collective responsibility, is what has worked best. But individuals, loaning individual members, giving an individual member direct from a regional resource without engaging these people, subjecting these people to the local organization and the networking and so forth in that hierarchy of knowledge and presence, hasn’t worked. We believe when I'm well known in the group, I can be well understood in the network, and I can be well trusted at the region, and I can well be celebrated at the national. Because we have a hierarchy of virtuous engagement.

The differences between Muungano in Kisumu and in Nairobi

What I probably know is that Nairobi federation is dealing with complex issues. Us, we also deal with complex issues to our own context, like dealing with the low income people that we are dealing with, dealing with the rural dwellers who need to be perceived to be urban dwellers. And engaging in policy issues to Kisumu, it's wanting. To Nairobi, it’s kind of obvious, it’s a practice they have engaged a lot. But for Kisumu, there is need for sensitising people to know what are these policies, how do they translate to their daily lives, at what point should they participate or engage. But for Nairobi people, if anything just comes up they respond to it immediately. They have their own knowledge of it at their fingertips.

Then the second thing is about ... the other thing I can compare with Nairobi and Kisumu is about the urban development agenda. Nairobi and Kisumu: Kisumu being declared a city, and Nairobi is also a city. They are both city counties. We could probably borrow even more entirely the incidents in Nairobi and implement in Kisumu without fear of contradiction. Because we'll say, if it happens once in Nairobi, like the railways relocation action plan works in Nairobi, why don’t we work it in Kisumu? And we are still classified as a similar city, so those are actually what I can borrow in similarities. But there are a lot [of differences]: in terms of socio-economic, Nairobi is a little bit high; in terms of cultural engagement, Kisumu is a little bit high. And in terms of what I would refer as an end point engagement, Nairobi will engage at a middle level, or at a starting point engagement. But in Kisumu we do what is called end point engagement – like, this is my home, I'm building my home, I'm doing it for my home. Then the other [Nairobi] person will say, I'm doing it for urban dwellers, I'll one day leave this place to my rural home.

What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?

One biggest lesson learnt as federation is that we can't provide everything, and we can’t provide even a single thing; what we can do is we can engage in the provision of everything from the single thing. What I would like the federation to take forward in the next 21 years to come, is to strengthen co-production partnership, because this is the only way. We have a lot of resources in our national exchequer. These resources are generated in terms of a tax, and when we leave them to be spent in a concise knowledge of the few that we call the government officials, then we are really selling ourselves out. We need to engage the government to leverage, to mobilize resources, to position the poor – the people, not even the poor – to position the people to engage with the government so that they can be able to prioritize and champion what kind of development that can change their daily life. Because our Kenyan government has embarked on megaprojects, but I wonder how these megaprojects impact directly on people's lives. This is just because of the regional unblocking, the regional opening. I don’t believe the link between Kenya and Uganda can provide a meal on the table for a poor person who has a leaking roof at the head. I don’t believe the mega road, the standard gauge rail line can translate to anything to the poor people in the informal settlements.

I want to see the government taking priority in terms of providing housing incentives, providing city funds where people can engage – they can participate like owners of the nation and taking the priority forward to demand their resources deserves their decisions. So, the federation has the capacity in terms of numbers, in terms of strategies, in terms of experience, in terms of exposures, to take forward the issue of strengthening co-production – co-production in terms of the government and the people, the people and their own leadership, and the people within their own setups. And I believe it’s only even in the federation setups, strongholds, that you didn’t find emergence of post-election violence, because we managed, we have been managing, to see each other – you could even call each other, like, ‘how are you doing? How is nani, he is always with you in the same settlement; he is safe?’ So you see, if the government can embrace the attitude and the inspiration and the strategies of the federation, the federation is the best design the government should engage with.

The role of the county government is more or less of the role of the national government, because it’s just a decentralized responsibility, and powers, and resources. Whatever happens in the national government are the voices that are being seen at the county government. It means that what the county government is doing is what the national government supplements. So, we're still operating the same system of the government. So the county government's responsibility – key and primary responsibility – one, is to develop peoples participation policy, where people can be able, where it can be guided by the principal of law that this is a demand. And participation should not be symbolic: it should be real and inclusive, so any county government that develops people's participation policy is a government of the people; but any government who don’t have a participatory policy, it simply means they are still operating in the hierarchy of leadership whereby there’s a section that knows, a section that needs to know and in between there’s knowledge that nobody want to share. So the county government has a lot to [do] in terms of streamlining the gap between the government and the people, and even the people who are poor and the rich.

One issue about Kisumu that I always pray for very much is proper inclusive urban planning. If you have that, the federation will have a very enabling environment to invest, the international community will have enabling environment to invest, [and] the poor people will have the zeal to save to change their life – if you have proper planning that is not going to be disrupted by spatial plannings that are destructive to properties, destructive to efforts.