Jack Makau: A story about forms and a match

Jack Makau

A story about forms and a match

In 2005, we started to work with the UN and Cities Alliance and they asked us to do a city-wide enumeration – and this is the first city-wide enumeration we had done – in the city of Kisumu. We got a team of university students: an entire class. I moved to Kisumu, together with Laurence [Apiyo] who was a good organizers, and the chairman of Muungano – or the chairman-to-be of Muungano – called Benson Osumba.

I remember we started off doing the enumeration and we had a big community team – about 300 people, from all the settlements in Kisumu, doing enumerations. But one challenge that we had is that the funds for the enumeration had not come; but we had teams on the ground collecting information. We'd call the office and the office would say ‘not yet’ – I think processes of multilateral organizations take time – but we kept the momentum. The community was getting frustrated, and one day I think we misjudged how frustrated people were. I think we'd been enumerating for two or three weeks, and then one day we came to the office – the resource centre – and there were lots of people. We wondered, what are these people doing? It was part of the enumeration team, maybe 200 people, and they were fed up with us. They said, ‘You have to give us our money today’. We gave them the same story: ‘Let us call Nairobi’; we called Nairobi ­– Nairobi said ‘not yet’. So some of them went into the resource centre and took out all forms that we had enumerated – maybe half of Kisumu by this time, 20,000 forms – and they stacked them outside and said they were going to burn them.

And it was a bit of a scary moment, because it seemed after they burned them then they would turn on us. It was very animated, people were very upset, voices were loud. And they stacked them up and then they said ‘Call Nairobi and ask them if the money's coming this afternoon’. We made a bit of a show about it, and then someone said ‘Give me a match, I'm going to set the forms on fire’. And somehow a matchbox was found.

At that point one of the team – Henry from Korogocho – said, ‘We don't have enough airtime on our phones, let me just get some airtime so we can call Nairobi’ ­– which was his moment to disappear. But as he disappeared, a small team was sent after him; so he could see people following him – so he ran off and went to the police station and he told them could they please lock him up, because there were people who wanted to beat him up. And the police had real difficulty, saying, ‘No we can't lock you up for nothing, tell us have you done something?’ ‘No I’ve not done anything’. But he eventually persuaded them to lock him up. So that one got away.

The rest of us, we were there with the bonfire – with the forms and a match. And the guy who came to light the match, lit the match and went for the forms. And then Benson, out of nowhere, decided to punch the guy. And Benson was big and strong – ex policeman. He punched the guy. And I knew: okay, now we are dead. Because the guy went flying (so he didn't light the forms). And I knew: now we are finished. And you know, in all that, one of the ladies she kind of stepped up – it was a little moment – and she just said ‘Stop, stop. I think these guys are telling the truth – they're even beating us up to save our own data. What are we doing?’ And the crowd changed; the mood changed. There was a bit of heckling, but a lot of people kind of got the message. It was a very special moment. And slowly, the conversation turned to, ‘Okay, so when do you think you'll get funds to pay us?’ And the crowd faded. So it was a very special moment: I think a bit of a milestone in Osumba getting the confidence to be chairman, and the status and the recognition.