Rose Molokoane

Rose Molokoane

From: SDI management committee & South African SDI federation

Interview date & place: 6 September 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Kate Wanjiru & Kate Lines

Original language: English

My name is Rose Molokoane, from South Africa. I am a member of the Oukasie savings scheme and I’m also a coordinator of FEDUP, which is the federation of urban and rural poor in South Africa. And also a coordinator of SDI.

How did you first get involved with Muungano?

In 1996, when my federation in South Africa requested me to be part of the team to come to Nairobi in Kenya. Firstly I was bit hesitant – ‘no you can go alone’ – but I got interested and said I will join the team. I remember the team was myself, Patrick Hunsley who is now late, and Rachael Masumba who is staying in the Free State who is not with our federation today. When we arrived here, I thought Kenya was a country beyond my country. I thought people have got their ownership of own land – I thought there were a lot of townships where people are staying in and having security of tenure. But when I arrived, we visited an area called Huruma where they were having a house modelling, and now looking at the people are living, I said I think South Africa is better, because we do have our own place to stay, I’ve got my own house, I’ve got a title deed. And then we were chatting amongst ourselves and the people, and they were telling us that the land doesn’t belong to the people, the land owners mostly are politicians, and then they also have the structure owners who have built a lot of rental rooms for our people and a lot of people can’t have the ownership. 

Strengthening women’s participation in Muungano, over time

So, during this house modelling, I realized that if they are saying that they are the federation, why do we have so many men? Because in the [South African] federation we are having women who are the treasurers in the saving group, so I wanted to understand when we talk about treasurers. We wanted to get the savings report from the treasurer: all the savings schemes that were there, only men stood up and said ‘I am a treasurer of this savings scheme’. I said, ‘oh my God – men, how can it be that they become treasurers?’ They said, ‘that’s how we are working here in Kenya, because women are not supposed to lead the organizations’. Then I said we have to challenge this issue: I’m not going to agree with you that women should continue to be in the kitchen or in the house; we want to change the mindset. So we gave these men a homework, to say, when we come back again to Kenya, if we find you being treasurers, [this means] that you are not part of the federation ­– meaning that we can’t continue with you because you are not giving space and also you are not empowering women. So that’s how they changed the approach. When we left we just left it there, and we said ‘we will see when we come back whether women are being involved in the process’. 

I met lot of men. Some I don’t even remember their names, but Peter Chege was one of them, Benson Osumba was one of them, and all these other women who were [so] very quiet that I can’t even remember their names. Because they couldn’t speak the whole meeting – the meeting was led by men and they were the ones talking to us.

And then the second trip when I came, it’s when Joseph [Muturi] was there. And I remember Joseph was one of the treasurers in the market, the Toi market. I remember a saving meeting in this rusty corrugated iron building where they were starting to learn how to give loans through their businesses at the Toi market. And it was so interesting for me on the system that they were using to give loans, because it was a very transparent system. But by that time, although the women were coming up, they were still oppressed by these men ­– because these men were dictating terms to these women, and the women were happy because they were getting the loans to run their own business. But what impressed me was the system on how they were using to give out the loans. And I copied that idea back to South Africa and it is that idea that helped me to also encourage the loans system between our members.

The Kenya guys are hard nuts to crack. It’s not easy to move them from where they want to be. They always want to be bosses to these women. I remember in one of the years, we came here with Jockin, we had the leadership meeting because [Muungano] were saying they were electing the NEC – national executive committee. And then when we were sitting there around the table, we wanted them to introduce themselves, to say who’s the chairperson, who’s the secretary, and so on. But to our surprise, out of 12 members of the committee, only one woman was there. And that made Jockin very angry, and myself too. I said no, I can’t tolerate to work with a men-led process: we are saying SDI should be 85 per cent women, and as long as women are not put at the forefront, for me and Jockin we won’t come to Kenya anymore – we gave it a challenge to the leaders, to say you go and address this issue. 

When Benson passed on, we sat down with Joseph Muturi, because he is one of the SDI coordinators; then I said to him, try your level best to involve women. So what I see happening with the federation of Kenya is now the strong participation of women ­– and when I’m sitting alone I say, we were missing a point, because we’ve got very strong women who can push this process forward. And because of the Know Your City campaign – the profiling and enumerations – I think that has brought up women to be stronger in this process.

Naming Akiba Mashinani Trust (Kenyan SDI urban poor fund)

I remember, in one of our discussions we were talking about having an urban poor fund, and then when we were discussing about it with Patrick – I remember we were at the Panafric having this meeting – we wanted to know how they are going to establish the urban poor fund. And they gave us how they are going to do it: to put some ten shillings every month per person. And then we said, how are we going to name this urban poor fund? So I remember I was asking a question: what is grassroots in the Kenyan language? They said Kenyan language means ‘akiba’. Then I said what’s the meaning for fund? ‘Mashinani’. Then we automatically said okay, let’s call it Akiba Mashinani. I thought it was just a joke because, you know direct interpretation, and I said maybe they won’t get interested, but everyone said that’s a good name. So that’s how it unfolded. It was the first trip for me to be in Kenya. But it gave an impact for the members who were the federation to say: the first issue is empowering women. And the second issue was to build the urban poor fund that can help the communities to sustain themselves, and to address their own development.

Kibera railway relocation project

I remember, there was an eviction of the railway slum dwellers. and because of the strength of women participating in profiling, enumerations, and saying we will fight this evictions, fortunately because of their power, they were able to engage with the city of Nairobi to stop the evictions. I remember yesterday while we were coming from the airport, Joseph was showing us the houses that are already built for the people who were relocated not evicted. Because according to the government they were supposed to be evicted, but because of the power of savings of the women, and the power of the federation, they changed the concept of eviction into relocation, and they educated the communities to understand why they should be relocated from where they are staying. And this project, I think it’s a very big project – internationally it is recognized. When we go to these international platforms, we always give best practices from different countries, and the railway relocation of Nairobi, it’s a best practice through which most of the member states start to understand that eviction is not a solution, but engagement and talking to the people about relocation if the area is totally not good for the housing is important. 

I think the example of what Kenya has done with this relocation process: it has created an impact for federation of Kenya to influence the government of Kenya to understand that working with people brings more results. That’s why also the housing project, Kambi Moto, because of working together as the federation – I remember when we went to Kambi Moto, when we started this housing development, a lot of structures, I said, guys do you think we will be able to build in this place? Because they had to demolish some of the structures and rebuild – it was a very tough job, I couldn’t believe that we could have had those houses in that area, but it happened.

I think when you are from a distance and you don’t understand the federation, you will never think that there is anything happening in Nairobi or in Kenya. But come visit, let the people take you there. You will see the difference that the Kenya federation has brought to the communities.

Muungano’s 2009 leadership elections: tension, connections, commitment

I remember this issue also: you know sometimes when you do elections for the process, either you get positive results or you get negative results. And here in Kenya it brought in a very negative impact, because some of the people who thought they were the ones who brought this federation to life were kicked out – not kicked out deliberately, but because of elections – and now these people got angry and they tended to divide themselves from the actual federation. And they went away to say we’d better start our own federation, but on top of that they were still demanding support from the same NGO and the SDI secretariat. So for a time it brought a bit of tension between the leaders of Kenya, whereby SDI was now forced to intervene – I remember when we came to the meeting we were at a hotel where we were trying to intervene on this tension. You could see that these leaders were still eager to come back, but because of pride between the two parties the connection couldn’t work properly. But we came up with the idea of saying, let’s forget about being the NEC [national executive committee]; let’s focus on saying we are the leaders that have to build our federation. And these leaders who broke away because of not being elected, went away and thought twice to say we will come to you on condition – so we said to them, conditions will never built a proper relationship. So we left them with the homework to review themselves and make sure that they should think [about] where they’re coming from, and that being elected or not being elected will never serve the purpose, because they have built this process with their commitment – and then now they are being frustrated because they are not getting that election right or maybe supporting them. So after some time we had words – we are communicating – that gradually they are thinking of coming back into the federation.

Where is Muungano today?

When we were here – I think it was last year – we were invited to meet with the governor of Kiandutu. Automatically, the governor says I want to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Kenya federation; and he also said I want [Muungano] to do the profiling of all the communities. That’s the breakthrough, just for the governor to agree on that. It means what the federation of Kenya is doing is sensible. It is something that is tangible. It is something that can make the policies in Kenya to be people-driven policies. Imagine if we get the final results of Kiandutu profiling and we identify several communities for enumeration – imagine what kind of development we are going to have. Because when we have to have the enumerations we should have also identified priority projects. We have already done the practical example of the public toilet pilot project, where there is the office, caretakers house, and place to meet – showing that the municipality have recognized what the federation people are doing for themselves. And they have recognized that people are now sick and tired of waiting for government to decide on how to do for them – instead we are doing it on the ground to show government that if we are given space to debate, to engage, we can do it; if we are given space to build our houses, we can do it; to build our own water and sanitation programme or projects, we can do it. And it is happening.

I think where the Kenyan federation right now, it’s a mini government on its own – but it has not to take over the government of Kenya, because it will create tension between politicians and the leaders of the federation. I think what needs to happen: the institutionalization of the federation within all spheres of government has to be recognized and has to be done – because we are doing it on the ground as the federation. We are inviting one mayor, and when the mayor goes out of office, the next mayor comes, sometime they don’t buy in on what we have done. But if we are part of the municipal governance or the national governance, not sitting in the office but coming together regularly and discussing what the federation wants to achieve, I think we can have a very... – we are a strong federation, but we can have stronger by being officially written in black and white into the government documents. If there’s a forum taking place within the municipalities and the federation is part of the forum, that’s one angle that we have to push for. And at the national level if they are having, for instance, the housing board we should fight to get one or two people to sit in the housing board to influence policy that caters for poor people for themselves. I am not aware whether this process is already unfolding, but I would like us through SDI and the federation of Kenya to fight for that. Because even with the New Urban Agenda that is coming up from Habitat III, they are talking about inclusive development, inclusive governance – and now it is time for us.

Has Muungano made a wider contribution to the global SDI network?

Yes, a lot. We were working with the Kenyans in Uganda, and today Uganda is the talk of the show. You go everywhere and they will tell you about Uganda as if Uganda is the only federation in SDI. It’s because of the impact that South Africans and Kenyans have done. And now Tanzania is there, it is growing because of the East African Hub, which is led by the Kenyans. So there’s an impact that the Kenyans are doing. You look at the Ghana hub, where Joseph Muturi is always there, we built the Ghana federation and then because of the impact of Muturi and Benson, today we’ve got Togo, we’ve got Liberia, we’ve got Senegal, we’ve got Burkina Faso, all those areas are getting stronger because of the impact that is brought by the Kenyan federation.

Internationally, yes we are also having. I remember Jane Weru is from Kenya: she also has the international award, meaning that there’s an impact that the Kenyans are doing. The Indians when they think about Kenya, it is like they are thinking about their next of kin, the brother or sister. There’s a strong link between the Indians, the South Africans. So they are making an input that is bringing an impact in the SDI family. So Kenya has to be there, it will be there, yes it’s giving an impact at the Gigiri. You know Gigiri [where UN Habitat is based] is right in Kenya, and for us to be strongly recognized as SDI we have to push the Kenyans to walk to Gigiri and open the doors for us. They are doing a lot for SDI family.

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

Celebrating 20 years is the start of another 20 years. And I wish to be part of the celebration, so that together we can tell each other what about the next 20 years. Because poverty, the more you do something good, the more you are creating ten bad things – when we build 20 houses, 30 people invade land and want to have houses. So the coming 20 years has to be a very strong process to bring more and more people to be self-reliant. And we have to also build our financial muscle: I think when we talk about Akiba Mashinani, for the coming 20 years we should have more than 100 million shillings; or USD – shillings is nothing compared to USD – if we can have 100 million USD as the Kenya federation, within the starting of the 20 years we will become so independent from government, we can do whatever we want because our financial muscle is there. 

Secondly, we have to look at broadening our social movement – because that’s another weakness with all the federations. We are only looking at our existing membership and saying ‘this is our boundary, we are focusing here’. But for the coming 20 years we have to open up for other communities who are maybe not interested in savings but they are interested in our process – we have to create room to educate them on why this savings is so important. I know in the SDI family we are always fighting each other to say, you know this membership approach is not building the process, you should just call it a social movement and don’t consider the membership – but we are forced to also talk about membership because for you to become part of the social movement, we are driven by savings. And then savings, as an individual you have to contribute, so you are part of the members who are contributing towards savings. So how we are going to unfold this process to engage the people who are not savers? Development is going to force us to do that, because when we talk about sanitation we can’t do sanitation for only ten members in that settlement – we have to look at sanitation for the entire community. That is the challenge of most of our federations: because we want to see our members achieving or benefitting before other people who are not members of the federation. So this agenda has to be looked at: how are we going to build the social movement, not the savings schemes per se. The savings schemes are very important, but the most important part is to create partnership with other CBOs, create partnership with community leaders who don’t understand the SDI process. Even if they don’t want to become SDI but we have to fight to create the space to dialogue with them because development has to benefit everyone who lives in that settlement. I think this is the process that we are going to carry for the next 20 years. And for the most important thing is that the federation will never die – because our money will always grow, meaning that it will keep the federation alive. 

Secondly, the more we give – lend – to people, the more the demand comes. The more we build two houses, the more demand comes. Government can’t build houses for everyone. We’ve got three kinds of people: people who are waiting, people who are doing, people who are totally lazy. We have to address all these three kinds of people, and it’s only when we use the SDI rituals, through the Kenyan federation, that we can reach and reach and reach out to more people and bring development to the people – and make people to drive their own development. And create more partnerships with our local authorities and national government – because that’s most important: if you don’t create partnership with these levels of government, even if we can do something good on the ground it won’t be recognized. Sometimes they can reject it; the municipality can say ‘I don’t know of this so I’m not recognizing it in my own offices’. So partnership is also very important: the next 20 years, we have to fight to have the strong partnership and participate in the governance of our government.

What I’d like to say is that, continue doing the good job. And I think the NGO, it collapsed, it came up again, I hope the NGO that is there should be the NGO that is driven by the ideas coming up from the people – meaning from the federation. It should not be a conventional NGO that says, ‘I’ve got this money, I have to do this for my people’, but, it has to be the NGO that is influenced by what the people are doing.

And then on the side of the federation, I’m still emphasizing that we should really empower more and more women to take charge of this process. Because the women are more listened to than the men. You know the struggle of Kenya, men are fighting for positions, they always like to be on top. But as the federation, we should strengthen the women, so that whilst men are fighting for position, women are driving the processes and making it happen for their family and their future. I think it will bear a good fruit and it will make all other affiliates of SDI to learn more from the Kenyans.