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moving by talking to the scheme manager’s superiors and bringing their influence to bear. Once we had their backing, the scheme manager quickly changed his tune, and the program began to move forward. While appearing to cooperate on the surface, he would sometimes still resist our initiatives. The scheme manager’s support was a prerequisite to the program’s success, but I began to feel that continued negotiations with him would get us nowhere. I wondered if we might not be better off focusing on another irrigation scheme for our pilot;
if we could showcase its success, then this scheme manager might abandon his irrational resistance. But to give up on this particular irrigation scheme for the time being would have meant letting down the farmers with whom we had already met—and abandoning my own conviction that it was the farmers’ right to choose, not the scheme manager’s.
I also came into conflict with one GADCO manager who was unable to keep his ego from interfering with the pilot launch. This manager was over 10 years older than me and a major figure in his native village, for which he was acting as our liaison. Out of his eagerness to recruit as many participants as possible, he often made promises to the farmers off the top of his head and informed them of “decisions” that we had yet even to discuss. This consequently led to confusion and later undermined the farmers’ trust in our company. He was also full of ideas about spin-off projects but for that very reason had a tendency to neglect his assigned job. Occasionally he even failed to show up for a planning meeting or a field visit because he was off following up on some side issue that had snagged his attention. As project leader, I spoke with him on several occasions about aligning with the goals of Copa Connect, work priorities, the dos and don’ts, and other matters related to liaising with the community, but nothing ever changed, and my frustration mounted.
Apparently, the frustration was mutual. One weekend, unable to contain his resentment, he ranted at me over the phone for 45 minutes. His basic complaints were that I, a newcomer, had refused to listen to him despite the fact that he, with his extensive experience and knowledge, knew all the answers, and as a result the entire project was headed in the wrong direction; that I was stealing his job; and that I was trying to claim all the credit. His anger continued to build, peaking around harvest time, when he spewed forth his vitriol in front of the farmers who were busy harvesting and shipping their yields, going so far as to try to stop the truck that I was riding.
This might have been a perfect occasion for initiating a “courageous conversation.” But in the end, I was only able to do little more than just express my anger and regret honestly and collide with him head-on. I might have
lacked patience, but I also felt strongly that his priorities were misplaced, and that the importance and urgency of our work simply did not permit us to waste time and labor on people’s individual egos.
Not Here to Be Popular
These lessons are best summed up by the Acumen Manifesto:
It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard, and recognizing potential where others see despair.
It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes capital work for us, not control us.
It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be. It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to admit failure, and the courage to start again.
It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency, breaks through bureaucracy, and challenges corruption.
Doing what’s right, not what’s easy.
Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and building a world based on dignity.
October 22, 2013 From Promise to Reality Kisumu Leadership and Development Conference Mari Suzuki Last August civic leaders and public officials from Kisumu County, one of the semiautonomous entities established under Kenya’s new democratic constitution, gathered to learn what they can do to build a government that works for the people. Mari Suzuki, the Tokyo Foundation’s director for leadership development, offers a first-hand report on this seminal conference, organized by former Sylff fellow Otieno Aluoka with the support of the Foundation’s recently overhauled Sylff Leadership Initiatives program.
K enya today is in the midst of a historic transition, the most important change the nation has experienced since achieving independence from Britain 1963. In 2010, Kenya adopted a new constitution centered on democracy and devolution of power. In 2013, the nation’s newly established semi-autonomous counties held their first-ever elections to select representatives to the national legislature under the new constitution.
For such democratic institutions to function as they were intended, however, it is vital that voters and officials understand the principles of the new system and their role within it. This was the aim of the Kisumu Leadership and Development Conference, held on August 26–27 with funding from the Tokyo Foundation’s Sylff Leadership Initiatives support program, administered in conjunction with the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund. The following is a report on the background and outcomes of the conference, which I attended as a representative of the Tokyo Foundation.
Sylff and the Kisumu Initiative Sylff is a fellowship program established by the Nippon Foundation and administered by the Tokyo Foundation with the aim of “nurturing future leaders Mari Suzuki Director, Leadership Development, Tokyo Foundation
With this in mind, Aluoka decided that the best way to contribute to the development of Kenyan democracy was to organize a conference of county-level politicians (all of whom are new on the job), local officials, and community leaders to enhance their understanding of the new constitution, and the role of local leaders within the new system. It was the first such conference ever held in Kisumu—located far from the capital in Nairobi—where democratic reforms have been slow to take hold.
Historical and Political Context To better appreciate the significance of the Kisumu conference, we should take a moment to establish its historical and political context. The chronology below lists the major historical milestones leading up to the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution.
Brief Political Chronology Kenya gains independence from Great Britain; early constitution provides for multi-party parliamentary system and elected provincial assemblies.
1966 Kenya become de facto one-party state; provincial assemblies abolished.
1982 After attempted coup d’état, National Assembly officially declares Kenya a one-party state. Country is divided into eight provinces under provincial commissioners, who are appointed by the president.
1991 Constitution revised to permit multi-party elections and limit presidents to two terms.
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President Daniel arap Moi steps down after 24 years in office; movement for constitutional reform picks up steam.
Presidential election held under new election law. In post-election violence, some 1,500 Kenyans are killed and tens of thousands are forced to flee their homes.
New constitution enacted with the aim of preventing further violence, 2010 devolving political power to local districts, protecting the rights of minorities, and solving long-term problems.
Government under the New Constitution
Previously, Kenya was divided into eight provinces, which were under the direct control of the central government. The new constitution (specifically, Article 11) provides for the devolution of power to the local level. It divides the country into 47 counties, each of which has a locally elected governor and deputy governor. (Governors are typically male, while deputy governors are most often female.) Elections and lawmaking are governed by the rules of multiparty parliamentary democracy. The constitution also features special provisions designed to guarantee that marginalized groups, such as women, disabled persons, and youth, have representation at the local and national levels.
Kenya’s 47 counties are each divided into anywhere from 2 to 12 constituencies, depending on their population, and each constituency is further divided into 5 wards. Each ward elects a representative to serve on the county assembly, which works with the governor to govern the county. In addition to ward representatives, each county assembly has six nominated members chosen to represent marginalized groups. Members are also selected as necessary to ensure that neither male nor female members control more than two-thirds of the seats in any given county assembly.
At the national level, Kenya has a bicameral Parliament made up of the Senate and the National Assembly. The Senate consists of 67 members. Of these, 47 are elected from each county by direct ballot. In addition, 20 seats are reserved for marginalized groups: 16 for women, 2 for youth, and 2 for the disabled. These are filled by party nomination according to each party’s share of the vote.
The National Assembly consists of 349 members. Of these, 290 are elected by popular vote, one from each constituency. Another 47 seats are filled by women elected from each county. Finally, 12 members are selected by party nomination to represent the disabled and other marginalized groups.
The legislators elected from counties and constituencies around the country gather for parliamentary sessions in Nairobi, where they represent the interests of their respective districts while participating in important decisions regarding budget allocations. Kenya’s least developed counties are entitled to allocations from an “equalization fund” amounting to 0.5% of state revenues, but only on request. How much a county receives hinges largely on the efforts of its representatives in Parliament.
Kisumu and the Leadership Conference
Kisumu County is located in western Kenya, far from the nation’s capital. (To the southwest, in neighboring Siaya County, lies the village of Nyang’oma Kogelo, birthplace of Barack Obama senior.) The city of Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, has historically functioned as a major center of East African commerce. Because of its location along Africa’s largest lake, the area is ideally situated for fishing and fish processing, but the central government has long controlled key concessions on the lake, and economic development has left many of the inhabitants behind. Fishing, sugarcane farming, and rice farming are the county’s principal industries. Kisumu
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has long been riven by a fierce political rivalry between the Luo and Kikuyu peoples, and these ethnic tensions erupted into deadly violence following the controversial outcome of the December 2007 presidential election.
Kisumu Leadership and Development Conference was held on August 26 and 27 at a community complex in Chemelil ward in Muhoroni, one of Kisumu County’s seven constituencies. The conference drew more than 150 participants, including members of the Kisumu County Assembly, various community leaders from each constituency (including representatives from the farming and fishing industries, business, nonprofit and civic organizations, research entities, the legal profession, the teaching profession, women’s groups, and so forth), and members of the Kisumu County Executive Committee, as well as a number of legal experts and civil rights experts from Nairobi. The region’s ethnic plurality was also on display at the conference: Along with the Luo, who make up the majority of the district’s population, the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Nandi, and other ethnic groups were well represented.
The plenary sessions featured talks by scholars, members of the Kisumu County Executive Committee, a National Assembly member (from neighboring Siaya County to ensure neutrality), and others regarding the principles of the new constitution and the political and administrative systems it established.
Each of the speakers fielded numerous questions from the audience. In breakout sessions devoted to healthcare, education, transportation, water, and law and order, participants discussed the issues facing Kisumu and what must be done to resolve them.
By the end of the two-day conference, the groundwork had been laid for future meetings by citizens interested in formulating concrete proposals in each area and submitting them to the county government. Equally significant was the bonds newly forged among the county’s civic and economic leaders, many of whom met for the first time. Participants from diverse sectors pledged to work together to make the new constitution’s promise a reality.
A number of the conference participants provided positive feedback regarding the event and its significance. The following is a sampling.
Teresa Okiyo, a research officer at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, noted that very little information had reached Kisumu regarding the new constitution and the process of devolution, and she praised the conference for helping participants see what they needed to do to make their voices heard in government. (Okiyo has studied paddy farming in Yamagata Prefecture under a Japan International Cooperation Agency training program.) Dr. Rose Kisia, Kisumu County Executive Committee member in charge of
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commerce, tourism and heritage, called the conference an important first step that had made Kisumu a model for other counties to follow.
Legal Resources Foundation Trust director Janet Munywoki, who arrived early in the morning on the first flight out of Nairobi, noted that she had traveled to Kisumu at her own expense, convinced of the importance of such a ground-breaking conference. She stressed the need to hold similar gatherings throughout Kenya.
Significance and Impact