The following post is a guest article kindly written for us by WALINET
In Mombasa, the coastal city of Kenya, there had been persistent water shortages in Ganjoni Estate and surrounding areas, which have more than 800 households. In September 2013, Majibu received over 100 queries from the residents in Mombasa. Majibu is an online platform developed by WALINET with funding from The Indigo Trust to engage citizens on issues affecting their lives especially in water.
This prompted WALINET to support the area Water Action Group (WAG) member to hold a community water forum in the Estate. The Water Service Provider (WSP) team which was present promised to carry out a technical check on the water pipe to ascertain the actual cause of this problem. The WAG member took it upon himself to follow up the issue with the WSP. After several meetings, the provider undertook a technical check of the entire pipeline connecting to the area. This was carried out for a whole week and many valves were found to have been blocked and had been rendered unserviceable. This was the cause for the acute water shortages that residents of the area had been suffering. Major repairs were done to the valves and those that were beyond repair were replaced. The unblocking and replacement of these valves has since led to the normal water flow to the area.
Over the past two years, Water and Livelihoods Network (WALINET) has been engaging communities to enhance their participation in the management of water services in Kenya, under Act!’s Changia Rasili Mali-CRM (Participate in Natural Resources) Program. This has given us the opportunity to get first hand experiences of the water-related problems facing the people in our main program areas, Nairobi and Mombasa, who contribute to the more than 43% of Kenyans who lack adequate water supply. Over time, there have continued to be numerous complaints about lack of water/inadequate supply, over-billing, vandalism, lack of sewerage connections and corrupt water supply officials, in the face of less responsive water supply institutions with low capacities.
Our progressive community forums under the CRM Program were never going to be sufficient to help engage all citizens on their rights and responsibilities in the pursuit of resolution of these problems. We needed to devise a complementary low-cost idea of citizen engagement, civic education and capacity development of the community animators to more effectively engage their members, hinged on our organizational philosophy that an informed, engaged and triggered citizenry can play a pivotal role in initiating demand-driven service delivery and sound water governance.
This is how the Majibu idea came about. The name ‘Majibu’ is a Kiswahili word meaning ‘solutions/answers’. Majibu was designed to be a platform where citizens could send queries to get valuable responses or receive fact-bits from our data-desk, so as to use the information to engage their institutions for better service delivery. Citizens do not receive automated responses, but get answers from the water experts that make up our team.
In the six-month pilot period, through community groups and other publicity avenues, we have succeeded to mobilize our target communities to see value in using the platform. Citizens understandthat this ‘web-based mobile forum’ can complement the rather more tasking physical engagements held in the local churches, schools or even under trees. Community animators then have had an easier reference for faster community monitoring and feedback in water service delivery. Our peer partners have begun to see the effectiveness of the platform in disseminating useful bits of information they may have.
More than 1000 citizens have sent their queries to the platform and received useful feedback which have largely informed them or directed them to people or institutions that can solve their individual or communal problems. Organized citizen groups such as Water Resource Users Associations (WRUAs) and Water Action Groups (WAGs) can now be capacity-developed from the comfort of their phones as they seek to engage their target communities better. Through an advocacy-driven approach with a network of voices, we have documented cases where more than 20,000 people have been connected to improved water supply in our program areas.
These impacts, in this short space of time, affirm Majibu’s potential to reach more citizens and catalyze increased social change across the country if it is increasingly publicized through various fronts. With the devolution realities getting clearer, citizens’ information gaps are becoming obvious and the place of ICT to bridge these is undisputed. The enthusiasm shown by our stakeholders towards the platform, and the citizens who have given us pressure to provide them with solutions at times beyond our capacity has inspired us to strive to place Majibu at the centre of civic education in Kenya as we build on the successes of the past period.
Operating in an environment where most similar platforms have failed to make a big impact, either because of citizen apathy, non-responsiveness by the service providers or system managers, we have overcome the most difficult hurdles and succeeded in proof of concept: that it is possible to develop and keep running a good platform; that citizens will use a platform when it has good usability and value to peoples’ lives and that such platforms are tools that can in practice be used to influence social change and action on peoples’ lives.
Looking into the future, we will have to learn from such challenges and successes, to improve on the design of the platform and invigorate citizen and institutional engagement, as we create more and strengthen existing networks and linkages for public information sharing. There are currently 15 million active mobile phone users in Kenya, most of whom are concentrated in urban centers, our target program areas. These are some of the people Majibu targets, so that in the long run, through their mobile phones, they can get pieces of information that can mobilize them to create change in their environments, such as better water services and resources management, improved livelihoods initiatives and better, participatory governance.
WALINET is a CSO in Kenya working to advance water access, environmental management, livelihoods and devolution & civic education