30 Jun 2010

A leader becomes a follower! @Kikwete2010

The President follows Daraja!

Along with 94 other Twitter users, almost all Tanzanian, Daraja received an email earlier this week saying "Pres Jakaya Kikwete (Kikwete2010) is now following your tweets on Twitter. His campaign team have also started a blog.

It's created several reactions in Tanzania's growing blogosphere, including The Mikocheni Report, Faustine's Baraza and Subi Nukta on Wavuti.com. Mostly this is people simply noting the change rather than commenting on it, but there has been some more interesting reaction on Twitter and in the comments on the posts linked above. Search for @kikwete2010 on twitter.com for the latest thoughts, but here's a sample as well:
  • From @Sajjo: @kikwete2010 swahiba karibu, natumaini una lolote la kuleta jamvini // Asante, tutahabarishana!
  • From @robertalai: @Kikwete2010 great you have realised the power of social media. website not well socialised. Newsletter wapi?
  • From @DruYork: Now that @Kikwete2010 is following me, I feel like I should be making more politically correct tweets. Not that I don't already
  • From @AkbarTM183 I dont think @Kikwete2010 Twitter page is really by the president!! // its by campaign communication team
It is indeed (of course) the Campaign Communication Team that manage this account, rather than either Ikulu or the president himself, but it is an interesting development. @Kikwete2010 describes this as follows:
"we are a social media comm team reporting to the CCM campaign leadership, not Ikulu"
"Slowly making a presence here. Lots to learn but we are determined to engage and inform!"
"There is a growing realization of the power of social media, so hopefully we will see deeper engagement from Ikulu as well."
The signs are that this will make use of the interactive nature of twitter as well as creating a new channel for the campaign team to get its message out - several tweets have replied to questions or suggestions from other twitterers. It's hard to keep that up, but maybe that's the intention.

But why this new approach? The Mikocheni Report suggests this is a way of reaching the middle classes with their blackberries, and another commenter suggested it was simply keeping up with Obama's fashions. But given how the Tanzanian media is rapidly becoming established on twitter, facebook, etc., perhaps its intended as a way of reaching that influential group of opinion formers? And CHADEMA has long had a large presence in social media, most particularly through Zitto Kabwe on facebook, but also @chadematz on twitter.

21 Jun 2010

Njoluma Region - some initial reactions

It was announced late last week that a new region, Njoluma (or perhaps just Njombe) is to be formed here shortly. If I have understood the changes correctly, what is currently Njombe town, Njombe district, Ludewa and Makete will no longer be part of Iringa region and will become Njoluma region, and two districts, Nyasa and Wanging'ombe formed within the new region as well. The map on the right here shows what the new region and districts might look like. This is something people in Njombe have been campaigning for for a long time - I started to work here in 2002 and the idea was already being pushed - but it seems it is now about to happen.

Since the change became public last week (it was already known about locally), I've been asking lots of people what changes they think will come about as a result. Is it, overall, a positive or negative move?

8 Jun 2010

Placards to powerpoint? What are the incentives for and against citizens' agency in #Tanzania?

Geir Sundet of DFID's Accountability in Tanzania (AcT) programme made a presentation last week in which he argued that there was a trend of civil society in Tanzania becoming bureaucratised. In his words, "civic engagement moved from demonstrations to conference tables" and "from placards to powerpoint presentations".

He told a story to demonstrate his point, which I will paraphrase here:
An informal group of people with a shared interest forms to address a particular problem they face, a positive example of citizens taking action. But then someone in the group raises the point that there are donors that might be willing to give some money to a group like theirs, and the whole focus of their group shifts away from the original issue and towards chasing money. Gradually the group starts employing professional people who can write good proposals and account for any funds the group receives, and the activities the group engages in shift from informal and dynamic community mobilisation and lobbying to rigid and structured projects that suits donors but doesn't work so well in practice.
I can't argue with the suggestion that civil society in Tanzania is indeed too bureaucratised, too projectised, and perhaps even too civil (though I would prefer not to go that far). Nor do I dispute the related points that accountability is political not technical - I have previously argued that even service delivery work is more political than is usually acknowledged. And I would agree that working with the formal side of the policy-making process has rarely been effective for civil society in Tanzania - NGOs' engagement effectively becomes much like donor agencies, with marginally more legitimacy but without the technical capacity and without the influence gained by holding the purse strings. My experience with that kind of work is that most of what you do achieve (not much) is brought about by convincing a donor representative to make your argument for you, which is hardly the kind of accountability we're looking for.

But the point I dispute here is the idea that somehow civil society has shifted away from more activist methods - from "placards to powerpoint" - initially for the simple reason that I have seen very little evidence of the placards existing in the first place. When Dar es Salaam's water supply utility was privatised, the only placards to be seen were at a demonstration that took place within an NGO's office compound. Similar privatisations in other countries that attracted huge protests. The recent World Economic Forum event in Dar es Salaam saw protests, but these were led by South African activists and pretty much ignored by Tanzanians. And here at Daraja we recently conducted a survey of attitudes towards local governance (report expected shortly) in which 80% of respondents said that they would never attend a demonstration or protest march. In short, Tanzania doesn't have a culture of public protest, and I think this needs a little more analysis.

Geir did make the point that bureaucratised civil society organisations close down space that more demand-focussed citizens' groups cannot then fill. And perhaps this is the more accurate analysis - that civil society has become co-opted into the formal policy-making arena, therefore effectively preventing more genuine citizens groups from emerging. I'm just not sure that local groups would fill this space even if was available to them.

Let's not forget that the incentives for individual citizens taking action against, for example, local petty corruption, are pretty strongly against such action. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," but where is that person? Anyone who profits in any way from bending the rules (whose brother used a faked form four leaving certificate to gain entry to teacher training, or who bribed a public official to speed up the process of getting a business license or birth certificate, for example) is likely to be unwilling to publicly criticise powerful others. And even if a "clean" person stands up and makes their voice heard they are taking a risk, since the perpetrators of petty corruption are usually also those with the power to make that citizen's life difficult.

Of course, this challenge does not undermine the bigger point, that civil society would have more impact if it moved away from trying to influence change through formal consultational channels and focussed more on finding safe and effective ways for citizens to make their voice heard through the political process.

But it does mean that trying to promote citizens' agency is a bigger challenge than reorganising donor funding to change civil society's incentives. If donor funding for NGOs working on accountability was taken away, for example, this wouldn't necessarily encourage more local groups to take more local actions. It might lead to very little. Instead, it requires finding new ways of creating channels for citizens to make their voice heard without putting themselves and their livelihoods at risk.

What are the incentives for and against citizens' agency? And what can we do to change them?

2 Jun 2010

NGO planning, ki-Mourinho

"Does Mourinho plan out 90 minutes of tackles, passes and shots in a logframe? Of course not, so why do NGOs?"
Rakesh Rajani of Twaweza posed this question last week, making a case for more flexibility and responsiveness in NGO strategy, particularly where NGOs are working in the ever-changing world of public accountability.

Duncan Green used his From Poverty to Power blog to highlight a similar point from a recent academic paper by Rosalind Eyben:

"At their best, aid workers surf the unpredictable realities of national politics, spotting opportunities, supporting interesting new initiatives, acting like entrepreneurs or searchers, rather than planners. But when they report back to their bosses, out come the logframes and strategic plans".
Duncan and Rosalind go on to suggest that this contrast between messy realities and tidy presentation is maintained by a fear that a more honest picture given to donors and donor country taxpayers would result in reduced willingness to hand over the money.

The key point for both is that the environment is so dynamic that only a flexible and responsive approach - "entrepreneurial" in Duncan's case and perhaps Ronaldinho-like in Rakesh's - can succeed.

Both make a powerful case, but it is Rakesh's footballing metaphor that I want to focus on here, to see how far it can be taken. Rakesh himself went one small step further, noting that what was important in a football match was the very clear goal - literally goals - and arguing that NGOs should also raise their eyes to a higher level, focussing on goals rather than getting bogged down in the detail of activities. But I think the metaphor can be taken even further. I hope it's clear enough without me joining up all the dots, and please forgive me if some of this becomes rather stretched!

Let's start with human resources. A football team is made up of 11 players, each bringing a different set of skills. Some have more fixed, disciplined roles - the defenders and most particularly the goalkeeper - while others are expected to be more flexible and creative. Isn't that much the same in an NGO team? Some staff - such as accountants and M+E staff - have more disciplined roles. Perhaps the goalkeeper would be the head of finance? Others are expected to be more creative - the frontline programme staff - who in my experience are the staff that complain most about rigid planning formats.

Players know their position, but this makes up a loose form rather than a rigid structure.

If you have too many creative players, you end up with a team that may be exciting to watch but is likely to give away a lot of goals. Balance is important.

There's a captain on the field, whose role is more about motivation and leadership than creating a decision making hierarchy.

And take strategy. Rakesh is right that football teams focus on the goal, but I think this can be taken further too. Teams rarely go into a match without some kind of plan - to defend deep, to go all-out on the attack, to play with patience and wait for opportunities to arise, etc. They would also usually have back-up plans already in mind - what happens if they concede a goal, or if the opposition is marking their best player very closely? And they would probably also have some set-piece plans, specific corner and free-kick routines, ready for when the opportunity arises.

Preparation is not about detailed planning but about making sure that the team has a wide range of options - skills, tactics, specific routines - at their disposal, ready to use when needed.

A few years ago I made myself unpopular in a team planning meeting when I argued against a colleague that planning was more an art than a science. But perhaps we were both wrong: it's really a sport?