11 Aug 2010

Water supply in #Tanzania is political not technical II: local government reactions to Maji Matone

Daraja's Maji Matone programme includes an innovative approach to solving rural water supply problems - creating a mechanism for rural citizens to SMS messages to inform their district water engineer of a breakdown or other problem, so that the water department can help solve the problem quickly. We also work with local media to follow up on what actions the water departments have taken.

While preparing our annual report last week (will be available online soon), we came across an analysis written by us a few months back of the initial responses of district water departments to this apprach. It provides an interesting window on the attitudes of local government, so we decided to include it in our annual report, and also to share it here. In order to protect our working relations with the officials in question, their names and the names of the districts have not been included here.

The programme represents a very different way of doing things, both within the water sector and within the Tanzanian local government system. In the water sector, dominated by engineers, there is a resistance to anything that resembles a political rather than technical solution. Challenging the primacy of technology is represented here by District A, where the district water department’s response to the programme has been to challenge the legitimacy of an NGO “stirring up dissatisfaction and dissent” rather than providing money for new services.

In the local government system, there is more acceptance of governance-related work, though the norm is for such programmes to work closely with the formal administrative systems – participatory planning, public consultations, joint budget monitoring exercises, etc. – rather than to mobilise citizens and the media to press for accountability. Challenging the primacy of administration and bureaucracy is represented here by District B, where the district water department’s response has been to argue that “government cannot work by text message”, cannot act based on information not received through proper channels.

In contrast, in District C the water department has responded very positively to the programme, recognising the value of getting information on problems with water supplies through a range of different channels, and particularly recognising the value of mobile phones as a time- and cost-saving way of receiving such information.

The objections raised in Districts A and B are interpreted by programme staff as being rooted in the recognition that the programme explicitly aims to challenge the status quo in a way that could be seen to make their work more difficult. Such resistance is a challenge for the programme to overcome – the programme depends for its success on the same officials that it aims to put under increased pressure to perform. The programme is pushing the boundaries of what are legitimate actions for both citizens and NGOs to take.

This post has been adapted from a paper prepared by Daraja for presentation to the annual conference of the International Association of Media and Communications Research (IAMCR), Braga, Portugal, July 2010. The paper was presented by Murali Shanmugavelan of Panos London, who were sponsoring Daraja's participation at the conference, on behalf of Daraja, as Daraja’s representative was unwell and unable to travel.