13 Oct 2011

Tawasanet's growing pains

The Tanzania Water and Sanitation Network (Tawasanet) has had a pretty challenging year. Their founding chairperson left the network, their replacement passed away a few months later, not long after which the network parted company with its only two employees in an uncomfortable breakup. Relations between the board and member organisations suffered as a result, there is an ongoing court-case, and preparing an annual report and audited financial statements was by all accounts a very challenging process.

It's a shame to see these troubles, as there is still a clear need for a strong national civil society voice in the Tanzanian water and sanitation sector, which is dominated by government, development partners and a few international NGOs. And as we all know, the sector has a lot of problems, many of which are in areas where civil society has a valuable perspective and experience to contribute - reorienting the sector to be more pro-poor and prioritising sustainability, to name just two.

And at the same time, the network is in danger of losing credibility with both government and donors, and of missing out on funding. We've already missed out on opportunities to influence sector policy. So far Tawasanet's donors have shown patience and goodwill, but this will not last forever.

At Tawasanet's AGM this week, it was good to see a high turnout with most organisations sending senior representatives. This is of course a reflection of the challenges Tawasanet faces, but it is also a positive sign that members value the network and want to get it back onto solid ground.

So what's to be done? Helped by a lengthy exchange of emails among network members before the AGM, agreement has grown around two initial measures. First, some amendments are being made to Tawasanet's constitution, to clarify the roles of the board and the secretariat. Second, by coincidence, several board members have reached their term limits. So we have an ideal opportunity to "refresh" the board with new members.

More needs to follow. A speedy resolution of the court case will help, and getting a strong new coordinator in place as soon as possible is a priority. But for the moment, the commitment of members to getting Tawasanet back on track is a positive sign.