By Daraja's Monitoring and Research Officer, Eric Kalunga
Daraja’s Kwanza Jamii programe’s main goal is to have local print media play an effective role in promoting responsive and accountable local government in rural areas of Tanzania. The Kwanza Jamii newspapers in Njombe and Iringa demonstrate an effective, sustainable and scalable business model for local print media that can then be applied elsewhere by other parties hoping for similar outcomes - like more effective delivery of education, road and health services.
As a model, the newspaper demonstrates that local print media can create pressure, thus encouraging responsive local government. Over the past two years there have been several cases that have demonstrated this: from a bad situation at Njombe Bus stand that we covered and relevant authorities moved swiftly to improve the situation; to an article about lack of education on HIV/AIDS in Ikondo village located in Njombe district which led to that education being provided there; to a story on access to the capitation grant for secondary schools after which district officials publicly appeared to be upset but secretly confirmed the inadequacy of the grant. These examples are testament to the idea that local media can provide the missing link between poor service provision and government action.
Often the response has been positive; that is citizens get their improved services. However in a more recent case we found that things do not always turn out that way.
A ward executive officer (Weo) was demoted after expressing his dissatisfaction with governance in our Kwanza Jamii Njombe newspaper (23rd July, 2012). He explained how his people were disappointed that their newly appointed district commissioner chose to live at a nearby town even though they had set aside an office for her (worth about sh60m) and a residential house. After this story appeared in the newspaper he was suddenly recalled to the district and assigned a desk at the reception – a considerable demotion.
Soon after the story ran, a district engineer called the reporter to state that the value of the office was in fact sh40m and not sh60m, as previously written. The district engineer also enquired about the source of the information. Most significantly, on the day that a Daraja team went to visit the ward in question, we were tipped that the regional commissioner was going to hold a public meeting - likely to address the scandal.
What this case shows is Kwanza Jamii’s impact in the relationship between people and their government. Both local government officials and citizens recognize the newspaper as both a voice for the communities and a source of discomfort. The phone call by the district engineer, and sudden public meeting between the regional commissioner and people, demonstrates Kwanza Jamii’s presence amongst district officials.
Usually it is not easy to make causal claims in situations that involve so many actors. It could be that the RC was planning the meeting long before or that the ward executive officer was demoted for other unrelated reasons, like laziness; meaning that the timing of our story and his recall were simply a coincidence.
It is for this reason that we decided to speak to the Weo and the people back in his ward. The officer did not want to talk about the particular story. He was cautious about meeting KJ reporters saying he was being watched carefully; his advice was to go talk to the people instead.
The citizens we spoke to were not sure that the Weo was recalled because of the story we ran, but thought it was a strong possibility. The one thing they were sure of was that he was hard a working person and that they wanted him back (You can watch a sample video interview below).
Kwanza Jamii talking to citizens in Igwachanya, Njombe from DarajaTz on Vimeo.
At the public meeting between the regional commissioner and the community, the RC made references to “newspaper stories that were misleading and did not accurately present the situation”. Although he said he was there to talk about the national census, he spent a long time justifying why the DC’s decision to not stay in that town detailing that the house she was offered was not modern enough. He did not address the matter of the recalled Weo.
The above factors, combined with the fact that chronologically event A (story) happened before event B (recalled Weo, phone calls, meetings etc), corroborate the fact that the story contributed greatly to the events that followed.
This conclusion leads to two others; one is that people are reading the newspaper, district officials in particular and two is that the paper has the capacity to create dialogue between people and their leaders in bringing desired change. This example also shows that there can be unintended consequences along the way - such as punishment for government officials who decide to speak up against improper practices.
Daraja’s work has the potential to effect more meaningful systematic changes at the level of national policy. These small changes can act as catalysts for the bigger transformations, small things that build up to the bigger change: a more responsive local government in Tanzania. But for this model to continue to work the paper needs to keep sustained pressure on the local government. It needs to be there on the newsstand on each appointed day so that it retains its legitimacy with the readership.