All posts tagged Polis

Connecting Local Realities: The case of women’s groups in Kenya

Posted by / 1st June 2015 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

In recent years, there has been increasing focus on the role of women in development. A number of countries have committed themselves to tackling gender issues with the goal of improving the socio-economic status of women. This position of women is seen to be crucial for achieving wider developmental and social goals. Kenya, for example, has initiated a number of activities and policies that address the socio-economic empowerment of women, ensuring its integration in national development strategies aimed at achieving targets such as the Millennium Development Goals. Furthermore, efforts from International Organisations (IOs) and Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also contributed to the advancement of gender equality, especially within the education sector. However, their efforts do not always reach local women’s groups in rural Kenya, who themselves struggle to access the necessary information available to them. Although there exist initiatives that attempt to resolve this crucial chasm, improving connectivity is the key to local women’s groups partnering up with other actors in order to strengthen rural development.

Since the 1990s, an increasing number of women’s groups have been formed at both the grassroots and the national level in Kenya. Women’s groups make up the majority of local initiatives in rural development and they can play a fundamental role in the alleviation of poverty and addressing the social problems in their local communities. The motivations behind the formation of these groups vary from groups and communities: some groups are formed primarily to improve the living standards of their members, and some often in response to challenging situations faced by the community at the time, such as prolonged drought, famine or at times of socio-economic stress.  Some groups, such as the Mwethya women’s groups of Machakos District, are known for their commitment to water and soil conservation activities. On top of the need to conserve land, the key factors for the groups’ motivations is also the training, education and advice they receive.

Many women’s groups have multiple agendas, and act as catalysts for manifold national development targets. These include poverty alleviation and the eradication of hunger, promote gender equality and empower women. A number of women’s groups in Nyamusi Division in Nyamira County, that undertake women economic empowerment programs engage in activities of income generation such as merry-go-rounds, known as a chama. A chama is a scheme where members pool their resources for investment, allowing them to access the resources to address individual, family or community challenges. Women’s groups in the Nyamusi Division also run programs that range from household poverty reduction programs; education programs, for example to address the need for equal opportunities for boys and girls in schools; or health initiatives to raise awareness in the community of the importance of good nutrition and hygiene, and the effects of HIV/AIDs; as well as social initiatives to raise awareness and tackle gender-based violence.

And yet despite evidence reporting the contributions of women’s groups to community-based activities and socio-economic and national development, there is still a crucial gap between the national and international entities working towards universal development goals, and the women’s groups who are contributing to these same goals. Efforts have certainly been made by governemental organisations, IOs and NGOs to increase funding and support for women in Kenya. NGOs have contributed to the facilitation and support of women’s groups, many of which provide guidance, loans, materials or training. Governmental efforts have also contributed to the economic empowerment of women, such as the Uwezo Fund and Women Enterprise Fund, are initiatives to finance and support women-led businesses and enterprises throughout the country.

However, these governmental initiatives are not reaching many women, let alone many rural women’s groups. Studies reflect that there are still barriers impeding the success of these women’s groups, and inadequate funding is a primary concern. For the women’s groups in the Nyamusi Division, this is certainly one of the leading obstacles they face. Lack of funding along with high levels of poverty mean that many programs, including merry-go rounds and income generation activities struggle to remain sustainable and effective, especially when individual members are unable to contribute financially and are obliged to leave the group. A problem that often occurs with NGOs supporting women’s groups is the traditional structure and approach that still drives many NGOs. They have a tendency to create dependency through non-local leadership. NGOs setting their own agendas instead of listening to the agendas set by local groups, make the latter adapt to the former. This then leads to a donor-recipient relationship, with the relationship turning into one of one-directional need, rather than partnership. Other constraints that can hinder their potential advancement include certain cultural norms, which can prohibit the full participation of women in rural development, such as women’s rights to land and property. Despite the elimination of gender bias in Kenya’s legal framework, many women are still unaware of laws that protect their rights to property ownership.

In addition to these barriers, there is another important question to explore: if the government’s incentive is there, why is it not going to the women that need its support? For many women’s groups, the answer is simple: they lack access to the knowledge and the tools necessary to connect to these opportunities. Many women’s groups lack the information to access funding and support; in fact, rural women’s access to current information in general is one of the major challenges facing women in developing countries. Access to relevant and affordable information is particularly scarce for those who are marginalized either by their locality, gender or due to limited access to other resources. Another important factor is poor infrastructure, which imposes constraints on women’s groups.

The importance of access to information cannot be underestimated, it is the gateway to finding essential knowledge, resources and funding required for the success and sustainability of women’s groups. There have been some innovative approaches to tackle the lack of access to information, such as the Association of Media Women in Kenya who set up the ‘radio listening groups’ initiative to make information more accessible to marginalized communities. Through these, some women have learned how to access the UWEZO Fund, as well as information on government services. But initiatives that focus on connectivity are too scarce.

Connections to multiple sources of information increases women’s awareness of their rights to land and property, to available funding, to resources and materials, to knowledge and ideas. Connectivity would enable women’s groups to proactively find and choose the resources that will allow them to proceed with their initiatives, without relying on a third party, without depending on external approaches, but with direct connections to partners beyond regional borders. It is fundamental to bridge that chasm between national and international partners on the one hand, and local partners on the other. Both sides are strengthened through these relationships; with this connectivity comes access to information, and with information comes further growth.


MDGs, SDGs and the road to change: An outlook for sustainable development


Fourteen years into the 21st century global poverty and underdevelopment remain a crucial problem for millions of humans. At the turn of the millennium, the United Nations (UN) and other international organisations rallied to announce the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), setting the path to change the livelihoods of those living in poverty by 2015. The goals ranged from reducing global poverty by half, to providing universal primary education to everyone as well as halting the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS or malaria. As ambitious and idealistic as the goals were, as detached they were from reality in their method and procedure. Instead of focusing on the people on the ground, including them in the process and ensuring that the goals were feasible, the stakeholders rushed to spread the news of change with bold statements and glorious outlooks to the near future. As a result today – one year before the MDG agenda expires – the outcomes are far from complete. While some significant results have been achieved, such as the reduction of global poverty and improvement of health standards, other goals require more effort and dedication.

Today, not enough attention is given to the structural failures of the MDG design, which was built on donor interests rather than developing countries’ needs. Instead, currently the same stakeholders who designed the MDG agenda are feeding a heated debate about the post-2015 framework including the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Without taking the time to understand the underlying misconceptions about global development and the need for the inclusion of local actors, the coming agenda is bound to fail.

The flawed design of cooperation

The MDGs were crafted on a very short notice in the late 1990s. At the turn of the century, international organisations and donor governments decided to use the momentum of turning millennia and organise for long-lasting change. In only fifteen years the decision-makers sought to – amongst others – eradicate absolute poverty (humans living on less than 1$ per day) and significantly reduce child and mother mortality. The process resulting in the proclaimed eight MDGs with 18 targets and 48 indicators has been described as top-down, westernised and incognizant of voices from developing countries. The main criticisms are that the UN, which as an institution in itself is dominated by western nations, who also are the main donors in development cooperation, has driven the MDG process. Furthermore, the supporting institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank pressured participating nations to follow a development agenda suiting western interests and hegemonic structures. While serving western interests little space and attention was left to incorporate the needs of local people or developing nations. Even more severe was the disregard of national circumstances such as historical burdens, environmental dangers as well as vulnerability due to other causes. Thus it does not come as a surprise that in many developing countries no coherent MDG processes were incorporated resulting in poor outcomes of the MDG agenda.

In the past efforts to support local people have been made on various levels. The execution lacked the transfer of project ownership to the people. Donors held on to their own agendas without allowing for genuine local lead. As a consequence sustainable local development did not become a widespread movement because donors failed to give adequate solutions to the causes of underdevelopment. Therefore local people remain dependent on donors.

Western donors are having difficulty knowing about local needs because they are not measurable and difficult to advertise. It is not in the donor’s and global institutions’ interest to support individuals in developing countries and transfer them the power to change. Furthermore, developing countries do not enter negotiations on an equal level, marked from the long history of skewed cooperation mechanisms. On top of that regional, cultural and historical differences frame development cooperation today as much as they did throughout its past. As a result countries that have received development assistance over a long time carry the burden of previous agreements and are heavily indebted towards donors. This hinders current negotiations from being unbiased and fair. Also, two structural flaws are apparent: Local people are not included into national development plans and national governments have trouble being accountable actors to their electorate while having to following donors’ agendas. Caused by this discrepancy, today’s development cooperation is biased towards the donor, following their lead rather than strong governments’ from developing countries representing their people’s needs.

The new agenda

With the MDG period drawing to a close at the end of 2015, a new agenda is currently drafted. At the heart of the post-2015 agenda are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which have been designed since the early 2010s and will replace the MDGs. At the core of the SDG is the aim to focus on environmental problems and combine the quest against poverty with measures against climate change. By the time of implementation, the SDGs will consist of similar targets and indicators, in essence continuing the legacy of the MDGs. Similar to the MDGs; the SDGs are being drafted throughout a series of High-Level meetings involving stakeholders from multiple counties. Actors from the south raise their voices claiming the right to be involved in the drafting process, especially in the light of the failures within the previous MDG process.

Necessary ingredients for change

Observing how the global community develops and implements abovementioned frameworks underlines inherent problems. Global indicators with measurable outputs and outcomes are far detached from the individual human living in a developing country. Certainly the ideal scenario expected within the MDG/SDG framework would entail a trickle-down implementation where national leaders develop strategies that work within the MDG’s vision and support individuals. However, little action has been observed.

The essential question is whether national governments are willing and equipped to support local change and development, but also – whether they should. Developing countries as aid-recipients and shapers of their own national future need to be heard when global policies are crafted. Western leadership and proactivity aiming at sustainable change can only be successful when interacting with developing countries in a serious and unbiased manner. Otherwise development cooperation becomes a farce disguising western interests without truly devoting itself to alleviating developing countries. Such policy includes the establishment of feasible implementation plans at regional and country-level as well as a move away from geostrategic interests and prioritisation aligned to trade interests.

Simultaneously, local people need to be included in national plans. More recognition of local efforts through governmental support and global development plans would have aided the quest of the MDGs and resulted in better outcomes. The power of local change and its triggering effect at regional or even national levels may not be underestimated. On the contrary, global development plans using the inspiration and force of local people are most likely to incur significant change. Local people know what they are missing and a capable of assessing previous failures. The power of local change can transform the development sector if used accordingly. Together with national governments – acting as the middleman between donors and individuals – those stakeholders are the key to sustainable change. The interplay between local, regional, national and global level must become more coherent and focused.

Advancing human development, changing people’s livelihoods and increasing their resilience is most effective if it is an effort sought after by the people themselves. Individual people and local communities know best what they need and where their weaknesses are. Therefore, they ought to be consulted for the design of development agendas. Those agendas need to be adapted to local specifications and supported by the administration. In that case, instead of following global agendas, national governments will request global money for local solutions. If local people became the leaders of their own development they would make choices that they deem most suitable, and support the necessary efforts to develop sustainably.

Therefore, developing nations taking the center stage of the current post-2015 process and raising their voice will have the power to change their futures. Governments as true representatives of their people advocating for their needs, will turn the SDG process towards becoming inclusive and local-led, and thus more effective. Developing countries must use the momentum – the creation of a post-2015 agenda – and turn it into a southern momentum. A success of the MDG process was the placement of development efforts on the global agenda. For the first time global development actors decided to cooperate in order to solve global poverty together. As flawed as the MDG process may have been, as useful it was to tie development efforts together. Now, in the second stage of global development, developing countries need to enter the drafting process with clear cut requirements that will help the nations to advance as well as incorporate the needs and ambitions of individuals in order to make development the process it should had always been: a unified effort between individuals, groups and their representatives.



Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice in Syria: Assessing the Role of INGOs

Posted by / 28th May 2014 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

The Syrian situation

The major human rights violations in Syria have created a wave of concern within the community of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), and particularly among those INGOs that work on issues relating to human rights, transitional justice and reconciliation. This article aims at underlining the importance for INGOs to take into account the “lessons learned” from past (post) conflict situations. Indeed, over the last two years, many INGOs have developed programmes on peace building and transitional justice in Syria, but today many questions arise regarding the effectiveness and efficiency thereof. Do the INGOs take into account the particular needs of the Syrian civil society? Is there any coordination between the stakeholders present on the field? Are they willing to support initiatives that already exist on the ground? And, last but not least, do they develop mechanisms to empower the civil society in Syria?

While some INGOS establish programmes within a well-developed strategy, others just follow the “trend” to develop programmes on peace building and transitional justice without a clear objective and/or strategy. Three years after the beginning of the conflict, it is time to look at the way INGO’s are involved in the Syrian situation regarding peace building and transitional justice.

Peacebuilding, transitional justice and INGO’s

Past and recent experiences have demonstrated the challenges of post-conflict transitions. Peace building and transitional justice were firmly developed in the 1990’s, following conflicts such as the ones in ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda or South Africa. Today, both peacebuilding and transitional justice are considered essential tools in post-conflicts situations.

Peacebuilding is a holistic concept that encompasses programmes designed to consolidate sustainable peace, prevent disputes from escalating, and avoid a relapse into violent conflict. Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that are implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses.

INGOs are often, if not always, involved in these processes of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. It is important to underline the core principles regarding peacebuilding and transitional justice that INGOs must take into account when operating in situations such as the one in Syria. INGO’s have often been criticised for the way they handle crisis situations, and those working in Syria and beyond should learn from criticisms the sector faced in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and South Sudan.

Empowerment, coordination and long term strategy

INGOs have a role to play in conflicts situations: their expertise in reconciliation, peace building and transitional justice can be meaningful to civil society. However, they cannot work in isolation. Instead, they need to work together and be interdependent with local actors. If INGOs can, and must, take initiatives the development of joint programmes based on grass root initiatives needs to be the preferred approach since it has already shown successes in various countries such as Libya and Tunisia.

If possible, peacebuilding and transitional justice priorities must be determined locally. On the one hand, local actors usually have a better knowledge of the situation and, on the other, it is more likely that peacebuilding and transitional justice initiatives will succeed if citizens and groups are involved in defining the problems and articulating the solutions. This local based approach leads to empowering the civil society. If local initiatives are the basis of programmes developed by INGO’s, it become more natural for internal actors to be the drivers, or owners, of their own national peacebuilding frameworks and transitional justice mechanisms. Developing the capacity of, and giving ownership to, the local government and civil society should thus be the main methodology of all INGO programmes.

Furthermore, the need for enhanced coordination between external actors (such as donor governments, United Nations Country Teams, INGOs) on the one hand- and internal actors (such as governments, local administrations and civil society) on the other, is essential. Without enhanced and deepened levels of coordination, peacebuilding and transitional activities will overlap, duplicate, and potentially have limited impact on the conflict systems they try to stop.

Over the last few years, in order to strengthen the effectiveness of peace building, the international community has understood that there was a need for guidelines and particularly regarding coordination of all stakeholders. In 2005, the Peacebuilding commission was established by resolution 60/180 of the United Nations Security Council, and resolution 1645 of the United Nations General Assembly. The Peacebuilding Commission is an inter-governmental advisory body that helps countries in peace building, recovery, reconstruction and development. It has defined a “peacebuilding architecture”, composed of roadmaps on action that should be taken in order to improve the effectiveness of peacebuilding. The Commission insisted on the necessity of a local based approach.

Finally, in order to have a real impact on the situation, it is necessary not only to involve local actors and to have a good coordination between all actors but also to develop long term programmes of actions with them. Indeed, it is essential to share knowledge and expertise between local and international actors but this must be done within a framework which allows long-term benefits for local civil society.

In Syria, it seems that while some INGOs understand the necessity of working with local actors, others have forgotten the overall goal of developing programmes on peace building and transitional justice. INGOs working there should keep in mind that their aim is to strengthen Syrian civil society capacities and outcomes, and not their own.

This article is part of the Polis Project, a ReSeT programme focused on connecting local needs to global resources.


Money for Nothing: What the Development Sector Could Learn from Cash-Transfer Programmes

Posted by / 20th May 2014 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , / -

Earlier this year Balder Hageraats published an article titled “International Development: Please drop the Charity Act”, criticizing the schizophrenic relationship between donors, NGO´s, and local beneficiaries of development help, and arguing for a more efficient development sector in which needs on the ground take centre-stage. If the sector were to follow such an approach, it could learn a lot from the global South, where various government programmes transfer money directly to the poor, no strings attached. They have led the way in showing that poor individuals already KNOW how to escape poverty: they simply lack the cash.

In Kenya, Having worked as a day labourer for years on end, mr. Omondi one day woke up to receive an sms-text saying he had been given $500 US, no strings attached! He had been one of the recipients selected in a programme where poor families in poor rural villages were given free cash-transfers to help them out of poverty. No conditions, no pay-backs, just free money. Local villagers suspected that the government was somehow behind it, trying to buy votes. People in the development industry were mostly afraid that recipients wouldn’t be able to handle the money wisely, spending it on alcohol and cigarettes. However, none of this happened. Many people in the programme used the money to replace their thatched roofs with metal roofs, which costs a few hundred dollars, but saves money in the long term. The results? People also invested in livestock and small businesses, showing a 48% increase in revenues from animal husbandry, for example. Mr. Omondi bought a motor-cycle to drive people from town to town, making $6 to $9 a day, more than doubling his daily salary, and enabling him to buy a second bike to expand his business.

Most cash-transfers programmes are not one-time lottery tickets however. More and more developing countries, most notably Brazil, Mexico, South-Africa, but also Indonesia, Namibia, Bolivia, Armenia and many others, are setting up long-term programmes that target a substantial but selected portion of the population and gives them a monthly cash transfer between 3$ and 100$ a month. Cash-transfer programmes differ greatly from each other, but are similar in the sense that (1) they benefit a selected group of poor families, (2) that the transfers are monthly and on a long-term basis, and (3) that there are no or few conditions as to how the money is spent. The basic results: It pushes the poorest families out of absolute poverty; it leads to more capital investments, local economic growth, better health, more children going to school, and lower birth rates; all without outside interference. For example, children that benefit from the Oportunidades programme in Mexico (which gives an average of 38$ a month to poor households) are 23% more likely to finish grade 9 than those outside of the programme. The same programme also meant that people eat 8% more calories and a more balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, and meat, leading to fewer illnesses among children and fewer sick-days for adults. In Brazil, the Bolsa Familia (family grant) and Bolsa Escola (school grant) programmes helped in bringing down poverty from 28% in 2001 to 17% in 2008.

Why cash-transfer programmes make sense and are affordable

Just as in developed western societies, various countries in the global South have recognized that everyone in society deserves a minimum amount of economic security. The cash-transfers are a right, not charity. Obviously, the transfers are only for selected groups of people in need, and they don´t serve as a substitute for salary through labour. Depending on the country and the programme, the transfers vary between USD $3 and USD $100 per month per individual or per family.

There are two important counter arguments to the idea behind cash-transfers in developing countries. One, can states afford such kinds of projects? And two, doesn´t handing out free money kill initiative and entrepreneurship, making people lazy and dependent? The answer is that pessimistic expectations with regard to the latter lead people to over-estimate the importance of the former. In other words; cash-transfers lead to local economic growth in the longer term, helping people out of the poverty trap and making the cash-transfer programmes not just relatively cheap, but actually profitable.

Let´s start with the argument that “charity” takes away initiative and entrepreneurship, a theory that micro-credit guru Muhammad Yunus has been fond of pointing out. Cash-transfer programmes in Mexico, South Africa, and Brazil have however shown that the money transferred to poor families is almost never spoilt. Admittedly, the money is not always invested, but rather spent on keeping children in school, or buying more nutritious food. This might not harvest direct financial profits, but certainly helps in long term development; Children in the Mexican Oportunidades programme, for example, are more likely to finish 9th grade, are healthier, and score higher grades. But cash-transfer programmes, just like micro-credits, can also have a multiplier effect for local businesses, because the extra cash allows people to invest in tools or skills and setting up a small enterprise. Poor people tend to invest and consume locally, creating a double benefit for the local economy. Also, cash-transfers don´t necessarily replace micro-credits. As a matter of fact, they can serve to make micro-credits safer and more attractive. Indeed, studies have shown that beneficiaries of cash-transfer programmes are more receptive to taking financial risks.

The fact that cash-transfer programmes are cost-effective in the long term takes away a big obstacle for governments as to who is going to pay. There are however other comprehensible concerns. Firstly, cash-transfer programmes are not a silver bullet to solving poverty; they can help people out of absolute poverty and intergenerational poverty, and they contribute to strengthening local economies and promoting social mobility, but only few make it to middle class. Also, the bigger the amount of cash per family, the less families you can select, and vice versa. In order to be able to afford a substantial programme, a government needs a solid tax-base or windfalls from resource-exports.

Why the development sector should jump on the bandwagon

But the money could also come directly from the international development sector. If governments in the global South can demonstrate that there is no need for paternalistic nudges, conditionality, or moral guidance, why couldn´t the development sector follow suit? There are many reasons to suggest that it should.

Firstly, cash-transfer programmes simply have a pretty convincing track-record when it comes to helping people out of poverty. In other words, it simply works. Cash-transfers are right-based rather than charity based, they are pragmatic in the sense that by nature they empower beneficiaries, and they are cheaper because each invested dollar has the potential of turning into two dollars. Many countries that currently benefit from ´traditional´ forms of cooperation could hugely benefit from switching to a more direct approach.

The development sector could jump on the bandwagon in two ways. The simplest way is by pitching in directly where governments lack public money to pay for cash-transfer programmes. But the development sector has an at least equally important role to play when it comes to actively stimulating development through the provision training, research, expertise and other services. ONLY giving money helps people in climbing out of the poverty trap, but they do still need a hand to pull themselves up. The development sector has all the necessary qualities to be this hand stretching out. Sadly, the hand that the development sector is currently stretching out is that of NGOs stretching their hands upwards to donors.

If the development sector were to learn from the logic behind cash-transfer programmes, they would fund locally identified needs directly. Donors could allow funds to flow more easily and directly to local communities (through local connectors), empowering those on the ground and connecting local needs to global resources.

This article is part of the Polis Project, a ReSeT programme focused on connecting local needs to global resources.



Environmental Disconnect Between Global and Local Actors: The Case of REDD+ and Embobut Forest

Posted by / 14th May 2014 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , , , / -

The global environmental initiative for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is unrealistic in its ambitions and image: various actors, including local populations, are divided on how this mechanism impacts their livelihoods and its utility towards global climate challenges. A case in point is the situation in Kenya. In that country, there are two clearly opposite perspectives with respect to the REDD+ project at Embobut Forest, and there is major disagreement with respect to dangers and opportunities. In order for REDD+ and similar initiatives to be truly effective, global institutions, governments and local populations must attain an agreement on the way in which they are implemented. Without active local support and stakeholdership, such mechanisms are doomed to fail.

REDD+ is a mitigation mechanism still being designed, and one that forms part of international climate change dialogue. Its principal aim is to reduce climate change by protecting global forests- the main planet’s CO2 stores and sinks- from deforestation and degradation. With 25% of total CO2 absorption occurring through forests, and around 15% of carbon dioxide emissions coming from changes in land use, there is widespread consensus that that global rainforests should be protected as a path towards climate change reduction. By maintaining absorption rates and reducing an important source of CO2, global emissions will increase more slowly, which will significantly contribute to anti-climate change efforts. As a form of encouragement, countries with rainforests that reduce their emission levels (coming from these forests) relative to a calculated reference, will receive financial compensation. As countries having rainforests within their borders tend to be impoverished countries, this mechanism is also seen as an opportunity towards poverty alleviation. With these goals in mind, the driving forces for REDD+ mechanisms are the introduction of governance reforms and institutional support, a monitoring system and the design of safeguard frameworks for possibly damaged injured sectors.

Lack of understanding

Many REDD+ initiatives all over the world face strong disagreements. One such case is Kenya’s Embobut Forest. The project was designed by the Kenyan government and World Bank, and has led to a series of displacements of Sengwer People, the indigenous people occupying the area and who have traditional land rights. These displacements are seen as illegitimate evictions by this indigenous group and their supporters, and as a necessary and well-justified step in the path for conservation and global climate initiatives by the Kenyan government. Another prominent line of confrontation is the usefulness of REDD+ as an actual way to protect forests and fight climate change. Kenya’s government has been accused of using indigenous forest lands for agricultural and profit-making purposes, which would of course be in contradiction with the REDD+ purpose and official public stance.

The principal reason behind deforestation in Kenya is forest conversion into agriculture. Forest degradation also occurs through unsustainable utilization, illegal logging, uncontrolled grazing and charcoal production. Thus, Kenya’s government identified the REDD+ project as a useful mechanism to protect Embobut Forest. This programme includes the identification of grazing systems and the implementation of a methodology for monitoring community engagement in forest management. Within this last strategy, a series of workshops were organized for local communities to educate them on carbon financing from a government perspective. In addition to improving forest protection, these actions are presented as a way to transmit management responsibilities to local communities, which would empower them and improve their livelihoods by “increasing the benefits of forests”. REDD+ mechanisms would therefore strengthen the fight against climate change through better governance of forestry lands.

The Kenyan government and other promoters of REDD+ mechanisms signal poverty and population growth as two of the main threats to national forests. With population growth and lack of access to biomass energy substitutes, there exists major friction in rural zones. Poverty makes people more dependent on natural resources, as they turn to them in order to cover their basic needs and extract economic income. This leads to more pressure on Kenyan forests. In addition, Embobut’s forest population has increased as a result of landslides and people fleeing cities after Kenya’s 2007-2008 electoral disturbances. These Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), just like the Sengwer, are seen as squatters, and a series of evictions were carried out to safeguard urban water supplies and to protect the forest.

In opposition to REDD+ projects, indigenous people and various national and international NGOs claim that this project is serving to illegally eject traditional occupants from their lands in the name of a fake climate change fight and with the real aim of financial profit. A major complaint is the government’s support in the eviction of the Sengwer, signaling cases of individuals being targeted and persecuted, as well as the burning down of their houses. From March 2013 until January 2014, Eldoret High Court emitted various rulings forbidding and condemning these actions. On the other hand, REDD+ opponents claim that Embobut project will actually promote deforestation. They accuse the Kenya Forest Service of having transformed indigenous forest into profit-making plantations and agriculture lands in the past, something which they fear will be repeated in Sengwer lands under the guise of REDD+ projects. They argue that the way in which REDD+ is being implemented does not only fail to contribute to the fight against climate change, it also leads to social injustices.

Addressing confrontation

Why indigenous people and some NGOs and ecologist groups in Kenya position themselves against REDD+ mechanism might be a mystery to its supporters, as they are meant to be the first beneficiaries or partisan of climate change and poverty fighting efforts. Clearer and more focused dialogue is needed to clarify different concerns and perspectives and find common ground. Agreeing that mechanisms have to be implemented to fight both poverty and climate change, stakeholders must first determine if such dynamics are really properly designed towards achieving the desired results.

One confrontation line- and thus need for dialogue- is the management of forestry resources and the potential displacement of people. While indigenous groups allege being unlawfully evicted, and governments and intergovernmental institutions arguing that this is necessary to attain better governance, poverty threatens affected areas. Nonetheless, government institutions also claim that REDD+ mechanisms will lead to communal management and livelihood improvements. It is crucial to clarify how the eviction of indigenous populations will serve to empower local communities and strengthen their position in forests management. And although energy generation and consumption is rather inefficient among the poorer sectors of affected populations, the lack of industrial behaviour and the small scale of such activities are insignificant to other sources of CO2 emissions, certainly when compared in absolute terms. Moreover, in order for the solutions to environmental problems to be supported by crucially important local actors, they should avoid social upheaval and disproportionate sacrifice. Truly effective measures require traditional occupants to remain actively involved and not be forced to leave their lands.

The utility of Embobut REDD+ project to environmental objectives also require further analysis. The problems witnessed in Kenya have also been signaled in other parts of the globe in which REDD+ projects are being developed. Kenya’s government and international agencies empathetically deny this accusation of generalized problems, but at the very least a clearer framework must be designed and monitoring mechanisms must be implemented in order to avoid unnecessary destruction in Embobut Forest and elsewhere.

The search for understanding

What is clear is that there is no unanimous support for REDD+. While large institutions and a vast majority of governments present it as a promising way to fight climate change and poverty in Kenya, wide sectors of civil society stand up against it and claim that it will have disastrous consequences in people’s lives and their environment. Evictions of indigenous groups undermine the fight against climate change, and better solutions must be found to IDI’s situation. Clearer forest management plans are required to guarantee consistency both with REDD+ overall objectives as well as with those of local stakeholders.

Climate change and poverty alleviation are two of the most important challenges facing the global community, and it is a point of serious concern why positions between people directly affected by these challenges and the mechanisms designed to face them seem so far apart. For REDD+ to work, governments and international institutions have to translate global ambitions into effective local application, and this requires much greater dialogue with local populations. Without this, indigenous peoples and other local communities will stand at the edge of these dynamics, eventually suffering the negative consequences as well as undermining the objectives of the project. It is still to be seen whether REDD+ can eventually become a useful mechanism towards climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation, as Kenya’s government and international institutions claim. Only the future will tell. Then again, when dealing with climate change, the future is not an option.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

International Cooperation and Cultural Heritage Programs: in the name of which heritage?

Posted by / 25th April 2014 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

International cooperation  in the cultural heritage sector is strongly  dependent on  investments with a top-down approach which does not substantially consider local communities in decision making. On the other side  of the  system, NGOs should fill the gap,  but when working  as a medium for  governmental funding,  no space is left  to plan actions based on the real needs of local communities. The Mutual Cultural Heritage (MCH)  program  in Galle, Sri Lanka, is just an example of this kind of attitude, and despite claims of sustainable cooperation, there is a clear discrepancy between  financial support and local needs. This raises concerns about ownership and heritage management.

The Mutual Cultural Heritage Program in Galle: in the name of which heritage?

The Netherlands launched  the first phase of the Mutual Cultural Heritage (MCH) Programme between  2009 -2012. According to the Cultural Heritage  Policy Framework, ”common cultural heritage” meant relics of a past that the Netherlands has shared with others: buildings and engineering constructions, archives, underwater wrecks and museum exhibits, as well as intangible heritage. The aim of the Common Cultural Heritage policy was to “collaborate on the sustainable maintenance and management of the common cultural heritage”.

After settling on the policy, the Dutch government identified eight priority countries: Brazil, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Suriname, South Africa and Sri Lanka. In order to implement the plan, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science allocated funding and  contributed €2 million a year for the MCH program making cooperation agreements with the above countries.  One million was assigned to the relevant Dutch embassies. The other million was added to the budgets of the Netherlands’ three cultural heritage agencies: the National Archives (NA), the National Service for Archaeology, Cultural Landscapes and Built Heritage (RACM) and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN).

All the MCH projects in Sri Lanka started  just after the end of the civil conflict, in 2009, and were  focused on project proposals and restoration plans   concerning Dutch remains such as forts and  Dutch archival sources. The shared heritage identified for the projects was related only to Dutch colonial heritage. Particular attention within the Mutual Cultural Heritage  was given to  Galle, a town located 120 km  south of Colombo, declared World Heritage Site in 1988. Within the MCH programme, the ancient Dutch  rampart and the drainage system in Galle Fort were  restored as well as the Dutch Warehouse in which the National  Maritime Museum was later established.

Furthermore, as part of the cooperation with the Netherlands, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage of Sri Lanka issued a  tourism development programme in Galle, which comprised the establishment of a boating service for local and foreign tourists.  In relation to this latter specific aspect,  UNESCO  has expressed,  since 2010, serious concerns about the management plan. The plan was criticised for lacking clarity and threatening the cultural heritage of Galle, particularly through the establishment of a new international harbor.

On the Dutch side a Dutch NGO was involved in the MCH program- the Centre for International Heritage Activities (CIE)- but its role was confined to organising informative meetings and workshops, inviting stakeholders such as UNESCO, the Sri Lanka Central Cultural Fund, ICOMOS and Dutch specialists. CIE managed funding provided by the Dutch Government to organize the above activities, but no locally based activities were arranged to monitor the MCH programme.

On the Sri Lankan side, apart from ICOMOS, which works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage sites, no local Sri Lankan NGOs were engaged, nor were any community based activities organised to evaluate the management of the MCH program or to raise awareness about the program itself. This is significant because heritage legislation and the concept of heritage itself are not the same in Western countries compared to many other parts of the world. Therefore, the meaning and nature of procedures is not always obvious. A constructive attitude toward monument preservation and management depends on the position that a local community takes in these processes in order to relate with, and create, a sense of ownership of the heritage in question. If local involvement is not planned, one consequence could be the alienation of heritage, thereby losing its links to the local, living community.

What is happening in Galle is that the local owners cannot afford the costs of maintenance for the old historical buildings because of the absence of legislation on heritage and the lack of funding from Sri Lanka authorities. Instead, many locals preferred selling their properties to foreigners. Furthermore, rather than to encourage local investments or raise local awareness, the Urban Development Authority (UDA) of Sri Lanka is trying to attract even more foreign investors, and uses the restored Dutch Hospital, in Galle Fort, as an example. It is planned to be leased as a mall with spas, restaurants and shops. On the UDA website it is not specified which kind of companies are going to manage those shops and restaurants, but if they will be led by foreign franchises and companies, the whole heritage management programme will be unlikely to offer the supposedly full benefits to local populations.

A realistic sustainable future for international cooperation and heritage management?

The main question here is how management is planned, in the name of which heritage, and how and in which ways local communities will eventually benefit from the outcomes if they are not substantially involved in the process. These issues are particularly sensitive because they touch and shape a local sense of ownership, legacy and the perception of heritage itself.

Galle showed that the MCH program did not actively involve local communities despite its goals to collaborate on sustainable maintenance and management of the common cultural heritage. A more vital and tangible heritage policy, heritage law and heritage management needs to be developed in sustainable international cooperation and heritage management. This will only be possible if governments, considering their own shortcomings, will accept the responsibility of equal cooperation, which should start with solutions, perspectives and approaches driven by the most important stakeholders: local communities. 


Further reading:

Lowenthal, D. (1985). The past is a foreign country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Van Maanen E., Ashworth G. (2013). Colonial Heritage in Paramaribo, Suriname: Legislation and Senses of
Ownership, a Dilemma in Preservation? International Journal of Cultural Property (2013) 20:289–310.