Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How a village peacefully voted out a dysfunctional all-male committee

Weeks before I was scheduled to arrive in Bossaso, Puntland, 2 colleagues from the Danish Diming Group, were kidnapped in Galkayo! This unfortunate incident tightened security in the whole of Puntland and affected my planned trip to roll out the SMS beneficiary feedback system. It meant postponing the trip and traveling to Nairobi for a personal security training course. The course was worth it as I felt better prepared in case there were any security threats.
I arrived in Bossaso, Puntland, on the 19th of December. Security was very tight and I had to have security guards whenever I stepped out of the DRC compound. I had to negotiate hard to be allowed to visit beneficiaries outside Bossaso. The advice was that visiting Galkayo was totally out of the question given the high security risk and after back and forth discussions with both our Nairobi office and staff at the Bossaso office, I was finally allowed to visit beneficiaries in Qardho, 3 hours drive from Bossaso. On the condition that I took 2 body guards.
We arrived in Qardho on the 22nd, a small sleepy town with friendly people. We went straight to meet beneficiaries of 4 projects: Community market in Shimbiraale; a livelihood project and IDP camp in Qardho town; community health post and 2 wells in Shire village. The first project beneficiaries, a group of women at a community market in Shimbiraale, a village just outside Qardho, had an interesting local governance issue they shared with us. Their project is part of the Community-Driven Recovery and Development (CDRD) and the market was already built and functioning.
Around 30 women were at the market when we visited, they seemed keen to hear the purpose of our visit and about the project. In the middle of my explanations, a woman with a speaker walked in, she looked like she was in charge. She sat at the front and politely asked me to repeat the explanation for her. It turned out she was one of the implementing committee members and a very active member involved in few other local initiatives. She explained she just returned from a local ‘cleaning day’ event. 

I found all the participants engaging, they asked a lot of questions about how the project works and if they could test it by sending SMSes right then. Even though I knew the basics about the project, they insisted on telling me the history. They explained the following:
CDRD projects are typically given $15,000 to implement a project local communities have chosen. The community is then asked to contribute 20% of the fund in any way they can. Most common form of contribution is labour but in the Shimbiraale case, the community contributed the land on which the market was built. The land was valued at $4,000, more than the expected 20% contribution.
As part of the grant, the community is also required to select an implementing committee to manage the day to day management of the funds and the project. The Shimbiraale village residents ended up selecting an all-male committee made of 11 members and they set up a deadline for the completion of the market.
The committee only built the foundation of the market and the project fell behind schedule.  The community, mostly the female members, started pressuring the committee to finish the project as they needed to sell their produce in the market. Impatient with the slow progress and lack of explanation, some of these female community members, called for a village meeting and proposed to vote out the committee! After a village meeting, the committee was found to have:
·        Lack of cooperation - among themselves and with the community members, which has interrupted the project’s implementation.
·        Lack of commitment - most of the elected committees had their personal projects and prioritized them over the work assigned by the community.
This led the community to vote the whole committee out and vote in a new committee entirely made up of female members. The new committee managed to complete the construction of the market within a month of taking over. 
I was amazed with the efficiency of the female members of Shimbiraale village and how determined they were to sort the problem out. We hear a lot about power struggle and mostly male-domination in the decision-making process at this level  in most Somali villages and towns but this is the first time I witnessed the results of a fair and democratic system where a village unanimously voted out a dysfunctional committee and an all-male committee at that, for the benefit of the whole community! This story made it worth all the security hassle I had to go through to visit the beneficiaries. It is the kind of success story of local decision-making and governance I hope to hear more of.

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