Kibwezi: A community put on the Cross by development agencies

Eddie Mwanzia
Executive Director
Uongozi Centre for NGO Studies, Leadership & Management
P.O. Box 400

Mark Lawrence, PhD
Associate Professor of Geography
Department of Geography & Political Science
Bemidji State University
Bemidji, MN 56601



The history of the Kibwezi communities in southern Kenya dates back to the pre-colonial period. However, despite the fact that the communities have had wide interaction with the international community through international development organizations, Kibwezi Town and its surrounding villages have not realized strong self-sufficiency systems to sustain their own development. Indeed, the desires of local communities and their institutions arguably have been suppressed by the presence of government and international development agencies. The fact that these organizations are driven by huge budgets tied to specific time frames has forced the Kibwezi communities to forfeit their own survival strategies and rely on these development agencies. The need for autonomous institutions that can work with the local communities has become imperative, sustained effort at indigenously-led development achievable only through a partnership that encompasses the insider implementing and the outsider only as facilitator.

Strong opposing ideological and cultural forces have built up around the ethic, starving it to the point that it is at risk of "failing to thrive." In the version of the narrative and myth that are being enacted now, many social work educators and practitioners are adapting to cope with the siege. It is too soon to know whether this siege process will be irreversible. In this paper, the authors offer their perspective on the state of the social work profession in light of the siege of the pursuit of social justice, as well as some ideas about how social work might overcome it.





Introduction: Dangers of 'developmentalism' in Kibwezi, Kenya

Kibwezi is the largest place in the southern half of Kenya's Makueni District. Its formal history dates at least as far back as 1897 when the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) negotiated a land purchase agreement with the British authorities in South Africa unbeknownst to about a hundred Akamba families already living on the site of the town. Kibwezi soon became one of many centres of activity along the advancing track of the Kenya-Uganda Railway, which remains the country's most important railroad today. A third significant player in local history was the Dwa Estate, a vast sisal plantation which now controls nearly 25,000 acres of prime quality land in the region. The intrusion of missionaries, the railway, white-owned commercial estates, and the London-based colonial authority that legitimized their imposition on the native social landscape led to the eviction and forced resettlement of thousands of local people on more than one occasion. Given rapid demographic change and environmental degradation, Makueni has been declared a 'hardship' district by the government, ranking 64th out of 67 districts nationally in terms of leading socio-economic indicators.

Arguably, government agencies and professional development organizations alter Kibwezi's already strained and tenuous social geography by testing development theories that do not necessarily match the needs of the local community (Edwards et al. 1999). A growing proportion of such efforts are for-profit enterprises, 'compassionate' motivations calculated from the standpoint of a business model (Sogge et al. 1996). So while much of what passes for 'development' is dressed up as 'appraisal' or 'target assessment', community members are tossed about between competing interests until they are unable to prioritize their own needs (Marglin & Marglin 1990; Escobar 1995). Therefore, it is important to recognize the complex roles played by 'developmentalist' ideologies: namely, of what 'development' is supposed to mean for any given agency when considering the impacts of its delivery to targeted communities (Pantojas-Garcia 1990; Whaites 1999; Van Ufford & Giri 2003). Too often, 'development' is restricted to a narrowly economic definition of growth and modernization deliberately aimed at sweeping away whatever is considered regressively 'traditional'. The Government of Kenya (GoK) is currently engaged in this sort of exercise; for instance, considering poverty relief as requiring unambiguous definition of the minimum amount of land required to be defined as a farm (2 acres). Millions with considerably less than this officially-defined minimum acreage simply vanish from sight when looking through the lens of rural relief programmes.

Even when outside agencies do introduce effective practices for sustainable development, much of their success is ruined by staying in targeted communities only for a while and then abruptly leaving for other projects elsewhere (Asian Development Bank 1996). Nor is this only the case with international organizations; State involvement can also be particularly insidious, inasmuch as communities can be used to woo external donors. Needless to say, if foreign capital is successfully coaxed into the country, the dangers of possible dependence on such outside assistance become ever-more evident. Across Africa, country after country is beholden to just a handful of foreign commercial and intergovernmental donor interests in this way. In Kibwezi, GoK's Horticultural Crop Development Authority (HCDA), together with the State-run University of Nairobi, has taken land previously designated as belonging to the community as a 'public utility' in order to build a gigantic 'cold storage' facility. Doing so has successfully attracted the attention of a produce marketing firm, VegCare, which delivers fruits and vegetables to expensive urban markets in Nairobi and Mombasa. However, only a few of Kibwezi's farmers can afford to partner with VegCare since the firm and the HCDA have imposed quality standards and volume thresholds for each contract they sign with local producers.

Furthermore, once an external agency establishes a project in a community, it has to impress its own organizational headquarters and financiers (World Bank 1994). Worse still, it is typically the case that few community members are employed in these projects, even though residents understand their own community much better than anyone else. Since externally-driven development is a highly competitive activity (as when outside agencies compete for major grants to initiate large-scale or longitudinal projects), developmentalist groups tend to self-select technical and/or financial elites who can advance their agendas (David & Desrochers 1998). Inasmuch as such programmes are tied to particular budget reporting and renewal cycles, there is effectively no opportunity to accommodate either the spontaneous or long-term needs and ideas of the local community, which are frequently suspended by community members themselves in a bid to secure any financial largesse remaining while the coffers are not yet emptied (Prendergast 1997). This was quite arguably the case of ActionAid, a UK-based agency which, despite its otherwise admirable efforts in Kibwezi, nonetheless left in its wake a predictably lethargic staff on site unwilling for several years to initiate new projects unless funds were forthcoming.

Even where local people demonstrate considerable dynamism adapting to abrupt and apparently arbitrary shifts of developmentalist perspective (Snyder 2005), significant distinctions of hardship within the population can be overlooked. For instance, lack of a clear land policy in Kenya has facilitated rapid, large-scale evictions and forced resettlement that have contributed to serious environmental degradation. GoK subdivided Machakos District in 1992, administratively reassigning Kibwezi's communities to the new Makueni District, a region with few resources to look after its rapidly expanding population; likewise, the Chyulu Hills flanking Kibwezi were attached to Tsavo West National Park. In both instances, 'development' was intimately tied to the tourist dollar, without ample regard for the fate of local people. North of Kibwezi, a large agricultural research farm granted to the University of Nairobi in the early 1990s led to seizure of 16,000 acres east of the town of Kasayani, while another eviction facilitated a government land grant to the parastatal Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (ActionAid Kenya 1997). Altogether, about60,000 people were evicted from their farms during this 'land crisis' period and (especially when official resettlement allotments have still not been adequately distributed) forced to search for land elsewhere in Kibwezi Division. Some of these refugees have relocated to the Masongaleni Resettlement Scheme, others to the Usalama and Muuni Schemes. Resettlement areas are consistently located on the most marginally productive lands.

Under such circumstances, development workers knowingly or not encourage community dependence on their external organizations and on government agencies. For instance, they continue to distribute relief food when drought strikes while doing little or nothing to help farmers preserve their produce when there is a bumper harvest. Indeed, famine has become a cyclic problem throughout Makueni District in part because little has been done to improve water harvesting in such a chronically dry region, let alone to develop improved and sustainable use of the area's rivers. This leads to a terrible paradox, where in the midst of crippling famine, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated Kenya's total 2005/06 corn production at 2.8 million tons, 425,000 tons greater than the five-year average of 2.38 million tons (United States Department of Agriculture 2005). 'Development' tied to export agriculture continues to create market abundance overseas but also local hunger at the same time. Food aid only supports the perpetuation of this paradox, even as donors are understandably moved by compassionate concern for starving Africans.

In similar fashion, the introduction of a Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by GoK has furthered dependency by politicizing local development. Specifically, the management of the fund has been assigned to the regional Member of Parliament, thereby defeating the whole purpose of CDF, which was originally conceived of as taking management of public resources directly to the people. Instead, MPs appoint croniesto head CDF development committees, often not even residents of the region, thereby leaving out key development stakeholders. Worse still, politicians can use this system to punish their critics, areas that are strongly opposed to the MP being denied CDF support. In the absence of such reconceived partnerships between local and non-local actors (Edwards & Gaventa 2001), the redistribution of the burdens of such hardships is quite commonly especially connected to gendered divisions of labour and differential experience of poverty (Parpart et al. 2002; Connett & Lawrence 2004).

Uongozi Centre for NGO Studies, Leadership & Management: The INGO alternative

Consequently, in Africa, as elsewhere (McNulty & Lawrence 1996; Lawrence & Titilola 1998; Lawrence & Mwanzia 2002), indigenous non-governmental organizations (INGOs) have begun acting as intermediaries between local and non-local actors involved in development (Esman & Uphoff 1988; Edwards & Hulme 1992; Bebbington & Mitlin 1996). Dynamic components of civil society (e.g. social clubs, church groups, voluntary associations), INGOs are important in light of persistently suspect, inefficient political society (Chabal & Daloz 1999). One such group is the Kibwezi-based Uongozi Centre for NGO Studies, Leadership & Management.

Paying greater attention to INGOs highlights distinctions between 'low-context' and 'high-context' culture (Hall 1976; Samovar & Porter 2004). The former tends to be analytical and technical, everyday behaviour conditioned by assessment of a great deal of information and specificity of timing, activity and responsibility. Low-context culture is therefore more descriptive of donor agencies and government agencies, which generally expect a particular standard of quality to remain constant and which take for granted the notion of making and keeping to a schedule regardless of changing background circumstances. This is true whether it is a matter of prices and sizes of food portions or other things for sale, or consideration of contracted work done by someone today being at least as good as it was yesterday.

Likewise, the low-context culture of most international agencies and national bureaucracies typically misses important details as they try to fit 'data' to their survey instruments, especially crucial distinctions between information as reported to the surveyor alone versus to others in everyday conversation (Becker & Geer 1960). Closely related is what anthropologists call the expectancy effect (Rosenthal & Jacobson 1968; Rosenthal & Rubin 1978), the tendency to obtain information that conforms to expectations about the local situation because the development worker has knowingly or otherwise influenced people to respond and behave according to those presumptions. Similarly, such an approach frequently misses response and deference effects. Response effects are those influencing collected data as a result of such unexamined characteristics of informants (and investigators) as their political orientation, gender or ethnicity (Bradburn 1983; Axinn 1989; Aunger 1992). Deference effects influence collected data as a result of informants telling the development worker or bureaucrat what they think the other wants to hear, especially if it generates largesse of some sort (Reese et al.1986; Finkel et al. 1991). For that matter, low-context culture can become encumbered by a recursive process of endless data collection, insisting for instance that long-term trends need to be assessed. It also needs to be remembered that such a data-centred culture is often tied to statistical analyses requiring technical expertise, potentially large budgets, and organizational complexity (as in the case of studies that are peer-reviewed, 'double-blind', etc.).

By contrast, a high-context culture is more intuitive; technical rules matter less than traditional roles, and analytical criteria matter less than discovery of the best approach for making decisions about the current situation. This does not mean that high-context cultures (where the unspoken and implied can be much more important than clear and distinct communication) are less complex. Indeed, the opposite can be true inasmuch as high-context culture can be highly nuanced, so inasmuch as they are headquartered in local areas and staffed by local people, INGOs such as Uongozi have a higher likelihood of operating in a high-context mode. This is important given the disadvantages of the low-context 'donor' agency in an era of retreat from previous foreign-aid commitments (Edwards 1999), and perhaps especially in terms of issues faced by rural populations in places such as Kibwezi. The complexity of issues emphasized by international agencies (for example, desertification and global warming resulting from urban-based industrial emissions) tends to divert attention from place-specific problems and frames solutions confounded by inequitable distribution and control of resources. A low-context perspective sees a problem - famine, for instance - and can respond with massive intervention of food aid, while a high-context perspective appreciates that such intervention can harm rather than help (as, for example, when emergency shipments of food aid flood markets, unintentionally eliminating any possible profit sought by local producers).

While INGOs are always hard-pressed to survive given their location in poor areas and staffing by poor people, groups such as Uongozi are less generally affected by questions of complexity, resource availability, and the time lag involved in negotiation of access to what resources do exist. This is not to imply that local issues are not complex; instead, an INGO is generally able to take more direct action concerning issues with which they have considerable local (if not scientifically researched) familiarity. Also, unlike its international counterpart, the INGO is capable of maintaining a higher degree of focus on long-term processes of change rather than short-term interventions. Because of this, INGOs potentially provide a basis for strengthening civil society; indeed, the appeal of a seemingly more effective and responsible alternative to state-directed management of natural resources has led to an international 'back to the people' movement (World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) 1987). In general, Uongozi is similar to other INGOs in terms of the objectives it targets (Johnson et al. 1989; Woodhouse 1990; Kaluli 1992; Bwibo et al. 1994). It is also emblematic of a recent trend in the formation of newer types of community development organization (Mbula & Tiffen 1992). Beyond the traditional mwilaso and harambee institutions, groups like Uongozi simultaneously act out of concern for highly localized issues yet also operate within networks of national and international contacts.

It is therefore important to trace the evolution of Uongozi's focus by detailing its organizational history. Originally, the core staff of today's organization came together as young people of common schooling and community background during Kenya's 'multipartyism' period in Nairobi, 1992-1994, an era of vigorous political effort across the country aimed at democratically ending the despotic rule of President Daniel arap Moi. However, Moi was too conniving and the divisions within Kenyan society were too deep for multipartyism to work effectively; it was another decade before Kenya experienced even a limited form of regime change. During the period of multipartyism, the overriding concern of the cadre that would eventually form Uongozi was about the need for official programmes to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic (unacknowledged by GoK).

In the aftermath of multipartyism's failure, many of its advocates were simply co-opted by the corrupt regime, while many more simply gave up hope of positive social change altogether and turned to the pursuit of individual material gain. A very few retreated to their rural homelands and tried to reconfigure their objectives during the subsequent period of national disillusionment with the political option. In Kibwezi, an informal meeting group decided to seek training in home-based health care as a way of bringing awareness of the HIV/AIDS problem to local people. Officially formed as the Foundation Agency for Rural Development (FARD) in 1997, the group secured limited funding from outside sources and donations from local people, which it used to train several volunteers. Occasional collaboration with other INGOs starting to appear in the Kibwezi area, as well as with the former staff of an ActionAid project, increased FARD's profile in the communities, and the group was eventually able to establish a large-scale roadside advertising campaign about health issues, as well as to buy a few portable combination TV/VCR units in order to show informational videos in rural areas. An after-school programme of video instruction was also initiated.

However, it became increasingly apparent that, in a rural area of minimal land quality consequently facing substantial and persistent risk of famine, health issues were always of secondary concern relative to the search for basic survival. Thus, in 1999, FARD sought assistance in providing local farmers with training in biointensive organic agriculture (BIA). The central aim of BIA is to farm more efficiently with less land, thereby reducing environmental degradation and promoting sustainability, especially because BIA uses no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or mechanical supplements to labour. While it remains a labour-intensive set of techniques and does not increase farm profitability, BIA promotes household savings (which therefore can be utilized in response to a greater variety of needs than was the case hitherto), as well as higher quality food production (crucial to improving nutritional health, the necessary foundation of any effective response to poor health overall). By 2001, FARD had supplemented this effort with an initiative aimed at providing 'non-formal' education (that is, education not requiring a school diploma, certificate, or university degree) in such indigenous vocations as woodcarving and honey production, aimed specifically at HIV/AIDS orphans. By 2004, FARD had taken the lead role in helping sixteen area school superintendents to design an HIV/AIDS curriculum for elementary schools (once GoK admitted that the disease does exist in Kenya and mandated - without any commitment of resources - that some attention to the issue should be included in the primary curriculum). Efforts also successfully resulted in the establishment of Kibwezi's first HIV/AIDS voluntary counselling and treatment (VCT) centre, negotiations to bring health education to the Dwa Estate workforce, and initial work compiling land-dispute testimonies regarding the Dwa boundary in order to reduce property-rights tension in the area. Reformed as the Uongozi Centre in 2006, the organization has now elevated its aims to focus on leadership training and support for other INGOs, including a new project involving adult education (primarily literacy and BIA training for the elderly) to complement previous commitments to training youth.

Organizational confrontations with the State and international agencies

Uongozi's successes have not been secured without cost to the organization and its staff, and its past and present difficulties help give concrete form to the more abstract discussion of development exploration, exploitation, retardation, and dependency that we have elaborated upon. Generally speaking, organizational conflict with external forces has taken several forms:

  1. Bureaucratic obfuscation
  2. Imposed obligations
  3. Hijacked projects
  4. Lack of follow-through and abandonment of responsibility
  5. Self-promotion
  6. Lack of foresight and counterproductive interventions.

Bureaucratic obfuscation

As previously mentioned, Machakos District was subdivided in 1992, with Kibwezi's communities now located in Makueni District. In the minds of many local people, this was an effort by the Moi government during the period of multipartyism to scatter the ethnic Akamba opposition since it initiated a struggle over distribution of economic and other resources, arguably not yet resolved. Most of the Akamba population lives in the uplands around Machakos Town, such that Makueni District (and the adjoining Kitui District) is poor in part because of alterations of political geography. Internally, too, GoK ensured further hardship by placing the district headquarters in Wote, a particularly remote site in the north-east of Makueni, which until recently was without any paved road access except from Machakos to the north-west.

Three years earlier, GoK had begun gazetting the Chyulu Hills Wildlife Reserve, an extension of the vast Tsavo National Park, such that by 1992 Kibwezi Division was flanked on three sides (west, south-east, and east) by 'no-go' zones. Additionally, the Umani Springs headwaters of the Kibwezi River (the only non-saline permanent water source in Kibwezi Division) was bureaucratically mapped as rising within Kibwezi Forest, which was designated state land and also off limits to local people. The evictions of thousands of people from Chyulu and other areas was a time-consuming and often violent process; houses and grain stores were torched and animals and other property confiscated without compensation. Via a lottery system that frequently separated pre-existing communities and even individual extended families, evictees were sent to the Usalama Resettlement Scheme and the Masongaleni Resettlement Scheme (sold to GoK by Dwa Estate), as well as to the Muuni Resettlement Scheme (formerly land administered by GoK's Kenya Agricultural Research Institute). Usalama and Muuni border the Chyulu Hills, but since some officials in the Moi government illegally participated in the lottery to acquire land for resale at private profit, some Chyulu residents were left homeless and hopeless. Almost 15 years after the eviction, over 30 families still have not been resettled and lead miserable lives in a camp at Metava about 1 km from the cut line that now serves as a painfully visible reminder of the border imposed by GoK between their former homeland and their present squalor. Worse still, in the past five years, farmers in Metava, Usalama and other areas nearby have suffered considerable crop losses to frequent seasonal invasions of their fields by rogue elephants. Efforts by the communities to seek compensation have been to no avail, several lives have also been lost in conflicts with the elephants, and GoK's Kenya Wildlife Service has been allowed to violate its jurisdiction (limited to areas within the park) to arrest people for interfering with the elephants (a protected wildlife species). Importantly, while the Moi regime has been replaced, the new government has only promised not to schedule further evictions - no pledge has been made to restore people to lost lands, and unfinished processes of eviction are still being followed up.

Thus, INGOs such as Uongozi face an extraordinarily difficult task of trying to assist community development in regions such as Makueni District where the most basic definitions of who and what area constitutes the community keeps being changed by the State. However, bureaucratic obfuscation involves more than just alterations of the political geography involved. In recent years, GoK has tried to redefine INGOs in ways designed to disable a genuinely local focus by distinguishing between '1st-level' self-help groups (SHGs), '2nd-level' community-based organizations (CBOs) and cooperative movements, and '3rd-level' INGOs such as Uongozi. All three levels overlap in Kibwezi, various groups often sharing membership, project foci, and resources even as each tries to remain autonomous. However, GoK insists that each type of association has a specific geographic focus. SHGs are supposed to limit their activities to within a particular Sublocation. At the second level, CBOs are told that they are expected to develop their resources across the whole Location, while 'civil' cooperatives are expected to represent an entire Division and 'state' cooperatives are expected to operate at District and National levels. Meanwhile, like all INGOs, Uongozi is expected to have national scope, demonstrating in annual reports that it is active in at least six Locations in at least two Provinces. Bank account size is limited for groups at different levels of this bureaucratic structure, so in order to finance its existing operations within Kibwezi Division alone, Uongozi has to formally commit to take on projects across the country as a whole even though it is in no position realistically to do so.

Similarly, different forms of civil association are overseen by different administrative agencies, further unnecessarily confusing efforts at the local level to effect community development. SHGs and CBOs relate to the government only through the Ministry of Home Affairs, Children, and Natural Heritage, with one or more SHGs expected to be sponsored by a CBO. Yet at the same time that the Ministry administratively regulates them, GoK considers CBOs to have equal status with political parties and professional societies and therefore demands they receive official endorsement from the Registrar of Societies. The Registrar's office is under the control of the Attorney General, who in turn reports directly to the Office of the President. Nonetheless, cooperatives (also considered 'second-level' civil society entities) are regulated by a completely different ministry. As if all this was not bad enough, the Office of the President imposes extra barriers against access to government by INGOs even as it has raised unreasonable expectations about their performance and accountability. A Nongovernmental Organisations Coordinating Board has been appointed to oversee yet another branch of the civil service (the NGO Coordinating Bureau). The Board is managed by the Ministry of State but its membership is appointed partly by the Office of the President and partly by the Ministry of Provincial Administration and Internal Security. By 2001, more than 2600 NGOs had been registered with the government, far more than it could competently control despite its insistence that these organizations communicate with one another through the Bureau. Stranglehold regulation of this sort serves as a highly effective brake on community development, dissuading many INGOs from even bothering to become organized in the first instance.

Imposed obligations

Confrontations with the State are not limited to Byzantine policy complications, often involving more bluntly imposed obligations at the local level. For example, in 1997 East Africa was ravaged by El Niņo rains, which caused floods in the Kibwezi area. The office of the District Officer (DO) was submerged underwater. The DO (the local representative of the central administration, an unelected official usually sent from an entirely different part of the country to avoid possible fraternization with the community) called a meeting of all community stakeholders and pressured local groups including FARD to contribute 1000 Kenya shillings (1USD in 1997 = 78 KES) each towards rebuilding the residence. In 2001/2002, FARD was operating with two motorcycles donated by ActionAid. On many occasions, Ministry of Education officials required FARD staff to suspend scheduled assignments to chauffer them around the area, without compensating FARD for fuel costs or ActionAid for potential damage to the motorcycles (frequently the case in such a remote area). Of related concern was the demand that local organizations including FARD pay the funeral expenses when the father of a former Director of Education for the area died. The gentleman in question was neither a government official nor even the father of someone serving in government at that time. Of course, the primary issue involved whether or not it was appropriate for the public to shoulder the costs of a private affair.

Further, INGO efforts to negotiate with GoK for recognition of their concerns are also entangled with simultaneous efforts to pressure the State to be more accountable for its actions. Uongozi has been working with Transparency International in the hope of persuading GoK to take appropriate action against the DO's office and Criminal Investigations Department (CID) staff suspected of corruption. Specifically, local officials are trying to stop investigation into misappropriation of international donor funds to educational projects in one of the areas occupied by families exiled from the Chyulu Hills. The missing funds appear to be being used for the development of the PCEA church-based school in Kibwezi town, far from the originally targeted communities.

The Criminal Investigations Department has been used not only by the State but also by external development agencies to silence critics of their inappropriately low-context vision of the communities. When FARD accused former ActionAid staff of corruption, rather than investigate the original complaint the divisional CID first tried to seize FARD computer equipment and, failing to do so, tried to bully the group into typing a copy of the letter on their computer (ostensibly to determine whether or not the original was produced using the same printer). At present, the Kwinywithya Kiw'u Water Association that has been implementing a water project to cover the entire Kikumbulyu Location has almost collapsed as it is going through a similar experience. At the beginning of 2006, the project received support from German Agro-Action (GAA) intended to expand the scope of the existing project. However, work has stalled as some government officials insist that their departments have to be paid consultancy fees; these unauthorized and illegitimate demands have been backed up by the deployment of CID constables and officers to intimidate the project committee.

Hijacked projects

It is not only GoK that complicates the ability of INGOs to serve as effective, high-context agents for local community development. Several projects initiated by the local people have been hijacked by international development organizations operating in this area. One example is the HIV/AIDS voluntary counselling and treatment (VCT) project that was initiated by FARD in early 2003. FARD took the lead in approaching the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) for financial support to open VCTs in several towns. While the CDC provided only minimal start-up funding, it hijacked the project by inciting a few of the VCT counsellors trained at FARD's expense to undermine FARD management and leave the programme, taking resources (including medical equipment and use of rented buildings for use as VCT locations). Eventually the project was handed over by CDC and GoK to another international development organization, HOPE Worldwide. Today, the VCT project continues to operate under the same government registration code allocated to FARD by the National AIDS & Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Program (NASCOP), even though FARD no longer has management control of the project. On several occasions CDC's Kenya-based HIV/AIDS technical advisor threatened FARD's (now Uongozi's) Executive Director that she would use the power of money to destroy FARD.

Lack of follow-through and abandonment of responsibility

A different kind of problematic relationship between INGOs and their overseas counterparts is related to the lack of follow-through on the part of the latter, and there are even instances when they have completely abandoned their responsibility. For example, immediately after their eviction from the Chyulu Hills, the residents of the new Masongaleni Resettlement Scheme were faced with serious problems, including disease outbreaks, food insecurity and access to clean drinking water (indeed, the whole area of Masongaleni is the driest part of Makueni District). Consequently, development organizations moved in to resolve the situation through rapid response programmes. One such organization was the Church World Service (CWS), which intervened by initiating a project for drilling boreholes and establishing pumping stations. However, within a few months of the project's completion, instead of relieving local residents of the burden of water inaccessibility, CWS began charging 2 KES per 20 litre jerrycan of water. To put this in context, the average per capita income in Kyumani, the biggest town in the resettlement scheme, is only 25 KES per week, so multiple trips to the CWS pump per week (on foot or by bicycle) is not only a laborious task, but an expensive one as well.

Simply put, CWS did not follow through with its proclaimed task of providing Masongaleni people access to water. A similar problem involved German Agro-Action (GAA), ostensibly in partnership with the Kyumani Organic Farmers (KOF) self-help group inside the Masongaleni Resettlement Scheme to address the problem of food insecurity. Starting in 1997, the GAA project was aimed at training local farmers in organic farming techniques, as well as establishing a seed bank. However, only two years after the supposed implementation of the project, KOF had to pursue other partnerships since GAA would not continue the partnership, although no specific explanation was given to the farmers. KOF turned to FARD, which in October 1999 partnered with the San Francisco based Global Service Corps (GSC) to start a BIA programme with the broad objective of responding to household food insecurity in this semi-arid region. FARD's role was supposed to be to mobilize and train farmers, while GSC was to provide financial assistance. However, in less than a year GSC had not honoured its promises, alienating several foreign volunteers and its own in-country managers by pledging and then redirecting USD10,000 to a completely different project in Costa Rica. GSC insisted that money given to FARD to coordinate activities in the Kibwezi area constituted a salary and that the FARD Executive Director was therefore de facto a member of GSC's staff. The Executive Director was led to understand that he was expected to concentrate on GSC business first, even though (as noted above) FARD had multiple commitments at the time. Ultimately, GSC pulled out and relocated to Tanzania. Not only did this amount to a lack of follow-through on GSC's part but also its abandonment of responsibility was unjustifiably transferred to FARD, which has since (as Uongozi) had to repair damaged trust relationships with KOF and other groups in Masongaleni.

Even when resources are available and situations regarding basic human survival not as serious as they are in Masongaleni, abandonment of the community by external agencies can have crippling effects. In early 1997, the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) initiated the Makueni Smallholder Irrigation Project (MSIP) to support local horticultural farmers in Ngumbe, Kikóó and Kalamba villages close to Kibwezi Town (the same farmers who are now involved in a difficult partnership with VegCare). During construction of several concrete canals and fish ponds, DANIDA built a guesthouse in Kibwezi Town for technical staff and visiting dignitaries. The guesthouse was supposed to be turned over to the MSIP farmers upon completion of the project, each farmer paying a share monthly toward the cost of repaying half the loan DANIDA had taken out to hire a Kenya contractor to the build the canals. However, the El Niņo floods destroyed much of what had been built, and instead of completing the project as planned, the contractor demanded advanced payment to cover the costs of repairing the ruined parts. DANIDA left the farmers with this bill despite the fact that, realistically, they need to have the project completed in order even to have a chance of generating enough surplus production to manage the additional costs, let alone finishing repayments relating to the original loan). Interest has been accruing on the unpaid principal of the original loan, and since a bizarre banking regulation deducts a monthly fine from accounts below a certain threshold, the farmers have more or less stopped payments to the contractor. The net result is that less than half of the MSIP is functional as planned, and while the farmers hoped they would continue to receive assistance towards their project from proceeds generated from the MSIP guesthouse, DANIDA vested its overall management not in the shareholders of the project but in a former manager (whose is not even a resident of the Kibwezi area). Almost 10 years after the initiation of the project, local farmers have not seen a shilling from the proceeds of the guesthouse, while an individual continues to benefit from the income it generates. Worse still, for the last three years the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) - having moved into the area to rebuild a major bridge over the Athi River - has taken over use of the MSIP guesthouse, using managerial authority to dismiss the staff and replace them with new employees recruited from outside the community, as well as barring the community from use of the event hall which is part of the guesthouse. In bitter irony, JICA is repairing a bridge destroyed by the same El Niņo floods that caused so much misery for the farmers, but none of the profit generated by JICA's extended stay at the guest house is available for restoration of the MSIP.


Sometimes the situations involving external agencies in the Kibwezi area do not, strictly speaking, involve conflict with INGOs, but such instances often amount to exercises in self-promotion by overseas or government groups which is as shameful as abandonment of responsibility for partnerships with local organizations. A case in point involves Agroforestry for Integrated Development in Semi-arid Areas of Kenya (ARIDSAK), a joint project between the GoK and the government of Belgium. ARIDSAK has for several years worked closely with the GoK's Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), sharing KEFRI's offices, research laboratory space, an arboretum, and a nursery of experimental tree species in the Kibwezi Forest just outside Kibwezi Town. However, the interventions of these projects have not always been rewarding to local farmers, such as when ARIDSAK initiated a drip-irrigation demonstration plot in Usalama Resettlement Scheme. While Usalama, closer to the Chyulu Hills water table, is not nearly as dry as Masongaleni, drip irrigation could be an effective technique for sustainable farming if adopted by large numbers of farmers. Initially, the project attracted substantial funding, and the Belgian Ambassador drove down from Nairobi to have his photograph taken with the KEFRI and ARIDSAK project officers while the farmer chosen to demonstrate the technique looked on proudly. That photo and others were printed in a glossy, colour-copy ARIDSAK newsletter, which is still used to promote the agency's efforts in the region even though the equipment broke down within two days and has neither been repaired nor replaced. The farmer, meanwhile, has had to absorb the costs of having his well deepened in search of more water, only to discover that 21 m down he still has not reached a new supply. Furthermore, the other farmers involved in the project have not received the promised drip irrigation equipment and their efforts to seek further support from ARIDSAK have been turned down. For Uongozi, what would seem to have been an opportunity to offer BIA training as an alternative to becoming technologically and politically dependent on outsiders is now actually complicated by the fact that Usalama's farmers are understandably shy of risking being exploited a third time (the second having been by ARIDSAK, after first being exiled from their Chyulu Hills homes so that GoK could generate tourist revenue in the name of wildlife protection).

Lack of foresight and counterproductive interventions

The last form of organizational conflict with external forces relates to lack of foresight on the part of those forces, especially in tandem with counterproductive interventions. Probably the best example of a lack of foresight involves the US Peace Corps, which for the last three years has been scaling up its presence in Kibwezi Division. As well as large-scale water projects, efforts include school-based health education by volunteers from the United States. A case in point is the Ukuno water well, which was supported by the US Peace Corps through one of its volunteers. However, a major component of this project was never successfully implemented because after the end of the first volunteer's tenure, subsequent volunteers have not been interested in pursuing the same project. Worse, Ukuno's water is saline, so local people have to buy water from the University of Nairobi, which controls 16,000 acres of territory that is well watered by the Kibwezi River as a result of yet another mass eviction during the Moi years. An effort by the US Peace Corps to lay a water pipe to the Ukuno area from Umani Springs was fruitless since the lack of secure land tenure in Kibwezi Division has led to persistent land-grabbing and, in this case, a willingness on the part of many who consider that the pipe crosses their land to simply tap it for their own use.

Finally, there is the case of counterproductive intentions involving Strabag, the largest construction firm in Germany, contracted in 2004 by GoK to rebuild the Nairobi - Mombasa Highway. The rebuilding was to cover the Sultan Hamud - Mtito Andei section that is in Makueni District (the Government of China having already completed the long stretch from Mombasa to Mtito Andei). At first, local residents were happy that they would secure employment for the two years of the project's implementation. However, when construction started labourers were imported from other regions despite the fact that Strabag had assured local leaders that it would recruit labourers locally. In addition, Strabag had drawn up an agreement with local leaders to draw water for construction from water sources in the area, especially from the Umani Springs Water Supply and Sanitation Project, the fees for the use of which would supposedly return to the local communities as utility revenue. Furthermore, Strabag promised to build bus parks in several key locations. However, Strabag's project regularly withdrew more water than had been agreed upon, with the result that farmers suffering a prolonged drought discovered that the Kibwezi River was nearly always running dry precisely when they needed it most. When Strabag water trucks fuelling in Kibwezi Town began pumping water directly from the river (i.e. in addition to their withdrawals at Umani), public protest led the company's representatives to hastily promise to rebuild the town's main street, as well as the Kibwezi Township Primary School playground (which is used as the commons for the town as a whole). The street and the commons were levelled preparatory to being paved; however, Strabag then contravened its agreement, making a lump-sum payment for damages to a Makueni District politician while local people received nothing more.


In all of the preceding accounts, the central issues remain those of epistemology and participation: Whose knowledge matters most and who gets to legitimately lead discussions and activities with regard to local development (Chambers 1997)? Undoubtedly, there are those who are concerned that an emphasis on INGOs disguises serious limitations that such organizations face in extending their reach beyond purely local circumstances (Fatton 1995), as well as those who see 'participatory' development as only the latest and arguably most debilitating form of externally-driven developmentalism (Mosse 2003). We are also obliged to be acutely aware of the probability of governments not only raising citizen expectations about the abilities of INGOs but also shifting responsibility to such organizations for local development duties ordinarily assumed to be the responsibility of the State (Fisher 1998; Gupta 1999). Likewise, significant questions remain abut whether locally sensitive, locally led development is less despotic, more democratic and more empowering than development engineered by the State or donor agencies (Boone 2003).

The big question is: How do the Kibwezi communities find release from the chains of development exploration, exploitation, retardation, and dependency? Further, is it possible for INGOs to work with external development agencies at all (Fowler 1997; 1998)? The need is for a grass roots organization which is absolutely autonomous to serve as the 'bridge' for the Kibwezi communities in the formulation of a locally envisioned sustainable development process that can partner with external forces. Sustainable here is used in the sense that the processes of decision making, planning, implementation, resource mobilization, resource stewardship, monitoring, and evaluation all start from within the communities themselves, as opposed to starting from within corporate or charity boardrooms overseas, or even within a government head office in Nairobi. Likewise, autonomous here has to mean that such a process or sustainable development will not entirely depend on the development organizations but will have its own financing base. While we recognize that either or both of these conditions is difficult to meet, the considerations we have offered in this paper regarding the perils of refusing even to try to reconceive what 'development' means in places like Kibwezi suggest that the effort required must be worth the costs.

While there are serious concerns about the need to sort the rhetoric from the reality of participatory development (Kottak 1995), the way forward is a partnership approach between local communities, grass roots organizations, genuinely accountable government institutions, and international development agencies (Ashman 2001). The Uongozi Centre for NGO Studies, Leadership and Management is one such grass roots organization that is uniquely placed to bring about changes in the development processes necessary for the continued and improved welfare of the Kibwezi communities.


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1 Modern Kenya persists in using the language of geographic designation inherited from British colonial rule. Sublocations roughly correspond to villages and smaller centres of inhabitation recognized by the common history (especially lineage connections) of their residents, while a Location is a more broadly defined area of rural settlement. A larger jurisdictional area is called the Division, above which is the District, then the Province, and then the Nation as a whole. Thus, Kibwezi Town is found in Mikuyuni Sublocation of Kikumbulyu Location of Kibwezi Division of Makueni District, Eastern Province.



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