Monday, June 23, 2014

Most development work is office work

This post originally appeared on the STAND website here


I have just moved back to Ireland after spending the past two and a half years in Africa. Before my return I lived and worked in Chad for 11 months for an international humanitarian agency. Being back in Ireland has given me the chance to reflect on my time overseas, and in doing so, I've been trying to capture what I have learned.

Lesson 1) Most development work is office work
The majority of my work was with organisations that focused on humanitarian and relief efforts but the premise still holds, most aid work is office work.  I was not distributing food at a refugee camp, nor helping to dig boreholes or interview beneficiaries. I wrote reports. I drafted funding proposals for donors. I sent email updates to our organisation’s Headquarters. I reviewed large excel spreadsheets of project budgets, checking for formula miscalculations.I did all of this in an office which did not look dissimilar to one you would find in any other city in the world. I worked on a laptop, drank copious amounts of tea, chatted with colleagues, occasionally found myself spending too much time on Skype or Facebook. The only differences sometimes seemed to be the outside air temperatures and the numbers of insects and lizards who also shared my office space.Related to this, there were times when it became easy to forget the end goal of the work I was doing. When there’s a tight deadline on a funding proposal to be met, it is easy for the focus to be placed on finishing a document, rather than on the impact the project you are seeking funding for, might have. Numbers of beneficiaries sometimes became abstract, rather than real human beings, and I fought to remember the greater purpose of the work, and where I fit into it.

Lesson 2) The best skills you can offer might be ones you take for granted
The longer I work in this particular field, the more I release that the greatest skill that I have to offer is the ability to write. I can write funding proposals, reports, briefing notes, case studies clearly and concisely in English. I am able to take information that given to me by colleagues from other departments, often dense technical language on nutrition, health, water and sanitation issues, and turn it into an article for our website, or a briefing note for the Country Director, quicker than most. This is because I am not a medical doctor, I’m not a water and sanitation engineer, I am not a Women’s Empowerment Specialist.Upon completing most undergraduate degrees (though a warning here, a Masters degree is almost a prerequisite for any job in the aid industry) you will be able to analyse, critique and present information in a clear and structured way.  If you can do this, you can probably do my job.

Lesson 3) Living in Chad was hard, in ways I didn’t expect
In Chad, the organisation I worked for took a number of security precautions. As an international staff member I lived in the organisation’s ‘guesthouse’ and I was only allowed to travel around the city with a car and driver provided by my organisation. This may sound like an incredible luxury, and it was, in many respects. But some of my most frustrating moments in Chad were those waiting around for a driver to become available to pick me up to take me to dinner, or to a friend’s house (as long as they were within the specified ‘green zones’ of the city of course!). Not being able to move of my own accord and being essentially housebound without access to transport was really challenging. One of the things I am enjoying most about being home is being able to take buses, taxis and even drive my own car, when and to where I like. One of the toughest things about life in Chad, for me, was not the heat, the language barriers, the insecurity; it was the claustrophobia.But even though it’s mostly office work, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. While I’m now based in Ireland, one step further removed from the ultimate beneficiaries of the projects I write proposals and reports  on, I still love what I do.  I enjoy my job, I believe in the work of the organisation that employs me because I know that some people are helped as a result of the projects that we help to implement. ‘Bad aid’, impractical and ill-suited development programmes get a lot of coverage, but good aid – aid that is properly planned and well executed  – does exist and it is making a difference. And it’s that thought that gets me through another day of spreadsheet reviews.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thoughts on my first marathon

5 weeks ago today I ran a marathon. If you have met me in the proceeding weeks you will probably know this as I will have, most likely, tried to tell you about. It already seems like eons ago but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down before it became too distant a memory.

Picking up my race number at the Marathon Expo
All of the emotions. All of them.
I had heard from friends who had completed marathons that they were emotional experiences. That the physical and psychological effort that it takes to finish moves you and makes you feel things you wouldn’t normally feel from running or jogging.

That said I did not believe those people until I found myself uncontrollably crying at the 40km mark. It was at this point, exactly 4 hours in, that I realised that I was not only going to finish the thing, but I was going to run the whole thing too. And the fact that ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta/Sia came on just at that particular moment, when I was wet, cold, tired, and yet resolved, was the icing on the cake. The tears came and while the pouring rain might have disguised the tears somewhat, I’m sure the ‘Claire Danes cryface’ that I was pulling was a dead giveaway to any of the spectators who saw me at this point.

2.1km later I was crying again as I crossed the finish line. I remember very clearly crossing the line, putting my hands over my head as an acknowledgement that I’d completed the thing, a sign of accomplishment, triumph which was swiftly followed by me covering my hands over my face in a halfhearted attempt to cover up the tears once again. I know that this definitely happened as I have since seen the video of me crossing the finish line. The tears continued for several minutes while I a) received my medal, b) received a rose (given to all female finishers) c) got water and d) was wrapped in a space blanket. A massive ‘Tak’ (the Danish for thank you) to all of the very patient and understanding marathon helpers who did not seem to judge my sobbing self as I passed through each of these stations babbling in English.

It wasn’t that bad
Despite my accounts of my tears, the experience - on the whole - wasn’t that bad. In the final weeks and days of my preparation I had begun to be filled with an overpowering dread. Three weeks out I was terrified. Full on terrified. While I had been training solidly since January (the marathon was in May) my last month of training was far from ideal in that it involved me a)relocating back to Ireland b) starting a new job and c) getting a nasty cold partly as a result of a and b. I put in my last (and longest) training run 3 weeks out from race day and after that point I confined myself to resting up and trying to eat well. That didn’t stop the feelings of dread washing over my every few days. As it got closer and closer to race day I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t run as fast a time as I’d aimed for months previously, and even that I might have to walk towards the end if it all got too much. By race day I just wanted to finish the thing, in whatever time I could, and it whatever shape I could.

View of the start line

But on race day as I set off and the kilometres ticked by it… wasn’t too bad. In fact, parts of the race I really enjoyed. I set off at a nice pace which I managed to hold fairly steadily for the first 30 or so kilometres. Even when, at this point, the rain began to bucket down and it went from being a chilly Danish day to being a cold, wet and windy Danish day I trucked on buoyed up by Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’ and a bit of ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ (which could not have come on at a better time). ‘The wall’, the point of sheer pain and agony that marathon runners talk about in hushed tones, a point usually experienced 20+miles (or 32+kilometres) into the race, never materialised for me. By luck or by design I never had to face it.

Delighted with myself
Keeping Going
I have a number of ideas as to what helped me avoid ‘the wall’, but it was probably a combination of good nutrition, hydration, tunes and support that got me through.

All laid out ready to go. Complete with energy gels and
 the all-important 'An Mhi' wrist band

Nutrition and hydration had been planned days in advance. I knew exactly how often the hydration stations were, I knew roughly when I’d need to take my energy gels, I knew exactly what I was going to eat for breakfast that morning. I couldn’t speak highly enough for how well the race was organised except for one aspect of the hydration stations. At every second hydration stations runners were offered orange or banana segments in addition to water and sports drinks. However, the offering of banana segments led to an almost cartoon like scenario where for 100 yards after the station there were banana peels discarded all along the course, a recipe for falls! I managed to maintain upright at these points by slowing to a walk, some of my fellow athletes were braver (sillier) and ran through and I saw more than one person stumble.

Music also played a key role in the race. My sister had helped me to put together a playlist which combined current pop tunes, 90s dance music and more than a couple of broadway numbers – basically all of my favourite things. Every single song was a gem and I regularly found myself singing along, miming and even doing ‘jazz hands’ as different songs came on.

Support
I could not have completed the marathon without the incredible support of friends and family. Sarah and Johannes, my friends who live in Copenhagen hosted me, made signs, helped me carboload and raced around Copenhagen on the underground to pop up along the course at least five different points. Seeing an Irish flag and hearing my name being cheered put an extra spring in my step every single time.
I also had lots of lovely people send me texts, emails etc and wish me good luck but a special shout out needs to go to Kim Behrman, whose remote training advice, practice tips (from everything to energy gels to race gear) as well as inspirational messages were exactly what I needed, especially in the lowest ebbs of my training. I asked her many silly questions and she answered each and every one of them.

Johannes - one half of my amazing cheer squad
Another one?

It was absolutely amazing running through the streets of Copenhagen, getting to explore and see a whole new city by running through every one of its neighbourhoods. The route took in the cobbled lanes of the old town, I ran through residential areas and dockland industrial zones. That said, the idea of running on home turf appeals to me so I’ve signed up to run the Dublin marathon in October. This time the streets, landmarks and accents of the crowds will be familiar. I feel incredibly lucky that I’m healthy enough to run 26.2 miles so why not do it again, eh? 

Post-race. Cold, wet but happy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Diary of an Election Nerd

I love elections on the best of days. I love watching counts trickle in. I love the tallies, the speculation. The fact that everyone becomes an expert on election. I love being able to use the word psephologist authoritatively. This love of elections has only grown/been more easily facilitated through my adoption of/obsession with Twitter in recent months. And so last week I spent a week glued to Twitter and various news websites as the voting, and counting,  took place in Kenya.

Monday 
Monday morning I awoke, giddy and excited.  The TVs in my hotel were tuned to Citizen TV (a Kenyan TV station) and even over breakfast I had my laptop out to see what the news was. By breakfast time, voters had already been queueing for hours in their thousands, eager and anxious to exercise their right to vote.

I spent the day tweeting and re-tweeting like a mad yoke; chatting to journalists who were in Kenya, swopping the stories we were hearing - the long queues, the baby-swopping, the 3am wake-up calls experienced in many neighbourhoods, the failure of the electronic equipment in some polling stations. The pictures of the voting lines were particularly impressive, and it has since been established that turn-out was 86% of registered voters. An impressive number. In the most recent Irish election in 2011, turnout was 70%, and this was the highest it had been for well over two decades.

As the day wore on it became apparent that voting would not conclude at 5pm as planned, and polling station stayed open well into the evening and night to facilitate all of those who The fact that people queued for, 4, 5, 6+ hours to vote, lining up peacefully down the street should be one of *the* stories of this election.

On Monday night, votes were starting to come in from the polling stations that has closed, with tallies being submitted by returning officers electronically. By the time I went to bed about 15% of constituencies were reporting. Kenyatta was in the lead but as every journalist and commentator agreed, it was early days. With the counts coming in so quickly, there was optimism that we would know the next president of Kenya by as early as Wednesday. Or that we would at least know if the voting in the presidential race would go to a second round.

Tuesday
Another morning of waking up excited, of rolling over and turning on the 3G on my phone to see what the latest news from Kenya was. 25% of votes had been tallied by 8am that morning and Kenyatta was still ahead but it was still early days. Still early days. The predictions from all sides were that while Kenyatta would probably win more votes than Odinga, he was unlikely to win the 50% needed to avoid a run-off.

The main story of the day was spoiled votes. Or rejected votes, as most of the TV networks were calling them. By Tuesday afternoon approximately 250,000 votes, of the 4.5 million counted, had been declared rejected. This represented just under 6% of the votes tallied at that stage, a huge number. Clarification was sought as to how those votes counted. Did candidates need to get 50% of valid votes cast, or votes cast? The consensus was that these votes, did indeed count, and that candidates needed 50% + 1 of all votes cast, to be declared the winner.

By the afternoon, number crunching and the compilation of complex prediction spreadsheets has become de rigeur on Twitter. Commentators were pulling together predictions, attempting to calculate just how many Kenyatta strongholds had been counted so far, and how many Odinga ones, to see how the percentages might change. Once again the consensus was that we were reached towards a run-off election in April.

Wednesday
By Wednesday morning the vote tallying had slowed considerably and by 8am about 43% of votes were estimated to have been counted. Kenyatta's lead over Odinga had diminished slightly, but he was still comfortably over 53%.

I was thrilled! We would know a winner by that evening most likely, hurrah. I was a little concerned about the physical transportation of all of these returning officers (knowing how slow travelling across Kenya can be) and also that the electronic systems seemed to be failing.

By the afternoon it felt as if the 'wheels had come off the wagon'. The IEBC annoucned that it had stopped tallying the provisional results that it had been receiving and would switch to receiving the official, manual tallies from each constituency.  In order to speed up this process of vote tallying, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) announced it would begin physically bringing all of the 291 returning officers from around the country to the central count centre at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, in order to speed up the process. They maintain that this process should be completed by Thursday.

Exhausted and a bit fed up about seeing the count start at zero again, I take the afternoon off social media and TV.

Thursday
My time 'offline' cleared my head and I once again woke up early with good feelings. Lots of good elections feelings. By 11.45am my good feelings have gone thanks, in no small part, to the press conference held by Kalonzo (Raila Odinga's vice presidential running mate) claiming that votes had been doctored and that vote rigging had taken place. The TV stations, admirably, chose not to broadcast this, and other similar press conferences live, in order to prevent such statements triggering unrest.

Throughout the day as the new official tallies came in, a new trend was emerging - the number of spoiled/rejected votes was far, far, lower this time round. In fact it was less than 1%.Where did the rejected votes? The answer came that afternoon from the IEBC. A computer error somewhere had multiplied all of the rejected votes by 8. Why? Who knows? But this, frankly bizarre, explanation was accepted by most parties (and made sense mathematically) and the vote tallying continued on. And on. And on.

By around 10pm that night, the number of constituencies with results declared tipped the halfway point and the momentum appeared to be keeping up. Kenyatta's solid 53/54% lead has eroded to 49%, leaving the possibility of a run-off back in play. Analysts and commentators from all sides maintained that votes from Odinga strongholds were still coming in slower than Kenyatta ones, and that the distance between the two candidates might close further by Friday.

Friday
International Women's Day! And as it is celebrated as a public holiday in Uganda, the office was closed so John, Dara and I worked in the morning from the hotel and then spent the afternoon doing laundry and cooking dinner in a friend's house (the cooking of dinner was our payment for using and abusing her washing machine). Periodic checking of Twitter showed the flood of votes being tallied had slowed to a trickle. I wasn't missing too much.

When we returned to the hotel at about 11pm we saw that the IEBC were holding a press conference. We piled into my room to watch it on the TV, hoping that we would know the result very soon. After over an hour of battling heavy eyelids, and with little news trickling in from the last few constituencies that had to report, John and Dara went to bed in their rooms. I fought sleep a little longer, incredibly reluctant to miss the moment when the result would be announced.

Then the IEBC said that they would hold a press conference at 11am the next morning. Reassured that I wouldn't miss anything overnight, I fell asleep.

Saturday
I woke up to the news that there was a president in Kenya. Somewhere between 1am, when I had fallen asleep, and 7am when I had woken up, the TV stations had declared Uhuru Kenyatta the 4th President of Kenya. It was a morning of mixed emotions. I was definitely relieved and happy that the counting was finally all over. I was also happy that there wasn't going to be a second round of voting, for both selfish, personal reasons (it meant I would get to go back to Nairobi sooner) and more empathetic reasons (a run-off could have been move divisive than the first round).

But I was uneasy at the same time. The margin of Kenyatta's victory was so slim - 50.07% - that a challenge by Odinga was inevitable. I was also nervous about the implications of there being a Kenyan President and a Vice President who are facing trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague in July and May respectively. On Saturday morning became the first country in the world to elect a President who was facing trial at the ICC. (President Omar al-Bashir was re-elected in Sudan while indicted). A dubious honour. And one which is bound to have some repercussions for Kenya in the weeks and months ahead. Though what those exactly are, is extremely unclear.

The official announcement was made by the IEBC just before 2pm (nearly 3 hours late), but by that stage, Kenyatta supporters had already been celebrating for hours, and Odinga and his team had already announced their intention to appeal the results in court. But the story was one of peace. Celebrations were boisterous, not violent. Those who had supported candidates that had not one, commiserated but didn't rebel. The results were accepted, and if they weren't, there were legal and procedural channels by which to address these grievances. Not once, did it look like the violence of 2007/8 would be repeated.

Sunday
By Sunday I was deflated, exhausted, zapped of adrenaline and a little behind in my week's work. The only cure was a day spent in a coffee shop with my laptop out and a constant supply of coffee and brownies. And Twitter switched off.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Watching from the Dug-Out/Being Benched

I spent a good chunk of today, March 4th, in a hipster-like cafe in the Kisimenti district of Kampala. The appeal of the place was more it's decent wi-fi, rather than a strong desire for a chai latte. Why? I wanted to do some work for a few hours out of the office but I also wanted to follow the events happening in Kenya as 14.3 million people went to the polls to vote for the country's 4th president since independence.

Having been re-located temporarily by the organisation that I work with as part of its security contingency measures, I desperately wanted to follow the events happening in the country that had been my home for the past 16 months. And so I logged onto Twitter and opened up Uchaguzi on my browser (and on my phone when my wi-fi failed) and watched as the reports, the pictures, the stories bounced around - linked (on Twiiter anyway) by the hashtag, #kenyadecides.

Sitting in the cafe in Kampala I felt like I had been benched - to put an American phrase to good use. To use an expression more fitting for my Irish readers, I felt like I was stuck in the dug-out at the side of the pitch, looking on, as the action took place without me. Yes, I tweeted and re-tweeted, I chatted to others online, but it was not the same.

Not that I have any direct connection with the elections, other than the fact that I live and work in Nairobi. I am a resident of Kenya, not a citizen. I would not have been voting yesterday. And yet I feel tied to the country and I care deeply about what happens. I have followed this election process almost since I arrived in Kenya, back in November 2011. I read about delays after delays; of an election pushed from August 2012, to December 2012 to, finally, March 2013. I followed the stories of the ICC pre-trial hearing with great interest. I watched as candidates joined the race, and dropped out. I looked on as the newly-formed IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) struggled to organise every stage of the election from the re-drawing of constituency boundaries at every level, to voter registration and January's nomination elections. But as polling began at around 6am this morning many of the earlier hiccups did not manifest themselves and most polling stations were fully equipped to deal with the long lines of people who turned out to vote. According to ELOG (the Election Observation Group in Kenya) 99.4% of polling stations had all of the materials needed to carry out the polling and there was adequate security present throughout the country.


Growing Nervous
In the days leading up to today's polling I found myself getting more and more nervous about what lay in store. I read so many articles on the internet - mainly from international news agencies and international organisations - that seemed to spell doom. They had titles like 'Vote M for Murder' and 'Elections in Kenya. There Will Be Atrocities'. And from Uganda it was harder than ever to separate the myth-making from the reality. To distinguish what might just have been the lazy international media narrative of what they wanted these elections to be, rather than what they actually were.

In reaction a number of African commentators posted warnings and satires on this growing number of clich├ęs used by foreign journalists, many of whom only arrived in Kenya last week. The Sunday edition of the Daily Nation published this satirical piece and the excellent website Africa is a Country posted this advice in reaction to one CNN report in particular which has caused great offense in Kenya. In the coming days, as results come in and

Pre-election violence
I woke up this morning to reports of violence in Mombasa and other coastal areas overnight. 15 hours later it seems that 15 people, including 9 police/security officers, though these figures still seem to be disputed. However what could have been a chilling omen for what would happen yesterday was not to be. Police in Kenya have claimed that the attack was perpetrated by the MRC, the Mombasa Republican Council, a group which would like Mombasa to secede from the rest of Kenya. The group has denied responsibility for the attacks, claiming it seeks only peaceful solutions for its aims.

Queues
The main story of the day was the queues. Queues, queues, queues as far as the eye could see and Twitter was awash with Twitpics and Instragram shots of the long lines, some stretching 1-2km out of polling stations. Some of the most impressive pictures I saw (and subsequently re-tweeted obviously!) were can be seen here here and here. There were loads more besides, and rough turn-out estimates are reporting turn-outs in the region of 80 and 90% in many polling stations. Though these are early figures, they are impressive percentages by any standards.

Passing the baby?
One of my absolute favourite stories from today was that of 'baby-passing'. In some places voters who had brought babies and small children with them were being allowed to skip the very long queues. This resulted in people passing babies around in order to move up the queue. Reports on Twitter suggested that some people were even paying up to 100 shillings (just less than 1 euro) to borrow a baby. However not everyone got away with it, as this tweet shows.

Polling officers quickly cottoned on to this in many areas and many began 'inking' the babies, just as they were doing with voters themselves, to show that they had voted!

What happens now?
As I write this the polls are not long closed in many places across Kenya, and with six separate elections to count the final tallies will take days to come in. But with the IEBC promising to gather and distribute results from polling stations as soon as they see them we should begin to have a picture by Wednesday, especially of the presidential race, which the IEBC is prioritising. I'll be writing another blogpost in a day or two when there is more information but for now I am proud that as the sun sets here in East Africa, a day of voting has passed off relatively peacefully in Kenya. The next test will be the counting of the votes, and the acceptance of the results by all sides.

Related article:



Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Women in Politics - The Irish and Kenyan cases


Women in Politics - Global Trends
Women make up less than 10% of the world's leaders. Out of the 193 countries that are members of the UN, only 21 have either a female Head of State or Government. Globally fewer than one in five members of parliament is a woman. And the 30 percent critical mass mark for women’s representation in parliament Despite decades of enfranchisement women represent a small fraction of political representatives around the world. I want to explore this issue in this post, looking at why this is important and what is being done about it, in two very different examples - Ireland and Kenya.


Why is women's participation important?
Leaving aside the fact that everyone should have the right and opportunity to be a political representative, and women make up just over 50% of the population of the world while occupying only 20% of political positions, there are a number of benefits that come with female participation in politics.

Women, as the primary caregivers in households and communities tend to advocate more strongly for children's issues, as well as women's issues. Countries with more women in parliament and government tend to have more equitable laws and social programmes. Budgets tend to better benefit women, children and families.

But even beyond that there is evidence to suggest that counties with greater gender equality (in all areas, labour, politics, education etc) have higher GNP (Gross National Product) per capita, just in the same way that women's leadership in the corporate world tends to result in improved business performance. Research shows that, in general, the greater the representation of women in parliament, the lower the level of corruption. Involving women in decision-making, especially political decision-making just makes good sense.

A quote from the Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, sums it up nicely in a speech she gave in August 2012:


"When more women are leaders, decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society. As I have learned: When one woman is a leader it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies'.


What can be done?
One of the most tried and tested ways of increasing women's participation in the political arena is quotas. Quotas can take effect at three levels:

  • Political candidacy - quota systems at this level mandates that from the pool of aspirants, a certain portion must be female.
  • Nomination - quotas (either legal or voluntary) which ensure that a certain percentage of nominated candidates on a political party's ballot must be female.
  • Election - certain seats in a political body are 'reserved' and can only be filled by women.
Quota systems increase female participation in politics and governance. Of the top ranked 20 countries in terms of female representation in government, 17 of those countries use some form of quota system to ensure female participation. The case of Rwanda is a striking example. In 1995, the country ranked 24th in the world in terms of female representation. Not bad. In 2003, after introducing a quota system the country leap-frogged into 1st place.  Other countries - Argentina, Iraq, Burundi, Mozambique, South Africa have experienced similar jumps.


All evidence points to that fact that quotas work. I cannot argue with the research. And yet, as a woman I can't help but feel a bit uneasy about them. Having been brought up to believe that I am exactly the same, exactly as smart, exactly as talented, driven, motivated, as the boys sitting next to me at school and college, I find it hard to believe that I now need special treatment. That I now need a leg up. Aren't quotas discriminatory? What about the principle of merit? And what about other under-represented groups? Should there be age quotas? Quotas for different ethnicities?

But the fact remains that there are huge barriers to women's participation in the public sphere, and for me and my female peers, quotas seem to be one of the simplest ways to begin to level the playing field. It's not the only step, but they are an important first step. To be truly effective they need to be combined the improvements in education for girls and women, better access to healthcare and childcare for mothers and families.

Ireland
Ireland has a poor record on women's participation in politics. In the 2011 election, only 15% of the candidates were women (86 out of 566) and similarly only 15% (25 out of 166) of those elected were women And this is the best representation that women have ever had in Dail Eireann! The situation is no better at a local level either. In Europe, Ireland ranks 20th out of the 27 countries of the EU for female political participation, and 87th out of 187 countries in a worldwide classification.

(Despite all this negativity I did find one fun fact related to Ireland when writing this blog - Mary McAleese's election to the Irish presidency in 1997 was the first time that a female president directly succeeded another female president, Mary Robinson - g'wan MacAttack and Robbo!)

The weekend before last (February 16th and 17th) the Constitutional Convention met to discuss proposed changes to the Irish Constitution. The convention comprises 66 citizens - chosen on the basis of age, sex, geography and social status, 33 politicians (from both the Republic and Northern Ireland) and chaired by Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide. They will meet throughout 2013 to discuss and vote upon proposed changes to the Irish constitution, which was drafted in 1937 (although amendments have been made in the intervening years). Among the propositions on the agenda last weekend were a number of proposals which dealt with women - their participation in politics and their place in the home were among the issues discussed.

As part of the deliberations a number of presentation were made to the delegates including research by political scientist Professor Gail McElroy on women in politics, and more specifically the role that constitutions can play. Her research dispelled, among other things, a prevailing myth that Irish voters won't vote for female candidates, and pointed to the fact that in countries that have much in common with Ireland - the USA, the UK, Canada, there is little to suggest that gender is a decisive factor in voting.

Delegates at the convention narrowly (50 no, 49 yes, 1 no opinion) rejected a proposal to amend the Constitution which would compel the State to take positive action to enhanced women's participation in politics. However a second question 'Leaving aside the Constitution, would you like to see more government action to encourage greater participation of women in politics and public life'. Other propositions related to women which were approved included a proposition that the Constitution be amended to include 'gender-inclusive' language, and an 'explicit provision on gender equality'.

So if constitutionally mandated quotas are unlikely to make an appearance within Irish legislation any time soon, what are the other ways in which women can be encouraged to enter into politics and public life?

Groups such as Women for Election and the 50 50 Group have been advocating a range of alternate ways to encourage female participation in the public sphere. According to Women for Election, research conducted on this issue identifies 5 Cs which account for women's under-representation:

  • Confidence
  • Cash
  • Candidate Selection
  • Culture
  • Childcare

In order to address some of the 'Cs' Women for Election runs programmes to 'Inspire', 'Equip' and 'Inform' women who are considering entering into political life, as well as those already involved.The sessions aim to give practical advice on fundraising, media relations and campaign management as well as developing women's 'soft skills' - confidence, resilience. Rather than focusing on lobbying and advocating for top-down change (although the group does undertake some of these activities) the focus of Women for Election is squarely on women themselves. Female mentors are identified to provide support to younger, less-experienced candidates, cross party networks of interested women are created and help to access potential donors.


Kenya
In the aftermath of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/8, the issue of re-drafting the country's constitution was revisited (having stalled in the mid 2000s). The new constitution, which was approved by 67% of voters in August 2010, enshrined within it women's rights throughout, but especially within the 'Bill of Rights' section.

Among the main advances made are:
  • Discrimination on the grounds of gender is prohibited and violence against women explicitly prohibited
  • Equality in marriage and equality in parental responsibility are both enshrined in the new constitution
  • Increased numbers of women in all decision-making organs, including devolved government is guaranteed.

In contrast to Ireland, the Kenyan constitution expressly lays out a commitment to increased gender parity in political representation, and also lays out how to do it. Below are some extracts from the Kenyan constitution to illustrate this:

Article 27 Clause 8
'the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than 2/3 of the members of the elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender'

Article 90
Compels the IEBC (Independent Electoral  and Boundaries Commission) to ensure that 'each party list comprises the appropriate number of qualified candidates and alternatives between male and female candidates

Article 97 
States that the National Assembly should consist of 'forty-seven women each elected by the registered voters of the counties, each county constituting a single member constituency'.

(These are the so-called 'Women's Rep' positions that will be voted upon on March 4th.)

These new commitments represent a significant shift in Kenyan politics. The number of women in the current Kenyan parliament is 22 or 9.8 % of the 224 members. After the election next week this will increase to at least 33% - a significant jump.

However my reservations about quotas remain. One of my concerns, in Kenya's case, is that the creation of Women's Rep positions might mean that women are tending to vie for that position and therefore less likely to compete for other roles. Only 1 of the 8 candidates for President is a woman, and only 2 of the Vice-Presidential candidates are women. From looking at the posters that line every wall of Nairobi I see few female faces - those running for Governor, County Rep, Senator are predominately men. What measures can be taken in Kenya to change this? Without the support programmes that tackle issues of culture, access, education I do not see the faces on the posters changing any time soon.

Andrea in Politics?
As a young woman who studied political science at university, and has maintained a strong interest in politics every since, I can honestly say that the thought of ever entering into public political life is one that I have never seriously entertained. And many of my female peers are the same. I believe I am much more likely to see my male colleagues enter into public life in years to come. Personally, the hurdles for me are related to the high value I put on my privacy and my personal/social life but I can't deny that my own personal confidence levels and the pervasive 'old boys club' culture are also barriers.

Cathy Newman of Channel 4 news in the U.K. was quoted in the Guardian this week as saying
'Get a lot of blokes together in one place, add copious amounts of alcohol and add the fact that home/wives/partners are are far away and it's not surprising that the atmosphere is more public school than public service.'
(Sorry I can't find the link to it anymore.)


Quotas, as we've seen in the first section do work. However they are not enough by themselves. For women's participation in politics, and public life more broadly, to be increased substantially the other Cs of confidence and culture need to be addressed alongside quotas. And neither Ireland, nor Kenya, has begun to address these in my opinion.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

#kenyadecides

2007/8

Elections are due to take place here in just under three weeks, on March 4th. The last time that Kenya went to the polls in a general election - in December 2007 - the resulting dispute over the results led to violence in which 1,500 people were killed and a further 200,000 displaced from their homes. The violence in most cases, was targeted against specific ethnic groups linked to the major political parties and candidates, and as the days passed retaliatory attacks took place. As a result of the post-election violence, an international team of negotiators, which included former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, was called in to negotiate a settlement. (A previous attempt by Ghanaian President and African Union Chairman John Kufuor in early January had failed). On February 28th, 2008 the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and his main rival Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act which established a coalition government and installed Odinga as Prime Minister, a new political position. The power-sharing government managed to restore and maintain peace.

A Kikuyu-owned store in Nakuru was set on fire by Luos,
after Kikuyus had burned down Luo homes and businesses.
Photo credit: Robertio Schmidt/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
A new constitution  

In August 2010 Kenyan went to the polls again, this time to vote for a new constitution to replace the 1969 constitution. The new constitution was approved by 67% of voters. The constitution had been in development since 2005 but internal politics within the government at the time had stalled the review and drafting process. The deadlock was only broken in 2008, when the international mediation team demanded that the re-writing of the constitution be part of the power-sharing agreement. The constitution was well received internationally as well as nationally for the human rights that it recognises and upholds, and for the measures it puts in place to curb corruption. The new constitution re-organises the Kenyan political system with one of the key changes being that of devolution. 47 new counties were created under the new constitution and given significant budgetary and administrative autonomy. It falls short of a federal system but each county will have a directly elected Governor and County Government. The upcoming election will be the first test of this new county structure.

The International Criminal Court

One of the conditions of the agreement brokered in February 2008 was that criminal prosecutions of those who incited or organised the violence would happen within two years.When by March 2010 this still had not occurred, the case was referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Cases were initially brought against six people - commonly referred to as the Ocampo Six (after ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo). These six people were William Ruto MP (former Minister for Education), Uhuru Kenyatta (deputy prime minister at the time of the pre-trial), radio host Joshua Sang, Francis Muthaura (head of the civil service at the time), Henry Kosgey MP and Mohammed Hussein Ali (postmaster general and former

In January 2012, the ICC announced that it had enough evidence to bring four of the six accused to a full trial at the Hague. The four were Ruto, Kenyatta, Sang and Muthaura. The case looks like to begin in the Hague in April of this year. Two of the accused were declared presidential candidates at the time of this announcement - Kenyatta and Ruto. They have since joined together on the one ticket, with Kenyatta vying for the position of President, and his running mate Ruto for the position of Vice-President. The ICC case, and its potential implications for the elections has been debated for months. (A really great opinion piece by Ken Opalo which delves into this in far greater detail can be found here).

Election delays - past delays and potential for future ones?

The elections were delayed, and delayed again throughout 2012. Initially scheduled to take place in August 2012, they were then pushed back to December until finally March 2013 was agreed upon by all parties, the High Court and Supreme Court, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Incumbent politicians (for obvious reasons) and the IEBC were among those pushing for the elections to be held as late as possible. The IEBC was the body tasked with re-drawing all of the electoral boundaries, and drawing new county boundaries, as well as overseeing the running of the election.

Voter registration, having been delayed by the delay in delivery of biometric voter registration finally began in  late November last year and a total of  14.3 million Kenyans registered (geographic breakdown available here), falling short of the 18 million target (and this was even after the deadline for registration was extended).

As voters go to the polls on March 4th they will be asked to fill out six ballots for six different positions - president, county governor, MP, senator, county representative and women's representative. There is already a great deal of speculation of the effect that this large number of ballots will have on voters. Will it cause confusion? Delays?

Delays seem extremely like. According to a trial run of the election conducted by ELOG Kenya (Elections Observer Group, a collection of civil society organisations who are monitoring the elections) the average voter took 10 minutes to fill out all six ballot papers. If this is replicated across the country, there will be massive delays at polling centres, will it really be possible for 10 million + people to vote in the one day?

Presidential Run-off

The new constitution dictates that the president must receive the support of the majority of voters, i.e 50.1% of the votes. If this does not occur, then the top two candidates must compete in a run-off election. Looking at polling data in Kenya it is looking increasingly likely that neither of the top two candidates - Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga will get over 50% in the first round. As such a run-off sometime in April is highly likely. Ken Opalo, the main man crunching the numbers during this election posted his predictions on this on Friday.

The implications of a run-off are manifold. Not least of which a run-off will coincide with the time when the ICC will be calling the four suspects - including Presidential and Vice Presidential aspirants Kenyatta and Ruto- to begin their trial.

Presidential debate


Brookhouse International  School's auditorium where tomorrow night's debate will be held
For the first time in Kenya's history, two live presidential debates will be conducted, the first of which is happening tomorrow night - Monday February 11th. Six candidates will address the nation in this historic event - Kenyatta, Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and James Ole Kiyaipi - which will be broadcast on 8 TV channels, and 34 radio stations across the country, making it the biggest media event in Kenyan history. For those of you outside Kenya interested in following it, it will also be streamed online by Google/YouTube's Kenya election channel.

All eyes will be on the two main contenders - Kenyatta and Odinga. It is rare that politicians address each other, and the nation, in this way and there is a great deal of excitement and expectation surrounding the debates. The public was asked to submit questions and topics and so far 5,000 questions have been put forward. All of the facts and figures about the debate can be found in this Standard article.

Differing opinions

A good friend of mine works at the British High Commission and spent much of January 17th and 18th observing  the primary elections here. My friend, having observed a number of polling stations across the city, and having done similar work in other countries, was quite positive about what she had seen. As a result she is much more positive about what will happen in March aswell. She said there were two things in particular which impressed her.

The first was the strong police presence at polling station. She observed 2-3 officers at every station she visited, and in almost every case they were managing the, often slightly disgruntled, crowd well. Her second cause for optimism was this crowd themselves. Despite the delays and the mismanagement the crowd reacted largely peacefully. They were annoyed by the obvious lack of organisation and coordination by the various political parties and the IEBC  but this rarely spilled over into violence

Last Friday at work we had a briefing on security and our office's contigency plans. At the end of the meeting my country director asked people, in particular my Kenyan colleagues, as to what their feelings were about the elections, what did they think would happen. Most people admitted that there was a potential for the elections to go either way, but most people appeared to be 'hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst'.

Here are some of the issues/ideas raised by my colleagues that could having a bearing on what happens in March:

  • More people will be voting in Nairobi than in previous elections. Voter registration stands at about 120% in the city. The elections were traditionally held in December, a time when Kenyans travelled up-country for the Christmas holidays and so voted in their ancestral homes. What effect might this have on the elections?
  • On Friday next (the 15th) the High Court in Kenya is due to deliver the so-called 'Integrity Ruling' to determine whether Kenyatta and Ruto are eligible to contest the election under the new constitution. A case has been brought against the two men by 4 NGOs including the International Center for Policy and Conflict and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) . The groups have argued that Kenyatta and Ruto do not meet the criteria for holding public office under Chapter Six of the constitution which calls for honesty, intergrity etc to be upheld in all Kenyan public/political institutions including the parliament and presidency.
  • Rumours won't be spread during this election at count centres and other physical areas of congregations, they will be spread via Twitter, Facebook and SMS. This happened to an extent during the last election as well. How can this be regulated? (There are people trying to monitor this - see this Guardian article for more information on the Umati project).
  • The elections are a prime opportunity for both petty thugs, and terrorist elements such as Al Shabaab, to tack advantage of the unstable situation, in the first case to perpetrate crime and looting, and in the second case to carry out opportunistic terrorist attacks.
  • The presence of the police and military will be a big determinant of whether or not the elections turn violent. A strong presence by these two bodies could help quell potential unrest.

Further reading

There are many, many reports, articles, blogs opinion pieces on the Kenyan elections. For those of you interested in doing some more reading here are links to a couple of the most interesting, in my opinion. 








(The blog title comes from the most popular hashtag that is being used to tweet about the election.)