By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat
Many development narratives provide theoretical analysis and debate based on community orientated social movements. While such analysis is interesting as an academic and theoretical exercise it often overlooks the practicalities of day-to-day processes and the resultant infrastructure developments in favour of a more abstracted reading.
How exactly do communities manage infrastructure projects? How do they secure land and finance, procure affordable building materials, organize construction, secure assistance from the state, plan for long-term sustainability and negotiate the daily challenges of project management. Make no mistake; communities are more than capable of building their own infrastructure, especially if this process is “nested” within a mobilized and organised social movement.
Over the coming weeks I will provide examples of SDI federation members describing the trials and achievements of managing their own infrastructure projects. These snippets are intended to provide insight into the practicalities of the process illustrating examples and experiences that resonate across the SDI network. We begin with the case of Kambi-Moto in Kenya, described by federation member Joseph Muturi.
I will just share some experiences from Kenya. We have several projects but the biggest project which we have is Kambi-Moto (Camp of Fire) community of about 270 families. After many years of negotiating we got a piece of a land from the city council and an MoU showing that the land is a special planning area. They gave us free land and we came up with unique designs and they have not been done anywhere in Kenya before. We got some money from our savings and from some donors (UPFI). We do not get any money from the government. We do not enjoy the kind of support from the government you get in Uganda – so we have to negotiate everything ourselves. Our NGO subsidized and gave us the technical people – then everyone had to dream and draw the kind of house they wanted (women, men, children). The architects and professionals take these drawings and take into account affordability, if possible…
We came up with the design – ground +1. We go up to save space and we share walls. As a federation our responsibility was to figure out how we are going to manage the site. We have a community Procurement Manual – how do we go about the business of procuring materials so what we did was to look at what we need for the next few weeks. They sit down and work it out – we send community people and we get quotations from different suppliers of materials, then we sit down and look at who is offering the best deal and will deliver on time. The procurement team and the construction team ensure the quality of the materials (quantity and standards). Sometimes people were bringing their friends and delivering less material…. We try to make things transparent and easy to manage.
For us we do not withdraw all the money. The executive draws money and gives it to the construction team and they pass this on to the procurement team. We need to sit down with the professionals who tell us for the next few weeks what we need and what we have to do. They can guide us and give us good advice.
The project management committee is at the regional level [in Uganda] – in Kenya it is at the local level. It comprises the beneficiaries of the houses – the only external people are the engineers, architects and other external people. They sit down and discuss things and the way forward every few weeks – the project team is at the site and its people who are locally available. The other advantage of having a local team on site is that we do not have outsiders to blame for our mess – we only have each other to blame. The construction team does weekly revue meetings – how far has the project progressed and how long it will take. The construction teams have a list of all the beneficiaries – they have to work themselves or pay someone to work for them. This process is taking a long time so now we are getting some subsidy contractors from within the community.
The more you expand and grow the more the challenges will grow-we will learn as we go along. This is just a basic framework of how we procure. Executive-finances, Construction-building and the Procurement team that is completely separate and buys the materials. We have community procurement manual – basic steps to go through and how we should go through the business of procuring.