Home OPINIONS How Governor Irungu is improving access to water through open governance approaches

How Governor Irungu is improving access to water through open governance approaches

Joining OGP means that a government is giving itself up for scrutiny and hence a demand for accountability from its citizens, civil society organizations, and peers in government at sub-national, national, and global levels.

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The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral movement whose membership is composed of states, sub-nationals, and civil society from across the world. Platforms such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP) offer great opportunities for peer learning and showcasing of best practices.

All the tried and tested tactics of good governance are shared and exchanged, all geared towards the enhancement of open governments for improved public service delivery centered around the principles of transparency, accountability, and public participation.

Joining OGP means that a government is giving itself up for scrutiny and hence a demand for accountability from its citizens, civil society organizations, and peers in government at sub-national, national, and global levels. Allowing this level of scrutiny demands progressive leaders. Those who can uphold transparency and be accountable enough to allow the trickling down to the rest of the government.

Since Kenya’s membership in the OGP in 2011, sub-national membership in the country has expanded steadily. Elgeyo Marakwet County pioneered sub-national involvement (OGP local) in 2016.  Makueni and Nandi counties and the now defunct Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) followed in 2020. Laikipia County, despite being categorized as marginalized and underserved, is a great candidate and presents a compelling case for embracing OGP principles. While not yet a formal member of OGP, it is demonstrating a strong commitment to open governance principles through its innovative approach to improving access to water.

Data launched by Twaweza East Africa showed that Laikipia County’s average access to piped water is higher than the national average, standing at 55% compared to 41%. The same report indicates that the average water collection in Laikipia is 14 minutes which is lower than the national 23 minutes average.

Despite these positive indications, the households without access to water in Laikipia County complain of long distances to the water points. With these long distances, women and children who largely bear the responsibility of collection of water are at risk. They risk being attacked including by wildlife that roam around the county. This means a significant amount of their time will be lost in the collection of water and hence, this category of the population will have less time to engage in the development agenda of the county.

It is this twin objective that has driven H.E Joshua Irungu’s Government to embrace a popular concept within the OGP in the name of co-creation. Co-creation is the process of collectively developing homegrown solutions to challenges facing a community. Co-creation recognizes the many different actors appreciating their lived experiences and their ability to develop solutions that directly respond to their established challenges. It is also the recognition that the government does not have the monopoly of ideas or resources to handle the community problems and hence the need to partner with numerous stakeholders to improve the lives of the citizens they serve.

Partners’ buy-in: Earlier this year, the governor convened a meeting with partners drawn from public and private sectors including civil society, development partners, and women leaders of various groups in the County. The governor rallied for the support of partners to advance the last mile water connectivity agenda which will enable improved access to water and also ascertain the safety of women and children and at the same time allow them to engage in development agenda discussions in the county. The governor shared the efforts taken so far to tackle the triple threat and at the same time called on the partners to join hands to make access to water a reality for the people of his County.

The project for us, by us, and with us: Laikipians are not just being handed the water tanks, no!  They are playing their part in contributing to solving the water challenge. Women leaders from across the county are at the nerve of this initiative. They bear the responsibility of mobilizing fellow women and encouraging them to form groups that will motivate the collective saving to contribute their share.

The women organize themselves in ‘chamas’ where they jointly save money to be able to quickly reach their target amount for each member.  The financial institutions in the county are also part of the solution. They are providing savings and loan facilities to fast-track reaching the target amounts as the women’s contribution to the acquisition of the water tanks.

Co-creation and co-financing: Laikipia County’ structured interventions are such that by the end of the current administration’s tenure, over 50,000 households will have acquired a 3,000 litres tank through a co-created and co-financed approach.  The government has identified a supplier of these water tanks who will sell these tanks at affordable prices. To purchase the tanks, each woman will be required to raise 35% of the total cost (Kes 22,000) of the water tank including the related logistical costs to deliver the tank to their doorsteps across the county. The government will spearhead the mobilization of funds within and out of government through its partners to contribute the remaining 75% for every household.

Transparency and trust: Transparency is ingrained in this initiative. If a partner prefers to work directly with a different water tank supplier, they are free to do so. Further, if a partner chooses to work with a particular women’s group, without needing to be assigned a group from the county government, they are free to do so. The only request from the government is that to ensure harmonization and coordinated reporting, the partner alerts the government about which women’s group it’s working with and how many water tanks have been delivered so that the joint tally is updated on a real-time basis giving other partners a reference point for their informed intervention. This process will be coordinated by the ward administrators in conjunction with the women leader under the overall guidance of the Ministry of Water, Environment and Natural Resources.

Laikipia County may have a large share of its challenges, including the inevitable one of being an ASAL County. The government is addressing the access to water challenges through a collective approach that in my view is a demonstration of a genuine intention to solve a perennial county-specific challenge. Even though Laikipia is not a member of the multilateral OGP movement, it demonstrates desirable traits that deserve attention and even reward by inventing the ongoing Laikipia County water tanks project.

Laikipia County could benefit a great deal by joining the Open Government Partnership as a sub-national member. Through peer learnings and exchanges, Laikipia will be able to demonstrate that solutions to real issues can be co-created by, for, and with citizens. Through the water tanks projects, Laikipia County demonstrates that transparency earns government friends who go a long way in supporting the improvement of the lives of citizens.

I look forward to the day when Laikipia County becomes Kenya’s fifth sub-national member of OGP. In my view, Laikipia checks all the boxes. It has a progressive leader whose genuine orientation is the improvement of the lives of citizens through the collective identification of problems and the co-creation of solutions while at the same time upholding principles of good governance.

Sarah Mwangi is an Assistant Program Officer at Twaweza East Africa (smwangi@twaweza.org)

Sarah Mwangi
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