InformAction : A Story of Change
InformAction (IFA) is a field-based social justice organisation that takes a practical and dynamic approach to political, economic and social injustices in Kenya www.information.tv It has evolved rapidly since 2010, when it took a unique approach to campaigning for the new ‘people powered’ constitution, screening a film specially tailored to provoke debate among ordinary Kenyans in rural areas - ‘Clearing the Air: on Kenya’s draft Constitution’ (https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/ 10082393). A road show with a huge inflatable screen toured the country, alongside community teams with basic projectors for showing in public meeting places. When the new constitution was voted in, IFA developed this method in direct parallel to the new devolution structure.
It was a radical departure from the ‘workshop model’. From the start, IFA shunned expectations of allowances and hand-picked participants, believing it encourages attitudes of corruption and inertia rather than than challenging them. It also rejected the focus on urban areas and challenged itself from the outset to work meaningfully where the majority of ordinary Kenyans live and work - in rural and marginalised areas. This approach was also a deliberate new dispensation within civil society; IFA set out to employ local community leaders and seasoned activists to guide and inspire com- munities from within the counties instead of relying on professionals working out of Nairobi. Between 2010 - 2013 mobile field teams consisting of three dedicated personnel - equipped with a camera, a projector and a vehicle - were established in Maralal (Northern Kenya), Kericho (South Rift Valley), Kisii (Nyanza Region) Nyeri (Central Region), Mombasa (Coast Region) Kisumu (Nyanza Region) and Garissa (Northeastern Kenya). The field teams receive essential services and national coordination from a support base in Nairobi.
InformAction teams developed their work based on a core principle coined ‘contributive participation’. Countering an entrenched expectation of ‘hand-outs’, IFA instead demanded voluntary en- gagement to achieve genuine social change. ‘Contributive participation’ meant ordinary, poor people gave their valuable time freely and expressed their views openly in exchange for watching an entertaining film and joining community discussions led by an experienced and inspirational activist. In these forums, the opinions of an enormous and diverse number of Kenyans are recorded weekly on camera to contribute to a body of digital and written documentation on social change. This in turn feeds back into InformAction films and social media outputs. By 2014, InformAction had essentially established an alternative media output to rural communities, profiling the views and frustrations of Kenyans ordinarily totally marginalised by mainstream media and politics.
But the challenge for InformAction was - how do we now take action for real change? Having successfully established the ‘Inform’ part of our methodology, we wanted to implement the ‘Action’. We started experimentally in 2014 in Kisii; filming in detail a community of unrecognised IDPs in Nyamira organising a march to present a petition to local government. With support from IFA, hundreds of IDPs managed to successfully demand a share of national compensation. It meant getting recognition - for the first time - since the 2008 conflict. The campaign was taken up by other field bases, immediately catalysing other causes for action. Watch Kilio Cha Haki here.
Since 2014, InformAction has supported numerous Community Action Teams (CAT) in the coun- ties, and appointed a coordinating Community Action Leader (CAL) in 2015. Utilising its established connections and influence in many communities through its embedded field teams, IFA is laying the building blocks of real change.
InformAction Success Stories
Using the New Constitution: At the county level, InformAction Community Action Teams (CAT) have successfully made demands with practical results. Lives and livelihoods have been improved, using public pressure to make local government more accountable. Successful petitions and protests have resulted in devolved government making targeted use of local budgets and political processes. This helps people know, use and genuinely value their new constitution - it is the most practical interpretation possible of ‘knowing your rights’. InformAction has successfully opened up the counties to peaceful collective action - most significantly in Kisii, Kericho, Maralal, Isiolo, Nyeri and Kisumu - and encouraged communities to use the provisions of their ‘people powered’ constitution. ‘Doing’ has proved to be the best form of civic education: as a result, ordinary Kenyan’s are becoming directly invested in implementation and protection of the constitution.
Getting Compensation for forgotten IDPs: InformAction has successfully helped thousands of unrecognised IDPs in Kisii, Kisumu, Kericho, Isiolo and Nyeri assert their legitimate entitlement to compensation and resettlement - long promised since the 2008 post-election violence. The absence of justice and restitution since 2008, including the abandonment of the ICC cases, threatens to be an explosive historical fault line in Kenya. IFA has systematically recorded the testimonies and experiences of victims and communities in the making of its films, and in the field forums. In 2014, IFA moved to take up restitution of IDPs as a national campaign, strategically exacting compensation and resettlement at county level. It was a successful new approach to an apparently intractable problem of the hundreds of thousands of ‘invisible’ IDPs. IFA used community action to bring the plight of local IDP groups to the attention of devolved government through marches, protests and petitions. Action was taken on the basis of specific county budgets and responsibilities. As well as achieving payments and recognition for those displaced in 2008, community action teams also successfully demanded compensation for groups evicted from Mau and Aberdares Forests in Central and Rift Valley Regions.
Demanding Public Services: Community Action Teams have also successfully demanded public services, including the provision of more primary school teachers in Chomolinkot, Maralal, and Kanjuul, Laikipia. In Mweiga, Nyeri County, a CAT pressured the local representative (Member of County Assembly) to rehabilitate a key road, which was inhibiting trade, farming and transport. It was improved within a month. After success with the road, the CAT members were inspired to tackle other structural and service issues relating to poverty and underdevelopment. All these development successes were inspired by community discussions following the screening of No Man’s Land: Ni Yetu.
Elections: Monitoring Process and Participation. Voting is a human right; and badly managed elections in Kenya have resulted in some of the worst human rights violations. InformAction has been at the forefront of protecting and expanding civil society engagement in all phases of the election process. In 2013, it helped challenge the process in the Supreme Court, which despite the decision, proved to be a critical step in documenting and analysing the failures of the political environment and the electoral management body. In the run-up to the 2017 election, IFA has established non-traditional qualitative field-based monitoring and reporting methods, including video documentation and social media. It’s ‘ElectionWatch’ reports regularly provide analysis and alerts for all stake-holders and observers.
Strengthening Activism: Successful community organising in the counties also helps elevate and build respect for civil society at a time when it has been denigrated and restricted by an increasingly repressive central government. Since 2013 - when civil society was termed ‘evil society’ - InformAction proactively worked on raising the morale and profile of activism, including distribution of thousands of t shirts countrywide stating ‘I am an Activist and Proud of It”. In addition, the weekly field screenings and community discussions provide legitimate and creative forums for expression and exchange of ideas, by-passing the characteristic control , corruption and censorship suffered by mainstream media. These forums are a unique opportunity for solidarity and strength: community-based organisations and Nairobi-based civil society can actively engage with ordinary Kenyans at county level, and share ideas and strategies.