Today I got a heavy dose of village life. Intravillage and constituent-government dynamics are complex, interesting, and at times tedious.
The Member of Parliament and District Commissioner of Bondo were in town visiting their constituents. Each village makes a huge production with food and speeches to celebrate their presence. Without my knowledge or approval, we endured four ceremonies in four villages with four lunches.
All village ceremonies and meetings are held at schools because they are considered neutral ground and no one can complain. A lot of complaining goes on here.
As “distinguished guests” (I still had no idea what was going on or why I was there), we were invited to sit on the sofas next to the MP.
In each village, we were treated to copious amounts of chicken, beef, fish, ugali, rice, chapati, kale, Fanta, etc. We later found out that the MP and DC specifically requested that food only be provided in one village, but each village decided it had to outdo the others.
Let’s kick things off with some dancing.
Each member of the village must be introduced in order of seniority. Any left out are deeply offended. Anyone who wants to speak generally forcefully takes receives an opportunity to voice his or her complaints about the state of the village. Demands are made for school improvements, water, electricity, infrastructure, etc. Things get tense, especially when politics are discussed. A lot of the ceremony was in Luo, but the tension was pretty clear.
Not to worry, more dance! The same people who were just at each other’s throat are now singing together. Weird.
Since only the last most senior member can introduce the next most senior member, naturally the last two to speak are the District Commissioner, followed by the Member of Parliament. The DC made some interesting points about how the constituents must stop relying on the government to solve all of their problems and start using enterprise and innovation to develop sustainable solutions. The MP took a more conservative stance (possibly because its nice to have so many people relying on you), but also made some interesting comments about demanding quality services in the private sector. Also, it turns out a lot of UN money is coming into Bondo.
As slow and drawn out as these ceremonies are, and as patiently as people wait, as soon as the MP wraps up his speech, everyone dashes to their car or matatu to head to the next ceremony. Here’s everyone heading back from a bore hole drilled over 10 years ago that has yet to deliver water.
And, of course, a man placing a live goat in the MP’s trunk. Goat offerings were made in two of the villages. I later asked the MP what he planned to do with them. He said he’d probably give them away.
If there’s anything I learned from this experience is that making change has to work with the preexisting institutions and hierarchies. It is both a top-down process to gain entry through leaders and a bottom-up process to mobilize communities.
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Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African