WDM in East Africa: reports from the World Social Forum and Tanzania

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Saturday 3 February

I’m just back from a visit to Tabata, one of the districts in Dar. I’m visiting a sub ward of about 14,000 people. In this area, drinking water comes from the piped network plus deep wells for those without a household connection. This is not one of Dar’s poorest areas, as some people do have household connections. I speak to some members of the local authority committee about their community to find out how their water services have changed over time, including over the period that City Water Services was in charge.

Says, Saidi Nassord Msamju, “Under CWS sometimes we only got water once every 2 or 3 months.” Adds Winfrida Ndibalema, “And even when it did come, it might only last 15 minutes as the pipes would be full of air and the water could not get through!”

Saidi Nassord Msamju: “As the local committee we sent a number of formal complaints to CWS, but to our dismay we did not get much of a response. We wrote maybe 3 letters and made 3 visits to the CWS office in Ilala because the situation was bad here; workers came to visit but nothing changed. At one point we were 3 months without water. In the end, Minister Lowassa (then water minister) came to visit us as the problem was so acute. After that, things improved for a while because of the political pressure, but then the problems came back. When CWS was around it was very difficult times.”

I explain that now CWS are taking legal action against the government of Tanzania for cancelling their contract. Saidi Nassord Msamju replies: “I am wondering why CWS are now suing us? They should compensate us as they did a bad job, rather than make a claim!” Winfrida says, “At least now under Dawasco, water comes far more regularly, maybe every 3 days or so.”

Finally, I ask about the infamous privatisation pop song, paid for by UK aid money - do they remember it at all? Saidi Nassord Msamju says, “I cannot sing the song myself but I can remember the message. It was meant to emphasise that public services are changing for the worse so we need to bring in private companies which would make changes, improve employment, provide better services. The main theme of the song was to uplift, but when CWS came, instead of services improving, services went down which was very disappointing.”

I’m coming to the end of my trip. Over the past week or more, I’ve spoken to lots of people and really learnt a huge amount about the water and sanitation problems facing Dar’s citizens. Clearly the challenges ahead are great. As the people in Tabata told me, sanitation has been forgotten and who of us from the UK would be content with receiving water once every 3 days? But the people in Tabata can remember when water was far less regular than this, and the people I spoke to were grateful for improvements under Dawasco. I really hope that Dawasco can turn things around for the people of Dar.


Thursday, 1 February 2007

Thursday 1 February

It rained for what was the first time in several weeks this morning. It absolutely poured down, leaving the streets of Dar awash with stagnant water, as the drainage system could not cope.

Anecdotally, people tell me that they can already see the impacts of climate change here, as well as in Kenya. Mathias Mulagwanda from People’s Voice for Development says that the snowcap on Kilimanjaro, which is just south of the Tanzanian border with Kenya, is dwindling and soon will just cover the very top of Africa’s hugest peak.

Mathias’ NGO works on community water projects in Dar. By helping communities drill boreholes, the cost of water can be reduced to maybe 20 shillings for 20 litres (still more expensive than piped water which might cost 6 shillings), but definitely a better option than the 200 shillings you might have to pay to private vendors (‘machingas’).

Overall Dar is a city of haves and have nots: for those of us who can afford it, we can drink bottled water, confident in the knowledge it is safe to drink. Everyone else must drink what they can get, with a lot of people collecting it in buckets from neighbours’ taps, from street stand pipes or from community wells.

The rain clears up and I spend a useful morning with TANGO – the Tanzanian Association of NGOs – and Mussa Billegeya. We discuss campaign plans for the coming months - there are several key dates which provide opportunities to raise the profile of water issues, including International Women’s Day and World Water Day, both in March. TANGO’s water campaign includes maybe 40 different NGOs across Tanzania. The collapse of the water privatisation in Dar and the subsequent legal action by Biwater has inadvertently served to mobilise groups in Tanzania and indeed across Africa.

Yesterday afternoon was spent sitting under the shade of huge leafy trees whilst attending a Gender and Development Seminar, which was hearing report-backs from the World Social Forum. Over 60 people are present to hear about the WSF and I am very pleased to present the formation of the African Water Network, which is greeted with a round of applause. These seminars are held every week and attract a variety of people from across Dar and beyond – women’s groups, youth groups and anyone else who is interested. The Tanzanian Gender Networking Programme hosts this seminar and I am really impressed by the event and the discussion that takes place.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Tuesday 30 January

It’s another hot day in Dar and I’ve had a series of fascinating meetings with civil society about the work they do here on water.

Yesterday I met Rose Mushi who is the Country Director for Action Aid Tanzania. Action Aid wrote a very good report on the water privatisation several years ago, which detailed the conditions and the use of aid to pay for consultants to help the water privatisation along. Written less than a year into the City Water/ Biwater contract, even at that point, it was clear that things were not going well for the UK company.

I’ve also had more discussions with the Tanzanian Gender Networking Programme. They were present at the WSF last week, and Gemma Akilimali tells me about their work in raising the issues of water as they affect women. She talks about the gender divide between women who have to collect water for the household and men – the small scale private vendors amongst others - who see it as a business and sell it on the street for a profit.

I’ve also met Johan Akilimali (no relation to Gemma) who is from Ubong district. He’s a teacher and he shares a house with a family of 5. They get water once a week in their house so they have to save it via tanks on the roof for the rest of the week. The water is not safe to drink and so they have the added expense of paying for charcoal to boil the water.

Anecdotally, people tell me that Dawasco - the new public provider - is trying hard. The top priorities of the new provider have been revenue collection, leakage control and improved customer relations. They’ve been working in a not-for-profit public-public partnership with the utility from Uganda (the National Water and Sewerage Authority), so that they don’t need to ‘re-invent the wheel’ on some of these things.

As Alex Kaaya the CEO of the DAWASCO told me, “Why should we experiment with plans when the Ugandans might have something which has worked there – maybe we can do that too.” That’s always been part of WDM’s rationale for pushing the idea of PUPs to donors like DFID – so it is good to find more evidence from a public water manager that they would like to work in this way.

Clearly it’s not an easy job to provide water in Dar – for example there is a major lay-off of staff underway – up to one-third of the utility’s staff are accepting redundancy, in a deal which has been agreed with the union.

But there are some wider questions in my mind too. For example, there is very little difference in the tariff paid by domestic users of water and industrial users and the plan is apparently to align them entirely. But a progressive pricing policy would normally differentiate between the two and expect industrial (usually the heavier users of water) to pay more. Apparently this tariff policy is set out in some paperwork somewhere, possibly as part of the agreement around the World Bank project (a project which started when Biwater was in Dar, and which continued after they left). This needs some follow up investigation.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Dar es Salaam

I’ve now been in Dar es Salaam for a few days. It’s a world away from the hustle and bustle, traffic congestion and noise of Nairobi. Instead Dar seems peaceful and green with tree-lined streets and an easier pace of life. There is a cool breeze coming off the Indian Ocean, although generally it’s hotter here (Nairobi is at a relative altitude).

Of course I am here primarily to talk to people about water – who gets it and who doesn’t – now, and of course before, when Biwater’s joint venture was in charge under the private contract.

We are lucky to have Mussa Billegeya from the Tanzanian Association of NGOs showing us round. I’m also here with a colleague from Food and Water Watch in the US. This morning Mussa took us to his church in Kinondoni district which was a great opportunity to meet some local people and start to understand the complexities of water distribution in Dar. At four hours, the service was somewhat longer than expected, although the fantastic singing and dancing made up for it.

Already we have seen evidence that Biwater (or City Water) was here. The water meters that we have spotted have been emblazoned with City Water. For people without a meter and a household connection, they may need to buy water from private seller or vendors. At 200 shillings (a few pence in UK money) for a 20 litre jerry can of water, it may seem cheap to us, but actually, this is far more expensive than what you pay if you have a tap in your house. Meanwhile, lots of people have huge 1000 or 2000 litre PVC tanks on their roofs to conserve water for the periods when the taps are on, but no water comes out.

Over the coming days, we have a variety of meetings planned with lots of different people, all of which should help us to understand the situation more clearly.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Christian Lawrence :My Experience at the World Social Forum

My first experience at the World Social Forum held in Nairobi, Kenya from the 20th – 25th January 2007 was exciting, to say the least. What amazes me most was the determination and concern of people from all works of life from all over the globe to meet, discuss and find common but strategic answers to the many critical problems they are faced with. When some of the organizers first intimated me that the expected number of participants to the Forum would be one hundred thousand, I hurriedly concluded that it was a wild joke. What I saw at the Moi International Sports Centre in Naibobi was
thrilling: a sea of activists in every nook and cranny of the sports complex frantically strategizing to address the most critical world problems; excellent planning; and unwavering resolve to take realistic actions to make the world a much more better place to live in. To say I was pleased with the work of the organizers of the Forum is an understatement. I was greatly impressed and dazzled by their performance.

The sessions on water privatization were so enriching and eye opening.
Sessions like “General Threats to Water Justice: From Pollution to Privatization, Protecting Our Waters”, “Reclaiming Public Water! Seeking for possibilities of improving water supply through Public-Public Partnerships”
among a host of others were so thought-provoking, challenging and at the same time very interesting to me. One common thread that runs through most, if not all of the sessions I attended was experience sharing. Almost everyone had something to share and to take back home. Though I had initially planned to participate only in workshops dealing with water privatization issues, but the assemblage of so many relevant pro-poor issues on the programme made me alter my decision a little. I had course to attend other sessions on human rights, reality of aid, good governance, alternative budgets… etc. I was given the platform to articulate the status of the “reform processes” (euphemism for privatization) in my country-Sierra Leone and the campaign the civil society, trade union and NGO coalition - Public Enterprise Reform Monitoring Group - PERMG (the group I represented at the
Forum) is currently undertaking to engender citizens’ inputs, especially the poor into the whole process.

The main outcome that climaxed the water privatization sessions was the formation of the African Water Network, which is hoped, would coordinate and support in diverse ways all anti-water privatisation networks/bodies in the continent. The thinking behind the setting up of this network is to defeat the monster of privatization which has extended, is still extending, and has further plans to extend its choking tentacles to countries in the continent.
The fight to decimate privatization in any shape or form in the continent is not expected to be easy, but with courage, resilience and pro-active strategic action we will succeed.

Christian Lawrence
Campaign for Good Governance
Sierra Leone

Thursday, 25 January 2007

WSF Reflections: A Tanzanian view

The World Social Forum that started last Saturday, January 20th 2007 in Nairobi Kenya was a long awaited event in the history of Activism and the Civil Society Organizations at large. Though it has not been the first of its kind, it attracted the attention of many, around the world.

Most of those who were waiting eagerly for it wanted see if such a big event could be hosted successfully in Africa, and in particular East Africa!
Despite some deficiencies in the logistical arrangement, the Forum has been a big success in its content.

Having more than 70 topics being discussed, proposals being made and Networks being formed and launched, the event inexplicably marked a start of a new step in activism against all forms of injustices in the world today.

From the Tanzanian side, one of the remarkable milestones for the Civil Society activists and the general public in Tanzania is the Formation and Launching of the African Water Network (AWN). Formed by more than forty founder Organizations and Networks from across Africa, including Tanzania, the Network made clear its main objective from the beginning – and a principle for all who would like to join – that it exists to Fight Water Privatization in ALL its forms. Tanzania, being one of the Victim countries of the IFIs’ conditionality to privatize the water services provision has also a special interest in pushing for this principle.

Apart from the water issues, the event also featured critical discussions on the Rights of the Minorities, African Struggles against poverty and International Trade – with much focus on the WTO, WB, IMF and the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). On these issues, the participants – the people – made it clear also in their discussions and proposals for actions that they are totally against the efforts being made by the Northern Countries through these institutions and initiatives as they are intended to increase their chances of exploiting the already impoverished countries of the South.

In brief, the World Social Forum has shown really what the people – who are otherwise not given a chance to speak at the International Forums and Events – have in their hearts towards the status of the World. All that transpired at the forum from the beginning to the end has been in a very direct and clear manner an explicit expression of the people’s desire to see the dream of an alternative World coming to reality.

Written by: Mussa S. BILLEGEYA,
Coordinator of the Water Campaign (Tanzania) and Member of the Steering Committee of the Africa Water Network (AWN) P.O Box 31147, Dar es Salaam
Tel: +255 22 277 4581
Mob: +255 755 069 877

Viva African Water Network!

Today is the last day of organised WSF activities and a very big day. After three days of workshops and strategy sessions, we have been building towards today’s final part of our programme of water events at the WSF – the launch of the African Water Network.

The meeting surpassed all our expectations. Over 250 people pack out the room. Virginia Setshedi from the Campaign Against Water Privatisation in South Africa led the meeting and after revving us all up with chants (“Down with privatisation!" “Viva World Social Forum!”) speaker after speaker praises and welcomes the creation of the AWN.

More than 40 African countries are represented in the meeting, with representatives from 20 countries choosing to join the interim committee that will see the Network through its first, few critical months.

Afterwards Al-hassan Adam from Ghana, one of the leaders of the new coalition, says: “For us, this is the beginning of drawing activists together from across the African continent to create a platform to give the World Bank and our governments a fight on privatisation.“

Jennifer Makoatsane from South Africa is taking a court case against Johannesburg Water and their use of pre-paid water meters. She says, “The whole African continent has been robbed of their rights to adequate quality and quantity of water. That’s why the AWN has been formed - to stand up as a continent with our international supporters - like WDM - to oppose privatisation in all its forms.”

Virginia ends the meeting saying, “The powerful never listen to the powerless, until the powerless unite. Enough is enough! Our water has been taken away from us – and we want to strengthen our voice. To those who are filling their pockets with profits made from our water, we will send a message to them.”

When we arrived in Nairobi 5 days ago, we were all optimistic about the potential of creating an AWN, but not 100% sure it would happen. The collective efforts of the week have really paid off – and it was a real privilege to be present at this exciting and historic moment.

Viva African Water Network!