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

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!

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Water at the World Social Forum

It’s been an exhausting, action-packed few days at the WSF. The stadium where it is being held is large and dusty; temperatures have been high and Nairobi’s altitude means the sun really beats down on us. There are now many sunburnt faces amongst the fair-skinned participants!

For the most dedicated, you could choose to attend all 4 sessions a day, each of 2 or 3 hours, from 8.30am through to 8pm. All issues under the sun are being discussed: to give you a flavour, at 11.30am today, you could have gone to sessions on participatory democracy in the Middle East; the impacts of oil on development; or collective bargaining strategies – or about 100 other topics. It can be hard to decide how to spend your time (and very easy to get lost!)

This morning I went to a session on rural water provision, organised by colleagues. As many anti-privatisation campaigners and advocates for public water come from urban backgrounds, the issue of rural provision can sometime be forgotten in our debates. This session aimed to rectify this balance. Some very inspiring examples of public and community water systems were presented with experiences from the Philippines, Kenya and Senegal presented.

Cheikh Diop is President of the Senegalese Association to Protect the Environment and he told us how, after his government signed a peace agreement in 2004 with rebels who had been waging war since 1981, there was a critical need to improve access to water in rural areas. Many people had left the rural areas and gone to The Gambia to escape the fighting and rural water provision needed urgent rehabilitation.

Several newly-returned communities started to self-manage their water resources and with help form Cheikh’s association, pipes were laid to serve hundreds of families in the area. Cheikh emphasised how important women were in this process, both to demand a halt to the fighting in the first place, and to play a key role in managing the water supplies.

I also had a meeting with Grace Akumu, Director of Climate Network Africa, based in Nairobi (after she'd been interviewed for TV). We compared our different campaigning strategies and found we had lots in common, especially in terms of seeing the links between climate and development issues. She told me that we must work together for our common goals: “We are suffering the consequences of others through climate change. People in the UK must put lots of pressure on the Tony Blairs of this world. The leaders must put their money where there mouth is and fulfil their financial and political obligations to us.”

PS Last night we had a packed out meeting to discuss the possibility of an African Water Network – there was a huge amount of enthusiasm in the room for the idea; it looks it may be getting off the ground…

Sunday, 21 January 2007

World Social Forum: day 1

It’s day 1 of the WSF and things are not looking promising. A meeting I am speaking at – on the Tanzania Biwater privatisation debacle - is scheduled in the first slot of the first day of the forum at 8.30am. I am anticipating that we will only get to start at 10am and there will be about 7 people in the room!

But I underestimate WSF-ers – by 8.45am we have a good 60 people in the room and the meeting remains packed until gone 11am. Everyone knows at least a little about what has happened in Tanzania, but many people are shocked when I read out the lyrics from the famous DFID-funded privatisation pop song (you know the one, “privatisation brings the rain”).

Deuss Kibamba from the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme talks about how to really get a water system that delivers for the poor. He tells us, “We need to get the common people to speak. There is fatigue from hearing from just a few voices. Instead we need to get real people to speak out about the problems they face walking to get water from several kilometres away.”

I also go to a climate change event and have the opportunity to talk about WDM’s new Climate Calendar. Afterwards I catch up with Lucy Mulenkei from the Indigenous Information Network of Kenya who was facilitating the meeting. We discuss the calendar and she says, “We are already seeing the impacts of climate change here in Kenya. Our calendar has been disrupted and the traditional early warning weather systems that we used to use don’t seem to work anymore. We are getting both more droughts and more floods. Just recently floods brought Rift Valley Fever to parts of Kenya and many people died.” Frederick Maina, another Kenyan, says that 68 people died from the fever, which is like Ebola and cannot be treated.

People are really interested in our calendar as a way of illustrating the unequal resource use in the north and the south; and various groups are keen to collaborate with us on it.

The sun is beating down and the political discussions are going on all around, mingling with the sounds of chanting and singing as some groups find alternative ways to make themselves heard.

Karibu Nairobi!

Gradually our group of water activists has been arriving at our hotel – there are about 35 of us altogether in the group. It’s great to finally put real faces to what up to now have simply been voices at the end of long weekly conference calls and to finally meet people like Virginia Setshedi from the South Africa Anti-Privatisation Forum and Mussa Billegeya from Tanzania Association of NGOs.

Also here are delegates from French-speaking Togo, Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal; as well as Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Egypt, and Nigeria. We are also really pleased to have Carlos Pedro here from Brazil to share positive experiences of successful public water systems.

We attended the opening ceremony at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi – we did not need to follow signs or ask directions, the flow of people and drum beats drew us there. National groups were meeting there having processed across the city and we arrived in time to see the Ethiopian delegation arrive.

The day ends with a strategy session in the evening, to get to know each other but also to start to talk about the possibility of creating an African Water Network. There are lots of questions about how it will work, what resources it will have, what strategies it will adopt…. But over the next few days, we will have lots of occasions to come up with some answers to these important questions.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

World Social Forum - here we come

It's 24 hours before I go to Nairobi, to take part in the first World Social Forum to be held on African soil .

WSF happens every few years and it is a gathering of activists on a massive scale, bringing together people from around the world with concerns about globalisation, climate change, war and conflict, land rights and many other issues. Media reports say that 100,000 are expected in Nairobi for 6 days of debate and discusison. The World Social Forum organises as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, a gathering of political and financial elites being held in Davos at Switzerland at the same time.

WDM is going to WSF as part of a group of over 30 international activists from around the world, all of us are working on water issues - including Mussa Billegeya from Tanzania and Christian Lawrence from Sierra Leone. A number of us having been planning our presence at the WSF 2007 for several months, so it is exciting that, after all that preparation, we are nearly there.

The WSF will be 20-25 January; after that I am heading to Dar es Salaam for a few days to do some research into the latest water situation there. I am particularly keen to find out what has happened to the new public water operator Dawasco, following the collapse of the water privatisation in 2005. I'm also keen to talk to civil society, NGOs and communities on the ground to see what they think.

I hope to be doing a blog every couple of days over the coming couple of weeks.

But first things first - where did I put my passport?