Mark Glaser is away on vacation this week, but we’re happy to have Ory Okolloh filling in as a guest blogger. Okolloh writes the Kenyan Pundit blog and graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2005. She is currently based in South Africa working as the Legal and Corporate Affairs Manager for Enablis and as a consultant on telecommunications and citizen journalism in Africa. Glaser will return to the blog next Monday, Nov. 13.
One of the things I’m most proud of as far as my accomplishments go is being the co-founder of Mzalendo. At a basic level Mzalendo intends to monitor what Kenyan Members of Parliament are doing for their constituents. The Kenyan government generally operates in a very opaque manner and it is very difficult to obtain access to public information both online and offline. While there are some government offices that are trying to remedy this (the Office of Public Communications is one example), most of the information provided is generic.
One of the most notorious offenders, in my view, is the Kenyan Parliament, which is still without a website more than two years after the initial website was shut down after protests by some MPs who were embarassed about their CVs being published online. We have made the very same profiles available at Mzalendo…and in a classic case of you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, the parliament mirror site is still up at the developers website.
Beyond providing some level of scrutiny on Kenyan MPs, we built Mzalendo to demonstrate that there is only so much bemoaning you can do about your representation. We have been doing so for dozens of years. There is nothing that has not been voiced, written in the press or blogged on the Internet that has not been said before, when it comes to how abymsal Kenyan politicians are. There comes a point after which talking ceases to serve a point, and we need concrete solutions to the issues of representation, or lack thereof, that face us.
The idea of Mzalendo was hatched over a breakfast and several cups of coffee. We were not sure of the nitty-gritty of what exactly we wanted to do, but we definitely wanted to demonstrate that accountability stems from demand and that we as young skilled Kenyans have a responsibility to do our part (no matter how small) in terms of demanding accountability.
One of the great things about Mzalendo is the fact that it was cheap to build (using open source software and WordPress) and is cheap to maintain…excluding the many many volunteer hours we put in to it ;-).
The site is still very much in beta and we have big ambitions for it as the 2007 general elections in Kenya approach. We do face many obstacles including difficulty in sourcing information, lack of time/resources, poor Internet access in Kenya and limited reach, but we refused to be deterred…our current slogan is: “If We Build It, They Will Come!”
Please check us out and give us your feedback.