Networking Community-Based Knowledge: The Kwale Health Forum in Kenya
Nina Berman (Comparative Studies, Columbus, Ohio) [BIO]
The increasing emergence of community-based organizations (CBOs) in the past two decades has been acknowledged as a survival strategy developed by citizens in response to failures by corrupt and alienated governments and misguided economic policies, particularly in the global south. Scholars have focused on the role of local communities in addressing questions related to the environment and conservation (Agrawal and Gibson 2001; Russell and Harshbarger 2003); in creating sustainable development (Bromley 1999; Veltmeyer and O’Malley 2001); in public administration (Daniels 2001); in food and nutrition programs (Ismail et al. 2003); and in the health care sector (Blumenthal and DiClemente 2004). The insight that knowledge about the specific economic, political, social, and cultural parameters of any one region is paramount to the success of development projects has been promoted since the 1980s. This is particularly true for health care, a critical sector in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in light of the growing crisis due to AIDS and declining economies in many countries of the region.
Data on successful community-based initiatives in Kenya, however, has remained scarce up until recently (Wanjama 2001:56). Studies have typically documented the various challenges CBOs face. Research has shown that successful community-based projects often get derailed when the state takes over an existing project (Thomas-Slayter 1994; Were 2002). Just as the role played by NGOs differs from case to case, CBOs may or may not contribute to the democratization of society. As Okuku (2003) has argued, the strengthening of civil society does not necessarily entail greater democratization. Civil society organizations, be they NGOs or CBOs, may replicate and strengthen authoritarian structures existing at the grassroots level (Kaler and Watkins 2001). Accordingly, the scope and scale of citizenship participation through CBOs are closely tied to questions of democratization (Wanyama 2001). In this regard, the recent surge of CBOs in Kenya reflects a more general trend toward active participation of Kenya’s citizens in the public sphere, in a changing sociopolitical atmosphere (Ahuya et al. 2005; Ellis et al. 2006; Haro et al. 2005; Maalim 2006; Muraya 2006).
My talk – based on research conducted in summer 2005, which will supplemented by a follow-up study in July 2007 – will focus on the Kwale Health Forum (KHF), a network of nearly thirty health-related member organizations and an additional twenty collaborating partners, which addresses health care–related needs of more than 500,000 people living in Kwale District, Kenya. Although KHF brings together a range of different types of organizations – including nongovernmental, governmental, civic society, faith-based, and those from the private sector – and collaborates with the Kenyan Ministry of Health (MoH) and other line ministries, the forum itself is registered as a CBO. My presentation assesses the activities of this community-based network, specifically with regard to its effectiveness in enhancing the use of health care resources in the area. I will ask in what ways this organization may be seen as strengthening civil society and addressing the current crisis in the Kenyan health care sector through the use of information technology and community-based networking strategies. In assessing the effectiveness of the organization I will also investigate the significance of local knowledge, the involvement of local actors in the development of health care activities, and the relationship of the organization to village health workers and indigenous medicine practitioners.
Patron: President of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer
KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and