Mzalendo.com is without a doubt one of the most interesting, and at the same time one of the most taxing things that I have ever done. You’d not think so by looking at the home page but take it from me — there is a lot of plumbing under the hood.
Blood, sweat and a lot of tears have gone into Mzalendo.com to make it what it is today, and there is a lot more that we are still doing to make it a complete resource that you, the electorate, can use to make informed decisions when it comes to evaluating your leadership.
I can’t offhand recall the exact date Kenyan Pundit and I first discussed the idea, but I do remember it was a substantial breakfast at Java House where ideas were evaluated and either tossed out or scribbled down.
The major obstacles were obtaining information about the parliamentary process — members, bills, motions, etc. The other was tying together everything using technology so as to present it easily to Kenyans, or indeed anyone who is interested.
I won’t make any bones about it. It has been, and continues to be quite the effort because we have to find time for our schedules to volunteer to do this. It is entirely a part time effort, mostly done at ungodly hours in the night and weekends.
Which brings me to the question we get fairly frequently: Why?
The simplest answer to this is simple — whining does not help. We have whined and whined and whined about the quality of our leadership for over 40 years. There is nothing you are going to say over drinks with your friends that has not been said before. There is no editorial or blog post or speech that will say anything that has not been said before. And after that what then?
Nothing. Nothing really changes.
Basically whining and ranting about our spectacularly inept leadership has become dangerously close to noise.
Since whining does nothing, we need to do something about it, rather than just talk. Put in some effort. And there are several ways to do this. Facilitate or conduct civic education, run for office, civic or parliamentary, audit the various levels of government, and so on.
But enough with the whining. Everyone knows the problems.
Our way was to build a resource where everyone cold see who their representatives are and what they have done while they were in office so that people could see in black and white the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of their leaders.
We’re just about done with the first of the major efforts — putting together complete member profiles which should be done in about a week. It has taken a while because it is very difficult to get this data. When we started compiling it the parliament site had been offline for several months.
But regardless we have been online since February and went public about April.
By and large, Mzalendo.com has been fairly well received. Most people can appreciate the value of such a resource. We have received and implemented a number of ideas. Since everything, and I do mean everything, is in a database, we can manipulate and display it in almost endless ways.
But as with all things, there are always detractors. Most of the attacks fall along these lines
– Despite saying it in black and white that we have no affiliations of any kind with political parties, accusations come in thick and fast about how we are aligned or are some sort of mouthpiece of LDP, NARC or KANU. The basis of these accusations? Your guess is as good as mine!
– Again, despite saying it time and time again that we are just volunteers and don’t command resources in terms of time and labour and therefore our data is incomplete, some people see mischief in this. As some sort of “plot” to hide the truth. And so some more allegations come. When challenged to help us fill in the missing information instead of just whining about it — silence.
– Still others pontificate from lofty shores across the seas about how such an initiative is futile because Kenyans have no access to the Internet. I find this as ridiculous as argument as not writing in English because not everyone can read English. While is true that not all Kenyans can go online, those that do have friends and family to whom they can share what they have learnt. Having people access the resource is not the aim of the game. Having them share what they have learnt is.
What I find especially interesting is that almost all of the complaining has come from Kenyans, or at any rate people that claim to be Kenyans.
Luckily, this is more than made up for by the fact that the bulk of our support correspondingly is from Kenyans, and I’d like to thank each and every one of you for your continued support and ideas.
In particular I’d like to thank (in no particular order) Afrofeminizta, Bankelele, Shiro, Alexcia, Guessaurus, my main man Rip and and one Mr X for their support before and behind the scenes. You guys rock!
Remember — knowledge is power.
I highly encourage you to visit parliament at least once and see for yourself exactly how our MPs conduct themselves and articulate issues. It will be an eye opener. I guarantee you. Details for visiting can be found here so take up the gauntlet and find out how you are governed. After all, it is your right. Visit. Take note. Share.