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Almost every year, in Kenya, our people die of hunger amidst heavy droughts. Then the rains come and our people are displaced because of floods. Then the rains scale down and there is a bumper harvest – but then the people cannot sell their wares because there is a glut in the market. And then there is hunger again.

In this cycle, large scale farmers and brokers profit when there is a bumper harvest, importers and brokers (the latter who hoard maize and other grains) profit when there is scarcity and NGOs and CBOs raise funds ostensibly to save lives with catchy taglines.

Policy decisions around agricultural inputs resources, funding for agriculture and technical support remain under discussions by Government, Civil Society Organisations, Academia and private companies.

Small scale farmers generally suffer losses and feel powerless in the scheme of things. They are invisible.

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In Kenya, an estimated 800,000 Kenyans (1.7% of the population) are dependant on the ASM sector, which contributed 0.8% to the gross domestic product (GDP). Non-metallic and construction minerals sector employ 90,000 people (quarries: 40,000, sand: 30,000, other: 25,000), of which approximately 70,000 (75%) are artisanal and small-scale miners. The gold mining sector, inclusive of Taita Taveta, Migori, Siaya and Turkana and the seasonal nature of the work, provides work for some 40,000 Kenyans, whilst the gemstone sector countrywide employs approximately 30,000 miners. Thus, the ASM sector provides primary livelihood employment for an estimated 140,000 ASM miners.

All policy decisions are influenced and discussed by government, large Civil Society Organisations and large Companies. These small scale artisan miners have no agency to influence policy or sustainable outcomes for their communities. They are invisible.

How can the invisible be visible?

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Working with citizens in Kenya, using data to identify their development needs and priorities, we have had the opportunity to learn many things. One of the biggest observations that we have had is that many citizens are woefully invisible in the spaces where decisions are reached on public activities that should better their lives. Many citizens are not aware that they have a say in how the money that their local government controls should be spent.

“Between the president and you, who is the boss?” We commonly ask citizens during training sessions upon entry into a community, much to their chagrin. This question is often met with confusion and it usually takes much conversation and debate for them to see that they, the citizens are the boss.

“Whose is the CDF money that the MP controls?” By this time, they can see through our line of questioning and they confidently respond, “Mine!”

“Good,” we reply, “How much is it this year? How much do you have in this constituency’s CDF?”

More confusion. “They don’t tell us” is the most common response we hear.

We then walk them slowly through a think through about ownership.

“Imagine you have a shop. In this shop you employ me to keep the shop for you, while you go about other business. Would you be satisfied if every time you met me, I gave you platitudes that everything is going on well and that I have great plans for the shop, before I give you 50 shillings to go have tea?”

“Never!” They retort. “I have to carefully check stock and make sure I know how much money there is!”

“Why then,” we ask, “is it that you allow you MP, your servant, to handle your money and you don’t know how much spent?”

The objective of these conversations is to set the stage for the work that we do with the citizens as they collect their own data and begin to develop a sharper understanding of their community’s needs and priorities. Using this data, we have seen the communities’ demeanour change to one of strength – especially when they are talking to their representatives.

We have also found, when communities have access to their own data, they get to be more visible to government officials who then have a better perspective of the community’s needs and have a clearer view of how they can be useful to them.

As innovative as this work has been, it has been plagued by questions of scale – “How can it be scaled up to administrative areas that are larger than just a location?” Last year, we worked in Nakuru North sub-county with citizens in 6 locations.”

This year, we are targeting to work with county governments to show that through the village administrative units, it is possible to work with local community leaders in a county to collect citizen-generated data that can strengthen county governments’ ability to respond effectively to citizen needs.