A Report of the People’s Assemblies Forum held in the Mathare Social Justice Centre’s Creative Hub on August 11, 2023
Why People’s Assemblies?
The people’s assemblies arise from the need of the people to administer and generate solutions to the problems ailing their society. The concept is a people’s driven approach towards creating grassroots strength, solidarity and democracy from a point of popular power to a pool of global solidarity. The assemblies might take different organizational and practical models in diverse communities and in various organizations, making it a viable model for decision making, identifying challenges and building a collective spirit in confronting the social, economic and political issues that exist.
Purpose of the Forum
The people’s assembly forum held in Mathare was an avenue to explore, discuss and generate action points to form, design and structure local, citizen and people’s assemblies in Mathare and other areas within Nairobi. The existing social movements, local groups and institutions are a fundamental element in steering the initial processes. The forum thus drew participants from various established local groups, social movements and members of the community, to examine and deliberate on the model and whether and how it fits into their organizational framework.
Participants in the Forum
The forum targeted 30 participants representing organizations, local groups and members of the community. Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) is one of the social movements organizing around accessing social justice in Mathare and broadly in the whole country. It has worked in close collaboration with other Social Justice Centres in Nairobi, some of which were present at the forum. They include: Githurai, Kayole, Mukuru, and Kasarani Social Justice Centers. Other organizations included the organs of the social justice movement: The Social Justice Centre’s Travelling Theater, The Ecological Justice Network, The Revolutionary Socialist League, The Communist Party of Kenya, the Young Communist League, and Shantit-Mathare (a youth-led group). This was in collaboration with women led assemblies, Grassroots to Global and assemblies from Scotland.
History of Assemblies in Kenya
To make sure the participants knew the full potential of the forum, the participants went through the history of the assemblies in Kenya. With a case study and introduction of Bunge, the Peoples Parliament. This is an assembly’s model that formulated and demanded major social and political reform processes in the history of Kenya. The setup was said to be an open conversation in Jeevanjee Park, a green space in Nairobi where people debated ideas, invoked public participation, and agreed on the best direct action strategies to apply to the imminent needs of the society. Some of the impacts included leading the campaign against the high cost of Unga (flour). There were no doubts that the initiative saw through important social impacts and constitutional gains in Kenya. This was the model that led to the inception of the social justice factor and the formation of the Social Justice Centres. The objectives were targeted towards influencing citizen-led processes and inspiring the spirit of direct-action by local people. There was visible insistence on the need and urgency to build power from below, to protect our democratic gains, and advance local, people-led action.
Different Types of Assemblies
The participants went through the different types of local assemblies as being: 1) The People’s Assembly; 2) The Citizen Assembly; 3) The Delegate Assembly.
They further explored the formations, structure and design of the various types of assemblies, the impact and the levels of interactions in each of the assemblies. Assemblies serve as an alternative to the fragmentation and compromise of individual organizations. Organizations are embedded in the actions by the people. The participants delved into the impact and organization of the past and contemporary assemblies in Kenya and internationally with a case study of the East African women-led assemblies (including the Ogiek, the Sengwer and many other communities), which are organizing assemblies around the land question, and have successfully made challenges and won in the African Court of Justice. The forum went further to assess the questions of land in the Democratic Republic of Congo, political conditions in Uganda, and the assemblies in Scotland. The activities included practical learning experiences such as group discussions and site visit to the Mathare People’s Park. An ecological justice park reclaimed along the Mathare River. For an expanded version of the presentation given on all this, please see here.
Local assemblies are among the alternatives towards building a pool of popular power from below. There exist countless hurdles within our individual organizations and in communities that can be flattened through a collective approach such as people’s assemblies. People’s parliaments envision and design how our society should look, and we see our assemblies as reclaiming and building on that tradition.
Focus of Deliberations
- Building Local Assemblies
The participants saw the process towards the formation of the local assemblies as best to commence from an organizational level. Thereafter, identifying the issues for diagnosis and planning the local assemblies. The issues for the assemblies to focus on were to begin from the direct lived experiences affecting local people. In this case, issues of pollution and environmental degradation appeared to be the primary questions at play. This being agreeable, artistic and creative organizing, like the community theatre, were seen as reliable ways of communicating complex ideas and building broader engagement. This was to be achieved through organizing consistent, structured meetings building towards the assembly, developing clear internal structures (e.g. working groups to look at different aspects of the process, clear and transparent internal decision making processes etc), organizing dialogues with different actors, and outreach sessions to popularize the assembly. The organizations were to guide through the process, in effect forming the basis of a steering group with accountability to the process and all those involved in it.
2. Building National Assemblies
The path to building national assemblies to discuss national matters, was to come from the various local assemblies organized in community spaces. The local assemblies will then project their ideas through to the national assembly. This would require utmost consistency, vibrancy, commitment and a resounding strengthening of our ties with the local and national issues. It would then be important to agree on a structure to apply to that, which will be the subject of ongoing popular education through community theatre and community dialogues, which can feed into a broader conversation about the kind of national assembly Kenya needs and wants.
In achieving this, various issues to handle and prioritize in the planning of assemblies were highlighted. Many of these challenges impact much more than just the assemblies, but we present them here, together, with some suggestions on how their impact can be addressed within the planning and running of the assemblies themselves:
|The Ecological Crisis : This is an ongoing challenge for all of us, but it impacts, particularly, those already dealing with high levels of poverty and social alienation. In relation to the assemblies, we see the need to be able to provide sheltered spaces for the assemblies to happen within and will focus on this in our fundraising efforts..|
|Extrajudicial Executions : Again, this is an ongoing challenge, and could potentially keep people away from assemblies. We will address this to the extent we can by ensuring a strong communications strategy, which attempts to keep the assemblies in the public eye and by building a network of other communities also holding assemblies, as a way of building mutual care and additional public visibility. We will also self-document the assembly process and have a working group dedicated to security.|
|High Cost of Living : This is one of the issues that the assembly may address directly, but it also impacts on whether people will engage with the assembly. We can potentially address this by fundraising to provide food for those who attend and also potentially include workshops on mutual aid as satellites to the main assembly.|
|Crime and Unemployment : The intention of the assemblies is to find shared solutions to the root causes of many issues, including crime and unemployment. We will attempt to either address these directly as subjects within the assembly, or, as above, create satellite workshops giving people space to think through and collectively address these issues alongside it.|
|Tribalism : Tribalism has become highly politicized, so it’s vital that we come to a shared understanding on how the assemblies will approach it. While accepting the cultural importance of identity, we see the assemblies as operating underneath this, at the level of our shared, human interests and will develop our communications strategy along these lines.|
|Lack of Water : We will fundraise to ensure we can provide clean drinking water for those attending the assemblies.|
|Lack of Communication : As is clear from the above, a strong communication policy will be essential to the success of the assemblies. This will focus, not only internally on those living in the area each assembly is focusing on, but also externally, towards the wider public and (for the national process) internationally. It is essential that we develop our own clear strategy for this, building as much as we can on personal relationships of trust, since mainstream and social media are largely captured and are likely to be used to work against the assembly process.|
|Corruption : Again, this is an issue that may be core to the question the assemblies are directly addressing. We will want our process to be as clean, clear and transparent as possible and to ensure that good internal communications can identify and report on any attempts to unfairly influence the process.|
Challenges might arise from groups and individuals seeking to use such an assembly process to advance their own interests, and from a lack of communication between those engaged in advancing the process. This requires us to build a strong shared commitment to addressing social injustice, and to commit to building the structures to overcome injustice and division.
1. Planning of the first People’s Assembly in Mathare, in one of the community sites, around the issues of ecological justice and state violence.
2. The need to popularize Local Assemblies towards building the National Assembly.
3. The importance of utilizing community spaces, such as green spaces, to protect and advance grassroots democracy.
4. The urgency to unify organizations within our communities and build unified approaches to local assemblies towards addressing various challenges.
Report prepared and compiled by the coordinating committee: Gacheke Gachihi: Mathare Social Justice Centre; Kinuthia Ndung’u: Communist Party of Kenya; Justin Kendrick: Scotland People’s Assembly; Eva Schonveld: Grassroots to Global.
Moderators: Njeri Mwangi: Mathare Social Justice Centre; Eva Schonveld: Grassroots to Global.