Picture
Lauren Coletta at SCI Conference in Cairo
I'm just returning from a very interesting conference in Cairo sponsored by Sister Cities International.  The purpose of the conference was to bring organizations together from around the world who focus on public diplomacy strategies to address challenges in the areas of poverty alleviation, energy, education and cultural exchanges etc.  Folks were there from Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America.  My purpose in being there was to talk about the work we are doing in Mombasa, Kenya related to transparency issues in the water sector.  I enjoyed giving my talk but the real value for me was learning about the various exchanges.  I was really taken back by all the religious exchanges that go on, especially among youth.  Dr.  Mohamad Bashar Arafat from the Civilizations Exchange and Coopration Foundation gave an excellent presentation on how youth from various religions around the world benefit from coming together and learning about each other's beliefs.  And I learned a lot from Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America who gave a fantastic speech at a beautiful 15th Century  building in Islamic Cairo.  He focused on how  Muslims immigrating to the United States in the 1970s built partnerships with Christians and Jews.  I had no idea that in many cities in the US, churches opened up their doors for Friday prayers for their Muslim neighbors because at the time there were few mosques in the US.  Great examples to follow.  I think these kind of exchanges are essential to increase understanding and fight ignorance and religious intolerance.  How else will people come to undestand each other?

In terms of how things have changed since the revolution in Cairo my sense was that things are still extremely tense.  While I was there there was a huge protest and the Israeli and Saudi Embassies were targeted.  I thought it was strange that coverage in the press didn't mention any of the Saudi Embassy protests because the crowds were much bigger there.  One other thing, I encourage people to go to Egypt, the tourism industry is really suffering so if you want to help buy a ticket.   A word of caution though, because of the transition security is still sketchy.  Make sure you get a guide to go to the pyramids etc.






 
 
Picture
 I just returned from an excellent exchange with colleagues in Mombasa, Kenya who are working on creative ways to increase access to safe and affordable water in the city and surrounding communities.  Common Cause is partnering with the group in conjunction with Sister Cities International to assist in putting together the campaign.

     The water situation in Mombasa is grave.  Mombasa doesn't have a nearby source of fresh water and has to rely on water from Mzima Springs which is hours a way (a beautiful place where the hippos live).  The water has to travel through antiquated pipes and when it reaches Mombasa it is distributed through an equally aging and leaky water infrastructure, a problem that is further exacerbated by some residents taping into the pipelines illegally and selling the water at high rates.   

     The water is under the authority of the Mombasa Water and Sewage company.  Their goal is to distribute water to residents who don't have water taps, or whose taps aren't producing water because of the deficits in the system, by contracting with vendors around the community. There are rules the vendors must abide by like;  they have to sell the water (20 liters) for 2 shillings, they have to maintain the kiosks in a hygienic manner, they have to post their licenses, they may not tap illegally into the water system.  Many vendors violate these rules and sell the water at inflated prices, poorly maintain their kiosks, and fail to post their licenses lending to community doubt as to whether they are properly licensed to sell the water.  These problems are wide spread throughout the city.

     Amina Zuberi, the leader of the group and her colleagues Saad  Yusuf, Mishi Hamis, and Farida Rashid are running a dynamic campaign to work with the community and the water company to ensure that vendors are following the proper guidelines and fulfilling their vital role in providing safe water to the community.  Of the 50 or so kiosks we examined on my trip throughout Mombasa, only one of the kiosks followed the proper rules....and it was closed.  

     To address the issue the group is taking advantage of local resources.  Kenyans love their cell phones, they pay bills on them, bank with them, send money to one another on them.  To take advantage of the technology the group is using the  Ushahidi platform (it means "witness" in Kiswahili and was developed in Kenya during the election related violence in 2008) to encourage residents to report abuses via their cell phones.   When a resident sends a text message to the platform the information is displayed on a map and allows everyone to monitor where the problems are so that water officials can address them.  You can visit the website here.  http://mombasawater.crowdmap.com/

If you want to learn more about the campaign and follow its development you can visit http://www.mombasawateraccountabilitycampaign.org/index.html where the leaders will be blogging about their experiences.  

 
 
Sure, my good friend and esteemed colleague Monica Tapia, author, investigator, trainer, and civil society specialist is well known in Mexico (and increasingly outside the country) for her excellent work in building the capacity of civil society organizations to address important public policy issues.  But that doesn't stop her from getting involved in her local neighborhood issues.  Faced with city plans to expand a major street in her community into an even more major highway, she and her neighbors decided take it upon themselves to participate in a cool tactic and have their own "wikibanqueta."  In english it translates into something like, let's get together and make our own curb plan.  In the video below they take over the streets and use art and humor to make it more as they would have it and remind everyone that people live in that community, trees and beauty are important to quality of life and that pedestrians have rights.  I love the couch scene and the part where they are explaining their actions to local police.

This tactic is part of a larger movement to maintain or fight for a more people friendly landscape in Mexico City the "Colectivo Camina:  Haz Ciudad" movement, if you want to learn more about it visit here.  
 
 
Common Cause has been doing quite a bit of awareness building about the billionaire Koch Bros in recent months but the cool tactic award on this issue goes to our friends at The Other 98%.  Not sure if it will resonate with people under thirtyish  because I feel like this commerical came out when I was really young.  I woudn't be surprised if we see a lot of earned media from this.

 
 
I didn't think I could still be surprised much by bad behavior in a government body but a visit with a colleague from the Maidan Alliance from Ukraine yesterday changed that.  Check out their video "A Banana Republic Forever?" to see what good government groups like Maidan Alliance have to deal with....we are taking a look about ways in which Common Cause might partner with them.  I think I'll be able to be more constructive once the shock wears off.


 
 
Picture
Having recently returned from Kenya I ran across some news that a woman had shed her clothes in protest of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta being relegated to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  Later I learned that the Minister of Special Programs Esther Murugi declared she would lead women in a group striptease if they sentenced him...I asked colleagues there what the connection might be between women undressing and keeping Kenyatta from facing trial for his alleged role in the fomentation of violence in Kenya following the elections in 2008. She said that in Kenya, a women's dignity was the most important thing she possesses and by behaving this way she is demonstrating how important the issue is to her.  I suppose it makes some sense but somewhere in my mind I was suspicious about whose idea this might really have been.  

 Then earlier this month, as I follow some of the politics in the Ukraine having collaborated with groups there over the years, I see the organization FEMEN pictured above using their somewhat naked bodies for all kinds of protest from  fighting prostitution, unequal pay, maternity leave, corruption in government etc, etc.  Their leader, Tatiana Kozak, believes that women's bodies are used for commercial purposes all the time (hard to argue with that) and that they are simply using them to fight injustices, stating "Our only weapon is beauty."  I could definitely make a good argument against that, but they have unquestionably increased the "exposure" of their issues. 

So is this just a trend outside of the US I wondered? And then....just yesterday i see the PETA ad...a former playboy bunny, mostly naked on their magazine cover, with a quote, "Id rather go naked than wear fur."



 
 
Picture
Kids at a school in Kisumu.
Common Cause International (CCI)
Update Spring 2011

Common Cause created its international program, Common Cause International, a little over two years ago.  Its focus is to promote public diplomacy efforts and partner with civil society organizations in emerging democracies in cultivating citizen participation and running effective campaigns.  Over the past two years we have conducted seventeen projects in twelve countries and hosted hundreds of international visitors from all over the world in our DC and state offices around the country.  In addition to our civil society partners featured below, we have also partnered with the Gates Foundation, Meridian International, National Democratic Institute, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the US State Department, Sister Cities International and World Learning.
------------------------------------------------------------
Program Highlights
Hungary and Slovakia
Over the next year Common Cause will be partnering with the Central European Division of the National Democratic Institute to conduct a project in Hungary and Slovakia designed to engage youth. The objectives of the program are to promote inter-ethnic tolerance, civic awareness, and participation among disengaged youth of Roma and non-Roma origin. Up to 100 youth, aged 16-21 from eight rural ethnically mixed communities in Hungary and Slovakia will be targeted by this program.  Common Cause will be involved in the civic education component and will assist graduates of the leadership development phase in designing local advocacy campaigns.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Country Updates
Mexico

Common Cause has three projects in Mexico. We are working with education advocates in partnership with Alternativas y Capacidades (Alternatives and Capacities) to address education reform needs. We are also working with Alianza Civica (Civic Alliance), a national group that shares many of the same goals as Common Cause in the US. A third project is with the recently created Ciudadanos Mexicanos en Causa en Comun (Mexican Citizens for a Common Cause.)

Causa Comun en Mexico

President of the Mexican based Cause Comun, Ma Elena Morera, came to Washington last fall to meet with staff and Common Cause President, Bob Edgar.  How the collaboration began is an interesting story.  A couple of years back, well-known Mexican philanthropist and activist Rodolfo Ogarrio walked into our offices with John Gardner's book, "In Common Cause," and asked for input about how to form a similar organization in Mexico. Gardner founded Common Cause in the US in 1970 and his book outlines the early struggles of our organization and the urgent need for citizen activism in the US on government accountability issues. Over the past two years we have been in dialog with our colleagues in Mexico and just last fall they formally launched their organization.  While we have no formal relationship with our Mexican cousins, we are working collaboratively on a number of issues.  Ma Elena Morera was in DC last fall to give Senate testimony, at the invitation of Senator Durbin, on how the current situation at our shared border is affecting quality of life issues in Mexico.  If you would like to learn more you can read her testimony here Alternativas and Capacidades

Alternativas y Capacidades

 Common Cause has been funded by the Open Society Institute to work in partnership with the Mexican based resource organization Alternativas y Capacidades to provide technical assistance in the creation of a campaign to improve the education system in Mexico. After a year of coalition building, training, and campaign planning, the campaign was formally launched in September 2010 with the release of a major report on the state of education in Mexico. The report documents several educational problems including the fact that while the Mexican government pays comparable amounts per student as other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,) Mexican school children score last in student achievement. The report also outlines the dysfunctional relationship between the Mexican Government and the teachers’ union in Mexico the SNTE (the Sindicato Nacional of Trabajadores de la Educaction.)  The campaign urges the Mexican President and state authorities to revoke a 1946 legal order that gave the union the primary responsibility for education and makes it a governmental responsibility.   Media reception to the campaign and research has been ample and supportive, and a number of prominent citizen committees have been organized to support the effort.  

Sam Graham-Felsen, former lead Obama blogger and Common Cause International associate has been active with the coalition in identifying new media strategies that will work in the Mexican context.  Spanish speakers interested in the campaign can follow 
it on twitter at @singrilla, or visit their website at http://www.porlaeducacion.com/.
-------------------------------------------------------------
Kenya and Ghana 

Common Cause is partnering with Sister Cities International in the African Urban Poverty Alleviation Program (AUPAP) which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This past autumn, CCI Director Lauren Coletta and former Common Cause Executive Vice President Jon Goldin Dubois traveled to Kenya and Ghana to meet with local government officials and community leaders.  The purpose of the trip was to assess possible partnerships to conduct a community campaign to increase investment and attention to water and sanitation-related needs.   
Lauren conducted the evaluation in Kenya and visited Kisumu and Mombassa.   Kisumu is a Millennium Development City, the third largest in Kenya, and one of the poorest cities in the country.  (Lauren Coletta at a project in Mombassa) Even though Kisumu has access to a rich water source because of its location on Lake Victoria, almost half of its residents lack consistent access to an improved water source and the aged sewage facilities of the city are insufficient to meet the needs of the growing population.  This situation contributes to a variety of life- threatening health hazards.  Leaders in Kisumu are very interested in conducting a campaign to encourage the local government to commit “devolved funds”  to address the related health issues that are felt by many of Kisimu’s poor. 
Mombassa faces different challenges; it is located on low-lying land, on a high water table, and close to the Indian Ocean.   Most of the water serving Mombassa comes from outside of the community, due to the contamination of wells caused by sewage problems.  Due to the proximity of the ocean, high water salinity is an additional issue facing the city’s vulnerable water resources.  The Women’s Assembly of Mombassa, as well as the local Sister Cities and Rotary Committees, are interested in working with the AUPAP consortium and Common Cause.  We are still trying to determine if our focus will be on one or both communities as the project moves forward. 
Jon Goldin Dubois conducted the assessment in Ghana near the capital of Accra.  Jon visited a number of local communities in Tamale, Ga West and Ga East.  These communities are new to the AUPAP program and won’t be included during the 2011 phase of our work.  The response in Tamale on the part of community leaders and government officials alike was very positive and we are hopeful that we can partner with them in 2012.  
-------------------------------------------------------------

Vietnam
Last summer Common Cause President Bob Edgar led an interfaith delegation to Vietnam to investigate the impact of Agent Orange.  The delegation was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.  For background, in the 36 years since the end of the war between the United States and Vietnam, the two countries have made great progress toward friendly relations.  But the impact of the war still reverberates today in the lives of millions of Americans and Vietnamese.  These include people affected then and now, directly and indirectly, by the U.S. spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides over rural South Vietnam.  The delegation met with government officials, medical personnel, and victims as well as “hot spots” left behind when the United States military pulled out in the Spring of 1975.  
The following leaders joined Bob on this journey: 
• Sister Maureen Fiedler, Sister of Loretto, PhD. and host of the public radio talk show Interfaith Voices. 
• Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO, Jewish Council for World Affairs. 
• The Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and a Fellow at the Open Society Institute and UN Foundation. 
• James Winkler, General Secretary, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. 
• Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr., First Vice President, Progressive National Baptist Convention. 
• Paulette Peterson, Clinical Psychologist, U.S. Veterans Administration. 
• Shariq A. Siddigui, the Executive Director of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana and Director of Legal Services at the Julian Center. 
• The Rev. Michael Livingston, Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches and former President of the National Council of the Churches of Christ USA. 
• The Rev. Victor Hsu, former staff for Asian Affairs at both World Vision and Church World Service. 
• Susan V. Berresford, Convener of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin and former President, The Ford Foundation. 
• Charles Bailey, Vietnam Program Director, The Ford Foundation

Common Cause continues to play a leadership role in raising the profile of these issues within the US so this long and sad legacy of the Vietnam War can fairly be remembered and addressed.

Egypt

Common Cause is working with youth organizations in Egypt in conjunction with the National Democratic Institute.  After a two-week training session last spring the focus of the current project is designing an advocacy guide focusing on young people, in conjunction with some web-based remote trainings.  Part of the reason for doing the work remotely relates to the current struggles nongovernmental organizations are facing in Egypt. The recently held parliamentary elections held this fall were significantly flawed, religious violence is escalating, and the upcoming presidential elections have created a difficult atmosphere for advocates.  Emphasis in the guide and trainings will be on documenting Egyptian-based success stories and gathering locally available advocacy resources, especially as it pertains to new media.  Sam Graham Felsen is consulting on this project as well.*  

**Due to the recent demonstration this week our project in Egypt is evolving.  We send our best wishes to the NGOs we work with in Egypt and hope for their safety.


Common Cause International
A project of the Common Cause Education Fund

1133 19th St., NW
Washington, DC
20036
Director:  Lauren Coletta
Email:  lcoletta@commoncause.org

Learn More:  http://tinyurl.com/625cfau

Support:  http://www.commoncause.org/SupportCCI. 

 
 
 Because Common Cause International will be involved in a civil society strengthening project in Hungary this year I’ve been tuning into Hungarian politics and movements.  Just by coincidence I had the opportunity over the last week to talk to a group of parliamentarians about the controversial new media law that is creating so may waves in Hungary and throughout European capitals.  I am also in touch with some activists in Hungary and it is interesting to get both points of view.

My interest is primarily in the organizing effort but I will do my best to explain the debate about the law below.  The law was passed just before Christmas and already the Facebook effort has led to 73,141 “friends,” a public demonstration of 10,000 plus in Budapest, and other demonstrations in Germany, Austria and Slovakia.    In addition, the organizing principles of the group have been translated by Facebook volunteers into 16 different languages.  

I wondered how this effort compares to other similar groups and movements.  I poked around to see how many friends some of the major US groups have and was a bit surprised at how many more the Hungarian organizers have attracted in such a short time.  Sure, the NRA one of the largest US based non governmental organizations has 260,197 members, but they have been around forever.  Groups similar in size to Common Cause, like the League of Women Voters, and Free Press, and SEIU have between 6,000 and 15,000 “friends.” 

Movements differ from organizations (although organizations are often part of movements) so maybe we should compare the Hungarian media movement to say…the Iranian movement?  The primary Iranian movement Facebook page has 91, 754.  But again they have been around since the controversial elections in spring of 2009.  And Iran has a population of 72 million; the population in Hungary is around 10 million, 13 million if you add Hungarian speakers in neighboring countries. 

What about the Egyptian activist using new media?  A major Facebook page for former Director of the IAEA and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei for president has a total of 245, 519 friends in a country of about 83 million people, and that has been up and running since February 2010. 

If you check out the website socialbakers  you can learn all kinds of interesting stats on leading movements on Facebook, unfortunately most of them are really silly and have no social impact like “we won’t pay to use Facebook,”  and “join this group and your name with appear in the Guinness Book of Records.”

I think it’s safe to say the Hungarians are doing well, really well, in identifying their audience, getting the word out, and moving people to action.  Gratulálok!

But what is all the fuss about?  Tough to say exactly because lawyers are still mulling over the implications of the law and I couldn’t find the actual text in English to decide for myself.  The details will surely be out sometime soon as the issue is receiving so much attention.   With the Hungarians assuming the presidency of the EU it is not likely to go away any time soon.

This is what I have learned:  The Parliamentarians I met with who are members of the newly elected center right Fidesz party say the law has been completely mischaracterized.  They undertook the changes at this time because the law was badly in need of modernization and it was the first opportunity to do so because political majorities didn't exist before now to make the necessary changes.  They also said that much of the law was adopted from other European laws and rejected the criticism from European capitals and other opponents as inconsistent with the substance of the law.  You can read their statement here.

http://www.kim.gov.hu/english/activities/briefing/an_20110103.html

The activists are angry that there was no public input or comment period regarding the law and have serious problems with what they perceive as an effort the stifle freedom of speech and intimidate media makers.  Their proclamation to the Hungarian is pasted below.

PROCLAMATION:

To the Hungarian Parliament, Constitutional Court and Administration

We who signed this proclamation: the Hungarian media workers and civilians disagree with the media law approved in 2010. This law trespass press freedom’s and free speech’s rights. We want the following actions in the interest of our constitutional rights and human rights:

1. review of constitutionality of the media act, and its amendment;

2. representation of media workers during modification of media act;

3. to guarantee the political independence of media authorities;

4. to erase the possibility of undue and arbitrary penalties;

5. to respect the secrecy - protected by law - and respect the confidential sources of journalists;

6. to make the independence of public media editorial offices into rights;

7. to call in and consult the human, political and free speech protection organizations to the preparation of the Public Service Code.


It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  The Fidesz party has to feel squeezed with all the descent coming from organized Hungarians and major allies across Europe.  Stay tuned.

 
 
As someone who strongly believes in government transparency and worked in the US and abroad on these issues for years, you would think I might be supportive of Julian Assange's efforts over at Wikileaks.  I have been reading comments of colleagues of mine who are defending Assange as well as the "hacktivists" who have conducted attacks on companies who have refused to provide services to wikileaks.  Former Common Cause webmaster and Dean Campaign online mastermind Nicco Mele was on CNN recently and he views the hacktivist's rout of Amazon, Paypal etc., as a modern version of an old fashioned sit in.  Something to think about, and I haven't made up my mind about that point yet  because I need to understand more about the mechanism which they used to conduct the attacks.   If they used computers across the Internet  without the users permission to "request service" in order to shut down the servers of these companies in my book that not alright.  While I am trying to understand that better, I have made up my mind about Wikileaks, at least in the case of publishing the State Department cables.


My first response to Wikileaks was that it was wrong and maybe even a crime. Then I began to think, well, people in government and elsewhere leak things all the time and major news outlets publish those leaks...only once in a while does legal trouble follow.  So probably not a crime, but definitely not:


1.  A responsible advocacy strategy   I believe some government information is best kept private in areas sensitive to diplomacy, security, and the privacy of average citizens.   Wikileaks is not an acceptable advocacy strategy to promote transparency in my view.  Like journalist, government officials, and professionals of all kinds, advocates have to make decisions about how to pursue our goals, what ends justify what means, and Wikileak's anarchistic approach goes too far for me.    In any company or organization it is essential for people to communicate honestly in order to form opinions about how to move a particular strategy forward.  I read the cables related to the countries where I  work (I had mixed emotions about it at first but since it is out there on hundreds of mirrored sites, I thought it important to understand it) and have to say I was impressed with what I found.  In the majority of cases I thought the State Department professionals had done an honest job of communicating what they thought.  And contrary to Assange's expectations, much of what I saw was in line with official US policy and stated goals.  So instead of unearthing some evil cabal on the part of the US, all Wikileaks succeeded in doing was revealing information that will make it harder for US diplomats to do their job- as diplomats and their counterparts are now less willing to share information for fear that private communications will become public and jeopardize their jobs, their negotiating positions, or possibly their safety.


2.  A reasonable form of public journalism:  I think the surge in blogs and other forms of public journalism and information gathering is valuable to the public discourse.  Open Secrets is awesome!  TPM is great!  Tim Karr's Media Citizen if essential reading on media issues.   It creates a meritocracy where people who have valuable perspectives and information  can help shape policy debates outside of the traditional media structure.  Bloggers and organizations have to make decisions about what they know and how they want to  share it.  I think throwing out thousands upon thousands of cables relating to dozens of countries on hundreds of issues without any context or goal beyond Assange's belief that this information should be public is irresponsible and potentially dangerous.  I also think it's kind of lazy.  The New York Times has been criticized for publishing  stories related to specific cables.  Like them,  I believe that now that the information is out there on the net no matter what, it's important to do the hard work of providing perspective on the cables and giving people the context.  Perhaps some good things may come from the release of the cables, maybe in some cases it will increase understanding.  But do I think that Assange and others at Wikileaks weighed all the possible negative outcomes created by the thousands of cables and made the moral judgement that yes, indeed, their belief in complete government transparency trumps all?  No way, I don't think they gave it any serious thought.  They put their righteous convictions ahead of any of these moral struggles that ought to have been very seriously considered.


I know many of my respected facebook and twitter friends are on the other side of the issue, but who among us would think its ok to have all of our correspondence with colleagues within our organizations made public over the Internet?  Should public organizations and companies like banks be subjected to the same scrutiny?  What about the communications of private citizens with government actors?  Should a handful of "hacktivists" be allowed to shut down any website they choose for whatever reason they might have?  What if one company was doing this to another for economic gain, or is only ok if you have a righteous reason? I have a very uneasy feeling about where all of this will lead and think legal professionals and the rest of us have our work cut out for us in catching up to the new challenges the Internet creates.
 
 

Just back from two long trips.  First I went to Shanghai for the Chinese Friendship Association Conference.  There were non-govermental groups from all over the world and the Chinese were really strutting their stuff...which was easy for them to do because Shanghai is the most modern city I have ever seen. The goal of the event was for China to conduct public diplomacy with interested groups from around the world and to highlight ideas about what cities of the future will look like.  During the conference there was a lot of talk about how cities are coping with the current economic crisis.  It was really interesting to me how a number of the Chinese speakers were describing with some pride  how China has been able to grow during the crisis and moments later describing China as a developing nation whose poor and uneducated people are saddled with the environment degradation caused by manufacturing the worlds goods and how the West owes them a debt.  I guess both Chinas exist.  I was shocked to see a high speed magnet train cruising over a beautiful garden...that was being mowed, not by a lawn mower or a scythe, but by individuals plucking handfuls of grass.  I have a lot to learn about China and this trip really enticed me.  Another weird observation, on the plane ride home there were Chinese on their way to visit the United States, obviously wealthy tourists...and they were all huge, tall Chinese who obviously had plenty of food and nutrition growing up.  I felt like I was looking at the future.

The Kenya project is all about water and sanitation.  Politics in Kenya couldn't be more interesting right now or more promising.  The newly adopted Constitution allows Kenyans direct election of local officals, the creation of state (or county equivalent) officials who will have more decentralized control over resources then in the past.  This change creates (hopefully) the best opportunity for Kenyan NGOs to play an active role in political life in the country's history. 

I met with some great folks in Kisumu, a group of leaders who refer to themselves jokingly as the "Big Five."  And some powerful women leaders in Mombasa who work on HIV Aids, female genital mutilation issues, as well as families struck by poverty.  This is a new project for Common Cause International, we also have staff in Ghana right now doing a similar preliminary visit with groups there.  I am really looking forward to getting this project off the ground and getting to know my colleagues better.  The personal highlight of the trip for me was serving a group of monkeys a banana brunch on my patio in Mombasa.  I loved seeing all the animals so free there, and was amazed about how it all worked out with traffic and the natural choas of the streets...I had to close my eyes a lot driving around because sometimes it was hard to watch.