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.  

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."

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

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.  

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.


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
Director:  Lauren Coletta
Email:  lcoletta@commoncause.org

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

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