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The story behind the well: A case study of successful community development in Makutano, Kenya

by Brianne Peters; Halima Mahomed

Oct 11, 2016

In August 2010, following the post-election violence of 2008, Kenyans voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution. This was a development of huge importance, not least because there had been many previous attempts to overhaul the old constitution. But the new version was also a far-reaching document, the significance of which in advocating wide-scale reforms – such as offering devolved constituency-based governments, decentralization and control of financial resources and decision making as well as unprecedented space for civil society to hold the State to account – cannot be overestimated. At the same time, translating the ideals of this constitution into reality could be a lengthy and complicated process, given the difficult political context in Kenya.

The socio-economic context in Kenya also provides a considerable challenge. Out of a population of 40.9 million, over 46% of Kenyans live below the national poverty line, with more than 19% of this group surviving on below US$1.25 per day. Two-fifths of Kenyans (41%) still lack access to improved water services and 69% to improved sanitation.

Life expectancy stands at 55.6 years, and infant mortality at 81 per 1,000 births.1 HIV prevalence in Kenya is at 6.3%, which means that between 1.3 and 1.6 million people in the country live with the disease.2 Across the country, communities have been left to fend for themselves with little access to State support such as infrastructure, education, water and sanitation – areas that would normally be deemed State responsibility.

This is the context for the 'story behind the well' of the Makutano Community Development Association (MCDA), a community that came together in 1995 to try to provide for itself the type of life that is now enshrined in the new constitution. The MCDA is located along a 23km dirt road – which the community built entirely on its own – two hours from Nairobi in the Ikombe Division of the Yatta District. As well as building the road, the community also used considerable resources of its own (together with external support) as primary inputs into the construction of 9 dams, 17 sub-service wells, 162 pit latrines and a secondary school that has seen attendance increase by a factor of ten. In a semi-arid landscape prone to droughts and floods, 10,000 acres of land have now been put to productive use.