It is 5.30pm on a Tuesday. Ali Simira calls Bunge sitting to order.
Mr Simira is the Chairman of Kisumu Central Square Bunge. Bunges are informal forums where community members converge to discuss issues facing them.
For a long time, many people have dismissed these forums. Some have christened them idling points where jobless men converge to pass time with endless politicking.
But this narrative has since changed.
In Kisumu County, there are 27 active Bunges. Twelve of the Bunges are located within Kisumu Central Constituency which covers the urban areas of Kisumu City.
Central Square is one of the most active Bunges in the country. On this day, Central Square has three agendas to discuss.
One is the planned demonstrations by Azimio Coalition over the high cost of living. Participants get a chance to speak in turns.
They discuss the probable impacts of the planned mass action, and how to approach in.
Through this forum, we are able to come up with solutions to a number of issues facing our peopleAli Simira
Another agenda is the confusion facing the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC).
It is that time Grade Six pupils are transitioning to Junior Secondary School (JSS), and many parents are in dilemma following the confusion surrounding the new system of education.
Here, the most informed Bunge members, armed with policy write ups and newspaper cuttings help with interpretation of the unclear issues.
The third agenda is the visit by United States First Lady, Dr Jill Biden to Kenya.
Some feel the visit is aimed at swaying the country to face West for financial help at the time Kenya is struggling with high foreign debts.
“We do not just sit here with nothing to discuss,” says Simira.
“Through this forum, we are able to come up with solutions to a number of issues facing our people,” he adds.
Crisis Communication Chapter
Simira is one of the Bunge leaders who have been part of the Crisis Communication Chapter (Kisumu), a project being implemented by the Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA).
The project is aimed at promoting community dialogue in solving crisis within the communities.
Simira says with the knowledge from the project, his team has been able to adopt dialogue in dealing with a number of issues.
During the 2022 general election, the entire local and international media camped at Kondele to report on violence. There was none of that, and they termed the situation ‘boring’Joshua Owino
Other Bunge leaders who have been part of the project are; Joshua Owino (Kondele Bunge Chair) and his Nyalenda Mama Safi counterpart Thomas Imboka.
According to Mr Owino, through the Bunges, Kondele which had been considered violence hotspot has transformed.
“During the 2022 general election, the entire local and international media camped at Kondele to report on violence. There was none of that, and they termed the situation ‘boring’,” said Owino.
He says through the Bunges, they have been able to discuss issues relating to politics, health, economy, human rights, among others.
Bunge engaging stakeholders
Today, the Bunges are able to draft petitions, and letters to various government agencies to raise issues affecting the community.
“When we have a child who cannot go to school because of lack of fees, we come in and approach the relevant government offices,” says Owino.
“When there are job opportunities around, we approach the relevant entities and seek for chances through the Bunge structures,” he adds.
He says when businesses, such as supermarkets in the town were facing attacks during political activities, the Bunges came up with a proposal which saw some of its members employed in the businesses.
“Today, no one attempts to attack those businesses as they feel the businesses are part of us due to the presence of many of our members,” he says.
Mr Imboka, an employee of Kisumu County Government is one of the beneficiaries of the employment through the Bunges.
According to Imboka, many other Bunge members have been employed in Kisumu County Government, and other private businesses.
“We have also used such initiatives to sort out a number of security issues within the estates, as we are able to identify the bad elements and share such information with the relevant security agencies,” he said.
Oloo Janak, the CCC Program Manager and Chair of KCA says interactions with the forums have revealed a silver lining in their roles within the communities.
According to Janak, there is need to strengthen the Bunge structures, and train the members on the basic constitutional and legal issues, so as to enalbe them serve the community better.
“There is need for the Bunges to have basic knowledge on how to draft petitions so that they can easily reach out to the relevant government and non-governmental agencies which are their key stakeholders,” he said.
He adds: “It is also important to have resource centres so that the Bunges can engage from an informed point of view.”
There is need for the Bunges to have basic knowledge on how to draft petitions so that they can easily reach out to the relevant government and non-governmental agencies which are their key stakeholdersOloo Janak
Mr Robert Kiberenge, the National Deputy Chair for Bunges says the forums have played a very big role in the governance in the country.
“What we discuss do not just end at the Bunges, but are escalated to relevant offices for action,” he said.
He noted that the Bunges have been part of the reforms in various sectors, including health, education, governance, food security among others.
“Currently we are dealing with issues to do with the high cost of living, the LGBTQ debate, and the CBC. These are issues which affect the people,” he says.
In Kisumu, Simira says players from different sectors have been reaching out to them to help with community engagement.
“Any information from the Bunges get to the people because we host people from different corners of the community,” he says.
“With a bit of empowerment, Bunges can do wonders in our communities through dialogue and other non-violent engagements,” he adds.
Origin of Bunges
Bunges came up in the 1990s during the push for multipartism in Kenya.
The single party system had banned other political parties, making it difficult to put the government of the day on check.
According to Mr Simira, Bunges remained the only convergence points where people would discuss governance issues, albeit amid harassment from government forces.
And after the repeal of Section 2A which brought with it multipartism, Simira says Bunges have been active, and now shaping the country’s political, social and economic direction.
Mr Kiberenge however says Bunges are currently facing harassment from the sitting government, and there is need to protect them.
“Currently our Bunge at Jivanjee Garden (Nairobi) has been banned, and police keeping vigil to ensure we do not converge there,” he says.
“Other Bunges in Jakaranda and some parts of the city are also banned despite Kenya having freedom of association,” he adds.
Mr Kiberenge noted that there are 37 Bunge Chapters, representing 37 counties, with sub chapters in the sub counties and wards.