Cooperation with local authorities – a must but to what extent?

Cooperating with local authorities in humanitarian context is one of the main topics currently discussed among different stakeholders dealing with humanitarian aid. In the second week of our deployment to Kenya, we already got the opportunity to meet few representatives of the local authorities. Since the structure of the (local) government is quite complex I will first briefly present the structure of it in order to make the dynamics of our cooperation with local authorities more clear.

For the moment Kenya is divided into districts headed by District Commissioners. Furthermore districts are divided into different numbers of divisions headed by District Officers. And divisions are divided in locations and sub-locations headed by Chiefs and Chiefs Assistants. Under the new Constitution adopted in 2010 Kenya will be divided into 47 counties which will represent devolved local governments and will become operational after 2013 elections.

Until now we had meetings with all 3 District Commissioners from the region where most of our work will be focused on – Molo, Njoro and Kuresoi. We have also met District Officer of Molo, currently covering all four divisions in Molo district, and one of the Chiefs of Molo. During the meetings I have realized that local authorities already possess many information that are needed and useful in the context of crisis preparedness and crisis response therefore information we want to collect and gather in order to put them on the maps and common database. All representatives of local authorities, who were extremely welcoming, expressed their willingness to share their information with us and at the same time showed interest in our data collection that might be useful for them to respond timely and adequately on different crisis in the region such as potential election violence, IDPs, land issues, etc. This proves that cooperation with local authorities is urgent to make EUROSHA project as well as other humanitarian projects efficient, effective and sustainable. And I also believe their approval and support is needed to feel accepted, secure and be able to work successfully on the territory that they are responsible for.

On the other hand many questions came to my mind regarding cooperation with local authorities and humanitarian principles, in particular the principle of neutrality. To what extent should humanitarian actors (including humanitarian aid volunteers) work with (local) authorities? What kind of information will authorities provide us, especially information linked with sensitive political issues? Is it possible to work with them closely and stay neutral? What does neutrality actually mean? Is it possible to incorporate local ownership in humanitarian sphere? After first meeting with local authorities in Kenya I am realizing that if neutrality includes the absence of communication and cooperation with local stakeholders, then the principle itself could be harmful for delivering efficient humanitarian aid and harmful for building the link between relief, rehabilitation and development. Is it time for donors and humanitarian organizations to adopt less rigid approach to humanitarian aid that does not follow the humanitarian principles so strictly? I think that it might happen that above questions may not have a clear answer for some time. That is why I am really looking forward to see how our further cooperation with Kenyan local authorities will develop, what will be the results of it and what kind of obstacles we might face.




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