Designing and Building in Central and East Africa


Tujenge Kibera: We have a Life in Kibera

Over the past two years of working in Kibera, Nairobi, I regularly encountered the numerous challenges facing residents within the “infamous slum”. The lack of proper sewage or regular garbage collection, the ever-present threat of crime, and the stops and starts of failed development projects that touch each of Kibera’s 13 villages remain constant factors in the daily lives of residents.  Unfortunately, it is only these kinds of stories that make their way to the outside world – painting a picture of a hopeless condition that cannot remedied; and one that has not experienced any progress over the years towards a better quality of life for residents.

It is this unrelenting negative picture of Kibera that is being shown to the world that motivated our team at Kounkuey Design Initiative to produce a call to action that would show a different, emerging side of Kibera: the side that reveals the work that residents are doing to improve their own neighborhoods.  The film below is the result of months of work and was selected as a winner of the Rockefeller Foundation Storytelling Challenge. It was a pleasure to write and produce this film with my team in Nairobi and with our colleagues at Lightbox Africa.

Tujenge Kibera Viewing Party

Film Viewing Party, Kibera November, 2015

This film was shown to the Kibera community during a public viewing at Undugu fields on November 7th, 2015. The film was well received by residents and accompanied by a children’s dance competition and celebration.  The event concluded with the final message of the film – to share stories of positive change in Kibera.

On November 20th, stories of positive change will be shared during Nairobi Design Week.  To learn more about the work that the KDI team is doing with Kibera residents and for details on how to visit the Kibera during design week, you can visit Nairobi Design Week’s website here.

Tujenge Kibera


From Waste to Place: The Creation of Kibera Park

The article below was written my me and my KDI team in the fall of 2014 and was ultimately published locally in East Africa’s BuilDesign Magazine. The text and images seek to summarize the strides taken and the successes achieved in developing what has become known as Kibera Park – the largest (and greenest) space of its kind in Kibera.  Work on the site continues to this day as the community is slowly expanding the park to fulfill their envisioned master plan.


Kibera From Above

Kibera From Above

Kibera has grown to exemplify the broad range of challenges facing hundreds of thousands of Nairobi residents. These hardships extend beyond the basic needs of economic insecurity, inadequate housing, or limited access to quality water and sanitation facilities. These challenges also include minimal access to open, green public spaces that allow residents to enjoy recreational space which is a vital part of everyday urban life.

Like so many other informal settlements, Kibera is characterized by a dense concentration of people and housing. Relief from this congestion in the form of public park space is a rarity.  The existing public spaces in Kibera, which are mostly bare, open football pitches, are few in number. Furthermore, the ambiguities surrounding land ownership and the limited space availability, means that creating new public spaces with amenities that serve Kibera residents continues to be a contentious issue.

One organization working to develop public space in partnership with the residents of Kibera is Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI). Featured in our previous issue, KDI is an organization of urban planners, architects and engineers that has partnered with six communities throughout the informal settlement to reclaim and transform waste areas into Productive Public Spaces (PPS).

The Original State of Kibera Park - 2007

The Original State of Kibera Park – 2007

KDI’s first PPS began in 2006 and remains its largest project to date.  The one-acre public park, Kibera Park, is situated in Silanga Village, bordering Soweto East and sitting at the edge of the Nairobi Dam Basin.  Born from what was once a dumping site and a hideout for thieves, Kibera Park now stands alone as one of the only public green spaces within the informal settlement.  KDI’s community partner, the New Nairobi Dam Community (NNDC) group, operates multiple programs within the park including a multi-purpose structure that hosts primary school classes, religious services and public gatherings on the weekend, two showers, three compost toilets, a compost processing facility, an urban farming initiative, and an artistic co-op that creates

designer baskets for sale.  The community group is also looking to expand the project to include a polytechnic school, a recycling centre and a community café.

After numerous meetings with area leaders and surrounding residents, construction of the project began in earnest in 2007. The area’s residents began by contributed their efforts to sorting out and cleaning up the rubbish that clogged the river tributaries that delta into the Nairobi Dam. Together with KDI, the residents excavated and defined the river waterway to guard the site against future flooding. This process led to the complete reclamation of the dumping grounds into buildable land.

Community Wide Design Meeting

Community Wide Design Meeting

With the land secured, KDI engaged NNDC in initial design workshops.  In these meetings, visioning activities were conducted using various mediums of engagement—interviews, mapping, modeling, and photography—to give residents a new lens for interpreting their own landscape. Together, the community and facilitators proposed and then prioritized physical and programmatic solutions through a democratic, iterative process. Constraints of space and budget were then incorporated into the decision-making process via a series of applied exercises: surveying, footprinting, costing, and business planning which led to the final design resolution.

The completed multipurpose structure boasts five 8x8m spaces.  Each of these spaces are defined by folding walls that can be opened to transform the modular structure into a unified performance space for public gatherings. This flexibility has allowed the community group to reinvent the space(s) to accommodate multiple programs. Adjacent to the structure, KDI and the community members developed the land into a farm for growing vegetables and an improved water vending station for the community group to sell quality water to local residents.

Kibera Park - 2011

Kibera Park – 2011

A few years after this first phase of the project was completed in 2010, NNDC worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to further improve the yields of their farming project.  This led to the installation of a polytunnel greenhouse with a drip irrigation system.  These improvements have increased the quality of the produce cultivated by the community group.

KDI returned to the site in 2013 to kickstart a bamboo planting initiative, construct a much needed foot bridge, and to design and support NNDC in building a much needed sanitation facility.  This particular area of Kibera presented two unique challenges: the reclaimed land is too low to connect to the elevated sewer line and build a modern toilet, and the subterranean water level is too high to build a traditional septic system.  These design constraints led KDI and NNDC to investigate a number of decentralised sanitation systems like urine filtering wetlands and dry toilets.

After a number of field trips and design workshops, the community decided to develop a compost toilet system.  This decision then informed the design of an elevated toilet structure with compost chambers located below it.  Inside each chamber is a compost receptacle that collects human waste and dry materials. This receptacle is then moved to compost bins to mature into usable humanure which NNDC intends to sell to horticulturalists and planting initiatives around the site.

The detailed design of the structure, completed by KDI with technical support from Buro Happold (an engineering firm), boasts wide, steel reinforced concrete footings to ensure a strong and sustainable placement within unstable soils. The super

Kibera Park Compost Sanitation Block - Feb 2014

Kibera Park Compost Sanitation Block – Feb 2014

structure was erected with Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks (ISSBs), which not only cut down the construction timeline and expedited the building process, the fabrication of these bricks on-site kept the financial investment within the community. The finishing of the structure was completed using local fabricators and materials. The tiling throughout the building adds a distinct accent among sanitation facilities within Kibera.

The completed sanitation block now boasts three compost toilets, one urinal, and two showers for the use of surrounding residents. While the non-flushing, compost toilet has generated curiosity among the surrounding residents, it has also piqued the curiosity of the Ministries of Environment and Health as potential solutions to the complex water and sanitation challenges facing this area of Kibera.  Since the opening of the project, KDI has been working together with the community to establish maintenance and operational procedures that ensure a quality compost product is produced and that the facility remains clean and safe for area residents.

The NNDC Group has spearheaded each incremental development within the site.  Having prepared a complete master plan of the site in partnership with KDI, the community’s vision for the next decade includes expansion of current agricultural facilities to include a fish pond and elevated grow beds.  This improvement of the farming methods on the site will ensure that all agricultural activities produce organic quality produce.  Additions to the multi-purpose hall will provide more classroom space for the existing school’s children and will expand the project’s ability to be used in a variety of ways – perhaps even allowing the school to turn into an open air market during weekends.

Kibera Park Master Plan - Afritekt

Kibera Park demonstrates how a public park, its programs, and its community members can be unique catalysts for the wider community and for economic spin-offs. The project has provided environmental, social and economic benefits for Kibera residents as a place that allows residents to reconnect with nature and escape the stress of city life. This has had a positive impact on visitors’ mental health whilst providing essential water and sanitation facilities.

Kibera Park is one of five Public Space Projects that KDI has realized in Kibera over the past eight years.  While each project presents unique challenges, all of the projects are geared towards creating environmental, social and economic impacts that ensure they are owned, operated, and sustained by the residents of Kibera long into the future.  Further, with the support of technical experts, the Kibera Public Space Project is raising the standards of design and construction within the informal settlement. KDI’s approach to creating public space through a non-intrusive, community driven design method stands as an example of contextual slum upgrading that produces quality design and sustainable programs.

BD_004_01 BD_004_02

Kounkuey Design Initiative: The Kibera Public Space Project

Over the past two years working with Kounkuey Design Initiative in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, my team of 10 local staff was constantly writing articles to help further the discussions surrounding the challenges and opportunities of urban development and slum upgrading efforts in the city.  Many of these articles were published locally though did not find there way into online forums.  This article below presents the Kibera Public Space Project in its entirety – both the progress achieved, the strategies employed, and how the project fits in with other efforts surrounding the informal settlement.  The article was published in in the March 2014 issue of BuilDesign Magazine.


Urbanization in Kenya has been uneven and concentrated in big cities like Nairobi. The development of informal settlements are reflective of this asymmetrical development and they continue to multiply in number. Over the decades there have been several approaches to slum upgrading ranging from large-scale, top-down, public sector approaches; to small scale, self-help and enabling strategies.

Discussions surrounding development within informal settlements have gained traction as traditional approaches to slum upgrading have not been holistic enough in addressing the lived realities of slum dwellers, nor effective enough to meet their social and economic needs.  Drawing on lessons learnt from these slum upgrading precedents, Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), an international NGO specializing in the practices of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering and urban planning, has developed an approach to slum improvement based on multi-stakeholder participation, sectoral integration and networked change.

In the context of KDI’s approach, multi-stakeholder participation is defined as an iterative and open design process that mobilizes community groups (and their knowledge of the context), the technical knowledge of design professionals, the political will of local government, and the investment capacity of the private sector. Sectoral integration refers to the amalgamation of physical, social and economic strategies into an integrated slum improvement project.

Together, multi-stakeholder participation and sectoral integration optimize the potential for networked change. This networked change describes KDI’s approach to addressing macro-scale issues through the development of a network of micro-interventions.This physical network is supported by a human network of slum residents and institutional collaborators.

The Kibera Public Space Project 

KDI has developed and employed this method in collaboration with communities in need by creating low-cost, high impact environments called Productive Public Spaces (PPS).

kpsp network 2A PPS is a community-driven intervention that seeks to mitigate environmental hazards, provide public space amenities, build social networks and develop small business enterprises. Together, these layers of design address numerous environmental, social and economic needs for the project’s surrounding residents, villages and the settlement as a whole.

In 2006, KDI began working in Kibera to assist communities in transforming their surroundings through a bottom-up approach to slum upgrading activities named the Kibera Public Space Project (KPSP). KPSP is a series of  micro-interventions that work together to create a network of public spaces and communities which collectively address the macro-challenges of poverty reduction, river remediation, waste space reclamation, social cohesion, and general quality of life in the settlement. To date, KDI has completed six KPSPs and is working towards developing its seventh project in the network.

The Design and Development Process

KDI’s participatory planning and design methodology is key to the success of the KPSP. Each project takes about two years from inception to implementation. This process includes organizing community members, securing the necessary backing from local authorities, designing the space and associated businesses plans in collaboration with their community partners, as well as construction and implementation.

Each PPS begins with the vision that residents have for their community.  KDI solicits community organizations throughout Kibera to identify potential PPS through submitting formal Requests For Proposals. This process helps KDI understand the community’s vision for the proposed space and future community activity within the space.  Once KDI selects a community partner, the NGO seeks consent from the surroundings’ residents, youths and local authorities.

During implementation, KDI and the community partner hosts interactive, participatory design workshops with community members.  With the guidance of KDI’s technical team, these workshops include discussions about the physical planning of the facilities and the design of the social programs that will activate the public space.

Installation of KDI’s projects typically takes about 6 months.  The construction process begins by building up the waterway (as projects occur along river tributaries passing through Kibera) and connecting to water and sewer infrastructure, followed by the completion of the structures.  Kibera residents and community partners lead all of the construction work and fabrication, which guarantees financial investment within the informal settlement.

Upon completion, KDI monitors and provides non-financial support to the project for one year, ensuring that the members have the capacity required for project sustainability.  When it is appropriate, KDI exits; allowing the community to independently and sustainably operate the project.



KPSP01 - 2009

KPSP01 – 2009

KPSP01 lies at the border of Silanga Village and Soweto East, adjacent to the Nairobi Dam. For decades this site was unbuildable, used as a dumping ground, and impassable because of flooding. KDI and the New Nairobi Dam Community (NNDC) began working together to reclaim the site in 2006 by controlling the persistent flooding with a new waterway and developing the landscape.The site now hosts a community centre that functions as a school during the week and is home to several churches on the weekends. The walls of the building can be opened to serve as a covered stage with amphitheatre seating for special events. Also present on-site is a large urban agriculture facility that the community operates.


KPSP02 - 2010

KPSP02 – 2010

KPSP02 is located at the Mashimoni-Lindi Bridge in the heart of Kibera.  The site had four make-shift toilets that drained into the river and was otherwise devoid of activity. The Riverside Usafi Group emerged as a productive community group, which began working together with KDI to transform the space.  Today, a clean, hygienic sanitation block providing improved water and six toilets and four showers that are connected to the sewer line replace the polluting toilets.  Adjacent to the sanitation block are three community business kiosks and a children’s playground. The revenue generated from this project generates enough income for community driven expansion efforts.


KPSP03 - 2012

KPSP03 – 2012

KDI’s third KPSP is one of its largest projects. It is located in Gatwekera along the Ngong River at a key pedestrian access point into Kibera. The length of the river in this area was under constant threat of flooding, and was a common hideout for thieves. Residents rarely passed through the area during evening hours for fear of robbery. In 2010, KDI partnered with Bridge Community Group and the Kibera Christian Initiative (KCI) to design and build a PPS that would address these environmental and social challenges surrounding the site.

Today, the site includes several drainage channels and 75 metres of flood-mitigating, stone gabions.  This river remediation enabled the construction of a school, two business kiosks, a public laundry washing facility, a small poultry farm, and a playground for neighborhood children.


KPSP04 - 2013

KPSP04 – 2013

KDI’s fourth project lies at the border of the Lindi and Laini Saba villages along the confluence of two large tributaries. In 2012 three community groups came together to develop the space: Slum Care, Ndovu Development Group and Usalama Bridge Youth Reform. This project became KDI’s first site with a large association of youth. The collective partnership supported the development of a riverbank gabion system, a formal, improved water and sanitation block, a daycare centre, and a garbage collection and recycling program.


KPSP05 - 2014

KPSP05 – 2014

KDI’s fifth project in partnership with Empowerment to the Community Foundation (EMCOF) presented a number of challenges.  While the community indicated that a toilet block was the highest priority, this project location at Daraja Ya Masista (Sister’s Bridge), Gatwekera sits at a low elevation making a municipal sewer connection impossible. Over many months, KDI and EMCOF worked together to research, design and construct a septic tank + wetland solution for the community. The entire site was completed in February of 2014, and now hosts a public laundry washing facility, a day care center, a barber shop, and DSTV viewing theater.


KPSP06 - 2014

KPSP06 – 2014

Designed as a second phase to KPSP01, KPSP06 was initiated in response to the dire need for on-site sanitation option. Without any improved toilets in the area, the project was one of the major priorities for KDI’s community partner, NNDC. The primary challenge  was similar to KPSP05; it was impossible to connect to the municipal sewer line because of the project’s elevation. Through numerous design workshops, KDI and NNDC determined an alternative composting toilet system as the best option for the community. Human waste is collected and mixed with various dry materials to create humanure compost. After a 6-8 month maturing process, NNDC will be able to begin use and sell the organic fertilizer for local farms and for added community income.

Expanding the discussion around Slum Upgrading Projects

While some of the larger efforts surrounding the needed improvements in and around Kibera have been representative of top-down methods, KDI has been paving the way to develop a methodology that brings residents’ concerns and creative potential to the forefront of the design process.  Larger interventions are often needed to address such challenges as those presented by Kibera. Small scale, grassroots methods however can limit the negative effects of large scale developments while ensuring unified, unanimous project support.

BD_003_01      BD_003_02


Over the next few weeks I will be republishing a number of articles written over the course of the past two years. Many will be of my work with KDI in Nairobi.  Other posts will present my personal writings that discuss best practices of design analysis and implementation in the larger informal/humanitarian realm.  I look forward to sharing.

… Back to the Blogosphere

After four years of living in East Africa and a total of six years of dedicated professional focus towards issues pertaining to design, development and construction within the East African context, I’ve recently taken some time off to allow me to recharge my batteries and spend some time with family and friends.

As many of the subscribers to this blog may have noticed, I have not published much of anything over the past two years. Apologies to all.  This pause was a result of my work over the past few years being thoroughly consuming; requiring me to write and publish for my teams and organizations through alternative outlets.  Now with some time to reflect, I will be able to re-post and analyze much of the work that I contributed to over the past few years. Many of these articles and book chapters have been published within the East African community though have rarely found their way to western audiences.  It is my hope that presenting them here will bring more attention to current and future efforts that are helping to shape the region.

… So I am now officially back to the Blogosphere!  The first article shall pop up within the coming week.

Looking forward to sharing – and many thanks for continuing to follow!

  • Charles (Afritekt Admin/Author)

How To Start A Project In Kibera

Having worked with numerous NGOs ranging from the smallest (of only one or two volunteers) to one of largest (with thousands of full time staff), I have grown to question the strategies with which development projects are initiated.  Over time I grew frustrated that so much of the initiative rested with the donor or service provider – and communities dissolved into simple recipients.

At the small end, projects are often begin through international friendships.  These are either through expats in the west seeking funding opportunities for their village back home, or someone in the tourism industry that befriends a traveler.  These friendships spawn a non-profit that is often dedicated to a single community or project.  While work gets done and progress is sometimes made, the individuals who initiate the project and those who fund it often do not have the expertise needed to make strategic decisions that foster further discussion, development and progress.

On the other end of the spectrum, the largest NGOs have only the best and informed goals in mind. With a well organized staff of individuals that have dedicated their lives to such work, these organizations have the resources and ability to target projects that contribute to larger macro-solutions. However, with massive budgets and constrained timelines, these expansive initiatives must often focus more on numbers of affected beneficiaries and dollars spent per month than on the diversity of challenges posed by each different community. This translates most simply to: get started, get building, get spending. As a result, the selection process of communities can be done while looking over a large map – hardly enough information to understand a community’s needs and capacity for development.

I reached a point last year where I was ready to quit working for these “others” whose strategies I did not agree with. I was ready to start something of my own: an organization that takes the time needed to do things right, allocates significant budgets (with flexible timelines) to important initiatives, and – most importantly – provides services and programs for which a community group would have to apply. Such an application process would force communities to self reflect, substantiate their needs, and propose self-authored solutions. I outlined many of these thoughts in an article published in 2010 on Engineering For Change titled “How to Write a Proposal For Work in Your Community”.

It was right at this time that I found myself in an interview with Kounkuey Design Initiative. KDI seemed to be developing a strategy that merged all of my proposed strategies and were working to perfect many of them. I signed on, and just this past week finalized my first call for project proposals throughout Kibera, the largest urban slum in East Africa.

This is how development projects should start.

RFP poster advertises information sessions about how to apply for a development project.

RFP poster advertises information sessions about how to apply for a development project.

The process begins with hundreds of posters distributed throughout the targeted area. These are at first concentrated around high profile (chief’s offices, district commissioner compounds) and high traffic areas (neighborhood entrances and markets). Posters are then placed around sites with development potential, and finally in quieter, residential zones. Care must be taken to publish the information in all languages (in this case English and Kiswahili), and to post the fliers in all neighborhoods. This ensures that all residents have equal opportunity to apply. The posters themselves (right) advertise information sessions that are held on different days in large public spaces. During these events, questions are answered and applications distributed.

KDI RFP info meeting

KDI RFP Information Meeting

The application itself seeks to reveal the potential of the proposed project as well as any flaws. It begins with basic questions about the Community Based Organization (CBO) such as “How many members do you have” or “Who controls the site referenced in your proposal”.  These questions provide valuable information as to the capacity of the group and the feasibility of the project. The following questions ask the authoring group to reflect upon the organization’s history of community and NGO engagement. What lessons has the community group learned? (What has it not learned?) Finally, the group has to articulate its vision for the proposed project. With no restrictions as to what the project could be, the community is free to propose a sanitation facility, flood water control, an urban garden, an Internet cafe – anything. These questions and answers provide our team with the needed data and valuable perspective as we move into the selection process.

After the one month window for submissions has closed, our team reviews each submission independently (the last RFP solicited over 30 applications).  This then graduates to community site visits, interviews, and meetings with area residents and chiefs.  This interview and selection process can last anywhere from one to three months.  It is only when site boundaries are confirmed, and the CBO, area residents and local leaders are all consulted, that an MOU is signed and design meetings begin.

This kind of competitive process is one of the best ways that and NGO can ensure that whatever project it begins is in line with community needs and desires; while also contributing to the larger macro goals of the NGO.  It also ensures that if the project’s program evolves throughout the design process, solid leadership and management exist within the CBO to organize and refocus the strengths of the community.  Moreover, such an application process moves a community group from beneficiaries to active participants in – and authors of – the entire initiative.

The deadline for this round of submissions is the 24th of February at 5pm.  I’m looking forward to posting an update once the selection process is complete!

Corruption Can Buy You Dinner.

…. and development is one of the best places to eat.

For anyone working in development, construction can be the phase most vulnerable to corruption.  A construction project is a complex purchase that leaves many opportunities to “eat.” Such corruption, unfortunately, is particularly prevalent in Africa.   Where there is daily hunger, money earmarked for construction becomes an enormous temptation to all involved in the process.  Although development brings long term benefits, immediate need can drive contractors, community leaders, and developers to siphon off funds for pressing personal needs.

Having prepared construction documents, budgets and contracts for over 100 schools, 30 water systems, 25 health centers and numerous other public projects in Central and East Africa, I have authorized and overseen payments totaling over $4,000,000 for construction costs.  Corruption can come in many forms and at many places along the way.  It is the construction manager’s responsibility to be aware of and to seal the cracks through which dollars, francs and shillings fall.

Here are ten common opportunities for corruption that can sink a construction project:

10. Coordinating Prices.  As building contractors or material distributors prepare their proposals for a potential project, it is not uncommon for them to be aware of their competitors’ bids.  It’s not difficult to turn a competitor into a conspirator by coordinating submissions.  One contractor will drastically overbid a project, while another will do so only slightly.    This consumes money that would typically be used for change orders and improvements to the design.  Moreover, it destroys the trust upon which a competitive free market system is built.

09. Shorting Materials.  For a construction model in which materials are purchased directly from a distributor, “adjustable” quantities of sand, stone, and gravel often create a wonderful opportunity to eat.  These materials are difficult to measure, especially once they have already been dumped on site.  A truckload might be sold as an eight cubic meter delivery – but only filling the truck 90% of capacity is an easy way to “shave a bit off the top.”  This method can also apply to bricks.  Smaller bricks cost less.  If a load of bricks arrives and the dimensions are off only by a centimeter or two, the load will not be sufficient to complete the project and money will be lost.

08. Shorting Mixtures.  Shorting concrete and mortar mixtures is extremely common.  With cement being the most expensive building material, mixing a ratio of 1:4 instead of 1:3 can produce extra bags that can then be sold at the end of the project.  This leads to weaker construction that brings the life of the building into question.  It must also be noted that in seismically active sites, diluted concrete mixtures can result in dangerous structures.

These problems can be solved with proper oversight and negotiations.  They are, however, one-sided. Corruption becomes more difficult to identify and eliminate when parties begin to coordinate across contract lines.

07. Community Overpays – Intentionally. When the community has a grant but does not have direct access to the money, community leaders can award the contract to the supplier on the condition that they are paid a small kickback for the overpriced materials.  Both sides benefit from the arrangement; the construction project suffers.

06. Awarding Labor to Elites.  It is always best to hire local labor.  This brings much needed salaries into the community and can help stimulate the local economy.  Local contractors however must retain the authority to choose which skilled labor they employ.  This ensures that the project is completed on time and to the highest standard.  When a salary is awarded to one who is not qualified, it can undermine the drive of those who have needed skills. (In diverse regions this is sometimes caused by tribalism.)  These talented masons and artisans may then be pushed toward considering other, less legal ways to gain employment.

These scenarios are beyond difficult, because it is the people who will directly benefit from the project who begin to prevent its successful completion. In these situations, firm conversations should be held between all parties to review the community’s ultimate goals for long term development.

Corruption problems are multiplied when leaks from an NGO’S own staff are thrown into the mix.  As professionals who oversee the design and budget of the project, corruption at this level can completely discredit the project and the community’s trust in the development effort.

05. Selling Information.  A project’s construction cost estimate is sensitive information.  An architect or engineer works to prepare a project that is tailored to construction costs and will arrive within budget.  In the event that these estimates are leaked to a contractor, the level playing field needed to create competition is destroyed.  If a project is estimated at $10,000 for example, eyebrows should be raised if a proposal arrives at $9,999.

04. Paying to Submit a Project.  This method is the simplest way to make a few dollars.  “Sorry, it costs $5 for me to accept your proposal.”  If a bribe arrives this early in the process, it can be assured that more bribery will occur during the project.

03. Falsifying Progress.  Contractors are paid after having achieved certain predetermined benchmarks of construction.   Progress must be measured accurately, because exaggerating the amount of work completed is a fast track to fill one’s pockets.  This of course will make completing the project that much more difficult as funds will dry up before the end of the project.  Responsible and informed staff understand that approving a payment for a few dollars without proof of accomplishment could end up costing much more in headaches during the months to come.

02. Falsifying Material Quantities.  As mentioned above, materials such as sand and gravel are easy to short.  In the event that your staff member determines that only 95% of the contracted quantity was fulfilled upon delivery, the staff member can decide whether to approve thousands of dollars of materials – or not.  Bribing a staff member bleeds rescources from the project – though buying a signature may be cheaper than another delivery for the distributor to fulfill the contract.

01. Conflicting Interests. Conflict of interest is by far the worst-case scenario.  If someone working for your development organization has a financial interest in an outside contractor involved in the project (perhaps through family relationships), this conflict can undermine the entire construction and development effort.  It can further discredit an organization and prevent it from bringing further development to where it is needed most.

These 10 points do not encompass all of the potential traps involved in small or large scale construction.  Property title issues and corrupt government officials can substantially complicate or even stop a project in its tracks.  Where corruption is present, development and investment plummets, thereby exacerbating an already needy situation.

I recently read a Facebook post arguing that Africa’s biggest problem was not simply poverty, disease or access to education, but rather “a failure to harness our potential.”  I couldn’t agree more.  However, the post did not site reasons for such failure. Corruption  must be considered as one of Africa’s biggest problems.  It prevents capable, inspired citizens from moving their communities forward.

It eats.

And it chokes.

If You Plan to Build 100 Schools in Congo

.                within a limited time, you have to be efficient.

This means one needs a standard design prepared with an even more standardized system that allows small adjustments to be made for each project.

Having broken ground on more than 100 schools over the last year, my strategy for creating project construction documents has evolved.  In the beginning, I created all of the standard drawings for classrooms (in blocks of 3, 4, 5, and 6) and latrines.  Below you can see an example set for a block of three classrooms.  The brick + cast in place concrete + corrugated roof panel scheme is typical of rural East African architecture.  All dimensions conform to the Congolese Ministry of Education standards (which sometimes differ between provinces) and provide seating for approximately 30 students per classroom.

In the beginning, I would adjust each drawing set to cater the communities’ needs.  Some would want water catchment; some a ceiling, or a different type of flooring.  My first few sets of documents were consumed in these details – as I represented each variation visually.  It became clear by my 15th school however, that the number of projects and their pressing deadlines would not permit such attention to detail.  I have therefore begun using this single set of drawings and directing the contractor to the budget.  This allows us the control all construction details through contractual language and the material quantities that arrive on site.

Below is a Bill Of Quantities that we use to build the most common school unit of 3 classrooms, 2 latrines and a water capture system.  In this variation, the foundations have been budgeted as stone masonry which frames the cheapest flooring option: compacted soil topped with a brick pavers and a pure cement finish.  Quantities for bricks, sand and gravel vary according to material quality and brick dimensions – and have been slightly increased to ensure sufficient quantities.  (It should also be noted that all local materials here can be decreased in the event that the community has access to such materials and can contribute them to the building effort.)  Tools and measuring instruments should also be factored into project costs, as their quality usually limits them to a “one project” life span.  In all, a project of this scope (in the accessible regions of South Kivu) will cost less than $22,800 and take about 3 months to build.

Material Unit Quantity
1 Sand m3 46
2 Gravel m3 9
3 Masonry Stones m3 21
4 Bricks pce 40000
5 Scaffolding Posts (± 5m each) pce 60
6 Scaffolding Boards pce 6
7 Ciment sac 230
8 Ventilation Blocks pce 108
9 Formwork Wood (3.5m ea.) pce 35
10 “2×4” Wood  (3.5m ea.) pce 94
11 “2×2” wood perlins (3.5m ea.) pce 75
12 Fascia Board 25cm wide, 3.75m long pce 18
13 Shovel pce 5
14 Pick pce 3
15 Hoe pce 2
16 Machette pce 1
17 Trowel pce 2
18 Spirit Level pce 1
19 Wheel Barrow pce 2
20 Digging Bar pce 1
21 Measuring Tape, 50m pce 1
22 Measuring Tape, 5m pce 1
23 Mason Hammer, 5 kg pce 2
24 Mason Hammer, 1 kg pce 1
25 Mason Bucket pce 4
26 Wheel Barrow pce 1
27 Carpenter Hammer pce 2
28 Mason Square pce 1
29 Crow Bar pce 1
30 Hacksaw pce 1
31 Hacksaw blade pce 10
32 Scissors (Tin Shears) pce 1
33 Large Tarp pce 2
34 Paint Roller pce 6
35 Brush, 3″ pce 4
36 Brush, 4″ pce 6
37 Sand Paper ml 2
38 20 Liter Bucket pce 6
39 Large Sand Sieve (5mm) m2 1
40 Fine Sand Sieve (2mm) m2 1
41 Deisel Fuel litre 10
42 12mm String (100m Roll) pce 1
43 Nylon String  (100m Roll) pce 2
44 Rebar HA6 (12m ea.) pce 52
45 Rebar HA8 (12m ea.) pce 42
46 Galvanized Tie Wire kg 15
47 Galvanized Roof Panel (G30) pce 103
48 Galvanized Roof Crown pce 15
49 Roofing Nails kg 15
50 15mm Nails kg 10
51 12mm Nails kg 18
52 10mm Nails kg 10
53 8mm Nails kg 10
54 5mm Nails kg 6
55 PVC Gutter ml 44
56 Gutter Ends pce 4
57 Gutter/PVC connection pce 2
58 Gutter Brackets pce 26
59 PVC 110mm ml 15
60 PVC 110mm Elbow pce 3
61 PVC 110mm “T” pce 3
62 PVC Glue tube 2
63 Plastic Water Tank (2m3) pce 1
64 1/2″ Tap pce 1
65 Complete Wood Door 0.8×2.10 pce 2
66 Complete Wood Door 0.9×2.10 pce 3
67 Complete Wood Window (150×110) pce 6
68 Complete Wood Window (200×110) pce 6
69 Chalk / Lime (50 kg) sac 3
70 Latex Paint litre 45
71 Oil Paint litre 26
72 Chalkboard Paint litre 3
73 Kitchen Salt kg 6
74 Student Desk pce 45
75 Teacher Desk pce 1
76 Teacher Chair pce 1

I provide these details not to help you understand what a good three room school building will cost – or how to build such a building.  There are numerous beneficial details that are missing from this example. Rather, I present it here to show what a team of locally trained masons could be expecting to build.  It could also be assumed that a rural community would enjoy seeing such an example built for their school.

I welcome you to use this information as a reference point for your own designs.  Any improvements to this scheme could drive the project cost up – but in my view, any and all considerations taken towards appropriate, contextual design can have lasting positive affects towards the sustained development of your community.

The next step, of course, is the how.  Material procurement, appropriate construction methods, conflict, and corruption present the most formidable challenges to project completion.  … But perhaps that will be left to a follow up post…

Happy building!

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