Mars Group Kenya

Quick Look

Mars Group Kenya operates one of the largest online databases of governance information in Kenya.

Beginning Date: 
December 1, 2006
Annual Budget 2007: 
Annual Budget 2008: 
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
How many unique hits per month?: 
Project Scale: 
Specific Tools: 


Mars Group Kenya operates one of the largest databases of governance information in Kenya, focusing on corruption in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government, as well as on accountability and civic education.

Their mission is to create the largest digital database of governance information in Kenya for archiving and indexing. The system has over two terabytes of governance information on its websites, about 8,000 registered subscribers, and has achieved over 20 million hits since launch.

Mars Group was critical in raising awareness about an unjustified increase in remuneration in Kenya’s ninth parliament in 2007 (PDF), which was confirmed by an independent parliamentary investigation. They are also an important part of the Kenyan civil society initiative that has been helping expose extrajudicial assassinations by the Kenyan police since 2007.


Tell me a little about your project.: 

My name is Mwalimu Mati, and I am one the co-founders of Mars Group Kenya. We started in 2006 trying to document corruption and distribution of information in Kenya. We thought that, although we have very active media here, we still have corruption and a parliamentary discussion about corruption and an active society. We need to index and archive the information so that it can be retrieved, and build an Internet repository that can be used by anyone in an official investigation. The idea is to document any problems on the Internet, so they can be better addressed in the future.

There are two types of report on our site: original official reports (public reports officially stamped or signed that we scan, digitize and upload) and research done by our team, which extracts the raw data and puts it into a web-friendly format. Basically, our fact-checking will be to ensure that the extraction and the figures produced from our database are correct. We don’t do much in the way of original investigation, but we do try to publish analysis of investigation where we identify that something was not followed through or people have missed something.

For instance, on the Anglo-leasing scandal (a report of grand corruption) we have a list of official reports, documentation from investigations and analysis, and, if there are leaks about corruption, we try to encourage that. We want to have evidence-based discussion, so reporters and officials must have some supporting evidence for what they are saying. We don’t feature any private documents on our site, because under Kenyan law that would be a criminal offense. We only feature official public documents.

What's your vision for the project?: 

The point of the project is to make information accessible to people, so if the information is accessed during election time and makes elections more about issues, then the objective is achieved.

How does your work currently turn into offline change? : 

We did an analysis of the national budget in 2009, we published it and we caught the interest of a member of parliament who then picked it up and took it to parliament. People were complaining about reporting on the expenditures. The parliament was voting for more money for the government than it was actually spending, so government expenditures were being actually over-reported, claiming that they were spending more than they did. As a result of our publication, parliament set up a committee to investigate our claims and found that what we were saying was true.

Another result of this action was that a new statute that has been lying on the shelves of parliament for a while was enacted, which basically required more periodic reports on the budget than it used to have (now the reports are on a monthly basis). There are sometimes cases where members of the national media told us that they used our site to look for information they were not sure about. To tell you the truth, there is information in there that even I don’t know about. There is just so much. But it is a research tool for all.

Our project is still fairly new. In terms of evaluation and our overall impact in Kenya, we have achieved some sort of authoritative status as an organization of trust as a documentor, and our project is regarded as a place where, if you are really stuck and need information, you probably ought to try it. So in that way, it’s achieved its purpose.

About making all the information in one place — it’s not the only place, but we have one of the largest spaces, so that is an important mark in our evaluation in an empirical fashion. We also note when national media mention our work or when there is a parliamentary action. Overall, they way we’d measure our project is the usual way to measure a website: according to [web information company] Alexa, we’ve broken into the top 100,000 websites in the world. We are probably closer to 200,000 now. When there are major events, we sometimes peak at 40,000 in terms of global traffic ranking for example during our constitutional referendum in August 2010.

What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

We intended to have a secure online channel for whistle-blowers originally, but we found that original whistle-blowing is hard to manage properly. People sometimes make things up, but when people also send us copies of official reports we can take action. We wanted to have something like Wikileaks, but so far we have not gotten any extensive documents that people are willing to share.

Why do people use your tool?: 

I worked for a while close to the government sector and in a public law firm. In Kenya there is a lack of physical libraries, so we found that any NGOs working in human rights and anti-corruption would have their own mini-libraries. The problem is that you cannot find one place for all the information. In Kenya, not all our libraries can be found online, so technology and particularly web databases enable us to accumulate huge amounts of information: official sources, media archives like Kenyan television, for example; technology helps us cope with all this information.

What transparency/accountability organizations do you work with?: 

We initiated the Partnership for Change Program, dedicated to directly intervening in the national situation. We try to encourage people to be directly involved, and encourage discussion where Kenyans have the right to disagree. We discuss human rights issues and support human rights groups; we are also interested in the national budget, and advocate that 60% of the budget should be allocated to development. We want a reduction of the national debt. We also talk about tribalism — we are citizens first and nothing more than that. Finally, we want to end impunity for corrupt government officials. We want citizens to get informed about those specific agendas, and then to encourage young Kenyans to engage in politics and run for policy positions.


corruption goes to STANDARD ONE

An acquaintance, a junior primary school teacher, whose name I dare not reveal for the sake of confidentiality shared the following real life story with us. At the beginning of the year she customarily appointed a class Prefect for Standard One (1). Her choice for prefect was one of the smallest girls in the class who made up for her size in confidence and a powerful voice. To the best of the teachers’ knowledge the little girl turned out to be an effective and efficient class Prefect. During the 2nd term however several parents sought an audience with the class teacher. Their beef….a class Prefect had been demanding a 10/- bribe to overlook their indiscretions. The teacher proceeded to grill the little girl on the allegations which she promptly admitted and she has since been demoted. The teacher had to “eat humble pie” and apologize both to the parents and some students who had been on the prefects’ punishment list permanently ostensibly because they did not have 10/- to bribe.
This may appear like a simple perhaps misplaced story in Kenyan society. Viewed in a broader context however the corruption pandemic in Kenya has now entered Standard One (1) the bastion of our innocence. It is imperative that KACC tackles it at that level through civil education and the importance of good values before it takes firm root. Thus far KACC has concentrated on tackling corruption at the top…..meanwhile it has gone to the root.
DAUDI MWENDA. P.O.BOX 24943-00502 NAIROBI. CELL 0722 154722.

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