Siddharth Chatterjee with CS Eugene Wamalwa, Head of Mission of the United Nations Mission and other development partners visited the Frontier Counties Development Council Counties to take advantage of opportunities to take geographic proximity into account in addressing common development challenges in the marginalized counties. Photo credit: West Pokot County, February 2020
NAIROBI, Kenya, January 4th (IPS) – Happy New Year, Kenya.
Several milestones in my personal and professional life have made Kenya a valued place for me. I started my UNICEF career in Rumbek, South Sudan in June 2000, and my rest and recreational breaks were in Nairobi. In fact, Kenya was the first African country I ever visited, and frankly, it was love at first sight.
I came back in November 2004 to work at UNICEF Somalia in Nairobi and in 2006 I got married in Kenya. My son, who was 3 years old in 2014, grew up in Kenya and considers himself a Kenyan.
The following year I left the country to serve in Iraq and wondered if I would get the opportunity to return to Kenya. It happened seven years later: In April 2014 I returned as a representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and in August 2016 I was selected as Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of UNDP to head the UN Country Team in Kenya.
Over the years, my bond with the country has been tied through the joy and suffering of tragedy together. I have enjoyed improvements in many health indicators in countries like Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit, Isiolo, and Lamu, where an indescribable number of women have died in childbirth but where great strides have been made. I also mourned in horror at the number of people killed in terrorist attacks, the murder of 36 quarry workers by terrorists in Mandera County (I was in Mandera that same day), the slaughter of innocent students at Garissa University, and the insidious attack on Nairobis DusitD2 Hotel.
My tenure as UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya will end on January 13, 2021, and new experiences and challenges await me as I prepare to take my next position as Resident Coordinator (designate) of the United Nations in China.
This is not the end of my relationship with Kenya, but an opportunity to strengthen my relationships with the country and share my first-hand knowledge and understanding of its great potential. It is also an opportunity to cement South-South cooperation, a vital part of the response to Kenya’s and Africa’s unique opportunities to accelerate growth.
I understand that Kenya still faces formidable challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to deepen this. Decentralization has brought significant resources and autonomy to the counties, yet a lack of capacity, weak financial and regulatory oversight will continue to hamper efforts to address the asymmetry of prosperity and human prosperity that will be a major obstacle to Kenya’s rise.
I am delighted with the country’s progress in achieving its Vision 2030 goals and the SDGs. The enrollment rates have risen; More and more families have access to health services for mothers and children. The social, economic and political opportunities for women have increased. Great strides have been made against child marriage and FGM, with President Kenyatta personally taking the lead.
My experience as Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Kenya has shown once again that prioritizing investments in women and youth can unlock Africa’s true potential, and I am proud of the support we are providing through the entire UN Kenya Country Team could .
By 2030, the agricultural business in Africa will be worth $ 1 trillion. Almost two thirds of the Kenyan population are under 30 and the future of food production is in their hands. Kenya’s economy is anchored in agriculture, where 70% of the population earn a living.
In most of the world, crop yields rose before population growth and helped relieve hunger and hunger, but not in Africa. We looked for creative and sustainable ways to use Kenya’s strong internet penetration for the use of information technology, which creates added value and strengthens the economic attractiveness of the agricultural sector for young people and also creates digital jobs.
President Kenyatta stated that “the current generation of young people have the potential to expand Africa’s productive workforce, foster entrepreneurship and become real tools for change to reverse the devastation caused by climate change.”
Africa’s demographic boom has been hailed as its greatest promise to transform the continent’s economic and social outcomes, but only if the right investments are made to prepare its youth population for tomorrow’s world. Kenya has launched the Head of State-led Generation Unlimited initiative and can serve as a blueprint to capitalize on the demographic dividend that Africa’s youth represent.
The empowerment of women was also our primary concern, with a particular focus on access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health. Without this, Kenya’s population is likely to continue to grow rapidly, putting pressure on land and water resources, threatening livelihoods, ensuring food security and straining already weak health systems. Advances in sexual reproductive health and women’s rights have taken some steps back amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Reproductive rights must be a vital part of our arsenal to fight future pandemics.
I have also seen creative ways to overcome bureaucracy in Kenya. Large organizations are often accused of being too late or too poor to respond in times of crisis, and my tenure has seen many. Drought, floods and the worst locust invasion in 70 years, plus the Covid-19 pandemic, made for much hard-earned progress. As a team, however, we went beyond individual mandates from UN agencies in partnership with the Kenyan government to respond quickly to these emergencies, reduce the socio-economic impact, gain government trust, and the common perception of the UN as an unwieldy bureaucracy .
The government leadership has been commendable in all respects and that is why I have made it very clear why Kenya deserves an A + for its response to the triple humanitarian crisis.
I am proud to have been part of many milestones in the partnership between the two levels of government in Kenya and the United Nations and to count on the tireless support of the Kenyan leadership at all levels of government. Kenya’s potential is limitless and the country now offers stronger platforms for new investments of shared value than ever before.
I also express my sincere appreciation to the entire UN family in Kenya, the development partners, our donors and well-wishers as well as the partners of civil society and above all the wonderful people in Kenya.
With a firm belief in a common fate, I intend to continue telling the story of the up-and-coming power plant in Kenya.
My wife, son and I have Kenya in our hearts.
Thank you for everything. Their generosity and friendship are unparalleled.
God bless you Kenya.
Asante, Kenya, na kwaheri hadi tutakapo kutana tena!
Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Follow him on Twitter @ sidchat1
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