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Ideas & Debate

Covid-19 is challenging Kenya to keep development promise

United Nations Development Programme Resident
United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative Walid Badawi. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Egyptian Walid Badawi marked his first year as the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kenya last month, having been appointed to head the UN’s largest development agency in the country on June 4, 2019.

He spoke to the Business Daily about his baptism of fire overseeing the implementation of the organisation’s programmes and projects in different parts of the country against the backdrop of a pandemic.

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE TO ANY COUNTRY AT THE MOMENT. HOW IS UNDP HELPING KENYA’S RESPONSE?

UNDP’s interventions are informed by the national Covid-19 response plan and strategy and our work within the UN family and with other partners, on three areas: Prepare, Respond and Recover. We are supporting the health response including the procurement and supply of essential health products, under WHO’s leadership, strengthening crisis management and response, and addressing critical social and economic impacts and recovery.

For example, together with Unicef and UN Women, we agreed with our partners Finland, Italy and Sweden, to reprogramme over $3 million towards Covid-19 response in Kenya. We have also procured and deployed waste management equipment to 13 health centres across four counties — Kisumu, Mombasa, Nairobi and Nakuru. The latter is critical because if we ignore efficient management of waste, like medical waste, we will be exposing millions to reinfection.

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UNDP is also providing technical support to the national Covid-19 Task Force to enable it deliver more efficiently on its mandate. We are working with county governments to ensure that the delivery of services is sustained amid the crisis. Our investment in civil society organisations is already paying off as we see them engaging with communities and local authorities on human rights.

THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC WILL CONTINUE TO BE FELT LONG AFTER THE CRISIS IS OVER. WILL UNDP PLAY A ROLE IN KENYA’S RECOVERTY EFFORTS?

It is important to first establish the extent to which this crisis will have impacted on Kenya. Already, UNDP has provided leadership within the UN family in assessing the possible vulnerabilities and impacts on Kenya of the Covid-19 pandemic on the socioeconomic indicators of Kenya.

This is very important in ensuring that response efforts are targeted and that planned investments are in areas with potential high returns in terms supporting the most vulnerable communities and sectors of the economy. Last month, the United Nations Development System (UNDS) launched the United Nations Global Framework for the Immediate Socio-Economic Response to Covid-19. This Framework puts into practice the recent report of the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, entitled “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity” and provides a blueprint for the UN’s urgent socio-economic support to countries and societies in the face of Covid-19.

Working with the UN Resident Coordinator, and in partnership with the UN Country Team, comprising 23 UN agencies, funds and programmes, UNDP is engaging the government to ensure that this framework is adapted to the Kenyan context and paves the way for the country’s recovery strategy.

IT IS LESS THAN ONE YEAR SINCE YOU WERE APPOINTED TO BE THE UNDP RESIDENT REPRESENTATIVE IN KENYA. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS SO FAR?

It is a privilege to serve in this country as head of UNDP — the UN’s largest development agency. As part of the new generation of Resident Representatives and against a backdrop of an ambitious and unprecedented UN reform agenda, our administrator has given us a very clear set of responsibilities — to push the boundaries of UNDP in the way we think, design, deliver, invest and manage our support to the national development agenda.

Internally, we have reorganised ourselves to ensure this is done and to make sure that our response to the needs of the government and people of Kenya is timely, relevant and impactful, with a deliberate focus on the young people of Kenya. We remain steadfast in ensuring that we deliver on our agenda as articulated in our 2018-2022 Country Programme strategy. There is a lot of work ahead of us, especially now in light of Covid-19. Our focus is on ensuring that Kenya consolidates its gains and stays on course to keeping its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promise.

WHAT MUST KENYA DO TO MEET THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGS) PROMISE?

The SDGs are interdependent and interconnected. Kenya has already embraced the 2030 Agenda and used this ambitious set of goals to shape the national vision and medium-term development plans. The SDGs are about people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnerships. Therefore, for Kenya to keep her SDGs promise, investments must be made in sectors that ensure that returns have multiplier effects and that the same targets those furthest behind first.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown that lack of adequate investment in resilient health systems can expose the entire spectrum of society to risks of collapse. Similarly, ignoring investments in sustainable utilisation of natural resources has the potential to degrade further already fragile biological ecosystems on which a lot of our existence depends today and will do so in the future.

Achieving the SDGs requires the partnership and mobilisation of governments, private sector, civil society, development partners and citizens to make sure we leave a better planet for future generations. This calls for a new way of working to deliver on the SDGs — one that brings a “whole of society” approach. I think such a mechanism is a key enabler for the SDGs.

HOW IS UNDP HELPING KENYA TO CHART A BETTER DEVELOPMENT FUTURE AND TO ACHIEVE ITS DEVELOPMENT GOALS?

UNDP in Kenya is well-placed to help the country achieve the SDGs through our myriad of programmes and projects. We have continued to support the government in achieving the SDGs through integrated solutions. Our support focuses on systems, root causes and connections between challenges — not just thematic sectors — to build solutions that respond to people’s daily realities.

We work with relevant government ministries and departments in identifying key sectors of the economy in which the government must invest if the country is to achieve the SDGs. We support the country in conducting regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels. These national reviews serve as a basis for the regular reviews by the high-level political forum (HLPF).

Our Accelerator Lab, one of 60 in the world, is already focusing on identifying local solutions to youth unemployment in Kenya. The Covid-19 Hackathon with KONZA and many innovative approaches to designing and deploying development solutions are critical for successful SDGs implementation.

THE PANDEMIC HAS BROUGHT TO THE FORE THE GOVERNANCE GAPS IN COUNTRIES, INCLUDING KENYA. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE AREAS THAT KENYA MUST ADDRESS MOVING FORWARD IN TERMS OF GOVERNANCE?

Kenya can take pride in having one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, with devolution clearly showing positive signs. However, even before the Covid-19 crisis, Kenya was facing several governance-related challenges.

It has been noted that one of the factors of poverty in the country is weak governance in which the political economy has been compromised by corruption, gaps in accountability and transparency.

Covid-19 has given Kenyans another opportunity to demonstrate that progress can be made in strengthening governance tenets in the country. Firstly, this could be achieved through adherence to the rule of law and respecting human rights in enforcing lockdowns and restrictions on movements of people.

Secondly, there is an opportunity to demonstrate improvements in accountability around the resources being deployed towards the fight against Covid-19 — this is required at all levels of government and by all stakeholders.

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