The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya was launched on 14 September 2016, Representing President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Devolution and planning Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri, said Kenya was way ahead of implementing the SDGs through its Vision 2030, and the devolved system of Governance
Kenya now needs strategic and creative partnerships with civil society networks to raise public awareness and sustain momentum for the Goals’ diverse set of targets.
The SDG targets presents a challenge that is too big for any one government, and the coming into force of the Public Benefit Organisations Act (PBOs) therefore presents an opportunity to build broad partnerships with civil society groups, an acknowledged force for social justice, human rights and equity.
Stakeholders have now overcome the initial hurdles facing the Act when it was adopted in Parliament in 2013. These included suggestions for putting caps on funds for civil society organisations and other amendments that were considered overly restrictive.
There have been concerns that delays in implementing the Act would have led to an environment of control over civil society, more so in the lead-up to the 2017 elections when civil society is expected to complement the electoral management body’s voter education initiatives and advocate for free, fair and peaceful elections.
With the coming into operation of the Act on 9 September 2016, Kenya now has a legal framework, aligned with the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and that repeals the 1990 NGOs Coordination Act. This framework will, among other things, promote a vibrant civil society space in the country and stimulate continued local-level partnership for development, a key ingredient for the realization of the SDGs.
The decision by Cabinet secretary Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri to bring this Act into use, therefore, is a commendable step and a milestone decision which reaffirms the commitment of the Government of Kenya to its human rights obligations, notably freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, consistent with the vision and values of the Kenyan Constitution.
County governments too stand to benefit as the Act presents an opportunity for Civil Society Organizations to engage with them towards realizing the constitutional promise of devolution and the SDG agenda at the sub-national level. This can only be realized if county governments embrace the new law and prioritize its operationalization at the county level by clearly factoring it in their development policies and plans.
The Government of Kenya and the UN collaboration on what is now a fully operational law has come a long way. After concrete engagements with the government for close to three years, a commitment to the operationalization of the PBO Act included in the Government roadmap that the UN supported following the Universal Periodic Review of Kenya in 2015.
The UN is ever ready to partner with the Government of Kenya and civil society including philanthropy to support a PBO implementation framework which is designed in an inclusive, credible and participatory manner and upholding human rights.
As the UN family, we believe that dynamic partnerships with civil society organizations are essential for generating public awareness and political support for human development priorities, as well as for implementing programmes. Civil society must be at the heart of any development response, and their participation can only give impetus to Kenya’s SDG campaign.
Discussing this on a flight to New York recently, with Kenya’s Deputy President Mr William Ruto, who also chairs the IBEC (Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council) that brings together all levels of Government both at national and county level, he welcomed this development. He said, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government.”
The Act will also facilitate the implementation of Kenya’s strategy on Countering Violent Extremism. This is because civil society provide forums through which youth can engage and participate in the political, economic and social spheres, and it has been an important voice in urging that the protection of human rights be placed at the center of the security response.
The post-2015 development agenda will be most effective only if it results from inclusive and open multi-stakeholder participation.
This means that the vision for the Kenya we want must be informed by the perspectives of her people, especially those living in poverty who are served well by civil society and to ensure that “no one is left behind”.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya.