“Flipping The Orthodoxy” - The next decade of Action for the SDGs in Kenya

Written message from UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The UN Deputy Secretary General Ms. Amina Mohammed, has said that “we have to flip the orthodoxy” for the repositioning of the UN.

So what does this mean for us?

As the UN Reforms gets into high gear, we will be defined by how we are addressing the SDGs through a “business unusual” approach. What bring us all together is the wisdom that today's challenges cannot be sufficiently solved by yesterday’s approaches. We have to innovate, take risk, leverage and reinforce each other to succeed. That is at the heart of the UN’s repositioning agenda. We can do it and we have already initiated several strategic efforts together, making Kenya a global lead, both by bold ambition and results, thus changing lives.

So as the year draws to a close and in reflecting upon the many milestones we have achieved, I must recognize all of you for your contribution towards another successful year for the United Nations Team in Kenya. It is because we have adapted new ways of delivery and having impact. In many ways we are flipping the orthodoxy through our flagship initiatives:

1.     The SDG Public Private Partnership Platform is growing and recognized as a potential model to move from funding to financing by the Dag Hammarskjöld foundation.

2.     The Kenya Ethiopia cross border initiative has been assessed by the UN University of Japan as a global best practice and the Kenya Uganda cross border initiative is gaining momentum. The joint UN Kenya Ethiopia office in Moyale at the Kenya Ethiopia border is ready.

3.     The Turkana delivering as one office is now in full operations.

4.     The UN family working together in Turkana to spur economic growth among the refugees and host communities is being viewed as brilliant joint programming.

5.     Stepping up to respond to the droughts and the recent floods at a time when the Government needed all the help it could get.

World leaders have called for a decade of action to deliver the SDGs by 2030 and announced actions they are taking to advance the agenda. The General Assembly endorsed the Political Declaration on 15 October 2019. 

For us as a UN country team let us reflect on what this means and translate it into real action.

It is no exaggeration to say that 2019 was a year that our team got the clearest message from our main partner, the Government of Kenya that we are truly making advances not just in credibility but also in value to the development aspirations of the people we serve. 

Here is a testimony from a former senior staff at the UN and now the MP from Kamukunji, Mr Yusuf Hassan:

“No doubt as a global body, the United Nations in Kenya is undertaking bold and innovative action that is required to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. This was acknowledged in an open letter by the Frontier Counties of Kenya to the UN stating, “The UN Kenya country team has demonstrated in action and words the principle of leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first; as counties historically maginalised the ushers a new dawn of development”. 

As the co-chair of the United Nations Development Assistance Frame (UNDAF) National Steering Committee and the Minister for Devolution, Mr. Eugene Wamalwa, while addressing the heads of UN agencies in Kenya at a retreat reviewing the UN Country Team’s achievements earlier this year, one year since the launch of the 2018 – 2022 UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), said:

“It is almost two years now since we started walking the journey together to develop what has now become one among the best-in-class UNDAFs. The UNDAF and Delivering as One in Kenya is a result of UN member states’ desire for increased coherence in development partnership, and a specific request by the Government of Kenya for stronger accountability for results”.

The resounding message in all our engagements with various levels of national and county leadership was that our target outcomes as outlined in the current UNDAF are tightly in lockstep with the pronounced government priorities.  

This is a year in which we, collectively and through our individual agency mandates, have put into programmatic activation the new paradigm where peace, humanitarian action and development are indivisible pursuits, each propping up the vision of leaving no one behind.

In the face of the admittedly different ways of working necessitated by the global UN reforms, the Country Team in Kenya has risen to the occasion, surmounting the expected challenges of ceding long-held agency interests for the collective good.  The agencies, funds and programmes have demonstrated that corporate interests and teamwork are not opposing virtues.

Nothing exemplified this more than the launch of the Kenya Uganda Cross-border programme in the Karamoja triangle. With minimal lead-time, an inter-agency team from UNCT Kenya and UNCT Uganda got down to work with extraordinary energy to deliver a seamless, high-profile event. A joint letter by the two Governments to the UN Secretary General sent recently specifically commends the UNCTs of Kenya and Uganda for steering this important initiative forward. 

It is an honor for the UN Kenya family to be featured in the UN Deputy Secretary General’s blog- Kenya and Uganda break ground to tackle climate change and conflict together with the United Nationswhich reflects the highest level of support the cross border initiatives has generated. Here is a tweet from her. Because of programmes such as the cross-border initiatives, we are ensuring that those living on the periphery of development have better chances to peacefully coexist, to feed themselves, care for the sick, empower more youth and women and promote models of development rather than long term aid dependence. 

With development partners expressing their confidence in our way of working, not just in words but through significant resources support, we have put in place programmes that will impact those at the bottom of the pyramid.  That is the very principle of the SDGs. 

To quote our Secretary General Mr Antonio Guterres , “leave no one behind and reach the furthest behind first.”  We must remain faithful to this clarion call with stoic determination. I thank the development partners most sincerely for strongly supporting the UN Reforms.

This tweet by the US Ambassador to the UN for management reforms in New York best sums up a view of the UN Country team in Kenya at the launch of the SDG innovation accelerator lab during the UNGA in September 2019. This initiative got wide media coveragewhich the UNCT in Kenya facilitated by bridging of the Silicon Valley with the Silicon Savanna in Kenya. After all it is big data, technology and innovation that will allow us to accelerate and leapfrog the SDGs.

Friends, commendable as they are, our achievements in the year must not allow us to be indifferent spectators to the inequalities and uneven progress that still persist across counties in Kenya.  Youth, women and girls are still largely left out of the development narrative.

Let me start by commending the Government of Kenya for its leadership, courage and steadfast resolve in hosting the historic ICPD +25 or the Nairobi summit. It is clear that the future of sustainable development is directly linked to fulfilling the aspirations of adolescents and youth.

At the closing ceremony of the Nairobi Summit, the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem issued a global call to action: 

“We have focused all our conversations, all our efforts, and all our energy around a single number and a simple vision: zero.

Zero barriers to contraception and reproductive health care.

Zero preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth.

Zero gender-based violence, assault, and abuse.

Zero child marriages. Zero cases of female genital mutilation. Zero. Zero. Zero”.

With over 70% of Kenya’s population less than 30, empowering Kenya’s youth and unleashing their full potential will be central to realizing Kenya’s Big 4 development agenda, Vision 2030 and the SDGs. We have to move with speed, alacrity and missionary zeal to marshal more resources and partners, ramp up investments in education, employment opportunities, health, including family planning and sexual and reproductive health services, of adolescents and youth, especially girls, so as to fully harness the promise of the demographic dividend.

We must harness this through the very important Generation Unlimited initiative. The UN Secretary General and the President of Kenya are both global leaders of this critical initiative and we as the UN family in Kenya have a stake in its success. 

The UNICEF Executive Director, Ms. Henrietta Fore has said, "We’re listening to and working with young people to co-create solutions as part of the new partnership, Generation Unlimited, which will prepare youth for a future of decent work and active citizenship.”

This is a clear expectation of us by the Government and the people of Kenya.

The coming year should be a year for greater concentration of purpose and vigor of execution in using our resources so that we can have an impact on these groups. The 2019 Human Development Report, titled “Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: inequalities in human development in the 21st century” shows clearly that a new generation of inequalities is opening up, which if left unchecked, threatens to undermine further progress and make it harder for those already behind to catch up. 

The UNDP Administrator, Mr Achim Steiner calls it a, "new great divergence- An increasing number of young people are educated, connected and stuck with no ladder of choices to move up."

It is clear friends, that global inequality is now more about disparities in opportunity than disparities in income.

Occupying, as we do, an increasing position of trust and confidence, our responsibilities to the citizens particularly the youth of this country must increase exponentially.

As the New Year beckons, the undertaking we give to the Government, development partners and private sector who have walked with us in 2019 is that in 2020, we will be all about greater concert of action and purpose, in pursuit of the 14 outcomes outlined in UNDAF 2018-2022.  

As a Country Team, we are looking forward to another year when the UN and partners will continue bequeathing roots and wings to Kenya’s wonderful people, roots so that development programmes we carry out with them will be truly sustainable and wings so that all can soar to the highest of their potential.

I thank the many development partners, Foundations, Philanthropies and the private sector for their trust and support to the UN family. I thank the Government and the people of Kenya for their confidence in the UN. 

I want to make a special mention of our national staff. Without them we would not have got this far. They have been the very pillars of the UN’s success in Kenya. I salute their indefatigable spirit and boundless energy to advance Kenya’s development.

As we come to the end of the year, this full length documentary on the progress we are making on the UNDAF should give us reason for optimism and to end the year on a high note. 

Once again my gratitude to the Government of Kenya, Development Partners, UN Country Team and all staff, it is a real privilege to serve in Kenya as the UN Resident Coordinator.

I wish you and your loved ones, a pleasant and peaceful festive season and a Happy, Healthy & Successful New Year!

God Bless and Happy Landings.


Written by
Mr. Siddharth Chatterjee
UN Resident Coordinator
Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Fund for Agricultural Development
International Labor Organization
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
United Nations Environment Programme
United Nations Human Settlements Programme
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
United Nations Development Programme
UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
United Nations Office for Project Services
United Nations Volunteers
World Food Programme
World Health Organization
World Metereological Organization