Urbanization: A Transformative Force

Nairobi, Kenya: 15 – 16 January, 2018 - The Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP) was among urban stakeholders that gathered at the Kenya Bankers Sacco Centre in Nairobi for the National Urban Forum (NUF) as the country prepares to participate at the ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF 9) scheduled to take place 7 – 13 February, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 As the curtains came down for the forum on Tuesday 16 January, 2018 after two (2) days of intense discussions on the Country’s implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA) , taking stock of experiences and progress there was no doubt that urbanization is a trans-formative force that calls for concerted effort in harnessing the opportunities it portends and abating its negative impacts. 

 The forum that was organized by the State Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development (MoTIH&UD) through the National Habitat Committee (NHC) under the WUF 9 theme ‘ Cities 2030: Cities for All I Implementing the New Urban Agenda’ was attended by over 250 representatives of key stakeholder groups including National Government Line Ministries, Relevant County Government Departments, the Private Sector and Business Community, Civil Society and Grassroots Movements, the Academia and Research Institutions, UNHABITAT among others.

In his opening remarks, the Cabinet Secretary in-charge of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. James Macharia, noted that one of the worlds pressing problem today is rapid urbanization with the urban population projected to reach 66% of the world’s total population by 2050. Kenya’s urban population stands at 32.5% of the national population. With an urbanization rate of 4.3%, it is estimated that Kenya’s urban population will account for 54% of the population by 2050. Unfortunately this rapid urban growth has not been commensurate with infrastructure development leading to urban sprawl, increasing urban poverty and growth of informal settlements. Despite these negative impacts, Kenya’s urban areas account for 60 - 70 percent of the national GDP and as such, Kenya’s urban population has the potential to spur structural, social and economic transformation. 

Taking stock of achievements

Slightly over a year, since the New Urban Agenda was adopted at the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) held in Quito, Ecuador in October, 2016, the Kenya Government has made great strides in seeking solutions to address issues arising from rapid urbanization:

  1. Kenya was the first country to develop a popular version of the New Urban Agenda with a clear implementation plan. The popular version that captures Kenya’s peculiarities and priorities was launched by His Excellency, the President Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta during the 26th session of UNHABITAT’s Governing Council (GC 26) in May, 2017.
  2. Taking advantage of UNHABITAT’s presence in the country, Kenya has formulated a Habitat Country Programme to promote sustainable urbanization that will be useful in guiding the implementation of UNHABITAT’s activities in the country.
  3. Kenya’s Parliament has approved a number of facilitative policies among them, the National Urban Development Policy (NUDP), the National Building and Maintenance Policy (NBMP) and the National Slum Upgrading and Prevention Policy (NSUPP). In addition, parliament will soon enact amendments to the Urban Areas and Cities Act, 2011, that seeks to recognize all County headquarters as special purpose municipalities among other provisions.
  4. With regard to the New Urban Agenda objective of attaining environmental sustainability, the government has invested heavily in the promotion appropriate building technologies and the use of industrial building systems.
  5. To further respond to the housing sector concerns, the government has come up with initiatives and incentives to facilitate private sector investment in low income housing with specific outcomes such as reduction of taxes levied by the National Construction Authority (NCA) and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
  6. In addition, in partnership with the World Bank, Kenya will in the next four (4) years (2018 – 2012) implement the Kenya Urban Support Programme in the Counties to the tune of USD 300 Million. 7. Housing is one of the Governments ‘Big Four’ pillars for social and economic transformation with a promise to deliver 1 million affordable housing units for Kenyan families.

The role of the Counties in the realization of aspirations of the New Urban Agenda sparked lively discussions given that housing is a devolved function and urban areas and cities under the jurisdiction of County Governments. The County Governments commitment to the sector expressed through the participation and leadership of Hon. Ferdinand Waititu, Governor Kiambu County and the Chair of the Urban Development, Planning and Lands committee of the Council of Governors (CoG) as well as the participation of 35 of the 47 counties was lauded.

Mr. George Wasonga, Chief Executive Officer – CSUDP in his remarks on behalf of partners underscored the role of civil society stakeholders, towards effective implementation of the New Urban Agenda particularly with regard to promoting innovative urban governance for open and inclusive cities by ensuring ‘no one is left behind’. This was exemplified through interventions by the CSUDP in partnership with Local Urban Forums (LUFs) including participatory budgeting in Kilifi County, Participatory Policy formulation in Mombasa County, Safeguarding of public spaces in Uasin Gichu County and Community-led Environmental Management in Kitui County. 

By the close of the forum, there was consensus that while urbanization is a transformative force, sustainable urbanization will not happen by chance. It calls for deployment of robust urban governance structures through establishment of supportive legal and policy frameworks and effective urban planning and design assisted by viable financing plans. Only then will Kenya cities and urban centers function as transformational drivers of social and economic transformation.  

By Veronica Machira, Public Relations Coordinator – CSUDP



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