As a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Kenya remains committed to the sustainability agenda particularly for new projects. This is a developing country with very poor indicators on the Human Development Index (HDI). Over-dependence on tourism and foreign aid has meant that Kenya was in danger of over-exploiting its resources as late as 2014. It is from this background that the government and partner agencies agreed to engage in sustainable development as a means of achieving the dual objectives of improving the welfare of Kenyan citizens on one hand and ensuring that there was something left for the future generations on the other. From an executive policy point of view, sustainable community development is underpinned by a number of “Sessional Papers”; the government’s preferred consultative and policy development instrument. In particular Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1986 differed from its earlier counterpart Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965; in as much as it emphasized the role of the community in achieving development and sustainability.
Beyond Five Year Plans and Budget Speeches
One of the criticism of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Kenya is that lofty sustainability ambitions are rarely operationalized through concrete projects and initiatives with measurable success. To some extent that has been the story in Kenya, however there are some notable successes that are pushing the country towards achieving many of its MDGs. For example in 1983 the District Focus for Rural Development Strategy established District Development Committees which were designed to increase the grassroots participation process in development initiatives. Of recent such committees have been criticized for not being truly representative of the communities that they serve. Moreover sustainability has been ignored at the expense of pure economic development. The Kenya Rural Development Strategy of 1998 sought to readdress the balance by focusing on the inclusion of rural communities in development programs. Since then the Kenya Community Development Trust has empowered different communities to engage in productive activities whilst simultaneously protecting the long term viability of the available natural and human resources. As recently as 2005, the Constituency Development Fund has been used to offer financial and technical support to those people that wish to implement innovative ideas for lifting themselves out of poverty. However political interference by MPs has limited the scope of these funds.
Active and Passive Participation
It is necessary to consider the successes and failures of specific sustainable development community projects in Kenya in order to properly assess the overall impact of these philosophical ambitions. One of the key issues that is peripatetic to almost all projects is the distinction between active and passive participation by members of the communities. In Kenya there is an effort to reconfigure the traditional perceptions of citizens as passive recipients of government policy and donor funds. Instead innovation and self-help are used to lift people out of poverty as well as allowing them to exploit the resources that are available to them in a responsible/efficient manner. A number of flagship projects have highlighted these challenges, opportunities and achievements:
1) Soil and Water Conservation Projects: The Ministry of Agriculture has been very successful at mobilizing citizens on a community level to enhance their ability to store water during the rainy season in ways that are both safe and efficient. This has been directly linked with the productivity of semi-arid areas like the Laikipia Plateau so that communities have been able to achieve the dual objectives of a sustainable water supply and better agricultural output
(Manyasa, 2009). In this case the
functional ministry sends out professionals to sensitize and empower local
communities so that they can design and implement specific strategies for
surviving the long dry season. One of the additional benefits of the project is
a greater level of diversity in terms of the developmental activities that
rural communities engage in.
2) Sustainable Development for All Kenya: The SDFA Program is an NGO initiative that focuses on the poorest members of communities who are normally excluded from community development programs within existing bureaucratic structures. It engages in a form of community action for the purpose of improving the welfare of the entire community whilst also protecting the resource base. Since 2006, SDFA has achieved a number of strategic and local objectives. For example the “Use Solar, Save Lives” campaign has speeded up the process of rural electrification in a way that is far more affordable and sustainable than anything that the Kenyan National Grid has ever achieved. Members of the community can also supplement their income through the selling energy efficient locally designed solar lanterns. Over 120,000 people have so far directly benefitted from SDFA programs with many more getting indirect benefits such as education.
3) Maasai Community Development: This program has concentrated on the semi-nomadic people of the Maasai tribe. Its main achievements include the development of new farming methods that are both more productive and less harmful to the environment. The outreach projects that contribute to the overall program have been updated to incorporate education in areas such as personal hygiene, water conservation, sanitation, food security and value addition on agricultural output. The program is noted for its cultural sensitivity and contextual relevance to the people that it serves. In particular, this type of development activity has been critical for gender-mainstreaming and the inclusion of young people/children in the agenda-setting process. It is anticipated that in the future, the organic farming strand of the program will lead to exports to other countries in order to further enhance the livelihoods of the Maasai.
In conclusion, these three projects demonstrate how the impact of sustainable community development in Kenya has been successful on many different fronts. Not only has it impacted on the lives of individuals but it has also shifted the focus of policy-making away from national objectives towards community-led development. Ultimately the combination of these initiatives will push Kenya towards Middle Income Country status without causing lasting damage to the natural resources of the nation.
Manyasa, E. O., 2009. Social Capital and Rural Economic Development in Western Province of Kenya: An Emperical Analysis, Nairobi: Kenyatta Universty.