UN-Habitat Assembly | Public Dialogue | The Youth Cafe

Citizens Role in innovating for Better Quality of Life for Urban Communities in Kenya

The first session of the UN-Habitat Assembly (UNHA) will take place in Nairobi on 27 – 31 May 2019 and is expected to attract over 2,000 international delegates. The Assembly is expected to make decisions and pass resolutions that will frame the global urbanization agenda, look at major trends, norms and standards related to human settlements and sustainable urbanization and advise on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals and other global agendas.

As the first country to launch a national implementation plan for the New Urban Agenda (NUA) during the sidelines of the 26th UNHABITAT Governing Council, Kenya is fully committed to the realization of the NUA shared vision of inclusive and sustainable cities and human settlements. Significant efforts have been directed towards the establishment and strengthening of the governance and management institutions at the urban levels as part of implementation of devolution.

These institutions of the Urban Boards and Citizens Forums as provided for in the Urban Areas and Cities Act, are important anchors for innovation for better quality of life for urban communities in Kenya. Through them, urban communities’ hopes for living in urban areas that fulfill their social function have been revived. For this to be realized successfully however, the citizens potential to innovate and positively engage in shaping the quality of urban life needs to be carefully harnessed.

Domestication of the New Urban Agenda

As the global community converges in Nairobi to reflect on innovative ways to improve the quality of urban life, urban citizens of Kenya have been granted a unique opportunity to interact with global experiences and lessons in citizens engagement. A public dialogue convened at the University of Nairobi on the 24 May 2019 in the buildup to UNHA seeks to provide a forum for exchange of innovations and best practices that would inspire innovative citizens engagement patterns in the urban governance and management landscape in Kenya, and particularly in supporting delivery of affordable housing.

Know, Build Confidence and Trust, Engage and Reflect

Kenya has domesticated the NUA through the launch a national implementation plan in May 2017. This lays ground for local standards and principles for the planning, construction, development, management, and improvement of urban areas along the five main pillars of NUA implementation: national urban policies; urban legislation and regulations; urban planning and design; local economy and municipal finance; and local implementation.

The implementation of the NUA in Kenya received further impetus through the adoption of the Big 4 Agenda within the MTP III of the Vision 2030. This Big 4 Agenda lays emphasis on four key areas that are of great challenge to sustainable urban development in Kenya, namely universal health care, affordable housing, employment creation and food security.


The progressiveness of the Kenyan Constitution has enabled citizens to play a role in the strides made in the implementation of the NUA in Kenya. On the policy pillar for instance, a popularly developed National Urban Development Policy (NUDP) has been established and operationalized. This policy is central in the ongoing urban institutional strengthening processes supported within the framework of the Kenya Urban Support Programme (KUSP). Already 59 new Urban Boards have been established to govern and manage 59 Cities and Urban areas in Kenya. However, the Citizens Forums are slow in establishment as an integral part of the strengthening the new urban governance regimes.

Innovative Citizens Engagement–Enabling Service Delivery

The affordable housing delivery plan in Kenya is a bold step towards achieving urban areas and human settlements that fulfil their social function and ‘leave no one behind’ as it touches on a fundamental values and dignity of the vulnerable social class of the society. During the 2nd Kenya Urban Dialogue hosted by the World Bank on 15 October 2018 that focused on delivering on the affordable housing agenda, there was unanimity that housing delivery is not just the four walls but a human settlements issue. As a human settlements issue, this agenda brings into active play citizens’ rights as well as obligations.

While the Constitution of Kenya gives powers of self-governance to the people and enhances their participation in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them, citizens in Kenya continue to exercise such powers variously with attendant varying results. Good models of citizens engagement have been registered in some Counties in Kenya, leading amongst them being the Makueni County model.

The establishment of the Urban Boards for strengthened governance and management of urban areas has ignited new interest in citizens forums. These Boards are required to engage the citizens forum in the discharge of the duty. Such engagement mode is not prescribed in law and hence provides for fertile ground for learning and building new experiences in the practice. Besides, the affordable housing delivery plan identifies urban areas as primary targets, and organized forms of citizens engagement is important in the delivery and ownership of the agenda.

The public dialogue convened at the University of Nairobi on 24 May 2019 brings together International and Local Leaders, Government Officials, Experts, Professionals, Entrepreneurs, Civil Society, Community Groups and Students to;

1. Share international and local lessons and experiences that spur innovative citizens forums

2. Inform innovative forms of citizens engagement in affordable housing delivery The dialogue should set the premise for catalyzing effective Citizens Forums in 59 Urban Areas in Kenya.

The Dialogue

The Public Dialogue has been organized through the cooperation of the National Habitat Committee, Civil Society Urban Development Platform(CSUDP),University of Nairobi Centre for Urban Research and Innovations (CURI),URAIA Trust, Kenya Alliance of Residents Association (KARA),United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth; in collaboration with UN-Habitat. Through the dialogue, the Kenyan public will get an opportunity to network and exchange knowledge and experiences on innovative approaches to citizens engagement in urban service delivery.

The Speakers and Panelists at the dialogue bring in a blend of international, regional and national experiences.

Speakers and panelists

Mr. James Macharia EGH,The Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works, Kenya

Anna Jardfelt, the Ambassador of Sweden to Kenya, Seychelles, Comoros and Permanent Representative to UN Environment and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) in 2017

Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, the World Bank country director for Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, based in Nairobi. He was formerly Senior Director of the World Bank Group’s Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global servicesPractice (MTI)

Aromar Revi, the Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) – India’s first prospective National University for Research and Innovation to address challenges of urbanisation through an integrated programme of education, research, consulting and advisory