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CURI Seminar on Urbanization, Economic Development and Climate Resilience Dynamics in Kenya

On July 11, 2016, the Centre for Urban Research and Innovation (CURI) and partners organized a seminar themed “Urbanization, Economic Growth and Climate Resilience in Kenya, Challenges and Opportunities”. The seminar explored the nexus between urban growth and development, economic development and climate change.

Participants were drawn from local and international partners, academia and Government. They included, The World Bank, WYG International, DFID, ARUP, Slum Dwellers International (SDI), Government of Kenya - National Economic and Social Council, Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development, Council of Governors - Kenya, JKUAT-Centre for Urban Studies, ADU University, Real Plan Consultants, CSRD-consultant, UN HABITAT, Akiba Mashinani Trust (AMT), Civil Society Urban Development Platform (CSUDP) and the University of Nairobi.

Well planned urbanization can facilitate economic development, as it leads to managed growth of towns and cities that are dynamic, growing centers for modern production and industry, financial services, internal commerce, foreign trade, education and government. The growth of urban areas also produces external effects, spillovers, and external economies of scale, factors that have all become more important with increased industrialization, technical progress, and economic development. The growth of urban areas has a direct influence on climate change. While it is a profound global issue in all of its manifestations and components, climate change is a deeply local issue as well.

While urban areas concentrate populations, economic activities and built environments, the increasing risk of floods, heat waves, and other climate and weather hazards keep aggravating Urban areas including households, industries and infrastructures are key sources of greenhouse gases, and also are exposed to risks such as floods, heat waves, and other climate and weather hazards that climate change is expected to aggravate.

The seminar objective was to provide a platform for experts and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and organizations to explore new ways of addressing and taking cognizance of the opportunities and challenges posed by the unprecedented urbanisation growth witnessed in the Kenya. In addition, the key speakers reflected on the linkages between economic growth and climate change / resilience. The outcomes of the seminar will be used to support policy dialogue and generate debate on managing urbanisation to achieve sustainable environments in addition to meeting the global and local development goals. 

Key note presentations were made by Ms Sheilah Kamunyori (World Bank) – Dr. Julius Muia (National Economic and Social Council) - and Mr. Charles Reeve (WYG International). Ms Kamunyori who was key to the production of the Kenya Urban Review Report (2016), gave insights on the urban growth trends and its impact on other sectors of national development. She focused on the fast growing urban population and the importance to provide basic infrastructure and services to ensure better quality of life for all. Dr. Muia’s presentation on Urbanisation and Economic Developmenthighlighted on the key drivers of economic growth and the central role played by urban areas to achieve higher development targets. The importance of value chains and development corridors and their linkage to urban growth was presented. Charles Reeve focused on the Climate Change and Urbanisation dynamics and stressed pointed at the risks posed by a climate insensitive approach to urban management. Global experience demonstrated how hazards and natural disasters were likely to affect many cities and impact on their growth potential. 

Sheila Kamunyori highlighted the state of urbanization in Africa and Kenya, noting that the rate of urbanization is high, and directly correlates with the country’s economic growth. However, the urbanization opportunities also generate urban challenges that include high unemployment rates, poor service delivery, poor housing and transport, and a rise in urban informality, thereby necessitating effective policies that centre on land, urban governance and urban finance. She reiterated that insufficient urban finance would threaten urban progress and therefore the Country needed to set a framework to ensure that investors and entrepreneurs invested in urban areas including infrastructure development. She indicated that the Kenya Urbanization Review (2016) report by World Bank showed that Kenya needed to sustain faster economic growth to urbanize with prosperity and that the GDP needed to grow at 8.9% per year to accommodate the emerging trends.

Dr. Julius Muia, one of the key drivers of the National Vision 2030 development blueprint, provided an intrinsic relationship between urbanization and economic development. He however, noted there exists internal weaknesses and external threats that constrain the competitiveness and efficiency of the Kenyan economy, rendering it weaker, as compared to the developed countries’ economic structures. He further noted that Kenya is was not globally competitive, currently at 99/140, hence creating the need to adopt best practices to grow and export in a sustainable manner. Dr. Muia asserted that the current structure of the national economy negated the Vision 2030 goal of a rapidly industrializing country, and therefore the need for spatial planning to strengthen industry. He reiterated that the subsistence economy dominating the agricultural sector posed a big challenge to economic pursuits. This trend needed to be substituted by best practices such as specialization, value chain clusters, large scale agricultural activities and mechanization and economies of scale to achieve high growth and associated benefits. In his closing remarks, he observed the need for efficient marketing and the support for value chains development especially in the agricultural sector to improve efficiency and production. 

Dr. Charles Reeve, focused his presentation on climate change and urbanization, noting that Kenya was greatly affected by climate change, more so urban areas, which have higher sensitivity to climate change. He noted that Africa needed more of climate adaptation/ resilience approaches and not climate change mitigation, and that the solutions for cities was to integrate climate sensitive methods within an integrated planning framework. He pointed out that floods and droughts which were indicators of climate change had in the past reduced Kenya’s GDP and therefore called for mitigation to reduce exposure of climate change.

A reflection on the key note presentations was provided by panelists Mr. Neil Spooner on spatial approaches to urban economic development, Mr. Patrick Obath reflected on the private sector engagement in the context of urban development and Dr. Grace Lubaale who remarked on the urbanisation dynamics in Kenya.

Neil Spooner stated that spatial agglomeration of industry was an important aspect for the improvement of productivity. He stressed on the need to diversify economies as opposed to specialization if rapid development was to be achieved. He pointed out that sectors such as textiles could play a key role in the diversification for economic growth. Patrick Obath in his reflections, observed that the private sector was rarely engaged in urban development. He pointed out that public private partnerships would facilitate the financing of infrastructure development in the country. He further observed the need for laws, policies and regulations to have a cycle of longer than five years and institutions be free of politics to allow for economic growth even in political turmoil. Dr. Grace Lubaale noted there is existence of weak policy and legal frameworks led to inequalities across urban areas especially the access to basic services.

The participants further noted that Kenya needed a transformation in governance culture to ensure sustainable growth. The importance of the National Vision 2030 flagship projects to urban areas was appreciated. In this regard, the Government of Kenya had approved the Inuka Policy to guide the implementation of the 2030 development blue print. The need for National and County planning frameworks to integrate climate change dynamics in social and economic plans was further emphasized. However, concerns were raised on the limited programs addressing climate change in Kenya. The participants pointed at the need for planning to precede development in Kenya which was not always the case. The importance of citizen engagement in planning at all levels was seen as a way to create development ownership and reduce corruption. The plight of urban dwellers within informal settings was highlighted by the Slum Dwellers International, who appealed to government, academic and civil society actors to explore opportunities presented by informal settlements as opposed to viewing them as problem areas.  The high number of people living in slums required basic services and initiatives that provided economic opportunities.

The seminar was officially closed by the Dean of the School of Built Environment, University of Nairobi, Prof. Robert Rukwaro who reiterated on the importance of building networks between the government and non-government actors to develop innovative and sustainable approaches to manage urban growth and development in Kenya and the region.

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