This Is Not a Goodbye, Kenya – Asante na Kwaheri ya Kuonana

Siddharth Chatterjee with CS Eugene Wamalwa, Heads of Missions from the United Nations Mission and other development partners visited the Frontier Counties Development Council Counties with a view of leveraging on opportunities considering geographic proximities in addressing shared developmental challenges in the marginalized Counties. Credit: West Pokot County, February 2020

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 4 2021 –  

Happy New Year, Kenya.

Several milestones in my personal and professional life have made Kenya a cherished place for me. I started my UNICEF career in Rumbek, South Sudan in June 2000, and my rest and recuperation breaks were in Nairobi. In fact Kenya was the first African country I had ever visited and, frankly, it was love at first sight.

I came back in November 2004 to serve with UNICEF Somalia based out of Nairobi, and in 2006 I got married in Kenya. My son who was 3 years old in 2014, has had his formative years growing up in Kenya, and considers himself Kenyan.

The following year I left to serve in Iraq, and I wondered if I would get an opportunity to return to Kenya. Seven years later, it happened: in April 2014 I came back as the United Nations Population Fund Representative (UNFPA) Representative and in August 2016, I was selected to lead the UN Country Team in Kenya as the UN Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative.

Over the years, my bond with the country has been forged through jubilation and the shared suffering of tragedy. I have rejoiced at improvements in many health indicators in counties such as Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Marsabit, Isiolo and Lamu where an unconscionable number of women used to die in childbirth, but where great progress has been made. I have also mourned in horror at the number of lives lost to terror attacks, the murder of 36 quarry workers by terrorists in Mandera county (I was in Mandera the same day), the slaughter of innocent students in Garissa University and the dastardly attack at Nairobi’s DusitD2 hotel.

The end of my tenure as UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya falls on 13 January 2021, with new experiences and challenges awaiting me as I prepare to take up my next position as the United Nations Resident Coordinator (designate) to China.

This is not the end of my relationship with Kenya, but rather an opportunity to strengthen my ties with the country, and for sharing my knowledge and first hand insights about its great potential. It is also a chance to entrench South-South-Cooperation, a crucial part of the answer to Kenya’s, and more broadly Africa’s, unique opportunities to accelerate growth.

I realize that Kenya still faces formidable challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to deepen this even more. Devolution has brought considerable resources and autonomy to counties, and yet lack of capacity, weak financial and regulatory oversight, will continue to hinder efforts to combat the asymmetry of wealth and human prosperity which will be a major obstacle to Kenya’s rise.

I am delighted with the country’s progress towards its Vision 2030 aspirations and the SDGs goals. School enrolment rates are up; more families are accessing maternal and child health services; social, economic and political opportunities for women have increased; major inroads have been made against child marriage and FGM, with President Kenyatta personally leading on this.

My experiences as the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya have reiterated that by prioritizing investments in women and youth, Africa’s real potential can be unleashed, and I am proud of the support on this that we have been able to provide through the entire UN Kenya Country Team.

By 2030 agri-business will be US$ 1 trillion worth in Africa. Almost two-thirds of Kenya’s population is below the age of 30, and the future of food production rests in their hands. Kenya’s economy is anchored in agriculture, where 70% of the population earns its livelihood.

In most parts of the world, crop yields have grown ahead of population increases, helping to free them from hunger and famine, but not in Africa. We looked for creative and sustainable ways to harness Kenya’s strong internet penetration to exploit information technology that adds value and strengthens the economic appeal of agri-business for young people and creates digital jobs as well.

President Kenyatta has noted that “the current generation of young people has the potential of expanding Africa’s productive workforce, promoting entrepreneurship and becoming genuine instruments of change to reverse the devastation caused by climate change.”

Africa’s demographic boom has been hailed as its biggest promise for transforming the continent’s economic and social outcomes, but only if the right investments are made to prepare its youthful population for tomorrow’s world. Kenya launched the Generation Unlimited initiative spearheaded by the Head of State, and can serve as a blueprint to harness the demographic dividend that Africa’s youth represent.

Women’s empowerment was our other key pursuit, with special emphasis on access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. Without this, Kenya’s population is likely to continue its rapid increase, putting pressure on land and water resources, threatening livelihoods, food security, and straining already weak health systems. Gains made in women’s sexual reproductive health and rights took several steps backward in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reproductive rights must be a critical part of our arsenal to fight future pandemics.

It is in Kenya also that I witnessed creative ways of overcoming bureaucracy. Large organisations are often accused of responding too late or with too little in times of crisis, and my tenure saw many. Drought, floods and the worst locust invasion in 70 years, plus the Covid-19 pandemic, all upended much hard-earned progress. As a team however, we went beyond individual UN agency mandates in partnership with the Government of Kenya to quickly establish rapid responses to these emergencies, reducing the socio-economic impact, earning the confidence of the Government and overturning the common perception of the UN as an unwieldy bureaucracy.

The Government’s leadership was meritorious on all counts and that is why I have stated unequivocally why Kenya deserves an A+ for its response to the triple humanitarian crisis.

I am proud to have been part of many milestones in the partnership between both levels of the Government of Kenya and the UN, and to count on the unfailing support of the leadership of Kenya at all levels of Government. Kenya’s potential is boundless, and the country now offers stronger platforms for new shared-value investments than ever before.

I also express my sincere appreciation to the entire UN family in Kenya, the development partners, our donors and well-wishers and civil society partners and, most of all, the wonderful people of Kenya.

With a firm belief in a common destiny, I intend to keep telling the story of the emerging powerhouse that is Kenya.

My wife, son and I carry Kenya in our hearts.

Thank you for everything. Your generosity and friendship is nonpareil.

God Bless, Kenya.

Asante, Kenya, na kwaheri hadi tutakapo kutana tena!

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Follow him on twitter @sidchat1

 


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How Women-centred Digital Platforms can Enhance Empowerment

Women’s empowerment is a crucial aim of the social networking site Fuzia. Credit: Fuzia

By Fairuz Ahmed
NEW YORK, Jan 4 2021 – A cherished snapshot of a happy mother and a smiling grandmother is universally associated with a good childhood. In the movies, TV, or media, a broken or depressed mother’s face is hardly seen. But the reality is somewhat different. The measures communities and society take to ensure that women and girls are protected and supported are often questioned.

Shraddha Varma, co-founder, and director of social networking site Fuzia believes in enhancing women’s lives.

“Women empowerment is incomplete without key aspects like health, wellness, education, financial independence. Fuzia, being a leading women’s networking platform, is constantly taking initiatives to touch on these aspects. We understand during and post COVID-19, and females must amp up their self-care and approach for an all-rounded approach for health and happiness.”

Fuzia takes advantage of the growing population of women who turn to social media for inspiration and knowledge, especially in the Indian subcontinent. According to Statista, with over 560 million internet users, India is the second-largest online market globally, ranked only behind China. It was estimated that by 2023, there would be around 650 million internet users in the country. In the United States, 91% of women use the internet, and in 2019, 22.6 percent of Africa’s female population had online access, compared to 33.8 percent of men.

With COVID-19 lockdowns, schools and businesses moving online, the numbers of users have also skyrocketed in many parts of the globe. Even people, like the elderly and homemakers, who only used technology for communication or entertainment, are using it differently. People in this demographic are now rapidly adapting to using digital technology as an everyday activity for education, teaching, shopping, communication, and skills-building.

Riya Sinha, the co-founder of Fuzia (https://www.fuzia.com/), in an exclusive interview with IPS, said that she had come to understand society and culture from travelling extensively.

“As I have worked on Fuzia, I think my background played a big part in forming my vision for Fuzia. From a young age, I have had the privilege to travel to India and all around the world, experiencing different cultures and types of people,” she said.

“This variation of experiences, cultures, societies paired up with technology has enabled us to grow Fuzia to what we are today. Using our platform anyone from any part of the world can have access to lessons and workshops on skill-building, communicating, art, literature, learning and more.”

Fuzia tackles taboo subjects. Credit: Fuzia

It is giving access to these resources at the heart of the social networking sites brand: “Happiness is Fuzia”.

Varma echoes the comments and adds: “With Fuzia lounge and mobile app the world has become accessible for many women right from the palm of their hands. You do not need to pay a fee to be a member, and there are no restrictions to the content we publish for access.”

The co-founders are proud of their platform’s track record of ensuring that people can express themselves without being judged.

“With the security of no-bullying policy and judgment-free usage at our platform, many topics are discussed which otherwise would go untold. We strictly monitor content, and professional advice is often given as live sessions and information board posts from experts,” Varma said.

Women, who often use online platforms for information on every topic from religion to subjects seldom spoken about find easy access to reliable data on the Fuzia website.

Fuzia ensures that subjects often considered taboo are included in their daily content. This includes menstruation, sexual issues, safe sex, LGBTQ matters, teen and tween topics, sexual harassment, and domestic abuse.

They ensure that people know how to seek help if they require it and substantially impact helping those who are suicidal or are seeking help for mental health issues.

The website hosts regular live sessions where industry experts take live questions and give their inputs.

The developers at Fuzia have pinpointed what women want from a digital platform. They have developed technologies that focus on creating products and virtual environments where women feel included and safe. As a by-product, it has assisted with women becoming employed and skill sharing. Fuzia’s platforms include training – it is here that may of Fuzia own staff have been recruited. Others have found ways to turn their hobbies into livelihoods with the platform’s support in terms of shoutouts and campaigns and Fuzia provided a stepping-stone for them to explore new career paths.

The World Economic Forum’s founder, Dr Klaus Schwab, remarked: “Achieving gender equality is necessary for economic reasons. Only those economies (that) have full access to all their talent will remain competitive and prosper. But even more important, gender equality is a matter of justice. As a humanity, we also have the obligation to ensure a balanced set of values.”

When women are locked out of digital products, businesses lose customers, and product development gets hampered. The founders of Fuzia believe that Fuzia can lessen the gap in the digital divide and gender inequality.

This article is a sponsored feature.

 


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