God, if you believe in Him (or Her), is omniscient. God is also omnipresent, especially here in Kenya. Today He was at a workshop called “Green Champions Capacity Building” with me and about 80 other environmentalists.
It is 9 a.m., and the participants of the workshop are introducing themselves to the plenum. They have come from many parts of Kenya to discuss the national Green Economy strategy and the developments in their respective counties. Some people start their introduction with the words “Praise the lord!”, others with a heartfelt “Hallelujah!”, most just use a regular “Good morning, everyone”.
The Green Champions are advocates for a sustainable economic development in Kenya. The youngest one seems to be just about one month old. The mother is carrying her tiny champion in a colourful scarf.
The moderator for today is Mr Peter Odhengo, a climate change expert at the National Treasury of Kenya. His mission: Equipping the Green Champions with the skills they need, particularly the knowledge of how to get funding for their climate change projects. His bigger mission: Helping us to enter the Kingdom of God by being good environmentalists.
According to Mr Odhengo, the key to the Pearly Gates are proactive policies in the areas of green consumerism, growth, and overall mind set:”It is the way we consume that generates waste. It is the way we behave that generates greenhouse gases.” The way of the future will be green collar jobs. “We used to want white collar jobs. Now the white collars are turning black with pollution.”
We are sitting in the conference hall of the Laico Regency Hotel in Nairobi’s Central Business District. I can see skyscrapers through the window, some of them splendid, others badly run down. Years ago, this was the most vivid part of town, with popular shopping streets and a vibrant nightlife. Then the crime rate started to rise and the high life moved elsewhere.
When the workshop started, Mr Odhengo joked about how we were operating in “African time”. By the time we are through with the introductory speeches, we are already one hour behind schedule.
Next we hear Dr. Cosmas Ochieng, the executive director of ACTS, the African Centre for Technology Studies. Daktari, as he is referred to by the panel, talks about the chance that devolution holds for a sustainable economy.
Devolution is the act of the national government transferring some of its powers and responsibilities to the 47 counties. It is the hot topic in Kenyan domestic politics now and brings the system closer to a federal republic (Majimbo) than it was before. The polity of the counties is currently built from scratch, as Dr. Ochieng argues, giving lawmakers the opportunity to mainstream the goals and methods of Green Economy into the very structure of the political system.
Ms Joan Kariuki (ACTS) is moderating the following speeches of several County Executive Committee Members (CECs). She is one of a few women on the panel. Among the participants, approximately one in five are female. The moderators, however, state that they are aware of the underrepresentation, and they are encouraging the women in the crowd to speak up.
The CECs outline the efforts their counties have made in Green Economy sectors such as agriculture, forestry, energy, urban planning and waste management. A Nairobi representative gives a passionate plea: “This law is just a piece of paper. This is a historical moment for you. You are at the right place at the right time. You have the chance to make a difference.”
Meanwhile, the religious theme goes on throughout the workshop. References are made to Jesus, Moses and mosques. During the tea break, a participant comes up to me. “When are you going back?” “To Germany?” “No, to heaven. Because you are clearly an angel!” Hmmm. OK.
One of my personal highlights is the presentation of Mr Mithika Mwenda from the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA). The civil society organization was one of the initiators of Kenya’s climate change bill. He names some of the country’s biggest challenges on its way to a Green Economy:
- Implementating the existing climate change laws at the county level
- Joining forces with other countries to speak with one strong, united voice for Africa to be heard in the global scheme, especially at the upcoming COP21 climate conference in Paris
- Finding ways to acquire funding for ambitious sustainability projects
Mr Odhengo from the National Treasury is here to help with that last point. His oration style is that of a charismatic preacher, he often engages his audience in a choir-like call and response manner. His pivotal message: There are immens funding opportunities to be had in climate change. You just have to know who and how to ask.
Amen to that.