I am delighted to be Chief Guest for the KARA Annual Resident Associations Excellence Awards 2017. This event comes at a very prime moment when Kenya is hosting the United Nations Environment Assembly with the theme “Towards a Pollution Free Planet”. I am aware some of the engagements by the Resident Associations contribute to this theme. 


Everybody can identify with tonight’s event since we reside somewhere and cherish our neighbours whom we together form a neighbourhood. Everyday we wake up, our neighbours reassure us that we are together, to face the new day. In case of a challenge such as lack of water, disruption of electricity and insecurity, neighbours are the first to converse before help is sought from relevant agencies. In this regard, I am delighted that this meeting is to discuss issues that are part of my lived experience.

Today, 50% of humanity lives in urban areas and this figure is expected to rise to 70% by the year 2050. Environmental, social and economic challenges will increase tremendously if urgent measures are not put in place to reduce and possibly stop any further slide to unsustainability. Urban areas present an opportunity to share resources and space in a manner that ensures a lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources leading to environmental sustainability. However, most cities and urban areas are currently experiencing management and capacity challenges and this constitute a serious setback to Environmental Sustainability and by extension human well-being. 

The global impetus in sustainable development is to renew and plan for ecologically resilient cities and human settlements by adopting sustainable patterns of consumption and production while protecting and valuing ecosystems and biodiversity. Rapid urbanization has led to the informal settlements, while zones previously designated as rural settlements are now part of urban settlement. Such areas experience acute shortage of public services. The rapid urbanization has taken place against background of weakening capacity of local government. This has seen emergence of neighbourhood associations to compliment efforts of local government. This is a paradigm shift in urban management where local stakeholders are considered as strategic partners in how urban areas are governed.

A resident's association, is an organisation composed of voluntary members living within the same neighbourhood. There are common problems in every neighbourhood that are best addressed communally. Resident Associations have been quite instrumental in addressing issues of security, social and communal facilities in the locality, water shortage and garbage disposal. Some Associations have initiated youths programs, created channels through which they could tackle anti -social behaviour, champion social entrepreneurship and address financial exclusion. The Associations have managed to secure not just the residents’ input, but have also in most cases roped in the authorities as well.

Allow me to digress a bit into the philosophy of resident associations. According to social capital theory, social cohesion is critical if societies are to prosper both socially, economically and achieve sustainable development. Social networks offer general economic and emotional support on a sustained basis. It is fundamental that communities forge ties and coalesce around common goal. This provides much needed ingredient and pillars for the development of stable management. Sustainable development that entails economic and social progress normally flourish when there are mutual partnership between all stakeholders, where forums exist in and through which they can identify and pursue common goals.

The existence of resident associations is not only the precursor of good management but also the key to sustained socio-economic development. Areas that have a long tradition of resident associations develop faster compared to those regions where these groupings are absent. This is because these areas nurture structures that allow citizens involvement and responsive management. The structures created at the local level support collective action, enforce norms, generate expectations of reciprocity or foster feelings of mutual trust. Resident associations are a dimension of civic society that is neither political nor economic, but one that interacts with both to promote the welfare of the people. We have seen associations grow to become close-knit families that support each other both financially and psychologically.

Through resident associations, the residents have succeeded in many things such as organising opposition against new developments that go against planning plans for the area. NEMA has in many cases been put to task by resident associations regarding approvals for development projects. Some have raised tenancy issues such as a bug infestation, grabbing of sensitive areas such as wetlands and general issues of insecurity. Their associations structural nature collectively help the authorities to deal with one active group rather than a disparate group of residents with the same problems.

Residents’ associations can also serve as reconciliatory bodies. Instead of taking disputes to court, tribunals set up within the associations can try to resolve minor internal disagreements before cases go to court.

Environmental Sustainability (ES) is a concept that describes a state of balance, resilience and interconnectedness that allows human societies to satisfy their needs while not exceeding the capacity of the supporting ecosystems and future generations to meet those needs. Let me hasten to mention that sustainable development is a national value enshrined in Article 10 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. The Constitution further in Article 42 provides a right to a clean and healthy environment to every Kenyan and obligates the state to take measures to ensure that sustainable development is attained in Article 69.

ES seeks to improve human welfare by protecting the sources of raw materials used for human needs and ensuring that waste sinks are not exceeded.ES demands that humans must learn to live within the limitations of the biophysical environment where natural capital is maintained both as a provider of inputs and a sink for wastes. ES also emphasises the need for sustainable production and consumption.

ES sustains global life support systems indefinitely in terms of food, water, air, biodiversity, energy etc. There can be no social sustainability without ES. Recently Kenya has experienced social conflicts as a result of climate change occasioned by droughts which diminishes food and water supplies to humans and livestock. For us to sustain social and economic development, we must prioritize environmental conservation.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) further elaborate on diverse interventions needed to achieve sustainable development. For instance SDG no 11 provides that cities and human settlements should be made inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The Resident Associations will play a critical role in achievement of the SDGs and this implies that there is need for continuous learning. I am aware that some Associations are actively engaged in educating their members on matters such as good governance, accountability and other ethical and legal issues. My Ministry would wish that KARA works closely with us to enhance awareness on environmental issues, SDGs, Climate change and Green economy among others.

Sustainable development also demands the need for public or community participation characterized by shared values, commonly accepted standards and cultural norms. The practices and attitudes of residents and users of land and water spaces strongly determine the extent of environmental impacts. In order to internalize the externalities, there is a need to bring about behaviour change. This can be achieved through enhanced public awareness campaigns by everyone, and Resident Associations could play an active role in mobilization and coordination. Tackling environmental issues more effectively will thus require stakeholder partnerships and participation which results in a certain aspect of ‘self-regulation’ where everyone commits not to violate environmental principles and laws.

As I conclude, let me highlight some of the areas where interventions are needed by the resident associations to enhance sustainable development. Resident Associations need to invest in the following interventions urgently:

  1. Making sustainable transportation choices through walking or riding your bike whenever possible; using public transportation; consolidate your trips; carpool to school or work.
  1. Making sustainable food choices such as choosing local food whenever possible; choose organically grown fruits and vegetables; grow your own fruits and vegetables.
  1. Making sustainable energy choices such as turn off lights and electronics when you are not in the room; look for small changes that can lead to big energy savings; use renewable energy such as solar; use natural lighting instead of electricity; use energy saving cooking devices.
  1. Reducing, reusing and recycling through re-use of items whenever possible; buy reusable items; choose items with minimal packaging; recycle everything that you can; don’t litter
  1. Keeping chemicals out of the water supply by use of fewer and environmentally friendly chemicals; avoid use pesticides and herbicides; dispose of toxic waste properly; conserve water.
  1. Getting involved and educating others by learning about the major polluters in your area; aim to change the daily habits of people by creating awareness of personal responsibilities to our common future in relation to pollution control.

These interventions are not so difficult at individual and at Association level. I would feel proud to be invited to your next meeting where we discuss progress made in implementing the 6 areas mentioned above as that is the only way to account for our contribution to building a sustainable society. My ministry through National Environment Trust Fund is willing to partner with you to buttress this award scheme to award those Resident Associations that excel in sustainable development interventions (Mazingira Award category)

Statement by Prof. Judi Wakhungu, EGH, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources During the KARA Annual Resident Associations Excellence Awards Ceremony on 2nd December 2017