How Kenya helped to set up new goals for the world to achieve

KamauMachariaElated that he had met a Kenyan at the media centre at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Mexican Jose Miguel Pedrosa asked a Kenyan in broken English: “Do you run?”

“Not even if my life depended on it”, answered the journalist.

“How so? You come from Kenya!” asked Jose.

Jose was a member of the civil societies that had come to New York to witness the General Assembly, where the global development agenda — called Sustainable Development Goals or just SDGs — were being adopted.

The SDGs are 17 goals that, among many other things, aim to reduce poverty and disease and protect the environment.

They were formulated to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose shelf life ends in December 2015.

Jose’s question, and the comical answer to it, indicates Kenya could not have the chance to shine in matters other than marathon.

But it was Kenya that spearheaded the task force that drafted the document behind the historic moment in New York, which rallied 193 countries to a consensus on global development.

From January 22, 2013, Macharia Kamau, a Kenyan ambassador, had 18 months to draft the SDGs.

Mr Kamau is Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The Kenyan had been unanimously voted by United Nations member states to co-chair the working group, alongside a Hungarian, Csaba Korosi.

The meeting that will end on October 6 was a result of Mr Kamau’s wading through fragile diplomatic relations and months of intense and sometimes difficult consultation with governments, scientists, civil societies and academic groups all over the world.


SDGs. Such a simplistic jargon-loaded acronym, but upon scrutiny, the importance of the work Mr Kamau was entrusted with placed Kenya right in a position to coalesce the diverse economic and social systems of all the countries in the world towards solving the world’s most pressing needs.

The goals are supposed to tackle inequalities, end poverty and ensure the proper use of the environment.

On Monday, the presidents talked about peacekeeping, climate change on Tuesday, while terrorism and violent extremism had been discussed on Sunday.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s voice may have been muted in the discussions that went on during the General Assembly due to the country’s size and its influence in the United Nations.

However, what was discussed was a result of Mr Kamau’s supervision.

So important was the event that even Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who has skipped the annual UN forum for a decade, came to the meeting.

Pope Francis, US President Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jinping were also among the global leaders present.


At the forum, presidents climbed on to the green marbled podium in the assembly, and the thousands who attended the event listened to them, oblivious of the journey that led to this season.

For the nature of the task ahead, the special global complexities that existed when the work was given to him, Mr Kamau has been lauded by many people for the role he played.

“It was a good job”, commented Carlos Lopes, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which offers research and expert technical guidance on the region of Africa.

In this assignment, Kenya had the task of addressing the incomplete business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose 15-year term was lapsing.

Several report cards on the MDGs from various agencies had rated the success the Millennium Development Goals as dismal, with the performance in Africa most discouraging.

Lessons learned in implementing the MDGs, a report by the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and others, had pointed to concerns about an increase in HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis infections; conflicts and disasters obstructing the path to food security, as well as an increase in poverty.

Kenya had the highest increase in poverty on the continent, at 28.4 per cent.


The MDGs were doomed from the start.

Then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had appointed Lord Mark Malloch-Brown as the head of UN development programme to draft the MDGs.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper published on November 16, 2012, Malloch-Brown said he and a small group of people had drafted the goals in a basement of the UN’s New York office in relative casualness.

So casual was the drafting that they almost forgot to include a goal targeting the environment.

In a video embedded in the article, Malloch-Brown says: “I was walking along the corridor relieved that I had the job done when I ran into the beaming head of the United Nations Environmental Programme, a terrible swear word crossed my mind when I realised we had forgotten an environmental goal…we raced back to put it.”

The eight goals, apart from being narrow, had not specified how they would be implemented.

These inadequacies had partly led to their failure.

With these failures, the world had become sceptical of targets.

This meant Mr Kamau had a long way to go, trying to persuade governments and the people that the incoming SDGs would read from a different script.

Unlike Malloch-Brown, Mr Kamau faced a complex and an unstable geopolitical atmosphere as he drafted the SDGs.

The MDGs had been drafted before terrorist attacks had become a thorn in the flesh of developed countries.

After their drafting, the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the US occurred and afterwards countries became defensive, attending first to their domestic audiences before the international ones.

Nations developed economic models that made trade-related affairs a jigsaw puzzle.

Climate change, the degradation of oceans and forest ecosystems and human rights violations in North Africa had risen to unprecedented levels.


African nations were beginning to rise, taking a more confrontational approach to the affairs of the UN and they were going to be heard this time round.

So, as Mr Kamau began his work, there were emerging issues and untied ends that had to be kneaded into a ball under such fragile relationships among member states.

Mr Kamau would gather opinions from all the member states, civil societies and the scientific community.

There were committees as well, whose recommendations had to be considered.

They included the High-Level Political Forum to follow up on methods of implementation and the committee on financing of goals.

There was also a committee drawn from the private sector, which included Betty Maina, the chief executive officer of the Kenya Manufacturers Association.

After Mr Kamau had gathered all these views, he presented the draft for review.

His draft, seeking to cure the ambiguity in the previous goals, was met with opposition from the nations with veto powers in the UN.

David Cameron, the British prime minister, wanted no more than 12 goals, threatening the delicate political balance that Mr Kamau had considered during the consultative process.

At the end, so commendable was the job he did that in July this year, Mr Kamau and his Hungarian counterpart were awarded a prestigious environmental award.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More