Arid Lands Newsletter--link to home page No. 40, Fall/Winter 1996
The CCD, Part I: Africa and the Mediterranean

Building partnerships for the CCD: A success story from Kenya

by Alain Sibenaler

"One of the innovative cornerstones of the CCD is the call for building effective national partnerships....A further innovation of the CCD is its focus on implementation of these provisions without reliance on new external funding."

Image of children playing


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The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was adopted on June 17 1994, in Paris. In commemoration of this event, the UN General Assembly decided to declare that day the "World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD)," to be observed annually throughout the world. The purpose of the WDCD is to stimulate attention and raise awareness of these problems of desertification and drought, which affect approximately one billion people and 25 % of the earth's total land surface.

One of the innovative cornerstones of the CCD is the call for building effective national partnerships comprising affected populations and their representatives (NGOs and community-based organizations), the national government, and resident donors (bilateral and multilateral). The purpose of these partnerships is to develop action-oriented consensus among all stakeholders on how to tackle the issue of combatting desertification by developing a National Action Programme (NAP) for implementing the provisions of the CCD. A further innovation of the CCD is its focus on implementation of these provisions without reliance on new external funding.

In Kenya, 78% of the total land surface is threatened by desertification. The effects of desertification are visible to every lay person: apart from the infamous cliches of certain pastoralist groups searching water in bare arid land, the consequences of desertification are being made clear through recurrent droughts and famines that regularly strike the most marginalized tribes; severe land degradation at the immediate outskirts of Nairobi caused by a combination of overgrazing, ill-adapted land use practices and various deforestation practices; and finally the flow of rural poor to one of the fastest-growing cities in the world: Nairobi, whose population increased at an average rate of 14% per year between 1979 and 1989 (the date of the last population census).

On the other hand, Kenya hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and of the UN Center for Human Settlements (Habitat). Kenya's service sector is expanding at a rate envied by its neighbors, and tourism is the country's second foreign currency earner.

The idea of "Bridging the gaps"

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Based on all these considerations, UNDP/UNSO developed a plan to use WDCD 1995 to launch a "Bridging the gaps" initiative among the main players involved in anti-desertification activities. Nairobi's "Bridging the gaps" WDCD celebration would link the concerns, activities and interests of local-level NGOs, community-based organizations, and women and youth groups to the activities of national and international decision-makers. The stakeholders involved included NGOs such as the Environment Liaison Center International (ELCI) and the Kenyan National NGO Coordinating Committee on Desertification (NCCD); government groups such as the Interministerial Committee on Environment (IMCE) and the Subcommittee on Desertification of the National Environment Secretariat (NES); and UN organizations such as UNEP, UNSO and the UNDP Country Office.

Various CCD-related themes were thus to be addressed by all these actors through the medium of:

  • preparation of visual displays regarding the perception of problems related to their environment (both general and environment-specific aiming at combating desertification)
  • sharing of experiences and suggesting concrete means and measures aiming at an effective cooperation leading to fulfill the provisions and to respect the spirit of the CCD

In order to prepare the visual display, disposable cameras were distributed to different types of actors such as school classes and communities, so that they could photograph their environment. Parallel to this, a professional photographer, Ms. Lana Wong was hired to tour the different environments and prepare a photo exhibition of professional standard. The result was an exhibit of dual character where professional pictures from Lana alternated with pictures taken by, say, a women's group from Kitui or a village-based community in Marsabit.

The WDCD 1995 celebration

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Kenya's 1995 celebration of the WDCD took place during two days at the Norfolk Hotel in the city center of Nairobi. The commemorations were well attended by high-ranking government officials, officials from the UN (the Executive Director of UNEP and the UNDP Resident Representative), representatives from the four African subregional Intergovernmental Organizations, resident donors, and NGO representatives from those districts in Kenya most affected by desertification. In plenary discussions held during the two-day event, the audience came up with a series of concrete gaps to be bridged involving effective participation of all stakeholders.

The whole initiative was broadly and well covered by the Kenyan media. On 17 June, a press conference was held and the organizers were invited by the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to talk shows on the radio and on TV. The preparations and manifestations of WDD presented a unique chance to raise awareness on desertification, on the CCD and on its effects on the Kenyan public. A month later, an exhibition of Ms. Wong's pictures was organized at the British Council in Nairobi. A popular guest of honor launched the sale of the pictures and the benefit of that sale went to the Tree Shade Club of the Mulango Girls High School in Kitui. The Tree Shade Club maintains a nursery where they raise arid-adapted tree seedlings for planting in the Kitui District.

Further activities resulting from the "Bridging the gaps" initiative

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Both the new partnerships created and the existing partnerships strengthened during the organization of the "Bridging the gaps" initiative have proven an ideal starting point to begin implementing the provisions of the CCD. Even before planning for the WDCD began, the NCCD was regularly taking part in the meetings of the IMCE. Furthermore, the NCCD has pursued the development of partnerships and "consciousness-raising" in the field in various ways. In October 1995, the NCCD organized a workshop in Embu, for government extension workers and national and local NGOs, which was aimed at formulating a methodology of community-based consultation mechanisms. In December 1995, the NCCD organized a further workshop in Marsabit. This workshop brought together local NGOs and local government officials, and led to the establishment of the first District Anti-Desertification Committee (DADC). The presentation on NGOs during the 1995 WDCD celebrations thus covered NGO consultative processes from the local level in Marsabit to the global level as represented by RIOD, the global network of NGOs on desertification, which is based in Nairobi.

Another exciting event held during both the 1995 and the 1996 WDCD celebrations is a school forum. During the 1995 WDCD event, the focus of the forum was on the schoolchildren's perceptions regarding desertification and drylands. The forum held in 1996 built on the results of the 1995 forum by stimulating thinking among the children on possible solutions and strategies they envisage for bridging the gap between the different stakeholders. The response by the six schools involved (one boy's school and one girl's school each from Kitui, Kajiado and Nairobi) was very positive and led to lively interest and interchanges between the rural and the urban children. For the 1996 celebration, the schools supplemented the original 1995 photo exhibit by photographs which they took with disposable cameras.

Of major interest is the fact that in July 1996, one month after the WDCD events, some of the participants in the school forum met in an bigger group over two days and created the YSCCD, the Youth and Students Committee Combatting Desertification. This Committee should be seen as one of a variety of institutionalized partners that meet the provisions of Art. 19 of the CCD, which calls for capacity building, education and public awareness "through the full participation particularly at the local level, especially women and youth" (Art.19, para.1a). The YSCCD planned an "outreach to the grassroots meeting" which was held mid-August 1996 in Kajiado, during which schools from rural areas were encouraged to become involved in the process.

The involvement of the private/commercial sector based in Nairobi

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In line with the spirit and provisions of the CCD, the private sector was closely involved in providing funding (both financial and in kind) for the WDCD 1995 celebrations. This was a real innovation, as Kenya is, to date, one of the few countries to involve the private sector in its CCD-related desertification activities. Within the given time frame of two months to prepare for the event, not less than 25 private donors contributed to the initiative, either through cash donations or donations in kind. The contributions in kind ranged from catering lunches for the schoolchildren or providing transport for the delegates from the affected districts, to a car that took the professional photographer to the Chalbi Desert. Other substantial benefits also occurred. Apart from raising awareness among all donors (and among the numerous firms that declined to give a contribution due to the restricted time limit), UNEP and UNSO now have a roster of potential private sector donors with the appropriate contact persons, to be called upon during future CCD-related activities.

This involvement of the private sector should be seen as both a means toward and an aim of the WDCD. As a means toward the WDCD, private-sector involvement provided a means to help finance the event; as an aim, it acts as a future-oriented and innovative activity that begins to fulfill these provisions of the CCD calling for private sector involvement (esp. Article 20 on financial resources and Article 21 on financial mechanisms).


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To summarize, these activities show that Kenya is more than prepared to follow the first steps of the NAP process. Provisions of the CCD, especially on popular participation, local area development and capacity building at local levels are well understood by different stakeholders. Many things are initiated by individual groups of development actors. The challenge is to keep a regular and two-way communication flow both within each individual actor group, and among all the various groups of actors. The lessons learnt form Kenya's "Bridging the gaps" WDCD event are that it turned out to be rewarding to give various stakeholders an opportunity to share their views among others, especially as everyone was encouraged by the official character this event was given. Considering the good attendance at the event, the excellent media coverage and the further initiatives which have resulted, it is clear that the voices were not only listened to but also heard. The fact that the private sector responded so generously shows that there are new considerations to be taken into account: it seems clear that the bilateral, heavily-funded and top-down development programs have (really) come to an end and that the era of "innovative resource mobilization", "institutionalizing partnerships" and "listening to the people" is now well under way.

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Author information

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From 1994 to 1996, Alain Sibenaler served as Junior Programme Officer in the UNSO Regional Office for East and Southern Africa, in Nairobi. Currently he works in at the UN Development Programme's Office to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNDP/UNSO) in New York. Contact him as follows:
Alain Sibenaler
UNDP/UNSO - Office to Combat Desertification and Drought
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Tel: +1 (212) 906-6071
Fax: +1 (212) 906-6345, 906-6916
E-mail: (Alain Sibenaler)

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