Ladies and Gentlemen,
|His Excellency Hon. Mwai Kibaki, C.G.H., M.P., President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kenya|
I am pleased to join you this morning in commemorating the global observance of the World Habitat Day. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all the visitors from the United Nations fraternity who have come to Kenya to join us in marking this important international day. I wish you all a pleasant stay in Kenya.
I hope that you will also take this opportunity to visit the countryside to see more of our country and its people, and how they are dealing with the many challenges facing them. I thank in particular UN-HABITAT for choosing Kenya as the venue for this year’s World Habitat Day. This is an honour for which we are most grateful.
This occasion provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on the state of our human settlements. It is also a time for us to evaluate the challenges before us and to map out ways of ensuring decent and adequate shelter for all. This is particularly important in developing countries where poverty levels are high, especially amongst rural communities.
Indeed, in a developing country such as Kenya, rural poverty is a major cause of poor human settlements. Moreover, poverty in the rural areas has led to massive migration of people to urban areas in search of jobs and better living conditions.
The situation has caused a rapid population explosion in urban centers and overwhelmed the ability of urban authorities to provide basic services such as housing, water and sanitation. Clearly, the uncontrollable mushrooming of informal human settlements in major towns in the developing world cannot be tackled in a sustainable manner without improving the conditions of living in the rural areas.
I am, therefore, encouraged to note that the theme of this year’s World Habitat Day recognizes the interplay between the rural and urban spheres, and highlights the importance of cities as engines of rural development.
Rural areas benefit from cities in several important ways. First of all, by absorbing excess rural populations and offering markets for farm produce, cities promote the growth of rural areas. Secondly, low-income rural dwellers often rely on urban-based non-farm jobs and on remittances and other transfers from migrant relatives.
Moreover, rural settlements that are linked to cities are able to tap local urban markets and benefit from expanding global markets. A balanced relationship between rural and urban areas will therefore serve to improve the living conditions of rural populations and discourage rapid urbanization.
In this regard, my government has formulated a strategy aimed at promoting sustainable rural-urban linkages. We recognize for instance, that agriculture is the mainstay of our economy, and employs a majority of our rural population. Accordingly, our rural-urban balance strategy seeks to promote the development and growth of agriculture.
The key aspects of this strategy include concentration of scarce resources for development of urban infrastructure projects in selected small towns of not more than 5,000 people, where infrastructure investments are likely to have maximum impact.
Our aim is to provide these towns with basic physical infrastructure to support agriculture and other employment generating activities, such as small-scale manufacturing and trading. The basic physical infrastructure includes rural roads, water, power, post offices, telephones, market places, bus parks, and informal workers’ sheds.
This effort aims at transforming rural based towns into trade and production centers that are ‘attractive’ to potential migrants from the rural areas. Moreover, the development of infrastructure connecting these centers and other cities with rural hinterlands will increase prospects of growth in rural areas.
In addition to infrastructure, my government will continue to strengthen local authorities to enable them provide competent management to cater for urbanization in their areas of jurisdiction. In this respect, my Government has implemented a programme to cede some of the power wielded by central government ministries and departments to local authorities and the private sector.
Accordingly, the Government legislated the Local Authority Transfer Fund through which 5 percent of national income tax revenues are channeled to local authorities. This arrangement enables local authorities to access about 3 billion shillings every financial year for the improvement of services to urban dwellers.
In addition, all urban authorities are now beneficiaries of the Road Maintenance Levy Fund. Through this Fund, the Kenya Roads Board provides close to 1 billion shillings annually for the routine maintenance of the urban roads network.
We expect urban authorities to utilize these funds efficiently to finance infrastructure development projects that support urbanization and economic development.
Although the farming sector provides livelihoods for our rural communities, a large number of our young people in the rural areas have acquired skills in various trades and continue to seek wage employment opportunities. The Government is therefore promoting the growth of non-farm employment opportunities in rural centers, particularly in the informal sector.
Policies pertaining to the promotion of the informal sector are yielding encouraging results. The sector plays a vital role in the creation of new employment in Kenya. About 70 percent of our labour force is currently employed in the informal sector, and accounts for more than 20 percent of our Gross Domestic Product.
The Government will continue to promote the informal sector through training and skills upgrading programmes, provision of secure worksites and improved physical infrastructure. I also appeal to donor agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations to support the informal sector in accessing finance, appropriate technology and marketing information.
Turning to specific housing interventions, my Government recognizes that the problem of housing in the country requires a huge amount of resources over a long period of time. Currently, 30 percent of Kenya’s population lives in urban areas. Of these, about 60 to 80 percent live in informal settlements.
The housing shortfall has increased over the years from 60,000 units per year in the 1980’s, to an estimated 150,000 units per year. The high demand for residential housing cannot be met through public sector initiatives alone.
The government therefore encourages partnerships with all stakeholders including the local authorities, private developers, foreign investors, employers, housing cooperatives and savings and credit cooperatives to meet the housing shortfall. We have also formulated a national housing policy to guide the process.
As part of this effort, the government and HABITAT initiated the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme. In this programme, the government has chosen to begin with the Kibera settlements. We have chosen Kibera because it is one of the largest informal settlements in Africa. It has an estimated population of 500 thousand, and covers 235 hectares in 12 villages.
The upgrading and improvement of Kibera will have a significant impact on the livelihoods of about one fifth or 20 percent of the population of Nairobi.
I have therefore inaugurated the Slum Upgrading Programme to formally mark its commencement.
The programme is designed to upgrade the living environment of the residents of Kibera by improving access to basic services such as shelter, water and sanitation, education, health, security, employment and income generation opportunities. Other interventions will include regularizing tenure of ownership and the provision of physical and social infrastructure.
The project will be implemented through a people-centered approach that will involve the people of Kibera at all stages of the project life cycle. To this end, a representative Settlement Executive Committee comprising residents of the affected areas has been constituted to work alongside the Government and the Nairobi City Council in the planning and implementation of the project.
In due course, similar committees will be constituted in other villages in Kibera when their areas become due for project planning and implementation.
The Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme was conceptualized in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, and will be implemented in partnership with local organizations and other development partners. I wish to take this opportunity to thank Dr Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT for her vision and support for this project.
I also acknowledge, with thanks, the assistance rendered by the Cities Alliance, the Government of Finland, United Kingdom, Sweden and other development partners for providing us with the initial funds for project planning and preparation.
As we move to the implementation phase of the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme, I appeal to all our friends and development partners to continue supporting this important initiative to ensure its success. Preliminary designs and costing of the houses to be developed in the 5-acre Kibera decanting site have been prepared.
The project will involve the construction of 14 blocks of flats and 770 housing units at a total cost of 650 Million shillings. Apart from providing the land, the Government has budgeted 20 million shillings during this financial year for the project. Further supplementary funding will be availed to facilitate construction of 8 blocks at an estimated cost of 400 million shillings.
The ensuing financing gap means that the other 6 blocks will require alternative funding sources. I appeal to development partners, local companies and organizations to consider financing the construction of at least one block of flats in the spirit of partnership and as part of their contribution to the Millennium Development Goal of improving the livelihoods of those living in informal settlements.
In conclusion, I would like to assure the people of Kibera that the Government is committed to improving their living conditions. Implementation of a project of this magnitude is likely to face numerous difficulties. However, these should always be tackled amicably through dialogue.
Let us therefore ensure proper consultations with the elected leaders, the government and council officials at all stages of implementation of the project. We have an opportunity to transform this place from an eyesore and a shame into a model project that can be duplicated in other parts of the country and the world.
Let us all take full advantage of the existing goodwill to make the slum-upgrading project a success, and Kibera a truly habitable place for all its residents.
THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU ALL.