During the virtual meet of the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly, the world’s top environmental decision-making authority, Kenya emerged as a leader in the crusade against plastic pollution becoming the first among East African countries to sign the Clean Seas Initiative and curb usage of single-use plastics.
Last year, the country was lauded for banning plastic cups, bottles, and cutlery in its national parks. This was followed up by a nationwide ban on plastic bags. The country’s efforts to prevent the flow of plastic into its water bodies were also admired as it was deemed an important step in reducing marine litter. Juliette Biao, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Regional Director for Africa, said “Kenya has invested heavily in both policies and law enforcement to win the fight against plastic pollution. The result of this investment is today, boosting Kenya’s environmental stewardship in Africa and the world.” Kenya has a coast of 1420km along the Indian Ocean, dotted with plastic waste for a very long time. The country’s second-largest city, Mombasa, accounts for an annual discharge of 3.7 kilos of plastic per capita into the surrounding water bodies. The plastic ban is considered a crucial step towards ensuring marine health in and around the country.
The Green Pioneer
Kenya has a system of “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach, where the national and deputed local governments work in association with communities, the private sector as well as international giants such as the UNEP. Together, a plastic waste management program has been developed, one that could be applied to African communities beyond the borders. In addition to banning plastic items in conservation areas, public places, and tourist destinations, the country was also prompt in adopting Green University Initiative. Universities in the country have pledged to conserve greenery in their campuses by engaging students and learning. Subjects such as environmental policy management, sustainability, and resource management have also been introduced in the curriculum to encourage a general feeling of safeguarding the environment among the young generation.
The Way Forward
Introducing sustainability as a core value in nation-building can help power economic growth, alleviate poverty and create jobs. Ever since PET bottles and polyethylene bags were outlawed, the investment in plastic recycling has increased and major companies have chimed in to make stakeholder engagements. By demonstrating recycling to the local communities, general awareness about the 3R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) has been successfully established. The government is currently looking to tap into possible sustainable innovations and job creation in tourism and agriculture- the country’s largest industries.
The journey towards a sustainable economy can also incorporate the maritime assets of the country. Jobs can be specifically created to ensure the well-being of the ocean ecosystem to spur growth towards a blue economy. In the US $22 billion generated along the coastal regions of the Western Indian Ocean, Kenya accounts for the US $4.4 billion annually. To ameliorate the above figure, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta developed policies to mobilize the potential of the country’s coastlines and alleviate the threat to marine life.
The country has also laid down a long-term development blueprint named Vision 2030 which is implemented through 5-year Medium Term Plans and is currently implementing Sustainable Development Goals in its economic strategy. To empower the citizens, high-level political commitment is ensured and policies focusing on education, employment, social security, financial inclusion, and gender sensitization are in place. The road ahead demands sheer determination and commitment, which is already visible in the environmental stewardship that Kenya displays.
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