faith in action

A Kenyan Reflection and Story of Faith at the United Nations Civil Society Conference in Nairobi, Kenya

Teresiah Gitau, from Kenya, offers her experience at the Conference and the impact it had on her. Ms. Gitau serves as project director of WEMA Health Foundation and she attended the conference under accreditation from Church and Society.

Kenya conference 2

The Invitation

On 17th March 2024, the Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs for the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) of the United Methodist Church (UMC), the Rev. Dr. Liberato (Levi) Bautista, hereby referred to as Dr. Bautista writes an email with gratitude towards a near future connection with me in Nairobi. He alerts that there would be a UN Civil Society Conference (UNCSC) in Nairobi on May 9-10, 2024 that he requested I attend and guided on registration details. He signs off with “In Christ’s peace” salutation.

But how does one prepare to go for a UN type of meeting? I was clearly confused and asked myself since I had never attended one. I was not in peace at all and could almost not sleep a wink when I thought about it. This is how it started weeks before the actual meeting. I decided to be intentional about the event since I rarely treat situations as mere coincidences. I made the event one of my prayer points during my daily 4:00 AM prayers to specifically seek the Lords face in it.

My feelings kept oscillating from being excited to being perplexed since I had never attended such a high-profile event. I kept asking myself what is expected of me before, during and after the event. I decided break the pin drop silence about what was going on in my mind. We continued the conversation with Dr. Bautista behind our keyboards where we started planning on how we would participate in the upcoming UNCSC meeting.

Our communication on email had a worrying tone from my side. I sometimes had to go to WhatsApp and ask for clarification thanks to technology we can always reach each other at the click of a button on our phones. Dr. Bautista somehow felt the anxiety I had from miles away and decided to calm me with inquiries about the distance from the hotel they would be staying with colleagues to the UN event venue and preconference venues. Meanwhile the country was raining cats and dogs and we had very heavy floods and deaths due to heavy rains in some parts of Kenya.

The next time we communicated was days to the event nearing as I still asked of what is expected of me? Dr. Bautista informed me “ Here’s to looking forward to meeting you in Nairobi on Wednesday, we will meet over breakfast and leave at 7:45 AM for UNON. Make sure you bring a government issued-ID and a printed copy of the approved registration issued by the UN.”

The UNCSC event was to be held at the UN grounds also known as the United Nations Office Nairobi (UNON). This is the headquarter of the UN in Africa and one the most prestigious places that we as development practitioners dream to work with and from.

Dr. Bautista and me at a briefing meeting Levi and Gitau From the itinerary, Dr. Bautista had alerted me that we were to meet a day before and plan about the event days. I joined him and two other colleagues in the hotel they had put up. We had a morning catch up and took off for the UN offices to pick badges. The experience was profound it was my first time to get into the grounds and it felt great to be introduced to other participants especially women, “ This is so and so and she is the head of global communication office at the UN in New York” said Dr. Bautista, maybe oblivious of what it meant to me as a woman in Africa where patriarchy is deeply entrenched in our structures and birthing inequalities that we fight to date.

It confirmed that my dreams are valid as a woman. Surprisingly, picking the badges was the shortest time I have ever used to be served in a queue since the other times it is always at a pace slower than a snail. I think my kinsmen serving at the counters were behaving their best too and were braced for the beehive of activities in the next days. Communication from the conference organizers confirmed that 2158 participants from 115 nationalities and over 1400 organizations from all over the world were present to take part in the discussions and activities. We were given priority and within no time we were out of the UNON with our badges and heading to the pre-conference venue at Westlands.

Pre-conference Venue

Earlier on, I took initiative before the event to read about the event online and get a hunch about it. I came to understand the why, what and how it was necessary to have it. Apparently, half way through the timeline, the world is not yet on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also referred to as the global goals to be achieved by 2030. The situation is impacting in the worst manner among the most vulnerable of the world thus in September 2024, there will be a Summit of the Future to be held as a chance for world leaders to put their constituents on a better path.

But before then, the Pact of the Future action-oriented document has to be drafted through negotiations and endorsement by countries before the Summit in September 2024. The UNCSC event that we were to attend was an accelerator event contributing in Pact of the Future document that would be used in the Summit to enable the world with better readiness to manage current and future challenges for humanity and future generations.

To some extent delving into the background, it reminded me of my life before, during and after knowing Christ. With the before life being where situations internally and externally were more of chaos, not aligning and not knowing whether I was coming or going. I felt like I was standing in ruins not aware of where to start or end. Until that landmark moment came and I came to know Him and what He is capable of… and now after knowing Him, even though all my ducks are not in the same row. There is hope that He is working out things perfect for me who is called according to His purpose.

The time I had waited forever had come. “Does anyone know where Pride inn Azure is?” asked Dr. Bautista. “We are going there.” he added. His male colleague who was our tech guy in the navigation with my support as the local person key in and the Uber driver heads to the venue. Only to get there and find that there were two Pride Inns venues. Dr. Bautista calls upon for direction from the main organizing group on Whatsapp and we are directed and get there on time, register and get ready to start.

The moment of my worries was being unveiled. We got into the pre-conference room and the world being a global village I meet with my former classmate in development class and my best friend. We are so excited and I introduce her to my guests. Local civil society organisations (CSOs) from all over Kenya had gathered there for sharing and dialogue. The idea as explained by my guest was since not all organizations could be at the UN grounds on the actual event days, this would serve as a meeting to enable interaction before the bigger event.

“We cannot be all in one meeting, there are several meeting rooms and we can share among us” suggested Dr. Bautista.

A section of the youth attending “The Blast” at Conference kenya youth I realize that my being in the meeting had started becoming a reality. I chose to go to the room where the youth meeting was. “The youth blast” was the title of the meeting, going by the name, Africa’s population has 40% youth while Kenya the youth account for over 70% of the population. The room with youth was full to the brim and some had even spill over outside.

The hunger to know what goes on in such meetings could only be satiated when i get in there and get to see or at least understand what was happening. I manage to press in though rubbing shoulders with those standing on both sides of the way towards the front of the room. I could see their eyes pierce my back and their mouths almost asking where I was going yet I can see there is no space. In my soliloquy I also told myself if this was during the COVID pandemic would everyone in that room would have been arrested for not observing social distance.

Members of Civil Society Organizations at pre-conference meeting kenya conference members

Any way, I managed to get in and I could see the speakers. The discussion was very lively. In a few seconds I had acclimatized to the crowding and lack of enough air in the room. The discussion was absorbing and fierce contributing to the Africa we want and the UN we need. To a large extent attending the pre-conference was a game changer since the whole process kept unveiling the mystery I had about the whole event.

Over lunch hour we sat on tables based on the topics of choice which included themes in the Summit of the Future. By 5:00 PM we were done with the discussion, taking tea and ready for the next day.

“The UN meeting is the main one and intense and it will involve more CSO actors” Dr. Bautista informs. Now a bit relaxed because I had a clue about what to somehow expect.

“Tomorrow there will be Pact workshops and in the second day ImPact coalitions” Dr. Bautista goes on explaining. The conversation was now flowing because during the youth meeting the briefing had been done about the 2 days and Dr. Bautista was clarifying the same. I felt like am now fully in the system ready for the big 2 days.

Pact Workshops

9th May 2024 in the morning. At the entrance to the conference area the conference branding and the salutation “Karibuni” read, i.e., Swahili word for “welcome” in plural.

Finally, the day came. I was literally among the first ones to arrive, precisely the first at the breakfast room. Interestingly too, a lady who had not attended the pre-conference the previous day came in very confused about how to go about the day. I told myself “Ask no more, I will take you through the day.” I had become a veteran within the previous day. We confidently navigated through the UNCSC website online, explaining how it would happen in the two days. I had evolved, I could tell where the rooms (1-13) are since I had arrived early enough to know the geography.

Fast forward, we decide to start with the opening session event in room 2,3,4 that involved everyone before going to the breakout rooms. Most of our local events in Kenya start with the national anthem and where regional partners are involved, the East African anthem is sung.

The Kenya national anthem first stanza belted……
O God of all creation,
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender,
May we dwell in unity,
Peace and liberty.
Plenty be found within our borders.

Followed by the East African anthem………
Oh God we pray,
For preservation of the East African community,
Enable us to live in peace,
May we fulfill our objectives.

The UNCSC meeting which has never held in Africa, though the 69th UN meeting it was heavy since the outcome of its recommendation would contribute to the UN general assembly in September 2024 this year in New York. The panel comprised intergenerational participants and over 70% of participants attending were from Africa while 40% of the participants were youth.

The opening session led to the breakout rooms that were to explore through 38 onsite workshops supporting the following themes of the Summit of the Future:

  1. Sustainable development and financing for development
  2. International Peace and Security
  3. Science, technology and innovation and digital cooperation / The Global Digital Compact
  4. Youth and Future Generations / The Declaration on Future Generations
  5. Transforming global governance

Ambassadors, diplomats from New York, Nairobi and other capitals and UN leaders were part of the conference participants too. There were 4 plenary and interactive sessions, 62 offsite and online sessions during the conference. Various organizations onsite also displayed their work in 64 exhibition booths.

ImPact Coalitions

There were 20 ImPact coalitions formed and the meetings took place on the second day, 10th May 2024 in Nairobi. The coalitions had been registered previously by stakeholders that included Member States, civil society, academia, think tanks, foundations, and the private sector, to champion, act on, and push forward specific issue areas or big-ticket reforms proposed in the Pact workshops. These coalitions sought to both raise the ambition of the Pact for the Future and see through its implementation and action.

During the morning hours we convened in Room 10 for a faith-based meeting and got to know each other. The meeting had been called by Dr. Bautista, who was also our leader and it was important since connections and networking with like-minded participants went on.

One of the outcomes is the ease in communication among participants in the Whatsapp group and towards the ImPact coalition meeting and beyond. I participated in the Arts, Culture and Faith-based solutions coalition in the afternoon which was consensually agreed to be split into two. I remained in the faith-based solutions coalition which advocated for the chapeau to mention the role of faith-based actors in the Summit of the Future.

The day ended with a closing session which was attended by the UN chief secretary general (UNCSG) Antonio Guterres and the president of Kenya his excellency Dr. Willliam Ruto. The UNCSG reiterated that contribution by CSOs cannot be undermined due to their contribution to networked and effective multilateralism is to be recognized and not a token or an afterthought. It was also a triumph by Kenyan CSOs and those that would want to work in Kenya from outside as President Ruto delivered the good news of signing the operationalizing the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act which had taken over a decade to be made operational.

We look forward to the post-Conference Town Hall meeting on 31st May at the UN headquarters in New York and the continued engagement and advocacy to raise the ambition and accountability of the Pact for the Future, the Global Digital Compact and the Declaration for Future Generations all which are envisioned parts of the Summit of the Future in September 2024.

UNCSC Conference Attendees Kenyan conference room

It was such an honour and privilege to share space with such prominent persons. Surprisingly too, the whole event and room setting brought out a fulfilled vision I had put on my vision board on 10th October 2023. I prayed for purpose boldness to contribute in spaces where I will speak in places of influence such as the UNCSC event that involved nations. Truly He means it when He says I will give you nations………, you will speak to kings and princes….., and write our your vision and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it for the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie.

The event was a dream and my sincere gratitude goes to the GBCS, the UMC and Dr. Bautista with a heart of gold too for the opportunity of a lifetime that could not have come in a better way without their hand through God.