faith in action

United Nations Held Its Annual Civil Society Conference in Nairobi Kenya

The Conference united civil society leaders and representatives from over 1,400 organizations worldwide.

Kenya conference 1

Nairobi, Kenya — Two weeks ago, in the aftermath of catastrophic floods in Kenya that resulted in tragic loss of life and displaced communities, the United Nations convened its annual Civil Society Conference May 9th and 10th.

The Conference united civil society leaders and representatives from over 1,400 organizations worldwide. The distinguished presence of His Excellency President William Ruto of Kenya and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted the event’s significance as a critical platform for civil society organizations to influence global policy.

The conference had extensive participation of African civil society representatives (comprising over 70% of attendees) and youth (over 40% under 35). The gathering offered an opportunity for civil society organizations from around the world to voice their perspectives on a variety of issues, including “The Zero Draft of the Pact for the Future” document.

The “Pact for the Future” document outlines the commitments and strategies for addressing global challenges, to be agreed upon by intergovernmental negotiations and adoption at the Summit of the Future, held at the United Nations Headquarters September 22 and 23, 2024. The Pact aims to establish international cooperation on issues such as sustainable development, peace, security, and human rights.

Liberato Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and co-author Esther Adhiambo, Executive Director of the Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND), delivered their rapporteur’s report at the Conference.

Bautista and Adhiambo’s plenary report challenged the chapeau of the Zero Draft of the Pact for the Future, urging global leaders and civil society to move beyond symbolic commitments into substantive action.

The rapporteur’s report cast a critical eye on the current iteration of the chapeau, the introductory section of the Zero draft, likening it to a “multilateral fashion statement” rather than a robust framework capable of tackling deep-rooted issues such as slavery, colonialism, racism, and sexism.

Bautista and Adhiambo scrutinized the text’s lack of funding strategies, essential for ensuring inclusivity in addressing pressing global challenges such as poverty, hunger, inequality, armed conflicts, displacement, climate change, and technological impacts.

“While the Pact for the Future acknowledges poverty as a significant barrier to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Chapeau and other sections fail to address the substantial drain defense spending has on resources to fund social safety nets to address hunger and poverty,“ said Bautista.

“Budgets are moral documents. As such, they indicate the priorities of governments and multilateral institutions. The Zero Draft must demonstrate what drains the national and multilateral coffers of the necessary resources to fund the elimination of hunger and eradicating poverty, which presents an ethical dilemma,” Bautista added.

Furthermore, their report questioned why the “war on poverty” does not receive the same level of funding as other wars. It asserted that the chapeau holds strategic significance in the draft as a platform to envision a future without war and its instruments, echoing the sentiment of the conference attendees: “Welfare, not warfare; social justice, not charity.”

Teresiah Gitau from Kenya, who serves as project director of WEMA Health Foundation, also attended the conference under Church and Society accreditation. Read her reflections about the Conference here.

In their closing remarks, Bautista and Adhiambo advocated for the Pact to establish precise mechanisms for compliance and accountability to prevent it from becoming a set of “business-as-usual reaffirmations. They described the Nairobi conference as representing a “kairos”—a momentous occasion to turn the excess of fear today into an abundance of hope for tomorrow.

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