Prof. Collette A. Suda (Secretary, Gender and Social Development of Kenya)

09.12.2010 - Interview conducted by James Hood

Q1. Professor Suda, I would like to begin by asking you what role do you see cultural diplomacy playing in Kenya in order to overcome some of the past ethnic divisions that Kenya has experienced?

As I said in my lecture today, Kenya is a country that is ethnically and culturally diverse. We have 42 different ethnic communities, each with its own cultural traditions. That is a source of our strength.  We see this diversity as a major opportunity to work together as a country. We want to harness the diversity to foster, unity and cohesion for sustainable development in the country and also to strengthen institutional frameworks for peace and reconciliation. I think that cultural diplomacy provides an excellent opportunity to contribute to peace building and dialogue as well as creating partnership opportunities with a number of institutions in Kenya, both in public and private sectors.

Q2. In terms of promoting peace and reconciliation, what role does education play for younger generations so that divisions are not repeated or perpetuated?

It is very important that as a nation we move forward together and have a shared vision of where we want to go. We must heighten awareness of the importance of peace amongst the youth and indeed other members of society. As a country, we need to focus on the things that unite us and strengthen peace education so that the younger generation and, indeed, everyone appreciates the value of living together with other communities peacefully for sustainable development. Without peace we would lose everything and all the gains we have made. This is why it is so important to set up and strengthen institutions that promote peace.

Q3. The main theme of your speech focused on gender issues, a crucial aspect of any development effort. All too often, this important issue is paid lip service but not acted upon. In Kenya, is gender equality being fully implemented not only in the government sector but also in areas of civil society?

Gender equality is obviously essential for sustainable development. There is no real development without female empowerment. They make up half of the human race. The government of Kenya has put in place a lot of policies, programmes and systems to ensure full and effective participation of women in the development process and equitable representation of women in politics at all levels. The new Kenyan constitution which was promulgated on 27th August 2010 is women friendly and has provisions for affirmative action that will increase female participation in national development processes and politics at all levels—from the national level to the devolved governance structures.

Q4. Would you identify anything in particular that needs to be given priority in order to ‘mainstream’ the issue of gender equality?

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development has the responsibility of mainstreaming gender into the national development processes. We have several national gender machineries as well as gender focal points in all the line ministries and state corporations in Kenya. The core mandate of the gender focal points is to ensure that a gender equality perspective is mainstreamed in sector -specific plans, policies, programmes, projects and laws at all levels. Gender mainstreaming is a strategy for achieving the goal of gender equality and the Government of Kenya has identified this issue as one of the drivers of change and development. Within the context of the new constitutional dispensation, this is a step in the right direction. Kenya hosted the continental Launch of the African Women’s Decade (2010 - 2020) in Nairobi between 10 - 15 October, 2010. This meeting brought together senior policy makers, gender researchers and advocates from across Africa to share experiences and good practices in gender equality work and to identify continuing challeges. I had the privilege to chair the National Organising Committee which planned this historic meeting in Nairobi.

Q5. In terms of regional cooperation in East Africa, how important is it for Kenya to engage with other neighbouring countries to promote dialogue and address common issues and would you say that there are now a more open discussion between nations?

We have the East African Community and several protocols which have been signed and ratified. Kenya is in discussions with member states to establish an East African common market and monetary union. These are some of the steps being taken to help the country share practises as well as experiences. Together with countries such as Tanzania and Uganda, we have much to learn from one another. As I have said we will soon be countries without borders and there are many institutional arrangements that are being made to strengthen the cooperation for better trade agreements. This cooperation will give all the countries in the East African region a strong economic platform to engage with other regional economic blocks within the African Union and beyond.

Professor Suda, thank you so much for your time.