Rethinking transformative pathways to equitable growth in Kenya: key research options for the Kenya’s Newton Utafiti Fund

Dr. Joanes Atela - African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS)


Kenya has witnessed a proliferation of research interventions on both international and national fronts. The country is a host to renowned research and development agencies such as the CGIARS, UN bodies plus several regional research, advocacy and policy bodies all of which are working to fix Kenya’s and wider Africa’s sustainability challenges.  Through these interventions, efforts have mainly concentrated to unlock technical and economic fixes for transforming livelihoods and economies, whether new agricultural technologies or ‘’robust’’ energy options or even huge infrastructural interventions.  While this approach to research has yielded some benefits including new technological solutions to emerging problems of hunger and energy poverty among others, the transformative value of these interventions remain unclear as most parts of Kenya’s population remain poor, food insecure alongside widening inequality gaps. Recently, there has been growing realization that certain underlying social drivers of change, if addressed, could help unlock the transformative potential of economic and technical fixes to pressing sustainability problems facing Kenya and Africa as a whole.  The launch of the Newton Utafiti Fund on 6-7th March 2017 in Kenya through marks a great turning point for Kenya to rethink and dig deep into some of the underlying social issues that have historically impeded transformations in priority socioeconomic sectors of Kenya.  As such, this blog offers some thoughts around some key areas and opportunities for social research that the Utafiti fund might benefit from.


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Mainstreaming NDCs in SDGs: the role of national innovation systems

By Dr. Joanes Atela

Acknowledgement: This blog was written with the aid of a grant from the International Development Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada

The 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which took place on 7th-22nd November 2016 came on the back of a series of climate negotiations over the last two decades. COP 22 was a landmark event because it represented the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving to negotiate on the implementation of the Paris Agreement – the second climate change agreement after the Kyoto protocol. The Paris Agreement in itself presents a paradigm shift in global climate action especially because it includes developing countries in the efforts to reduce emission and achieve sustainable growth through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). As highlighted in the Marrakech Action Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development, this collective contribution towards - implementing commitments under the NDCs is central to the implementation agenda.   

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Africa’s influence in climate change negotiations is weak!!  Insights from new research

Joanes Atela, Claire Quinn, Albert Arhin, Lalisa Duguma and Kennedy Mbeva

Africa is mentioned in almost every climate change research and policy as the most vulnerable, the most exposed and the most affected continent by climate change.  Global solutions being proposed to tackle climate change whether though adaptation, mitigation, capacity building, financial support are strongly justified around addressing Africa’s vulnerabilities such as hunger, disasters and diseases among others. Because these solutions are expected to work within existing socioeconomic and policy circumstances of African countries, recognising the role of Africa in informing the solutions is very important.  A recently published paper on the Journal of International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Economics and Law, provides some interesting insights into how Africa contributes to the development of climate change policies at the global level and associated implications on implementing proposed solutions within Africa. The article applies the case of the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) which is emerging as a key global policy to mitigate climate change.   The article was authored by researchers drawn from the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins of the World Agroforestry Centre and the Department of Geography at Cambridge University.

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From policy to implementation discourse: Transformations required to achieve clean and sustainable energy in Africa

Dr. Joanes Atela, ACTS


This week from 23rd-27th May, 2016, delegates drawn from across the world are gathered at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi  to participate in the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) to deliberate on the overarching theme ‘ ‘Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’’. I was privileged to speak as a panelist on one of the side events entitled, “Sustainable Energy and Technology”. The event was co-organized by UNEP and ACTS, and drew over 150 participants.  I was asked to speak about the required institutional transformations needed to move to a low carbon economy, and the role that African policy and research institutions can and should play in promoting a low-carbon transition.  Despite the strong policy discourse perpetuated by the international community on the need for clean and sustainable energy for all, Africa has not achieved meaningful transformation to clean and sustainable energy, as evidenced by the continent’s dismal performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), compared to other developing regions.   

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Turning the scholarly pursuit into a development pursuit

By Dr. Joanes Atela, ACTS

In March, researchers, knowledge brokers and funders gathered in Pretoria, South Africa to share lessons and experiences on how a decade of ESRC-DFID research support has impacted on poverty reduction.The Conference came just a few months after the launchSustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These goals articulate the value of research and capacity in accelerating growth and poverty reduction especially in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa where performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was relatively dismal.The three-day conference gathered some interesting perspectives and raised some overarching concerns for the future.    

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