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William Samoei Ruto, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of Kenya, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-seventh session.

Global economy a ‘two-lane highway’, says Kenyan President during UN speech

UN Photo/Cia Pak
William Samoei Ruto, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces of Kenya, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-seventh session.

Global economy a ‘two-lane highway’, says Kenyan President during UN speech

UN Affairs

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, William Samoei Ruto, the President of Kenya, described the global economy as an unequal, “two-lane highway”, adding that the lack of global justice and solidarity had been exposed by “existential crisis” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Ruto warned that rising nationalism is undermining collective action and the ability of the international community to guarantee fundamental rights. He argued that, as a consequence, countries of the Global South are calling for global governance to be more democratic and inclusive, as they attempt to get their economies back on track.

Building Back Better, from the Bottom

Invoking the oft-heard phrase “Build Back Better”, Mr. Ruto added a new clause, calling for the global economic recovery to take place from the bottom upwards, by including the marginalised working majority in the economic mainstream.

“The bottom billion,” he said, “relentlessly wage their daily battle for survival in a a crowded arena characterised by scarcity of opportunity and a generally precarious existence.”

He went on to praise the “hustlers” who survive against overwhelming odds, and urged for action to bring them into the mainstream.

Reacting to drought and famine

Turning to the climate crisis, Mr. Ruto noted that droughts and heat waves in Kenya, the scale of which has not been seen in decades, have forced the country to put more focus on famine relief, education support, social protection, and health systems. 3.1 million people in the country are food insecure, he said, as water becomes more scarce, and food prices rise. 

Mr. Ruto recalled that the Stockholm+50 meeting, which commemorated the anniversary of the first UN conference on the human environment in 1972, was co-hosted by Kenya. 

The Kenyan President noted that, at that international meeting, there was consensus from States on the need to act urgently in addressing environmental impacts, yet “little progress has been made in respect of the needful actions”. 
Kenya, he said, is responding to the climate emergency by investing in climate-resilient agriculture, as part of a 10-year strategy for growth in the agricultural sector, which will “continue to hold the key to the creation of equitable and sustainable growth” for the Kenyan people.

This sector, as with others including education and health, is increasingly reliant on digital access and, said Mr. Ruto, offer a “viable shortcut to poverty reduction and the promotion of inclusive development”.

The President called for stronger global partnerships to enhance ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructure in developing countries, in order to bridge the digital divide between the Global South and the rest of the world.

Continued commitment to UN agencies

Kenya is the host nation to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and Mr. Ruto affirmed the “indispensable role” the agencies play in the promotion of environmental sustainability globally, and in developing socially and environmentally sound and sustainable cities.
Mr. Ruto announced that his Government has made more land available for the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), to facilitate the upgrading of its complex.

The Ocean and Blue Economy, declared the President, remain a development priority for Kenya, in the belief that significantly increased investment can end hunger, reduce poverty, create jobs, and spur economic growth.

He reported that Kenya is reviewing its National Blue Economy Strategy to strengthen community structures – in participatory management of freshwater, coastal and marine resources, and ecosystems – and invited development partnerships to invest in Africa towards building capacity to sustainably utilise marine resources. 

Working towards a national vision of the future

Over the past decade, said Mr. Ruto, Kenya has implementing it’s National Vision 2030, a blueprint to transform the country into a “newly-industrialising, upper-middle-income country providing high quality of life to all its citizen in a clean and secure environment by 2030”.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Government, he said, to intervene in the economy in new ways, such as the implementation of an Economic Stimulus Programme, a Covid-19 Economic Recovery Strategy and a Covid-19 Social Economic re-engineering Recovery Strategy, all aimed at mitigating the adverse impacts of the pandemic.

Mr. Ruto went on to point out that support will be necessary from the international community, without which Kenya risks losing its development gains. He asked for additional liquidity and a better “fiscal space,” to enable Kenya to enhance social investment, support climate change adaptation and mitigation, address security needs and resolve development financing challenges.

In addition, the President joined other leaders in calling on multilateral lenders to extend pandemic-related debt relief to the worst hit counties, especially those affected by the devastating combination of conflict, climate change and COVID-19. He also urged the G20 group of leading economies to suspend or reschedule debt repayments by middle-income countries during the pandemic recovery period.

‘Reform the Security Council’

Speaking as the leader of a country that is a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Mr. Ruto declared that Kenya has continued to champion closer cooperation between regional mechanisms and the Security Council as an effective means of achieving international peace and security.

“We are committed to finding a stronger African voice in the Council”, he said, “and achieving a consensus driven, rule-based multilateral system.”

However, he also noted that the Security Council needs to be reformed, to make it more democratic: “given the magnitude and variety of challenges the world continues to confront, a more fit-for-purpose United Nations is urgently needed, that possesses the legitimacy and efficacy in dealing with threats to international peace and security.”

Mr. Ruto went on to lament the failures of multilateralism, with regard to Africa, remarking that the last time that Africa was the focal point of strong and effective multilateral consensus was during the Berlin Conferences of 1884-1885 [which led to imperial European powers effectively divided up much of Africa between them].

“We have an urgent moral duty to do better”, he continued, “and to right this wrong.”
Nevertheless, the President concluded that strengthening multilateralism is the only sustainable path to a peaceful, stable, and prosperous world for all. 

“This is the imperative of our time”, he declared, “and the call of this moment. It is time to work on the trust deficit with stronger conviction that none of us is really safe until all of us are safe”.