Small interventions create big change
- In Kenya, public policy is not based on sound research and sometimes; no research at all.
- Researches from independent research institutions such as KEFRI, KEMRI and Kenya Building Research Institute have been on a decline.
There is an urgent need to shift the country into a knowledge-based economy.
Professor Alfred Omenya’s career as an architect has seen him work for multiple international organisations including the World Bank, UNEP, AU, DFID and UN-Habitat, all on consultancy levels.
What lessons have you drawn from working with international organisations?
Foremost, one has to embrace international best practices as the consultancies require discipline, timeliness, good organisation, high levels of integrity and attention to details. Most of the time, you are serving more than one party and all have to be satisfied by your work.
Are there challenges that the youth are facing today that you did not experience as a young person?
Then, we did not have huge presence of the internet and mobile phones. Youth now have to contend with an overload of information, fake news and cyber bullying, as a result of social media penetration. The result is immense social pressure. On one hand, joblessness has increased, while on the other, lack of skills and experience is making it difficult for the youth to get into self-employment.
Young people in this country suffer as a result of corruption, unemployment and bad politics. Can their confidence in governance be restored?
Youth’s confidence in governance needs to be steered by the political leadership. We need realistic programmes that provide technical skills, financial literacy, building alliances, sustainable livelihoods and effective response to emergencies. On the other hand, the youth need to cultivate an attitude of service. Skill and innovation make the engine that drives rejuvenated individuals and societies.
As a researcher, are you satisfied with the way Kenya utilises recommendations of research findings to spur development in all sectors of the economy?
Kenya has two main challenges in this regard. Public policy is not based on sound research and sometimes; no research at all. Public projects are done at the behest of political leadership rather than sound technical inputs. This makes our economy inefficient and non-competitive. The second problem is that our academic institutions are not producing relevant, applicable and transformative research in right quantities. Also, researches from independent research institutions such as KEFRI, KEMRI and Kenya Building Research Institute have been on a decline. There is an urgent need to shift the country into a knowledge-based economy.
Borrowing from your experience as an environmental architect, what would be the role of young people in mitigating effects of climate change?
In my opinion, the youth have better capacity to understand climate change compared to the older generation. Adaptation and mitigation needs offer the youth opportunities for work. For example, there is potential for work from small initiatives like tree planting, to development and promotion of technologies in water, waste management and renewable energy; to development of mobile apps that can assist farmers respond to climate change and global warming. This way, the youth ought to use their capacity to understand, ability to implement, and conduct advocacy on climate change.
The country has witnessed many structure demolitions in the recent past. As an architect, where do we get it wrong in our construction procedures and plans?
This is because it is based on regulating the professionals but ignores the fact that so many buildings around the country are being put up by unqualified persons. We should shift from regulating people to regulating the built environment. Furthermore, our local development control offices are poorly resourced, both financially and in terms of experts. This weakens their ability to enforce development control. National and county governments should play a facilitative role in enabling people to comply with development controls.
Why do you think the intervention programmes set up to empower Kenyan youth are yet to achieve any meaningful impact?
The lack of youth participation at the design stage is the biggest shortcoming. They are presented with programmes which are sometimes too complex to implement. There is no mentorship and support systems to adequately guide them. Besides, they erroneously assume that all youth are homogeneous with an interest in entrepreneurship. We have also ignored effective models such as the cooperative system that creates wealth through savings.
How can such programmes be revamped for effectiveness?
Technical support and mentorship are critical. Develop programmes that are targeted to youth in different regions and empower them by giving them skills on how to build onto these programmes for their success. We need to establish model youth programmes, in light of lack of capacity for the youth to do these on their own.
What are you most proud of about your youth?
Taking initiatives. In high school, for instance, we wrote, produced and directed our own plays with very limited support from the teachers, participated and won in French Drama Festivals and the National Drama Festivals. I also founded the Afro-Poetry with Tony Mochama. At the University of the Witwatersrand, I designed the extension of the School of Architecture Building. I presented my class project in the World summit on Sustainable Development which birthed Wits Eco-Village. Taking initiative and service drove me then; it still drives me today.
What else do you do besides, your work as an architect?
I am the chairman of a school board, Majengo Secondary School, and an official of my alma matter, the Alliance High School Old Boys Club. I also sit on the board of the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA). For recreation, I take part in the art scene and poetry, travel a lot and read classics.
What book are you currently reading?
I am reading Malcolm Gladwel’s ‘The Tipping Point’. The book explains how well targeted small interventions can cause large scale, unfathomable change.