Statement by Mr. Walid Badawi, UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya, at the launch of the Global Human Development Report 2019

December 17, 2019

UNDP resident Representative Walid Badawi delivers statement at the launch of the 2019 Global Human Development Report in Nairobi (Photo, UNDP Kenya/Nicholas Wilson)


It is an honour to give a statement representing UNDP at this important occasion of the launch of the Human Development Report 2019: “Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century” – a critical topic relevant to the role of UNDP in Kenya – that is to support Kenya to enlarge people’s choices through improving their capabilities, expanding their opportunities and removing the social, cultural or political barriers that may work against them. Being a collaborating partner with the Institute of Development Studies, of the University of Nairobi in launching this report gives me an even greater satisfaction. Let me congratulate the Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi in agreeing to host the launch of the report which was globally launched on 9  December 2019 in Bogota, Colombia with the presence of Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia, Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, and Pedro Conceição, Director, Human Development Report Office and Lead Author of the report.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

The theme of the Human Development Report (HDR) 2019 we are launching today provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the future course of development of Kenya. In addition, the Report provides us with an opportunity to discuss Kenya’s development from a human development perspective - development that is about improving people’s lives. We in UNDP are very passionate about addressing development from a human development perspective.  We believe that people are the real wealth of nations.  We are very happy to see that Kenya has embraced this development paradigm as evidenced by the production of Kenya National Human Development Reports – an initiative which is supported by UNDP.  Most importantly, we at UNDP, and the UN family in Kenya, are guided by the vision 2030, the MTPIII, and the Big Four agenda, and the emerging issues that have been so clearly articulated in the recently launched BBI report that specifically highlight the importance of inclusivity and shared prosperity as solutions to Kenya’s long term sustainability and indeed her human development.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Many of you are aware of the role of UNDP – which is to help countries chart a better development future by improving people’s lives and building resilient nations.  Pursuing human development is about enabling every individual to live a long, healthy, fully functional life; equipped with the knowledge and agency to make choices from a range of accessible alternatives so as to enhance their well-being at every stage of life.

The concept of human development was therefore indeed a paradigm shift in development discourse brought about by the publication of UNDP’s first Global Human Development Report published in 1990 and almost every year ever since.

The reports focus global debate on key development issues, providing new measurement tools, innovative analysis and policy proposals. In addition to the annual production of Global Human Development Reports, UNDP has also produced Regional Human Development Reports in all five geographical regions and has supported countries to analyse and address country specific development challenges through National Human Development Reports.  To date, more than 650 such publications have been prepared, including 7 thus far in Kenya and a planned 8th one next year.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

The theme of this year’s Human Development Report that we are launching today is a pertinent one. It sets out that despite unprecedented progress against poverty, hunger and disease, systemic inequalities are deeply damaging our society, and it analyses why. Going beyond income, the report looks at vast disparities in power and opportunity that are cementing the divide between the haves and the have-nots. The report points out that gaps in basic capabilities – such as child mortality and primary education are narrowing albeit slowly. In contrast, the report shows divergence in enhanced capabilities. In areas such as tertiary education, life expectancy at higher age or broadband connection, gaps between the most advantaged groups and those at the bottom of the distribution are increasing. For instance, in countries with very high human development, the proportion of adults with tertiary education is growing more than six times faster and subscriptions to fixed broadband are growing 15 times faster than in countries with low human development.

The report looks at inequalities in human development with a new lens.  As its title suggest, it looks at:

  • beyond income – at profound inequalities in human development – human capabilities especially health and education.
  • beyond averages – to paint a more nuanced view of inequality as averages hide what is really going on in society.
  • beyond today – at the potential effects on inequality of climate change and technology.

The report shows that inequality begins even before birth, arguing that early childhood and lifelong investment are essential. Disadvantages in health and education (of one’s parents and one’s own) interact and often compound over a lifetime. Gaps open before birth, starting with the “birth lottery” of where children happen to be born, and can widen over the years. Children from poor families may not be able to afford an education and are at a disadvantage when they try to find work. These children are likely to earn less than those in higher income families when they enter the labour market, when penalized by compounding layers of disadvantage.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

A separate chapter on gender inequality shows a similar pattern in this most persistent form of inequality. While significant progress has been made to reduce gender inequality in the 20th century, this progress has concentrated on basic capabilities (such as access to health and education, or the right to participate in the political system). By comparison, with enhanced capabilities – for instance leadership roles in politics and business – gender inequality seems to be much stickier due to deeply entrenched gender norms and power imbalances.

At the very time when progress is meant to be accelerating to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the report’s 2019 Gender Inequality Index says progress actually is slowing.

In a new index on social biases around gender constructed for this HDR, about 42 per cent of people surveyed across 77 countries said they thought that men made better business executives.  Therefore, policies that address underlying biases, social norms and power structures are key. For example, policies to balance the distribution of care, particularly for children, are crucial, given that much of the difference in earning between men and women throughout their lifecycle is generated before the age of 40.

 Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good measurement and data influences policies. The report calls for a revolution in metrics in order to access inequalities in human development. Despite the entrenched role of inequality and the sometimes deliberate, sometimes unintended exclusion of certain groups of children and adults (due to their gender, ethnicity, wealth, location, etc), information on group inequalities are often ignored and sometimes not available.

The report suggests that the experience of some countries shows that growing inequality is neither destiny nor a necessary price to pay for economic growth. Policy makes a difference. Addressing the multiple dimensions of inequality must involve universal provisions of quality health services, access to tertiary education, well paid work and a retirement to look forward to. This should be supported by integrated, equalizing solutions that start early and span what one could argue are three key stages of a person’s life.

  • before they reach the labour market, to address nutritional, health and educational gaps between children and youth;
  • once in the labour market, to harness the power of labour, industrial, gender and anti-trust policies to level the playing field;
  • and after the market, to make sure taxes, transfers and subsidies equalize the opportunities between the haves and have nots.

    Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
    We at UNDP are committed to pressing the frontiers of development such that no-one is left behind; to accelerating local action for global change while pushing the boundaries in how we think, deliver, invest and manage to drive progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We are proud to say that UNDP interventions in Kenya help to address poverty, inequality and exclusion by supporting communities and government through innovative sustainable interventions for inclusive human development and economic growth through the Country Programme Document (CPD 2018-22) under three main priorities: (i) Governance, Peace and Security; (ii) Inclusive Growth and Structural Transformation; and (iii) Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change and Resilience which is fully aligned to the UNDAF (2018-2022). We are also excited to announce that we will leverage our SDGs integrator role to bring together other UN agencies to design and facilitate relevant opportunities and platforms accessible to young people as key drivers for infusing innovative approaches and thinking in development through our Accelerator Lab which will focus on youth employment and empowerment.

    With these few remarks, let me conclude by wishing you all a very fruitful launch of the HDR 2019.

    Asenteni Sana