Kenya will this year host a critical global conference whose outcome is expected to define the way forward on how human beings relate with the world’s largest natural resource: Water bodies.
The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference (SBEC), slated for November 26-28 in Nairobi, will be a build-up meeting for a more comprehensive international one the country intends to co-host with Portugal in 2020, dubbed the Global Blue Economy Conference.
The Blue Economy refers to the place, role, opportunities and challenges offered by water bodies.
And considering that oceans, seas, lakes and other water bodies occupy more than three quarters of the earth’s surface, we are, in essence, looking at a forum that will bring together global policy makers and leaders to discuss and decide the best way the human community can benefit more from the natural resource.
Water means a lot for Kenyans. We are gifted with one of the world’s largest oceans on one side of the country and the second-largest fresh water lake in the continent on the other.
The Indian Ocean, whose shores traverse six African counties, gives Kenya many opportunities and places it at a strategic position than many countries.
Lake Victoria, on the western end, is pride enough for 14 other counties and has the potential to generate enough revenues to finance our Sh3 trillion Budget if well exploited.
It is imperative to note that key among those expected at the conference are ministers in charge of dockets under which oceans, seas and the environment fall as well as those watching over economies and tourism.
But more importantly, for Kenya’s sake, is the presence governors of counties directly facing water bodies.
Hopefully, the governors of Busia, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya and Migori have drawn up proposals on opportunities and challenges Lake Victoria poses to their counties to present at the conference.
Executives of the coastal counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Tana River also ought to be on the overdrive putting facts together for their governors.
The meeting will provide a critical forum for the governors of these counties — some of which, coincidentally, also are among the poorest in the country — to brainstorm on how to tackle poverty in their regions. This is likely to be achieved through effective utilisation of marine resources.
Hopefully, the conference will also give a chance for Kenya and Uganda to sort out the issues that affect the fishing communities around, and in, Lake Victoria before they escalate to full-blown conflicts.
It is important that this happens so that the women and men who rely on fishing can earn their living in peace.
And here is where the critical issue of women’s empowerment comes in. Women in the counties where fishing is the main economic mainstay have always borne the brunt of the retrogressive tradition that prohibits them from doing the actual fishing and relegates them to hopeless dependency, pushing many of them to exploitative and abusive trading practices — including the infamous sex for fish.
Now, in a bid to improve their lives and those of their families, women groups in Homa Bay, Migori and Kisumu counties are taking charge of the business and going the whole hog to wade in the waters — literally — and do the real fishing.
In Homa Bay, for instance, some women have formed an organisation through which they have bought two boats so far and are using them to go into the lake, do their own fishing, sell the fish and plough back the proceeds for further investment in more fishing gear.
Their peers in Migori and Kisumu, it is said, are following suit.
It is groups such as these and county governments should help by creating a conducive environment for their businesses.
This includes dealing with harmful human activities in and around oceans, lakes and even rivers, managing the environment and reducing pollution, which threatens marine life.
Among the areas the conference will look at go hand in hand with the ‘Big Four’ agenda — which may explain why President Uhuru Kenyatta was very passionate about the Blue Economy at the recent G7 Summit in Quebec, Canada.
As the participants prepare for the conference, improving the wellbeing and standards of living of the people must be the driving force.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene