National coordination challenge for RCEs in Kenya

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

National coordination challenge for RCEs: Lessons from Kenya
Gothenberg GUPES presentation4
Author: Dr Ayub Macharia Ndaruga, National Environment Management Authority, Nairobi
Globally, the number of Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs) has been growing exponentially and totaled 129 in April 2014. Most countries are proud to have more than one RCE acknowledged by UNU. Every day new applications are processed and its expected that the number of RCEs will continue to increase. Kenya is proud to have a total of 9 RCEs of which 5 have been acknowledged by the United Nation’s University (UNU). This is the highest number per country in Africa.
The establishment of these RCEs has been directed and can be partly attributed to the national coordination role played by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). This national coordination role is enshrined in the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (1999) that establishes NEMA and consequently RCEs have been integrated in the corporate strategy and workplan of the institution. National coordination entails many interventions, which include RCE mapping, policy makers lobbying, support for stakeholder mobilization, project realignments, dialogue meetings and forums, mentoring and conflict resolution mechanisms.
NEMA has invested heavily in RCE activities over the years. These activities are routine at NEMA and staff have been tasked and resourced to fulfill these roles. The 9 RCEs have established the Kenya National RCE Network with its own governance structure.
National RCE coordination also comes with a lot of challenges such as lack of adequate funding, commitment from partners and inadequate activities at the grassroot level. NEMA has put in place mechanisms to address these challenges. Development of appropriate supporting national ESD policy has been a major preoccupation by NEMA in spearheading the work of RCEs. The National ESD Policy has been developed and ESD mainstreamed in diverse legislation passed by parliament. These policies will be instrumental in helping RCEs engage fully in ESD post 2014.
This paper presents Kenya’s RCE journey and plans beyond the DESD.
Key words: RCEs, national coordination, post 2014.
The global community has been implementing education for sustainable development (ESD) for the last two decades. The ESD concept was first described in great detail in 1992 with Agenda 21 reserving a whole chapter 36 on this aspect. The concept elaborated 4 thrusts to spearhead achievement of ESD which includes (1) improve basic education, (2) reorient existing education to address sustainable development, (3) develop public understanding, awareness, and (4) training.
Since 1992, countries have made efforts to mainstream ESD in educational policies and practices. Progress on ESD implementation was considered in 2002 during the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development and countries felt that there was need to upscale interventions. In this respect, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the period between 2005-2014 as the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. UNESCO was appointed as the lead institution to spearhead ESD and UNDESD interventions. In 2005, UNESCO released a document titled “UNDESD Plan of Implementation” as a blueprint guide to countries (UNESCO, 2005). The UNESCO document identified 8 strategies for ESD implementation one of which is establishment of RCEs.
RCEs and their contribution to SD
The United Nations University (UNU) called for the development of Regional Centres of Expertise on ESD (RCEs) for the promotion of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). An RCE is a network of existing formal, non-formal and informal education organizations, mobilized to deliver education for sustainable development (ESD) to local and regional communities. A network of RCEs worldwide will constitute the Global Learning Space for Sustainable Development. RCEs aspire to achieve the goals of the UNDESD 2005-2014, by translating its global objectives into the context of the local communities in which they operate. RCE networks address local sustainable development challenges through research and capacity development (see
RCEs are acknowledged by the UNU based on recommendations of the Ubuntu Committee of Peers for the RCEs, which consists of signatories of the Ubuntu Declaration signed in 2002. Institutions aspiring to become RCEs have to develop a document on local sustainability challenegs they wish to address to support their application for consideration by UNU.
RCEs aspire to achieve the goals of the DESD by translating its global objectives into the context of the local communities in which they operate. RCEs act as a catalyst for institutions that promote ESD through formal, non-formal and informal education. They also provide suitable platforms to share information and experiences and to promote dialogue among regional stakeholders through partnerships for sustainable development. They also develop regional knowledge bases to support ESD and promote its goals in a resource effective manner. This can be achieved through the delivery of training programmes, by facilitating research into ESD, through public awareness raising, and by increasing the quality and access to ESD in the region (see
Establishment of RCEs in Kenya
NEMA has played a pivotal role in establishment of RCEs in Kenya. Indeed, its NEMA that sensitized and encouraged the RCEs to get established. As explained later, NEMA does act as the regulator for RCEs ensuring that not every institution that intends to initiate an RCE does it. Rather, through RCE mapping NEMA identifies the institutions to host the RCEs and targets them for awareness and further guidance on the same. Hence, RCE establishment in Kenya is directed and based on the mapping exercise done by NEMA. Once identified, NEMA proceeds to announce to the institution as an RCE. NEMA also encourages the institution to proceed and apply to UNU for recognition. To actualize RCE recognition by UNU, NEMA provides technical and financial support. The stages involved in RCE establishment in Kenya are discussed in greater detail below.
RCE Mapping
NEMA has spearheaded ESD implementation in Kenya since 2003 when the process of development of ESD Implementation Strategy was initiated (NEMA, 2008). The establishment of RCEs is one of the strategies of ESD implementation adopted by Kenya (NEMA, 2008). To support RCE establishment, NEMA influence their establishment through national mapping. The RCE mapping is guided by the following considerations

  1. Ensuring that RCEs are equitably scattered to cover the whole country
  2. Ensuring that there are no overlaps in regions covered by the RCEs
  3. Ensuring that proper mobilization of stakeholders was done

Through RCE mapping, NEMA considers Kenya to have a potential of 11 RCEs. 9 RCEs are currently in place of which 5 have been acknowledged by United Nations University (UNU).
NEMA advices institutions that wish to initiate new RCEs. For instance Kisii University wished to start an RCE but was advised not to do so since the university was located within the area covered by RCE Nyanza. JKUAT also wished to start an RCE and even captured the intention within their institutional ESD Policy (JKUAT, 2011) but was advised not to do so since they fall within RCE Greater Nairobi. Karatina University was also advised not to initiate a new RCE since they fell within the region covered by RCE Central. This initiative helps RCEs to invest their energy more appropriately .
Besides advising against establishment of new RCEs in areas covered by others, NEMA also takes time to assist the institutions to find areas of partnership with the existing RCEs.  We have in many instances been asked to advice on how institutions could work with each other and this has contributed to strengthening of these partnerships.
Policy makers lobbying
The process of RCE mapping helps to identify institutions to take lead in RCE coordination. NEMA has generally preferred universities as RCE coordinators since they have enhanced capacity in terms of diversity of competences. Once identified, NEMA’s first task is to strategize on how to disclose the news to senior managers of the proposed host institution.
NEMA writes letters to the Vice Chancellors of the host institutions requesting for an appointment. This is followed with telephone calls. The visit to host institution is led by the CEO and in his absence, Director in charge of Environmental Education, Information and Public Participation Department. In the letter, emphasis is made on need to meet the senior managers/policy makers of the university. During the meeting, NEMA makes presentations on the concept of RCEs and how the university can take lead in its coordination. Most institutions received the request to host an RCE positively.
Some institutions went ahead to request NEMA to organize a second meeting for more senior staff members such as the members of university senate to sensitize them on ESD and RCE. In some instances, the universities appointed a team to be trained further so as to champion the RCE establishment and operation.
Lobbying for RCEs has been done in the following institutions over the years

  1. Maseno University
  2. Pwani University
  3. Maasai Mara University
  4. Dedan Kimathi University
  5. Egerton University
  6. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT)
  7. Kenya Methodist University
  8. University of Eldoret
  9. Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development

The overall picture is that all Kenyan RCEs (except Kenyatta University and Masinde Murilo University) have benefitted from NEMA lobbying of the policy makers.
In some instances, besides establishment of the RCE, it led to development of institutional ESD policies at JKUAT, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and Pwani University.
Support for stakeholder mobilization
Most host institutions see the RCE concept as relatively new. The initial perception is that NEMA would bring money to fund these initiatives or ask partners to send money to the host institution. The heads of host institutions have complained of not having funds to support the RCEs. In this regard, some host institutions have only provided an office and a computer and no other resources for the RCE. This is a challenge since there is need for regular meetings for stakeholders to exchange ideas and plan the way forward for the RCEs. NEMA has observed that some RCEs never hold these meetings and hence the RCEs are relatively inactive.  Lack of stakeholder engagements would hinder realization of the aspirations of the RCEs.
To address this challenge, NEMA has come up with a support programme for the RCEs. In this regard, NEMA has for the last two years set aside funds specifically to support meetings for RCE stakeholders (see Table 1). Each RCE has a kitty of funds, which is disbursed through the regional staff of NEMA who have been given this task in their formal workplan. This ensures that there is an officer responsible to make sure that RCEs take this issue seriously and implement it.
Project realignments
To ensure that the RCEs are active, NEMA has realigned implementation of its workplan activities to enhance more involvement of the RCEs. In this regard, the Department of EEIPP of NEMA has been instrumental in channeling projects through RCEs and lobbying other Departmental Directors to do the same. Since this aspect has succeeded at NEMA, there are plans to lobby other institutions to adopt a similar model. Some of the projects that are being run by RCEs include

  1. Ngong dumpsite waste management project run by RCE Greater Nairobi
  2. Ideal ESD primary and secondary school run by RCE Greater Nairobi
  3. Biodiversity access and benefit sharing run by RCE Greater Pwani through its botanical garden.
  4. Climate change education run by RCE Mau

Other RCEs are being encouraged to develop similar bankable projects that are aligned to NEMA’s corporate strategy in order to attract funding from NEMA.
Dialogue meetings and forums
One of the strategies for ESD implementation is stakeholder consultation and ownership (UNESCO, 2005). This is one of the strategies that have been prioritized by NEMA. As mentioned earlier, NEMA sets aside money to fund each RCE for stakeholder mobilization meetings. This ensures that forums for collaboration are provided and there is continued dialogue among the RCEs.
However, it is crucial to note that the NEMA officer only facilitates the meeting and it is the onus of the RCE governance structure to convene and run the meeting. Hence NEMA does not take over the running of the meeting and only ensures that it is held and appropriate stakeholders are mobilized. This way NEMA plays a coordination role where experiences from other RCEs are brought onboard in organizing successive meetings. The role of the national coordination helps to ensure that lessons learnt from each RCE is ploughed back to ensure success of subsequent engagements.
It has been noted that NEMA field officers have opted to participate in meetings organized by other RCEs in order to learn how they would conduct their regional meetings. Hence the regional meetings tend to become better every day due to injection of new experiences.
RCE mentoring
As indicated earlier, NEMA engaged in mapping of RCEs for the whole country including suggesting institutions that could host the RCEs. This is in line with NEMAs mandate of coordination all environmental interventions nationally. After mapping the RCEs, NEMA engages in visits to the senior management of the host institution to explain the RCE concept and seek their buy in to host and steer the RCE. The meeting is normally followed by training of more staff of the hosting institution to establish a critical mass of human resource to steer the RCE.
Once the proposed host institution agrees to host the RCE, NEMA proceeds to proclaim it as an RCE, but also advise them to initiate a process to get acknowledged bu UNU. NEMA has a programme of supporting RCEs to get accredited by UNU. This is done through a mentorship programme whereby those RCEs that are accredited are facilitated to travel to the new upcoming RCEs to train them and help in developing the appropriate documentation to send to UNU to support their application. NEMA captures this funding in the annual workplan (see Table 1).
Hence the staff from existing acknowledged RCEs are identified and introduced to the new upcoming RCEs to share their experiences and technical expertise. NEMA accompanies the mentor to the new RCE till the exercise is finalized. This activity is captured in NEMA officer’s annual workplan targets making coordination easy as the officer has to report on progress made each quarter.
Conflict resolution
According to Wilmot and Hocker (2011:16), people engage in conflicts over goals that are important to them. Kenyan RCEs are normally steered by universities. In a region, there could be several universities and the lecturers share differing ideologies and priorities. It has been noted that when lecturers travel abroad, they interact with other RCEs and when they come back to Kenya, they are motivated to initiate new RCEs. Due to inadequate awareness on RCEs operations in Kenya, the lecturers may not have understood how RCEs have been mapped in Kenya and how they could team up with existing RCEs.
There are instances where conflicts have arisen. For instance, RCE Mau and RCE Maasai Mara had a conflict regarding their spatial coverage which had an overlap which UNU had queried. NEMA facilitated the discussion whereby RCE Mau had to cede some of their areas to enable Maasai Mara RCE to be acknowledged.
Conflicts have been noted whereby some groups have differed about hosting of the RCE, governance structure, leadership and priority areas to be addressed. In some instances, the conflict has been cascaded to UNU where a region presents more than one proposal for consideration. Normally UNU has always recommended for amicable resolution of the conflicts.
Because of its national coordination role, all the parties in the conflict recognize and integrate NEMA as a crucial partner. NEMA has contributed in offering advise to the warring parties on how to work together and integration of all stakeholders. This has been done for RCE Greater Nairobi, RCE Kakamega, RCE Mau Complex, RCE Maasai Mara and RCE Central.
Kenya National Network of RCEs
To enhance national coordination of RCEs, NEMA initiated the establishment of the Kenya National Network of RCEs (KNNRCEs). This is a corporate membership network that brings together all the RCEs in the country. The network has its own independent governance structure and elected officials. NEMA facilitates the network coordinators to meet at least once per year. This network meeting is captured in the NEMA workplan and an officer at the headquarters assigned the task to ensure that the activity happens.
During the meeting, the members regulate their agenda and procedure. NEMA only facilitates the members to attend the meeting and also participates as an ex-official member. This enables the RCEs to have a forum to discuss and plan together as well as advice NEMA on the kind of assistance needed.
Annual RCE conference
One of the techniques used by NEMA in motivating RCEs is encouraging the sharing of experiences between them. As a tradition, NEMA funds an annual national RCE conference whose participants include the members of the RCEs and the general public. The conference entails presentation of research papers and exhibition of innovations taking place within the RCEs. The participants are given opportunity to engage each other and explain what they do within their regions.
The tradition of hosting the annual RCE conference enabled NEMA to be in a position to host the 8th Global RCE conference in Nairobi in 2013. NEMA sponsored most of the participants from the Kenyan RCEs as a way to build their capacity through interaction with other RCEs.
Challenges in RCEs coordination
The RCE activities require a lot of resources for their implementation. NEMA has not been in a position to provide these resources and hence many well-intentioned programmes within RCEs are never implemented. NEMAs financial allocation to RCEs has grown over the years. Some of the activities supported in RCEs are as shown below.

Activity 2012 2013 2014
Participate in RCE conferences  0.8 0.7 0.6
Annual RCE conference  1.3 7 3.175
Support RCE projects  2 2 5.5
Mentorship for new RCEs  0.6 0.6 .25
RCE meetings  0.6 0.7 1.3
 Total  5.3 11.0 10.825

Table 1 shows that there has been an increase of funding for RCEs by NEMA. To sustain this funding NEMA has had to reorient RCE activities to serve the interests of NEMA. Thus RCE funding currently is pegged on NEMA priorities of implementation of ESD and environmental legislation and regulations. The department of Environmental Education, Information and Public Participation has been instrumental in seeking a reorientation of all NEMA programs to integrate RCEs in their implementation. This is considered as one of the resource mobilization strategies for RCEs to ensure their active involvement.
Critical mass of followers
It is notable that many RCEs have not mobilized stakeholders appropriately, arguing that they lack funds to convene stakeholder meetings. It is disheartening to NEMA that many universities that host RCEs have not even popularized the RCE concept within their own institutions. There seems to be a general laxity in host institutions and failure to invest in mobilizing local support. RCE seem to be a reserve of a few people who seem unable to recruit locally before engaging other institutions. This is a major challenge that NEMA has directed to the RCE coordinators.
Since the RCEs are scattered all over the country, it was expected that each RCE would proudly come up with unique “brands” in terms of activities reflecting different contexts. Sustainability interventions are expected to reflect the local context and hence diversity of innovations by different stakeholders (McKeown, 2002). However, it was noted that there was a general deficiency whereby the RCEs failed to come up with unique projects. NEMA was compelled to propose projects to them. NEMA would have wished to see the development of different demonstration centres on sustainability. This aspiration was communicated during the RCE coordinatrors meeting by NEMA but no encouraging results have been achieved so far. To keep branding on course, NEMA chose four flagship projects to be implemented by selected RCEs as shown below

  1. Ngong dumpsite waste management project run by RCE Greater Nairobi
  2. Ideal ESD primary and secondary school run by RCE Greater Nairobi
  3. Biodiversity access and benefit sharing run by RCE Greater Pwani through its botanical garden.
  4. Climate change education run by RCE Mau

Kenya is proud to have the highest number of RCEs in Africa. The journey towards this achievement has not been rosy. Fortunately, the RCE concept resonates well with the provisions of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA, 1999) which demands for stakeholder participation and coordination frameworks that assure clean and healthy environment. NEMA considers the RCEs as a viable framework that could be instrumental in demonstrating good environmental practices at the local level. Hence NEMA plans it’s activities considering the RCEs as partners and implementers. Thus RCE concept is mainstreamed in the planning process of NEMA as demonstration hotspots.
Numerous challenges have been experienced but NEMA considers that enhanced stakeholder mobilization and dialogue serves as the core feature in addressing these challenges. Hence a lot of emphasis is placed on this aspect.
The post 2014 strategy for RCEs in Kenya is to make them more vibrant through participation of more stakeholders. The emphasis is to promote RCE recognition as vehicles of innovation and development at the local level.
Evans J.P., (2012) Environmental Governance. Routledge, New York.
JKUAT (2011) JKUAT Education for Sustainable Development Policy. JKUAT, Nairobi.
McKeown, R. (2002) Education for sustainable development toolkit. University of Tenessee, Knoxville.
NEMA (2008) Education for sustainable development implementation strategy. NEMA, Nairobi
UNESCO (2005) United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). International implementation scheme. UNESCO.
Wilmot , W. & Hocker, J. (2011) Interpersonal conflict. Newyork, NY: McGraw-Hill Corporation

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