NAIROBI 29 May 2019 - Two Presidents and two Prime Ministers shared ideas on Innovation in cities in front of a packed audience at the first UN-Habitat Assembly.

The High Level panel featured President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan, Prime Minister Josai Vorege Bainimarama of Fiji, and Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed of Yemen as well as the Executive Director of UN-Habitat and the President of the UN-Habitat Assembly.

Rather than reading statements, the four leaders answered questions on urban innovation, partnerships with the private sector, and the role of multilateralism.

President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, explained how the vision of affordable housing, a right enshrined in the 2010 Kenyan Constitution, is going to be a “massive challenge” in the urbanizing world.

“It is therefore important to us to look at alternative, new and innovative ways of achieving this objective, he said adding there was no way to provide affordable housing to people without partnership with the private sector.

Housing and infrastructure provision was also covered by President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan. The leader of the world's newest country, explained how they were looking for partnerships as they need to provide housing and infrastructure “from scratch”. He also emphasized the importance of development in sustaining peace and stability.

The Prime Minister of Fiji, Josai Vorege Bainimarama, elaborated on how his country is using innovation to tackle climate change. Fiji is partnering with UN-Habitat to incorporate women and young people's experiences into their urban planning to make their urban settlements more safe, resilient and sustainable. He agreed that private partnerships are "a must” but cautioned that “governments must lead and set standards through laws, regulations, policies and programmes.”

Delegates listen to the ideas on Innovation in cities


The consequences of conflict on urban areas was raised by Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed of Yemen. He said the recent war in Yemen had created an “extraordinary demographic change” within their towns and cities, as residents fled from conflict areas. He said in rebuilding they planned to embrace innovative solutions while maintaining the cities' unique identity.

“When it come to urban planning and housing, we need hundreds of thousands of units in certain areas. So we are striving for, and relying on the private sector to produce these,” he said.

The Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Ms Maimunah Mohd Sharif, pointed out that if the battle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals is to be won or lost in cities, then “cities will have to continue to drive innovation in groundbreaking ways to achieve a lasting impact on communities and to ensure that no one is left behind.”

Ms. Delagado, who was unanimously elected President of the UN-Habitat Assembly on Monday, noted: “We need to bring the global agenda closer to the citizens and engage with local stakeholders. Experience shows that much of the creativity and innovation occurs at the very local level, through everyday experiences and encounters."

Delegates participate in voting on innovative urban projects using their devices


As with the opening ceremony of the UN-Habitat Assembly, the event was colourful, with the UN choir providing harmonized renditions of familiar songs. Before the event took place, the audience of Member State representatives, city mayors and leaders of civil society, used an interactive app to vote and rank the most innovative and impactful of nine urban project ideas. Following the event the Heads of State and Government all signed their names on a graffiti wall that was sprayed by an all-women group of artists.


Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta signs a graffiti wall after the panel discussion

All photos by George Muriama, UN-Habitat