Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 18: Political Leadership and Sustainability in Africa: Margaret Kenyatta

This is the 18th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the review.

This chapter, Political Leadership and Sustainability in Africa:  Margaret Kenyatta, by Jo-Ansie van Wyk, takes a look at the importance of personal leadership in moving forward a sustainability agenda. Many of my American readers know of important political leaders on sustainability issues such as Gaylord Nelson, Al Gore, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. However, few are likely familiar with Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, the subject of the chapter.

The article begins by pointing out the unique issues of sustainability--particularly related to endangered and threatened species. Kenya, as the author notes, has been a leader in seeking to advance an environmental agenda in Africa. Richard Leakey and Wangari Maathai are notable Kenyans who have helped to bring the agenda to the world stage. In this chapter, the work of Kenyan First Lady is highlighted within three dimensions of sustainability:  social dimensions, political dimensions, and environmental dimensions. Prior to reviewing Kenyatta's contributions, it is important to note that before becoming First Lady in 2013, she was a noted educator.

Margaret Kenyatta. Click for figure credit.
Kenyatta's contributions to the social dimensions of sustainability fall mainly within the role of women, local traditions and cosmology, and technology. She has been a champion for women and gender equality. She has highlighted the conservation of elephants by creating the East Africa Grass-Roots Elephant Education Campaign Walk to highlight the important role of individuals within the region in the protection of elephants--while recognizing that there are traditional relationships that many have to elephant hunting.

On the environmental dimensions of sustainability, Kenyatta has highlighted four main areas:  traditional livelihoods, working with local communities to protect wildlife, building on the work of Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, and creating a rhetoric that builds and identity for Kenya's unique wildlife that is important to Kenya's economy and national security. 

Kenyatta is also active on political dimensions of sustainability. She works within existing conventions of her role as First Lady such as hosting leaders of NGO's; she supports her husband's environmental agenda, such as confiscating and burning confiscated ivory; she makes public endorsements for sustainability initiatives; and she uses her position to advance an international and regional approach to sustainability.

The chapter concludes with a series of lessons learned from the case study and a section on challenges and barriers that includes a review of the challenges that First Lady Kenyatta faces in her role as well as the environmental challenges faced by Kenya overall. 

The article highlights how one person can have a tremendous impact on an organization, in this case a nation, if they take advantage of their position. Margaret Kenyatta's work on women, local economic development, conservation, and international cooperation around sustainability issues shows the power of the position.

Click here for more information about the book.

Click for photo credit.

Here are some discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on leadership and sustainability or sustainability in Africa:

1. Why is sustainability, particularly protection of wildlife, important to Kenya?

2. What sets Margaret Kenyatta apart from other First Lady's in Africa?

3. Why did Kenyatta focus on women in her work on conservation and sustainability?

4. What is the Green Belt Movement and why is it important in Kenya?

5. Why is Richard Leakey important in the Kenyan conservation movement?

6. The author of this chapter highlights that Margaret Kenyatta is active on an array of political dimensions in sustainability. Describe one of these dimensions and its impact.

7. Thinking about your leadership roles in your school, job, or family, how can you use your influence to advance a sustainability agenda?

8. How does the role of First Lady vary from Kenya to that in your own country?

Previous Entries in This Series

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