Secretary-General António Guterres (at podium) addresses the closing of the UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. UN Photo/Duncan Moore. - Photo: 2024

Kenya Hosts the first-ever UN Civil Society Conference

By Devendra Kamarajan

NAIROBI | 12 May 2025 (IDN) — ‘Meaningful participation’ and ‘inclusion’ were the catchwords at a two-day UN conference in Nairobi, Kenya, ahead of the Summit of the Future, which will bring delegations from all over the globe to the UN Headquarters in New York in September.

The first-ever UN civil society conference held in Africa concluded in Nairobi on 10 May calling for “bold and honest” conversations among governments and civil society to drive forward a shared vision for reinvigorated multilateralism, a better world and a brighter future for all.

At the closing session of the 2024 United Nations Civil Society Conference in the Kenyan capital, Secretary-General António Guterres and President William Ruto praised the efforts of civil society and underscored their “indispensable contributions.”

Mr Guterres said time and again he had witnessed the enormous impact of civil society in every corner of the world; easing suffering, pushing for peace and justice, standing for truth, and advancing gender equality and sustainable development, with many working at great personal risk.

Referring to ongoing conflicts—the devastating civilian death toll in Gaza, the civil war raging in Sudan, and ongoing crises in the Sahel, Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions—he pledged: “We won’t give up in our … push for peace, justice and human rights, and I know you won’t give up either. My best hope for the future is you.”

The UN Chief went on to stress that the involvement of civil society was crucial to tackling several problems confronting the world today, such as responding to crisis, closing the digital divides, and revitalising the collective approach to peace and security.

“We need to be informed by your frontline know-how; We need your can-do attitude to overcome obstacles and find innovative solutions,” declared the UN Secretary-General. “We need you to use your networks, knowledge and contacts to implement solutions, and to persuade governments to act. Your contributions have been indispensable, and I thank you,” he added.

UN Chief invites civil society’s contributions

The UN Chief invited civil society to bring their spirit to the so-called ‘Action Days’ being held in connection with September’s highly anticipated UN Summit of the Future and asked them to engage their governments to demand ambitious commitments at that event.

“Keep working with us to build a better world,” he concluded.

Kenyan President William Ruto outlined his government’s commitment in recognition of the civil society sector, noting that it had moved to bring the Public Benefits Organization Act into law in the country.

The Act now consolidated the operations of civil society into one predictable legal regime, making it easier for civil society, including those from outside of Kenya, to operate.

“We are determined to reinvigorate our development agenda by harnessing the organizing and advocacy power of civil society,” he said, but stressed that it was evident that significant work lay ahead.

There is no room to lock others outside: “Kenya remains steadfast in its commitment to a strong partnership with an empowered civil society, to advance our pursuit of a sustainable, just and inclusive future.”

UN Photo/Duncan Moore

Over the two days, the 2024 Civil Society Conference, held at the UN Office at Nairobi (UNON), featured a host of briefings, interactive dialogues, and some 37 workshops, and 20 ImPACT coalitions.

On 10 May, the Civil Society Conference also heard from Mithika Mwenda, of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, who stressed the need for “boldness and honest conversations” to achieve the radical transformations needed to ensure sustainable development for all, poverty alleviation, and ultimately, an action-oriented Pact for the Future [one of the expected outcomes of the Summit].

Chola Milambo, Permanent Representative of Zambia to the UN and Co-facilitator of the Global Digital Compact, speaking on behalf of all the Co-facilitators, said the Conference had heard from a rich variety of voices, including from the youth, women and those from underrepresented regions from around the world.

Civil society’s “big statement”

The Co-facilitators remained open to dialogue, to engage with civil society and to hear all the voices in the process, she added.

Conference Co-Chair Nudhara Yusuf said that over the two days, civil society had made a “big statement” of what they expected from intergovernmental processes and what they could offer. If the Summit of the Future expected UN Member States to be ambitious, civil society must be willing to do the same.

For her part, Co-Chair Carole Ageng’o said that at the close of the Conference, she was highly optimistic among others, considering the new partnerships that had been formed which opened space for all stakeholders to engage towards creating a more inclusive, sustainable and safe future for all.

Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General of Global Communications, whose Department had organised the Conference, underlined that civil society ideas and voices had always been crucial for the world of the United Nations: from the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals, to delivering impact and setting the stage for the Summit of the Future.

Solidarity was needed more today than ever before, said Ms Flemming, and the Conference had set a powerful example in this regard.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, In a video message to the Conference, expressed deep condolences to the victims of the devasting floods in Kenya and reiterated he UN’s continued commitment to supporting the Kenyan Government during this challenging time. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Secretary-General António Guterres (at podium) addresses the closing of the UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. UN Photo/Duncan Moore.

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