Monday, 28 March 2011

Nairobi in spotlight as 27 UN agency heads to meet in city


Posted Saturday, March 26 2011

•High-level forum will discuss issues relating to biodiversity

Starting this Friday, Nairobi will be host to a major United Nations gathering that will bring together the heads of all its specialised agencies.

The meeting of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), the highest level mechanism for the coordination of the UN system, is scheduled to discuss issues relating to biodiversity, among others.

The CEB meets twice a year to bring together the heads of 27 UN system organisations – 15 specialised agencies, 10 UN funds and programmes, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – under the chairmanship of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The CEB is intended to ensure that the UN system delivers as one at global, regional and country levels on the broad range of commitments made by the international community.

Office sites

The meeting will take place at the UN offices (UNON) in Gigiri, a Nairobi suburb. UNON is one of the four major UN office sites where UN agencies have joint presence. Other UN offices are in New York, Geneva and Vienna.

The 140-acre office complex serves as the global headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) and UN-Habitat.

From a diplomatic perspective, the meeting can be seen as a significant –and positive– statement about Kenya as it seeks to refurbish its image that was battered by the 2008 post-election violence.

Economically, the UN presence is a pivotal for Nairobi and Kenya as it is the single largest source of foreign exchange; an excess of Sh32 billion ($400 million) is pumped into the economy annually.

“This figure is fast burgeoning as the UN commits greater resources and workforce to mounting growth arenas in Somalia, Sudan and the greater East African region, an operation looked upon by neighbouring African states as a vantage point towards fiscal advancement and better positioning on the world scene,” noted the monthly Diplomat magazine.

According to the ministry of Foreign Affairs, which normally coordinates such visits on behalf of government, the agency heads will begin arriving on Thursday. The meeting will take place Friday and Saturday.

“It is a big meeting and sends a clear message about Kenya’s relationship with the United Nations,” Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Patrick Wamoto told the Sunday Nation.

In the run-up to the meeting, the UN secretary-general appointed Ms Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia as the Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON).

The appointment of Ms Zewde detaches the leadership and coordination of UNON from Unep and Habitat.

The previous holder of the position, Mr Achim Steiner, combined it with being the head of Unep.

Ms Zewde, therefore, is the first person to hold the new position to specifically head UNON at the under secretary-general level and will report directly to Mr Ban on all political, procedural and security-related matters.

“This is the first time all heads of UN agencies are having one meeting in one location to plan co-ordination so as to deliver services as one United Nations entity. I am pleased also to appoint a woman who will be announced soon to assume a senior position within the United Nations,” Mr Ban said when he met Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka recently in New York before Ms Zewde’s appointment was made public.

Since its establishment in 1996, UNON has served as an administrative hub to create a smoother enabling environment for the programmes and projects of some 30 UN agency country offices.

Last year, the UN upgraded the Nairobi office from Category ‘C’ – a duty station – to category ‘B’ stretching its presence and importance on the global stage. The upgrade is based on the standard of living, better services and security in Nairobi.

Prior to the upgrade and appointment of the new director-general, a diplomatic row erupted when Kenya uncovered an alleged secret plot to relocate Unep from its Nairobi headquarters to a European location.

The row appears to be water under the bridge as CEB holds its meeting in Nairobi.

The board is the prime instrument for supporting and reinforcing the coordinating role of UN inter-governmental bodies on social, economic and related matters.

According to Ambassador S.K. Maina, who heads the International Organisation, Conferences and International Jobs division at the Foreign ministry, a similar meeting was held in Kenya a decade ago.

During the two-day event, Mr Ban and President Kibaki will officially open the new block that will host the global headquarters of Unep and Habitat. The building has the distinction of being one of the first energy neutral offices in Africa.

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