Anna Tibaijuka – Her Replacement and Protests in Nairobi

There are things that happen once or twice in a lifetime. An African woman gets placed in a powerful decisionmaking post, and the UN staff protest an internal action albeit peacefully. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka is the first African woman elected by the UN General Assembly  as Under-Secretary-General of a United Nations programme.In October 2006, she was appointed Director-General of the United Nations Offices in Nairobi (UNON), the only UN headquarters in Africa and the developing world.

As of March 3rd, she is no longer the director general of the  UNON, yet she does retain her role as Exec. Director of Un Habitat.She was replaced by Achim Steiner, UNEP Exec Director as the Director General of UNON. His credentials in the UNEP network are outstanding, and he will be an asset to the UNON Directorship. Even as the appointment is billed as a routine shuffle by Sec. Gen Ban Ki Moon, what a message to send to women globally about their place in the UN. What of the role of empowering women. These are not light messages – Secretary they are very very loud and weighty.

Before I start describing how I feel about this event, here is some more of the story about the UN staff response in Nairobi.This story is not as visible – so major, and even the feminist blogs have yet to say boo. A search on Twitter revealed no word on “Tibaijuka”. Are we alright with this? There seems to be nobody but the UN staff who are protesting this message from the UN Sec Gen, seemingly so. On Tibaijuka, how can all these talking people not have a single thing to say about this?

I was not in the least bit amused. I asked some people here their opinions, and one thing that came out was that she still has her job( so we should be happy?!) and that she was not doing that great a job anyway(according to one) The next question was whether I would have had the same opinion had Tibaijuka been a man – that one is a moot point. A man is not an African woman – of course it would be different.

In response, I said

How can you say she did not do that great of a job. Its unprecedented that a woman at her level should be demoted – especially as the UN promotes the gender equality and the African woman – what an upside down message. I cannot say Steiner will do a better job either, its the principle”

I also said –

“Transfers are routine, we accept that as a given. Both are superbly qualified to lead. The principle that I am alluding to is that you cannot preach water and drink wine. The head of the UN in Geneva has been there for 7 years – Geneva has not yet become the poster child of UN success. They make mistakes. Ban has just illustrated that he will eliminate her(the only African woman under secretary) while promoting that UN is an EOE in favor of greater gender equality. ”

Am I continuing to hear radio silence here?

Here are some of the responses to Anna Tibaijuka from events in world history

From UN Habitat

  • She has served as a Member of the Commission for Africa established by British Prime Minister Tony Blair which resulted in the cancellation of multilateral debt for several African countries by the G8 Summit in 2005 at Glen Eagles, Scotland.
  • In July 2005 the Secretary General appointed Mrs. Tibaijuka as his Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe following massive evictions of the poor in urban areas.
  • Since 2002, Mrs. Tibaijuka has been instrumental in promoting water, sanitation and slum upgrading globally and in assisting the African Union to establish the African Ministerial Conference on Housing and Urban Development (AMCHUD).
  • She also helped place urban poverty high on the agenda of similar regional bodies for Latin American and the Caribbean, as well as the Asia-Pacific.
  • In its unanimous decision to re-elect Mrs. Tibaijuka for a second term as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, the General Assembly noted her success in forging strategic partnerships with financial institutions for follow-up investment in housing and urban infrastructure. These include the UN-HABITAT $570 million agreement with the African Development Bank and $500 million agreement with the Asian Development Bank.

From the blogosphere:

Swahili Blog on the Albino Killings and Tibaijuka’s opinion on the way forward
Decide for yourself. Thank you madam Tibaijuka for serving at UNON. Welcome Steiner.


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