The United Nations this week started work on a US$ 13 million project to expand its African headquarters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. A colourful ceremony marking the start of a major new office expansion was attended by delegates gathered for the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Kenyan Environment Minister Newton Kulundu, Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson, in his capacity as outgoing president of the UNEP governing council, Anna Tibaijuka, the Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, and Klaus Toepfer, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi.
“This ceremony signals the expansion of our headquarters here in Africa,” Toepfer said. “We are the only UN headquarters in a developing country. It also underlines the importance to the UN family of this Continent, this location and the confidence we have in Kenya as a stable and democratic country.”
Tibaijuka congratulated Kalundu on his appointment and on the success of the new government following recent elections. She thanked Toepfer for his efforts in strengthening the UN in Nairobi stating that she was particularly pleased because UN-HABITAT was expanding and needed more office space for its worldwide headquarters.
The US$ 13 million construction project will prove a further boost to the Kenyan economy, not just during the construction phase, but in additional revenues as a result of increased use of local goods and services by the staff eof the UN.
The office space, scheduled for completion by 2005, is required for the expansion of UN-HABITAT following its recent elevation to a fully-fledged UN programme. There are also additional demands for space from UNICEF, including Operation Life-Line Sudan, and the World Food Programme.
Toepfer said the importance to the Kenyan economy of the UN could not be underestimated.
The total value of the UN to the country, including salaries to locally employed staff, revenues from services such as telecommunications and letters and payments to local firms, is around US$ 350 million annually, according to the latest available figures.
Toepfer, who is also Executive Director of UNEP, said: “In reality the figure is probably now well over US$ 400 million. Therefore the value to the Kenyan economy of having the UN here is greater than many of the more conventional industries such as Kenya's coffee exports”.