United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon on Friday applauded the UN staff at the United Nations headquarters in Africa for their courage and resilience in the face of adversity. He pledged the full support of UN headquarters.
"I realize that these are difficult times. I also realize that the working environment is far from normal," Mr. Ban told a packed staff meeting at the United Nations’ only headquarters in a developing country. "We are all affected in one way or another, directly and indirectly. And I want to express my appreciation for the strength and resilience you have demonstrated till now."
He said that the situation in Kenya had now deteriorated and that the violence had spread. The figures of the dead and displaced were simply unacceptable and every effort had to be made to arrest and reverse the situation in a country where the world body, in total, counting all staff and their dependents, make up an estimated 15,000 people, most of them Kenyans.
Mr. Ban who briefly held talks with UN-HABITAT Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, and Mr. Achim Steiner, her counterpart at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said he had also met senior Kenyan leaders both in Nairobi, and during a stopover earlier at the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The United Nations, he said, was doing "everything possible" to ensure the safety of its staff.
In brief introductory remarks, both Mr. Steiner and Mrs. Tibaijuka, joined the staff union representative, Mrs. Rhoda Atana, in citing the dangerous circumstances and stress under which the UN staff find themselves. In thanking the Secretary-General they also praised the staff for their dedication to their work at a time of crisis.
But Mrs. Tibaijuka added: "Our staff no longer feel safe, be it for themselves, their families or their kin. The situation which this duty station finds itself was never anticipated in the Security Guidelines of the UN. It was never anticipated that a headquarters duty station, serving as the long term primary residence of staff and their families, would be subject to sustained political violence. It was never contemplated that a major hub of UN activity would have to envisage even temporary evacuation." In short, she said, the UN did not provide insurance coverage for its staff or their families, neither had it anticipated a mass evacuation which would take weeks if not months."
He said it was ironic that on this day last year, he visited Nairobi just a week after taking office. At the time he visited the crowded slum of Kibera, home to nearly a million people living in a space the size of a golf course.
"I promised the Kiberans that their plight was serious and that the UN and the international community would not standby and ignore the hardships they face.
I have not forgotten my pledge. In September last year, I gave a personal donation of US$ 100,000 to UN-HABITAT to kick start a youth development fund for Kibera. I have since been informed that an additional US$ 1 million has been mobilised by the Government of Norway for that fund. I was looking forward to visit the youth of Kibera to discuss progress on this initiative. But, as you know, the post election violence now makes this impossible. I am informed that the urban poor have borne the blunt of the violence."
He said the Kenyan people were going through a difficult time of civil strife, "much created, I have to say, by the failures of their leaders".
"I therefore see the present situation as a threat but also as an opportunity. The threat is obvious and we must face it with courage, cool-headedness and resolve. We need to have robust contingency plans should the situation deteriorate, Mr. Ban said. "We must be prepared for the worst while we work everyday for the best. The opportunity is that this is an occasion to reiterate the principles and core values of the United Nations."
Human rights had to be respected by all. Doing otherwise guaranteed continued turmoil and suffering, Mr. Ban said. "In such times, as the UN family we must uphold the highest standards of integrity and be prepared to fight for only one cause -the cause of justice, peace and harmony."
In a special plea on behalf of his colleagues, a senior director appealed to Mr. Ban to "drastically and urgently strengthen" security for UN staff: "If we have to remain in Nairobi as the only UN headquarters in the developing world we must guarantee safety and security for all our staff in their living environment. We all know that this is your utmost concern. The Security Council has therefore to mobilize a budget to respond to this top priority."
"Mr. Secretary-General, we understand that your visit has to focus primarily on the overall crisis in Kenya. But we urge you to devote specific attention to your staff, the fantastic UN staff, and to take all possible initiatives to maintain Nairobi as the UN headquarters in Africa."
In response Mr. Ban shot back: "Where and when have you ever heard of a crisis in which both the former Secretary-General and the current Secretary-General are in the same place together working for a peaceful solution?" Of course, he said, the situation of the staff was of the highest priority.