BY PETER OPIYO

The name Prof Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka rings a familiar bell in most corners of the world. In fact, a section of United Nations employees took to the streets last year when news filtered that the UN-Habitat Executive Director had been redeployed to what sounded like a less influential position.

But the down-to-earth executive said then, as she did this week, that there is time for everything, but God’s time is the best.

She will soon be on the move, swapping the deep-toned mahogany negotiating tables of UN boardrooms, and the labyrinth world of slums that she sought to transform with... the familiar hills of home.

Naturally, Tibaijuka must have built a nest over the 12-year stint at the UN, for issues of bread and butter do not concern her.

"It (her top UN post) is lucrative but man cannot live on bread alone. I feel I have enough to eat but I don’t think it (the job) is necessary," she says as matter-of-fact.

She elaborates: "People like me who understand rural Africa have to pay back to the society," she says, explaining her decision to join politics. She is destined for Muleba South in Tanzania as the people’s representative in Parliament.

"I’m happy with my title as MP," she says, explaining that she beat the incumbent, long-serving Tanzanian Cabinet Minister Wilson Masilingi, in the primaries. She garnered 5,275 votes against Masilingi’s 2,092.

Although the elections are scheduled for next month, Tibaijuka has gone to Parliament unopposed.

Born to peasant farmers 60 years ago, and the fifth born in a family of 11, Tibaijuka says her large brood honed her negotiation skills that would come handy in her professional endeavours.

And while at Rugambwa Secondary School (named after the first African cardinal), she was picked as leader of the Debating Club.

"I learnt the art of negotiation pretty early in life," she says with a smile, reminiscing her early life in the village.

She is proud of her parents who were keen on education at a time investment in education was not treasured, especially in girls.

Graduating with a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in 1984, Tibaijuka taught at the University of Dar-es-Salam between 1993 and 1998, before joining the UN.

She initially served as the Special Co-ordinator for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) at the United Nations Conference in Trade and Development, where she produced a manual for trade negotiations for LDCs in 1999, which is still in use.

Her Nairobi posting came in 2000, arriving an institution that was experiencing managerial challenges and had poor structures. Donors were not interested, funding was dwindling, and staff unmotivated.

"I advised (Kofi) Annan (then UN Secretary General) that we needed to fix the structures," she says.

Her prayers were answered when the matter was discussed in December 2000 at the UN General Assembly, recognising UN-Habitat as a full programme with decent funding.

Tibaijuka says she is leaving Gigiri with the systems well-oiled and functioning, with a steady flow of funding.

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Tibaijuka Anna Tibaijuka UNHABITAT UN gigiri