Raphael Obonyo, 34, sits on the United Nations habitat youth advisory board. He talks to Silas Nyanchwani about it.
UN is associated with huge perks, can you confirm the claim?
Aaah! People at the United Nations do lots of work for which they have to be remunerated well. They are being sent to tough situations, Somali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen. To retain them, you have to motivate them well. They also invest a lot in training and go for the best. To retain such talent, you have to offer better perks, since you cannot afford to lose them to other corporate organisations such as Google and Microsoft that pay better.
Then you must have gone to the best schools in Kenya
I went to Baba Dogo Primary School. I later joined Dagoretti High School where I got the ticket to the University of Nairobi to study Bachelor of Commerce. I also have a Masters in Public Policy from Duke University (USA).
And UN is regarded as a closed community? True false?
Well, the UN has the secretariat or the agencies that mostly recruit bureaucrats and technocrats. We also have Assembly of Governments. Generally, one needs high qualifications and, of course, there are other considerations. Getting in is the difficult bit, but once in, you can grow.
How did you get in?
I got there through an elective post. I was nominated by young people from Africa then I battled out with others from across the world. Thousands are nominated and a few are selected. They then must compete for the post.
Do your travels make you lose hope in Africa?
Absolutely not. ‘The Economist’ once labelled us the hopeless continent of disease, political turmoil and civil instability. But now the narrative is Africa is rising. Ten of the 20 fastest developing countries are in frica. Lately, we are seeing a constitutional settlement of conflict as opposed to people resorting to war.
Do you think affirmative action should be scrapped?
Not really. It is a good way of correcting years of exclusion (culturally, socially and economically) of women. Men still dominate institutions of power. But affirmative action often sees women who are better connected get jobs at the expense of the better qualified. So elected women must do more. They have fought for the position by merit and need to be heard. At the end, we have to examine what those who got in through affirmative action have achieved.
Men need to be reminded that times have changed. Everyone deserves a dignified life. We need to listen to women, appreciate their humanity and accept the new reality. Women too, must understand that their empowerment must not happen while putting men down.
What drives you?
What my mother taught me. She taught me to always work hard. One time the system will create a place for you.
Now, the main question?
No, I am not married. Many years in school and travelling have not allowed me. But, hey! I need to settle down at some time...
Any other interests?
In 2001, we started an empowerment programme for the girl-child in Korogocho slums to enable girls and women known as MS Koch. Even though I have since left the enterprise, I am glad at least 200-300 girls are accessing secondary schools and college educations. I grew up in Korogocho and the slums in Eastlands, and it is always great to inspire those in slums to know that they can rise to the highest.