Protecting the environment and musings about working at UNEP

04 Jan

For those interested in environmental issues, I have posted a blog US Supreme Court to yet again balance protecting the environment and property rights, an interesting issue the US Supreme Court will be reviewing next week. This blog also appears Technorati where I usually post blogs on American politics.

Ever since I worked for the late Senator Edward M Kennedy, I have always had an interest in, and actually count myself as an avid environmentalist–not an “environmental wacko” as the Big Fat Idiot (title of a book on him) Rush Limbaugh is fond of calling those who care to protect the environment.

So much so in 1996 and during my second year of law school, I sought and was given an internship at the UNEP, Gigiri, which was perfect because I also wanted to be home for the summer so I was killing two birds with one stone.

A couple of things from that summer I will not forget.

First, I had communicated with the head of the legal department at UNEP before getting the appointment letter and on arrival in Kenya, I went to report to him the next day as previously agreed.

The boss, a gentleman of Caucasian extract from Europe, gave me a big handshake and first question he asked me is how I ended up working for Senator Kennedy–apparently the reason he picked me for the Internship, to which I told him iI was selected through US Capitol Hill Honors Program at my alma mater, University of Maryland, College Park before I graduated and went on to Law School.

“Great!” he bellowed, “the office is all yours!” and with that the man literally took off for his vacation and left me with his huge office complete with his secretary.

I know there has never been a law school student working anywhere who has ever had or will have as much fun working a gig as I did that time but two things stand-out the most from the experience and neither has to do with the legal work I actually did while there, which was very fulfilling itself.

The first thing is it was the first time I recall having lunch with colleagues and being served beer with it!

Coming from the US where to that point I thought only alcoholics drink in the middle of the day, certainly not openly with colleagues at work, I had to get used to the idea.

I was not what my wife’s people (read Rwandese call omoturage or someone not exposed to finer things of life but I must say I found the idea of working in a beautiful office with nicely landscaped garden and pond in full view, a beautiful secretary and chauffeured service to and from work to be the epitome of living large; I just did not wish it to come to an end but as in everything good, it did at the end of that summer–at least the UNEP version.

The other thing had to do with the said beautiful secretary.

I am sure she told everyone of her friends and anyone she could get to listen for 2 seconds what a moron I was rebuffing all of her entreaties and never mind I did so because I did not wish to offend my absentee boss who trusted me with all of that and I am sure like the garden behind his office, he would have preferred that I just enjoy but not touch the beauty.

I’ll trace her down someday and apologize personally.

But, I digress.

The issue I wish to raise, is our environment.

The late Prof. Wangari Mathaai did great in putting environmental issues in the front burner but more certainly need to be done in this area, if we are to sustain out environment for our children and future generations.

The successful campaign to save the Mau forest led by the PM is but one of many steps the government must undertake or pursue new viable options to safeguard it for we cannot afford to lax the efforts.

There is no doubt bodies like UNEP are doing their part to protect the environment globally but in the end, protecting the environment is going to be a local effort.

I remember as a kid, it was fun both watching workers cut down one of the many trees in our boma using hand-saws to cut them into chibao or when they would cut down others to burn them it charcoal but we now know all these are environmentally destructive practices the government must find an alternative for the people who must still cut trees for the same purpose, especially for charcoal and firewood.

There is existing technology to use in converting the large amounts of trash generated to energy but due to ineptitude and corruption, this potential is not being explored or exploited.

I recall having my colleague and I having preliminary discussions with some government person to get this done but was basically told to get lost unless we were willing to play ball.

Ditto for a number of other projects in energy, ICT, housing, etc.

We sadly (for our country) did and await the new government hopefully it’s the kind of government which will create an environment for private enterprise to not only deal with such issues as protecting our environment but in creating opportunities and improving the quality of life for all.



Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Politics


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2 responses to “Protecting the environment and musings about working at UNEP

  1. Odhiambo T Oketch

    January 5, 2012 at 12:05 AM

    What exactly was the point you were raising?


  2. Samuel N. Omwenga

    January 5, 2012 at 4:19 AM


    Sorry you didn’t see any points in the blog but there were several:

    1. The US Supreme Court has a case before it in which it must decide with significant implications on the balance between protecting the environment and individual property rights; I take the position the Court should rule in favor of protecting the environment for the reasons in the blog I provided a link to.

    2.I pointed out how my colleague and I tried to establish a renewable energy enterprise in Kenya converting trash to energy and therefore helping improve the environment and quality of life but were asked to play ball or get lost and I say we decided to get lost and hope to return, if the environment is conducive (read new government).

    3. I mused about working at UNEP for what it’s worth and as all musings, this is an individual by individual thing; some may find it interesting, others not and others in between but I write them anyway.



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