An article written by the UN Environment Executive Director, Erik Solheim, earlier this year signals the goodwill and the unending desire to transform the UN as a whole. This message comes in the wake of a dwindling popularity of the UN especially in the grassroots and the established position of the UN and its agencies at the pinnacle of stardom and out of touch with the matters on the ground. Indeed, ask anyone around the streets of Nairobi where the UN is headquartered about what the agency does in the country or its relevance to them. If they will not be dumbfounded, they will probably give you a wayward misinformed response.
While the UN and its agencies have delivered immense solutions to the people on the ground, the taxpayer that keeps this agency afloat cannot draw a direct correlation between the UN and their problems and solutions. Of course, the people in conflict and war ton areas might have seen the blue flags come to their rescue. However, I am not sure that the agencies such as the UNEP or UNESCO make much sense to the people on the ground. The problem, as Erik and Guitterez correctly put it, lies within the UN itself.
Whereas from a spectator distance the UN looks united and one, it is not. This is a worrying paradox considering the name exudes unity and the rationale behind the UN spirit speaks of union for common good. Many UN agencies work in isolation and judging by the number of publications that they churn, it is not difficult to tell that the agencies and its staff are competitors more than complements. You will hardly notice a publication that speaks of how one agency supported the other in achieving its objectives. Perhaps these publications are not even a good idea after all!
From a civil society perspective, the division is even more outstanding. For example, an organisation seeking accreditation with the UN has to apply to all the UN agencies. Moreover, the agencies do not have a standard procedure for accreditation and the processes differ like day and night. In fact, accreditation with one UN agency does not guarantee or even give an organisation any added advantage while seeking accreditation with another. Therefore, civil society finds itself trapped in a situation where an organisation has to pledge some kind of loyalty to a UN agency and contribute towards the mission of that agency without looking to assist another agency. Yet, the most basic purpose of the UN, I repeat, is to unite the nations.
The bureaucracy in the UN and its agencies is another astounding aspect with ripple impact on the people. If the UN were household (as I argue it should be), it would not feel prestigious to visit the grounds or require special security self-check before entering the UNON. Having been at the UNON severally, for example, I have not met a group of barefooted children or homeless mothers having a forum with UN Habitat. Normally, people will buy new suits and ties to fake class worthy of entering the UN grounds. Worse still, the UN grounds are next to the US Embassy where horror stories of turning Kenyans down are nothing to report home about. The atmosphere around the UN premises defies welcoming and the reception at the entry point insults Africanism. If the UN were truly for everyone, how about making it more accessible, less bureaucratic, more approachable… household.