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Fear, Loathing and Conspiracy Theories Erupt Over UNFPA Plan to Relocate Staff From New York to Nairobi

Fear, Loathing and Conspiracy Theories Erupt Over UNFPA Plan to Relocate Staff From New York to Nairobi

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is relocating about one quarter of its staff from New York to Nairobi. The news has inspired a range of reactions from fear, loathing to conspiracy theories.

Here is a sample of some expressed views.

The Fear: Impact on Housing

Ironically, it was international Journalist, Moina Spooner, who kicked things off with a tweet expressing her fears over the impact of the move on Kenyan property prices.

This user asked God to help Nairobi. However, she wasn’t specific on what kind of help Nairobi would need from the Almighty after the extra UNFPA staff arrived.

Perhaps the most fearful folks are the affected UN staff in New York. As Devex, a well regarded development journal reports, staff have expressed concerns.

“UNFPA is the U.N. agency focused on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights. It’s precisely those rights that some staffers worry could be compromised by a move to a country that has regressed on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. The move would also mean losing access to the powerful corridors of the U.N. Headquarters in New York, where policy is formulated.

In addition, some staffers could lose their jobs. UNFPA says the restructuring is not a downsizing exercise, but it is already causing people who do not want to relocate to look for jobs elsewhere or take a voluntary early separation”, writes Jenny Lei Ravelo.

“When we asked for an analysis, like share with us the analysis that made you come to this decision, why Nairobi out of other places, why that was decided? And secondly, what was the risk analysis? Because clearly there’s a risk to moving these divisions out of New York, out of the normative center of the U.N. And none have been provided,” one staff member said to Devex.

The Conspiracy: A CIA Plot to Put More Agents on African Soil

One YouTube commenter @billetmagara1311 saw the hidden hand of the US government in the move, speculating that the UNFPA staff moving to Nairobi from New York are actually US military, not UN staff. “Remember it’s happening after Ruto’s meeting with US CIA director Burns in Nairobi this month” he writes. (Ruto is Kenya’s president)

Another fellow also chimed in with the same theme:

The UNFPA says the move will help extend its reach to more people and make its services more accessible to countries where it is highly active. This implies Africa is a focal point for the UNFPA. That tracks with the fact that Africa is the only part of the world whose population is currently expanding. In the West and much of Asia, there is a population crisis as birth rates decline rapidly.

This should inspire people to interrogate the UNFPA’s mandate more closely, especially with rampant fears that the Global North is hellbent on sterilizing Africans to slow down their birthrate.

With this in mind, this chap took things in another direction.

The Loathing: UN is Corrupt

A Twitter user called Sinjonjo declared the UNFPA an “arm of UN corruption”. However, he didn’t offer any specifics of what he was talking about.

A well known and outspoken Kenyan professor chimed in with a demand for development to be decolonised.

A popular YouTube channel called African Diaspora News jumped on the train, reporting to their 1.7 million subscribers the full range of negative reactions to the UNFPA decision, with their own tone of skepticism added to the mix.

What are the facts?

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has a staff of more than 2,000 people, representing over 150 different nationalities. International staff number about 560 and 1340 are national staff members. Only a quarter of New York based officials will move to Nairobi. Thus, the staff that move to Nairobi will likely be less than 200 people and their families.

200 new households coming in hot with American dollars will not cause sudden inflation in Nairobi’s large and sophisticated real estate market. Kenyan economist Mohamed Wehliye points this out very well in the tweet below.

Indeed, Nairobi is over-supplied with high-end housing. It’s the middle and low income housing sectors where shortages occur.

Not only will the incoming UNFPA staff be well received by Nairobi’s realtors, their dollars won’t make much of a dent in the local real estate market, or indeed the economy at large.

As for the claim that the US government is using the UNFPA to smuggle CIA agents into Kenya, that is hardly necessary. Nairobi usually gives Washington whatever Washington asks for.

Besides, the Nairobi embassy is the largest in Africa, manned by thousands of American and Kenyan personnel. The CIA doesn’t need UNFPA to penetrate Nairobi. It already has. USAID is probably a more useful agency for any covert work the Americans may want to do locally – especially if the goal is to sterilize Africans, a mission the UNFPA would be hard pressed to execute and escape scrutiny.

The fact of the matter is, Nairobi is one of the four global UN Headquarter cities. The other three are New York, Geneva and Vienna. Nairobi is the only UN headquarters in the South – the only UN headquarter city outside of the West and the North.

Nairobi has hosted the UN for decades, and as the city’s profile grows, it’s prominence on the global diplomatic stage will only grow.

The UNFPA staffers who will be affected need not worry. Nairobi is not risky; neither is it a backwater posting. Far from it. In fact, many expats settle here permanently after a few years in country. Some actually forego their jobs in order to remain in the “city in the sun”. A former US Ambassador, Michael Rennerberger, married a local girl and mused about settling permanently in Nairobi.

To quote Kenyan Foreign Affairs official Korir Sing’oei, UNFPA’s decision reflects “the strengthening of Nairobi as the multilateral capital of the Global South”.

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