UNEP Pays Tribute to Distinguished Diplomat, Chair of First Governing Council Wed, Aug 20, 2014

Former Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister

Official Opening ceremony of UNEP's home in Nairobi. From left; Njoroge Mungai, First Chair of UNEP’s governing council, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s President at the time and Maurice Strong, First UNEP Executive Director.

Nairobi, 20 August 2014 - Former Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Njoroge Mungai died in Nairobi this week. He was 88 years old.

Dr. Mungai was instrumental in the establishment of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and played a key role in the diplomatic process that situated its location in Kenya.

After the UN Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, and acting on recommendations of former Kenyan Ambassador to Sweden, the late Joseph Muliro, Dr. Mungai oversaw the formation of an inter-ministerial body under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that provided independent and strategic diplomatic guidance to Kenya in its bid to host UNEP.

Guided by recommendations from the body, he met with the then-UN Under-Secretary-General Maurice Strong at the UN in New York and expressed Kenya's interest in hosting the newly formed UN body on environment.

Maurice Strong's positive response was the start of a tenacious diplomatic battle that would eventually see the location of UNEP in Nairobi, making it the first UN agency to be headquartered in a developing country.

Led by the then-Kenyan Permanent Representative to the United Nations Joseph Odero-Jowi - and with Dr. Mungai's support - Kenya successfully lobbied other African states and the Group of 77 to obtain a general agreement to have UNEP headquartered in Africa.

"It was unbelievable that a 10-year-old nation had won ahead of other countries in North America and Western Europe," said Dr. Mungai in a speech at UNEP in 2013, at the launch of the organization's 40th Anniversary Book.

"UNEP's headquarters was to be in Nairobi. This was the first UN HQ to be located outside of Western Europe or North America. It still is. There are none in Asia, South America, Eastern Europe or the rest of Africa."

"This was a great honour for Kenya and her people. It was a vote of confidence in the people of Kenya, the government and the leadership of the late President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. The UN and international community considered Kenya to have had political stability, social justice and democracy. This confidence has not been withdrawn to date."

Following the successful campaign, UNEP moved from Geneva to its new Headquarters in 1973, consolidating Nairobi's position as the environment capital of the world.

Later the same year, Dr. Mungai was elected to serve as Chair of the first UNEP Governing Council.

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