Columnists

Unep job an honour for Kameri-Mbote

mbote

Patricia Kameri-Mbote takes the hot seat.

collinsodote_img

Summary

  • Having worked with Prof Mbote for over two decades, I could not be prouder of her for this feat.
  • She lives by the mantra that paths are made by walking and by bagging this appointment she has demonstrated how true that mantra is.
  • For one who has been a career academic and environmental law scholar, while several positions could have suited her and she did apply for many, including the Chief Justice of Kenya, leading the legal division of Unep is not only more glamorous.

In a country where shortcuts have become the way of life it is extremely gratifying when one succeeds purely based on their competence. This was the situation this week when news filtered in about the appointment of Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote as the Director of the Law Division of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep).

Having worked with Prof Mbote for over two decades, I could not be prouder of her for this feat. She lives by the mantra that paths are made by walking and by bagging this appointment she has demonstrated how true that mantra is.

For one who has been a career academic and environmental law scholar, while several positions could have suited her and she did apply for many, including the Chief Justice of Kenya, leading the legal division of Unep is not only more glamorous but it is also befitting.

A few months ago, this column celebrated the death of another renowned environmental law scholar, Prof Charles Okidi. I had the privilege of learning and finally working with both professors Okidi and Mbote —first as my doctoral supervisors and later on as mentors.

In one of our discussions, we joked that if Prof Okidi was the father of environmental law, then Prof Mbote was surely the mother of the discipline.

It is for this reason that several of the friends who received news of this appointment were quick to link these two giants, pointing out that one was looking down from heaven with huge satisfaction and pride on the international recognition of his successor in the discipline.

For those who know Prof Mbote, she is passionate, dedicated and non-assuming. She leads a disciplined and consistent life. There are several traits that make her stand out.

First is her commitment to the academy. It is required of academics to teach, research and undertake community service. She has done and continues to do these effortlessly and with zeal.

Any person who has had the privilege of attending her class will attest to the fact that teaching is not a job but something she does as a commitment. She will not miss class. She will not gloss over her lessons nor treat students shabbily.

Her engagement on research is exemplified by the numerous publications she has authored, the number of grants she has won and the many teams she has led and engaged with.

From discussions with communities in Turkana and Samburu, to Brazil and Uganda, to engagements with policy makers and international experts, she is both eloquent and erudite.

Prof Mbote believes deeply in the next generation. Those who have studied environmental law will be familiar with the term intergenerational equity. This is about fairness between generations.

One of the best ways of delivering this is to provide the younger members of society with both skills and opportunities. This is what mentorship is about.

It is about teaching people how to fish and then going ahead to offer them opportunities to fish as you watch. While several older professionals find it difficult to mentor others, for professor this is her second nature. You will rarely find her working on any task alone.

When one of her mentees grows up and succeeds, she is ever there to celebrate her or him.

Occasionally a few disappoint though. However, even on such occasions you will hear her gracefully saying that the beautiful ones are not yet born and proceeding to identify more rough diamonds to help sharpen.

The world is in the middle of a pandemic — one that has tested what we know and exposed our limitations. It calls for innovative thinking and trying new ideas.

It is exhilarating that one of the key organisations in the process of reimagining our future and charting a path towards greater respect for mother nature and the interactions that human beings have with it, has picked Prof Mbote as one of its top leaders.

In her the organisation and the world get a global thinker, one who is always eager to test new ideas and believes in collaboration. The years ahead requires leaders who are clear headed but also humble enough to seek suggestions from all stakeholders.