“Power isn’t control at all–power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.” Beth Revis
Ambassador Macharia Kamau was born in 1958. He joined nursery school in Bahati area in Nairobi where his parents used to live. Later on he went to finish his pre-school in Mombasa at St. Augustine Preparatory School where his brother and sister were studying. After completing his certificate of Primary Education, he joined Lenana School until his forth form. Later he went to Upper Hill School where he did his A levels. On completion, he started working in his parents’ farm in Redhill where he used to take care of cows and pigs. He even sold pork for a while.
After some time, he left for the College of Wooster in Ohio in the United States where he graduated with a double major in Economics and history and also did a liberal arts program while he was there. Being away made him miss home because of his passion for farming. As a result, he used to visit the farms that were around the school. It was after his graduation that he got an internship in Ibadan, Nigeria. While he was there, he got a scholarship to go to study in Harvard University. He finished his masters in administration planning and social policy.
He decided to come back home. In the 1980s, there weren’t many jobs and the economy in Kenya was not doing well. This was a major factor in his decision to set up a restaurant in town together with his brother selling fish, chips, coffee and other foodstuff. However, they sold it later on. He then started working with Rank Xerox selling office supplies.
Fortunately, one of his professors at Harvard came to work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Kenya and so he asked him to join him. His desire to have opportunities to travel around Africa was a factor in his decision to join because UNICEF had programmes that supported children all over the continent. His career started here in Kenya then on to Zambia, South Sudan, and Namibia in 1989 and he further proceeded to the headquarters in New York. He later went on to become a representative for UNICEF for the Eastern Caribbean.
After working for UNICEF, he joined the United Nations Development Programme UNDP as a representative and resident co-ordinator in Botswana. Later on, he was moved to Rwanda. Towards the end of his career, he re-joined UNICEF in South Africa as a representative. After nearly 25 years in the UN, he resigned. Different children face many problems such as malnutrition, war and lack of education. Engaging with these children and having the opportunity to help them was fulfilling.
After leaving the UN, he joined the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where he was providing consultancy services on development as this was his area of expertise. The Gates foundation was still new in Africa and so he helped them to set their agenda in the continent. A year later, he started working for the government as Kenya’s representative to the United Nations Office in Nairobi.
After the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development, the UN wanted to develop successor goals for the Millennium Development Goals ( MDGs). The world was in need of bigger goals to create sustainability. He was elected as Co-Chair of the General Assembly open working group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together with his colleague from Hungary. His duties entailed working with different countries in the world in delegation. It was tough to get the whole world to align into one vision. Initially, they did not plan to have 17 goals and 169 targets. They started with the challenges in mind and after thorough consultation with NGOs and stakeholders; they came up with 16 goals and 1 more for implementation.
Given the fact that he had the privilege of travelling all over the world and seeing countries that were torn by war, he learnt that peace is key in development in any country. Without peace, people cannot access education, they cannot work, businesses cannot thrive and hence there is no employment. There is no life worth living without peace. ‘In the course of human interaction, we must realise that tribalism need not be negative. The problem comes in when you politicise the relationship between tribes and the relationship between people. We must be proud of where we come from and use that to unite each other. We cannot deny each other’s existence,’ he says.
Ambassador Kamau hopes to go back to farming some day because everything comes from it. ‘The environment is very important because that is where the ecosystem thrives. If we do not take care of the environment, people will leave their homes, they will lose their animals due to drought and even more people will die. Hence, we must make sure that we take care of the earth so that people can sustain their lives,’ he notes. Professor Wangari Maathai inspired him because of the simplicity of her message; that the environment can be used as an instrument of change to promote livelihoods and peace. He won the gold medal for the Elizabeth Haub award due to his work that revolved around SDGs.
Asking him about the personalities who have influenced him, he said that he admires the 20th century philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and political writers such as Walter Rodney who wrote, ‘How Europe Under-Developed Africa.’ The material he read between the ages of 14-17 influenced the kind of person he became today. He is also inspired by Malcolm X and sportsmen who had a strong political message such as Muhammad Ali.
All Businesses are very important in building the economy, starting from the lady who sells vegetables all the way up to the people who assemble vehicles. The concept of business gives the economy vibrance and makes them thrive. Exchange of goods and services between people determines how businesses build the economy.
‘We must stop depending on the system and waiting to be told what to do. We cannot blame universities, parents or teachers for who we become. We go through institutions but we must learn to read and analyse whether what we see matches reality. It is important to allow our heads to think,’ he advices.
As he concludes, he wants to see young people learning to think so that they can attain vision 2030. They must empower themselves and not wait to be helped because they will be disappointed. Young people must constantly interrogate the things that go on around them and not lose themselves in social media, television and music but read the right material. ‘You need to have time for everything including enjoying your life, reading and succeeding,’ he says.
His current read is ‘Fan into Flame,’ an autobiography by his uncle, the late Rev. John Gatu. Currently, he is co- authoring a book on the Open Working Group Experience.