karibUNi: connecting Kenyans to the United Nations

21 November 2013

English Premier League’s Manchester City midfielder, Yaya Toure following his appointment as the UNEP Goodwill Ambassador in a photo-op with UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner at the "karibUNi" sign

Late October, UN staff and visitors to the UN Gigiri Complex in Nairobi, Kenya, were met by a 2 m high, 12 m long and 80 cm deep shiny 3-D structure that read karibUNi, playing on the famous blue UN symbol and the popular Kiswahili greeting.

In Kiswahili, the East African region's main language, "karibuni" means "welcome." What better word to welcome visitors to the United Nations Headquarters in Africa with.

The "karibUNi" sign, a symbol of the UN in Kenya, was unveiled on UN Day by the Government of Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, the Director-General of UNON Sahle Work Zewde and the UN Resident Coordinator Nardos Bekele-Thomas as part of the activities marking UN Day.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Ms. Zewde said, "We hope that visitors will feel at home when they visit the UN Headquarters in Africa with this karibUNi sign."

The welcoming effect was spontaneous! The sign sat on the grass at the central roundabout of the UN complex. Even jaded staff could not resist digging into their pockets for their phone cameras.
Credit goes to the UNIC Nairobi's Visitors' Service team who came up with the idea to place it on the 140 acre campus. Inspired by the “I amsterdam” sign that Marian Aggrey saw when she visited Amsterdam in 2012, the "karibUNi" sign has become a UN complex icon and a much sought after photo opportunity for both staff and visitors.  "I hope this will enhance the visitors' experience and attract more people to take tours of the compound,” Marian Aggrey explained further.

The concept initially started as "Karibu UNON," which means "Welcome to UNON." However, that meant that visitors were only welcome to UNON. It was then changed to "karibUNi," which welcomed people to a campus that has 27 UN agencies and programmes as well as two headquartered agencies (UN Environment Programme and UN Human Settlements Programme).

Majority of the visitors participating in the guided tour programme organized by the Visitors’ Service very often request a tour at UNEP and not at the UN, UN-HABITAT or UNON when making reservations. This is because UNEP was the first UN organization to be located on the complex and is how the complex was first identified.  In addition, many people in Nairobi saw the UN premises as "forbidden" and "off-limits."

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson interacting with UNIC-Nairobi staff at the "karibUNi" sign

 “We need to break that thought and demystify the Organization,” remarked the Director of UNIC-Nairobi, Nasser Ega-Musa, "and the karibUNi sign goes a long way to do exactly that."  Since it was unveiled the sign has become a widely popular common UN attraction for visitors and staff alike.

The Visitors’ Service was established in 1 January 2012, following General Assembly’s resolution A/60/248, which requested the Secretary-General to organize a guided tour operation at UNON. The operation is mandated to generate income in the same manner as the other three headquarters operations at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG),  UN Office at Vienna (UNOV) and New York. The Service is managed daily under UNIC-Nairobi and administered by UNON.