JUST before finishing her term here in Tanzania as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Representative Natalie Boucly agreed to give an interview to our Correspondent IMAN MANI.
Following are excerpts of the conversation, in which she not only gives an insight into the reasons for her re-assignment to the Central African Republic (CAR) after 18 months in Tanzania, but also she discusses her work with UNDP and passion for karate, which helped to bring her closer to people.
QUESTION: Having been in Tanzania for one and a half years, as the UNDP Country Representative, you must have had an opportunity to see the country and gain a first-hand experience of how communities handle day-to-day living. As a UN official and a woman, what impressions has this left you with?
ANSWER: I came to Tanzania about a year and a half ago. It is a relatively short time. However, I feel that both the UNDP office and I, on a personal and professional level, managed to achieve a lot over the past 18 months. I came at a time when the office needed to accelerate delivery and results, there was a momentum to seize and we all worked as a team to do that.
I did not expect that we would achieve so much and that I would see what I’ve been able to see in beautiful Tanzania within a year and a half. I was fortunate enough, although I didn’t travel to every region, to go around and see some of our projects in the field.
UNDP works in three main areas: governance and the rule of law, environment, climate change and energy together with inclusive growth and sustainable development.
UNDP has a wide mandate, which is tailored to and aligned with the country’s needs and development plans under the overall One-UN Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP).
We are here to support the government and the citizens of the country to improve their lives and meet sustainable development goals (SDGs).
I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay and my work in Tanzania and it is with a heavy heart that I will soon be bidding farewell to this beautiful land and very endearing people. You ask about my field experience.
It’s very heartwarming when you go to the field and you actually see the people benefiting from the fruits of our work. I’ll always keep the vivid memory of sitting in a little hut with a lady called Amina in Chemka Village, Muheza District (Tanga Region), close to the Nature Forest Reserve, which UNDP supports, stirring a pot over a fuel efficient stove, brought to the village through a UNDP project. Not collecting firewood spares time for these women,but also protects the environment.
Likewise, I will also forever remember Stella, heading a household of 10, who thanks to biogas is able to bring electricity to her kitchen and rooms.
Equipping these women with alternative forms of energy and have them understand the damage to the forest through cutting down trees are all necessary steps towards achieving sustainable development.
These may sound like small projects perhaps, but they make a big difference in people’s lives. You’ve got projects that really touch people in their everyday livelihoods, like these, which are very heartwarming.
It’s the same thing visiting schools, like the one in the Amani Forest Reserve, with over 600 students, who have no electricity (it is off-grid), but to whom UNDP, together with Japan were able to bring solar lanterns.
The results were clear; children were able to achieve much better results for their exams. So, you’ve got results like this and there are also results on a more macro or policy level, such as the work we do with regions in supporting the production of investment guides.
Through implementation, these investment guides will touch and transform people’s lives also. One region that particularly impressed me was Simiyu.
I also went to Geita, Arusha, Mara, Tanga, Morogoro and Dodoma regions. In Simiyu, we ended up supporting small enterprises like a chalk and milk factory, through these investment guides, with great success.
All our projects are signed by the national authorities and the investment guides have been particularly well received. I would be remiss if I did not mention our work in governance, with flagship projects such as the Legislative Support Project, working closely with the National Assembly (Bunge), our human rights and legal aid/assistance work with the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs and our work on supporting development on a strategy to prevent violent extremism, which includes an element of livelihood for the youth in selected regions.
Q: From what you’ve said, you seem to have been very effective here. Therefore, that being the case, why are you being transferred so quickly?
A: Yes, I think it is important that I explain this in detail. My transfer comes as a result of a reform that is happening at UN level and particularly within UNDP.
Up until last year, the job of UN Resident Coordinator and UN Resident Representative, were merged – it was only one person. Effective from January 2019, these two jobs were split and it’s now given to two people basically.
On the one hand, an empowered Resident Coordinator, who reports to the Secretary- General and on the other, a UNDP Resident Representative, reporting to UNDP management in New York.
I, therefore, became UNDP Resident Representative, but this reform gave UNDP an opportunity to appoint a new cohort of Resident Representatives worldwide.
UNDP went through a massive exercise worldwide and not only in Tanzania, attracting fresh blood, so to speak, into the organisations.
The post of UNDP Resident Representative was advertised externally and attracted over 3,000 applications, out of which a number of candidates were selected further to an independent assessment.
What UNDP then did is to match the skills, background and experience of these Resident Representatives against all 170 countries in which we work. It is a unique opportunity for UNDP to engage in such an extensive exercise, outside of regular rotation cycles, thanks to the reform and the delinking between UN Resident Coordinators and UNDP Resident Representatives.
Unfortunately, for me perhaps, because I love my time in Tanzania, my profile over the past professional years has been mostly in countries with crises. I’m a lawyer by profession and when I’ve not been working at the headquarters as a lawyer,or in London as an independent lawyer like before, I have mostly served in countries with crises, such as Kosovo, Haiti, Sudan and Burundi.
Tanzania was a pleasant exception for me. Because of this and because of my knowledge of French also, I have been re-assigned to the Central African Republic (CAR).
They needed a French speaker, somebody who can operate in non-family crisis settings, work along with the UN Peacekeeping Mission and also have a background in law, as the bulk of UNDP support in CAR is about governance.
This narrows the pool, whereas for Tanzania, you can imagine how many people would love to come here! This said, out of the same exercise, my successor has already been identified, we are now going through a regular government process for accreditation.
Q: Moving away from the official arena, could you please expand a little on how you found social life in Tanzania, especially being an ardent active member of the International Okinawan Goju- Ryu Karate Federation (IOGKF) for the past 18 years?
A: When you’re in a representational role, you meet a lot of people. In many ways, your social life is cut-out for you: there are functions with governments, with partners, embassies etc and you create friendships and in this way depending on affinities. But I am a people-centred person and I was, therefore, also interested in the people of Tanzania. So, I made the effort to actually learn Kiswahili, which I now speak well enough to be able to communicate with people and have meetings in the language. This made a big difference – an entire world opened to me, and you get much closer to people this way. I am not only talking about the lady in the hut – Amina. A part from this, there’s something that brings me naturally closer to people, and this is also part of social life, which is sports. I’ve been practising karate for many years and karate is all over the world. There are a number of clubs here, which are in Kiswahili, obviously. I thus became a member of the Goju-Ryu Club in Upanga, which is exclusively Kiswahili (and with men only!) and another club practising another style (Shotokan) in Msasani, where we met on Saturdays and Sundays. People come from other clubs and we train together with all our different styles. There’s a social life around this.
Q: How did you get into karate in the first place and what has kept you in it over the years?
A: It’s a bit of a personal story, but I was attacked once in my own apartment in London and once in the streets of London by two men. That’s what made me take up karate in the first place. We say “there is no first strike in karate,” meaning, this is not to attack people, it is for self-defence in case of need. So that’s what led me to karate and then I fell in love with it. It’s a beautiful art – rather than sport.
Q: Apart from this, what would you tell someone to attract them to karate?
A: It’s a way of life. Karate is a complete system that engages the mind, soul and body. You have to tap into these three aspects of the human being to be balanced in life. The soul is the meditation, like yoga, there’s a very spiritual aspect to karate. There’s a mental aspect because you have to be very disciplined and that discipline you bring into your life as well.
There are precepts, it’s a way of life, which is to respect others. Karate starts with respect and ends with respect. It has to be in respect of people and being honest and living a heathy life.
For me, Martial Arts, through their philosophy, also greatly improve social cohesion in society. The last thing I say here is to thank Tanzania and all Tanzanians for having given me a chance to live and work in this beautiful country. Mungu akipenda, nitarudi tena! – God willing, I’ll come again!