There is a notice that was published last week on the State House wall but largely went unnoticed by many Kenyans. State House Spokesperson Mr. Hussein Mohamed told Kenyans that President William Ruto has reaffirmed Kenya’s nomination of Ambassador Nancy Karigithu for the position of the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation IMO).
This is the United Nation’s specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships. IMO works closely with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Kenya secured the endorsement of the African Union for Amb. Karigithu’s candidate during a high-level mid-year coordination meeting in held Lusaka, Zambia, in July 2022. The endorsement placed Kenya’s leading maritime expert in a strong position by situating her not just as a national, but also as an Africa Flag bearer in the race for a critical global position, the State House said.
Amb. Karigithu currently serves as Kenya’s Special Envoy for the Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs. The election for the position of SG takes place in July 2023. The 40 members of the IMO council will pick the successor of Mr. Kitack Lim, a Korean.
If elected, the Kenyan Maritime diplomat will be the first African and the first woman to hold the position. But who is this woman whose star has shined for over two and a half decades in a men’s dominated industry?
It is her elevation to serve as the Director General of the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), where her main job was to investigate the safety of vessels, and promote maritime safety, security and commerce that has the most profound effect on her immense contribution to an industry that had suffered many years policy neglect.
In 1993, she enrolled at the International Maritime Law Institute at the University of Malta to pursue a master’s degree in maritime law for nine months on an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) scholarship, leaving behind her young family.
“One of the most serious challenges I faced was leaving my family behind and I had to make a choice. People told me that I would lose my family to other women but I did not listen to those voices and, after a serious talk with my husband, he understood and allowed me to leave. I have never regretted my decision since the experiences strengthened our relationship,” she said.
She resigned from KPA since the exposure in Malta had changed her perception of the industry and opened her eyes to more opportunities. She went to private legal practice. Being among few lawyers specializing in Maritime, IMO easily spotted her in 1997 with a need to help in establishing a maritime administration in Kenya.
The organization had successfully established similar administrations in Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, Seychelles, Ethiopia, and Gambia. IMO had known her since her days at KPA.
Following the terror attack in the US, IMO, which she now hopes to head, drafted a regulation that required all the member countries to form an authority to regulate the maritime industry before June 1, 2004. KMA was born out of a Presidential Order on May 2004.
One-and-a-half years later, Mrs. Karigithu was recruited as its first Director General, making her the most senior woman official in the industry dominated by men. She would serve a 3-year term for nine years, in which Kenya recorded remarkable progress in Maritime Education and Training, security, and expansion of commercial shipping with more local participation.
Under her watch and after a long struggle with the parliament, which took time to understand the complex nature of shipping, KMA crafted the Merchant Shipping Act 2009, which gives the authority the power to regulate the maritime sector and its service providers.
Mrs. Karigithu also helped Kenya’s entry into the IMO’s Whitelist, a coveted title that helps a country to train seafarers who can work in foreign-going vessels.
She has also worked in the Association of Women Managers East and South Africa (WOMESA) which seeks to promote women’s interests in the industry.
She was appointed in December 2015 as the first Principal Secretary for the newly created State Department for Shipping and Maritime Affairs (SD&MA), in the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure & Urban Development, with the overall mandate of promoting the national maritime and shipping industry, human resource development, ship registration as well as developing a data center and admiralty jurisdiction.
She guided Kenya’s successful bid to host the Maritime Technology Cooperation Center for Africa (MTTC-Africa), the IMO/EU project aimed at building capacity in the African continent to mitigate climate change and greenhouse gas emissions from ships. The project is aimed at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through improved energy efficiency and increased uptake of low-carbon technologies to mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa from the emission of harmful gasses from ships.
She has represented and severally led Kenya’s delegation to various international maritime fora, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO), where her leadership in these meetings resulted in her personal recognition and election as the Vice Chairman of the IMO’s Technical Cooperation Committee from 2009 to May 2015.
Currently, she sits on the Governing Council of the World Maritime University, based in Malmo, Sweden, the Board of Governors for the IMO International Maritime Training Institute, Malta. She is also Vice President (Africa) for the International Maritime Satellite Organization.
President Ruto said: “The nomination endorses the fact that climate change adaptation and the health of oceans the seas remain key pillars of Kenya’s foreign policy. The bid also demonstrates Kenya’s increasingly active participation in multilateral diplomacy, which boosts Kenya’s credentials as a leader in the promotion of the blue economy sustainable development,” the State House post read in part.
“Amb. Karigithu is a world-renowned maritime expert who has been an active leader and an influential voice in promoting the objective of the IMO dedicated to safety, security, and environmental protection in the maritime industry,” the State House said.
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