SPP in Nairobi: Experiencing Regional and Global Policy-making Firsthand

September 8, 2015

This summer, SPP alumna Rumbidzai Masango (MPA ’15) and students Corina Ajder and Balint Nemeth (both MPA ’16) embarked on exciting opportunities to work on key policy issues in Nairobi, Kenya. “The policy space in Africa is constantly changing,” noted Masango. “This is both exciting and frustrating. I like working in Nairobi because Kenya is an influential country in East Africa and is also near Addis Ababa, the melting pot of policy engagement in Africa.”

Masango is currently an international tax program officer at Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), a pan-African NGO dedicated to “changing the weather” on issues surrounding tax and financial globalization. One of her main projects is leading an African campaign on illicit financial flows. To make the campaign a success, her workday includes lobbying government officials, collaborating with international organizations like the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and mobilizing members of TJNA. “TJNA’s work has a huge impact on the continent. When former heads of state and visionary thinkers such as Thabo Mbeki [former president of South Africa] endorse your campaign, you know there is huge potential for policy change within the African Union,” she commented.

Also working in a dynamic NGO, Ajder is wrapping up a summer internship as a research assistant at the International Crisis Group. Focusing her research on Somalia, Ajder has been assisting senior analysts in compiling reports on key issues including terrorism and state-building. “Working in Nairobi, Crisis Group analysts have a unique perspective from the field on how violent groups like Al-Shabaab operate,” she said. “I think the work done at Crisis Group can help countries like Kenya improve their anti-terrorist efforts.”

Corina Ajder (MPA '16) visits the Kibera slum in Nairobi.

Nemeth is also completing his summer internship at the Urban and Municipal Finance Unit at the Urban Economy Branch at UN-Habitat. One of his tasks is helping with a youth-focused job accessibility study. “I am using a mapping tool to identify the residential areas of low-income people and looking at the extent to which spatial barriers affect their labor market outcomes compared to other factors.” As part of these responsibilities, Nemeth is writing a methodological literature review and preparing a travel survey that will be disseminated in September.

Balint Nemeth (MPA '16) smiles with two of his colleagues at UN-Habitat.

Working in Kenya has been an eye-opening experience for these students. “I have benefited from the experience of being a minority in the country, a position I don’t find myself in often enough,” Ajder said. She also highlighted unique events in Nairobi this summer including U.S. President Obama’s first state visit to his fatherland and the reopening of Westgate Mall, which was attacked by Al-Shabaab in 2013.

Nemeth added that not only is Kenya a great place for policy work, it is also a great place for nature:  “I am simply amazed by the landscapes here. I try to escape from Nairobi on the weekends to go hiking or visit the coast, but there’s still so much to see.”