This interview features in the August 2017 edition of The Planner as a part of a series of interviews with RTPI members working around the world.
What do you currently do?
I manage two UN Habitat programmes working in Somalia, one of which focuses on strengthening local government to improve service delivery which encompasses the development and strengthen financial management systems, solid waste management and the development of urban planning tools and solutions that are fit -for purpose . The second project is about supporting local government in providing durable solutions for the re-integration of returning refugees and IDP's with focus urban settings.
What are your working hours?
Officially, I have a 40 hour work week, but in practice it is much more. Like most international organisations working in Somalia, I am based in Nairobi (Kenya) but I travel there frequently. This usually means getting up at 3am for a 6am flight, followed by a full day's work, and returning a few days later. Because the work week in Somalia is Sunday-Thursday, I often end up travelling and working at the weekends too.
What attracted you to the profession?
I've always been interested in human settlements or towns and cities, so I studied Urban planning at university. I later did my masters in Urban Planning and International Development at Oxford Brooks University which further consolidated my interest in the profession but also an insight to international development from urban planning/planer's perspective.
What are the three biggest issues in the built environment where you live?
Traffic, urban sprawl and limited public spaces are some of the challenging issues associated with Nairobi.
What three aspects of the planning system would you change?
My reply is within the context of the British Planning system. I would further strengthen pre-application discussions in order to make the later stages quicker. I would also seek other methods to streamline (and make faster) the planning decision process. Finally, I would find ways to incentivize developers to bring forward planned developments as well as further incentives/encouragement for more affordable housing provision particularly in the major urban conurbations.
What is the best part of where you live?
The weather in Nairobi is fantastic. Sunny and warm most of the year, but always pleasant (not too hot).
If I could change one thing about where I live…
Much better public transport including modes of transport, which would also help in dealing with the traffic issue within in the city. However the recently launched railways line to link Nairobi with the coastal city of Momobsa is a significant step in the right direction.
If you could change one thing about the planning profession what would it be?
I wouldn't necessary change but strengthen and mainstream three things about how planners are trained and practice. Firstly, equipping planners with substantive negotiation skills, so as to be able to better deal/engage with developers in a constructive and meaningfully way. Secondly, better training in communication with politicians, i.e. member, MP's and the general public in a tailored language. Thirdly, a better understanding of financing development and investments capacities within the context of plans and strategy implementation. Strengthening these sets of skills will contribute the profession at large.
Is there anything else you think UK planners should know about planning where you live?
In the UK, the planning system is well established and strong and over 50 years of policies, plans concepts and approaches etc . In Somalia, both central and local governments are emerging, and are just establishing their planning systems and laws. Working in post-conflict countries, you get to contribute to what the system will look like in decades to come which is rewarding from a planning practitioner point of view.
What is the best thing about being an RTPI member?
Global prestige: everywhere I go; being an RTPI chartered planner gives me professional recognition.
How did you end up working outside of the UK?
After my Masters, I worked in local government in the South West of England as planner and later moved up to working at a more strategic level in the East of England as a regional planner. When I was working there, I came across a 6-month secondment opportunity with the UN in Kosovo and was strongly supported and encourage by the RTPI International Development Network members in securing the secondment . Six months turned into nine years in Kosovo, one year in Iraq and now here I am in Kenya and Somalia! I still keep in touch with my planning roots in the UK and with the RTPI International Development Network.
Any favourite foods?
I wouldn't say this is necessarily my favorite, but I enjoy eating a lot of camel meat whilst in Somalia!