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VSF-Suisse has a face! Meet Dr. Martin Barasa, new Country Director South Sudan

VSF- Suisse, 20.10.2014


The board of VSF-Suisse has elected Dr. Martin Barasa as the new country director for the South Sudan. Barasa holds a bachelor degree in veterinary medicine (BVM) from the University of Nairobi and a master degree in development studies from the University of St. Paul’s in Limuru, Kenya. Many of us have know Martin Barasa for several years now, since he has worked for VSF-Suisse for 14 years, namely as a team leader for the South Sudan programme. Due to his professional background, his lengthy experience within VSF-Suisse and his dedication to the beneficiaries of the programmes in the region will enable him to take on this great challenge and successfully push forward the South Sudan programme.

Mr. Barasa, what was your first reaction after being appointed new country director?

First, it was a sigh of relief that the process was finally over and that I was the chosen one. The procedure for recruitment of the CD South Sudan was long, tortuous and competitive. I became excited as the reality of the announcement began to sink in and messages of congratulations poured in from colleagues and peers. I also went through some moment of anxiety as the enormity of the challenge and tasks ahead dawned on me. I have however since settled, taking on the challenge head on as I match forward.  


What will be the biggest challenges for you as new country director within the next year?


There are a number of challenges ahead. The biggest challenge however will be resource mobilization to sustain the programme in 2015 and beyond. VSF-Suisse currently relies almost entirely on donor funded projects to sustain the programme. The donor landscape in South Sudan has become extremely competitive and complex as donor funding for INGOs is gradually drying up. This has been exacerbated by the volatile political environment in the country that has created tremendous challenges in delivering humanitarian assistance, especially in the conflict affected state of Unity.

Another challenge relates to the emerging xenophobic tendencies reflected in persistent state backed anti-foreigners sentiments. The clamour for employment of nationals will definitely present a challenge to the current programme staff establishment that has a significant talent pool of foreign staff at the top and  

midlevel positions.

Finally, Office Juba that has been administered from Office Nairobi is in transition to effectively function as a standalone country programme with direct linkage to the HO in Switzerland. Managing the transition and establishing an effective and efficiently functioning country office with lean resources will be an uphill task. 


How will you tackle these challenges?


Challenges on resource mobilization will require vigorous efforts in building and sustaining our relationships with traditional institutional and UN Agency donors such as OFDA, ECHO, the EU, CHF, FAO and UNICEF. Besides exploring and building new viable partnerships with INGO partners will be a key priority.

On challenges relating to political issues, VSF Suisse will remain neutral and apolitical in line with our core values and principles, hoping that regional and international bodies (UNMISS and IGAD) with mandates to promote peaceful resolution of the conflict play their role effectively for normalcy to return in the country. VSF-Suisse shall however remain engaged with and operate within the framework of UNMISS, UN OCHA, UNHAS and NGO Forum protocols, standard operating procedures and guidelines on security and ground rules on access to beneficiaries to deliver humanitarian assistance.

Xenophobic tendencies relating to employment of nationals vis-à-vis our current staff establishment that is top heavy with foreign nationals will be confronted by finding a balance between the existing pool of talent among foreign staff and guaranteed employment of qualified nationals in emerging vacancies,  both in management and field positions.

Transitional challenges at OJ will be addressed by systematically streamlining and re-organizing systems, procedures and operational capacities necessary to enable the country office discharge its functions effectively.


What is your primary motivation for working as a country director at VSF-Suisse?

My primary motivation lies in the fact that I now have a realistic opportunity to utilise the experience, expertise and the networks I have gained and built over the years to be part of the management team that will contribute to the development of strategies that will turn around the fortunes of VSF Suisse.


Tell us about your previous position as a Team Leader within the VSF-Suisse South Sudan Program, what were your key experiences working there?


Being a Team Leader was a challenging but fulfilling experience. It placed me at the frontline of our field work, leading, guiding and supervising my team members on the day to day programme activity work. It also enabled me to interact closely, and on a regular basis with our field level counterparts, beneficiaries and UN, INGOs and NNGO actors. It gave me the opportunity to have practical hands on experience in implementing directly some specific project components and appreciating the outcomes and impacts at a personal level.


Tell us about the South Sudan – How can you organise development and emergency work in the civil war context?

The current conflict is mainly confined to three states of Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile. The other states, including Northern Bhar el Ghazal state, where VSF Suisse also works, is relatively stable and undertaking development work is possible. In the current context, our approach will be two pronged: relief linked to rehabilitation, recovery and development in the more stable states and emergency interventions in the conflict affected states. The greatest opportunity however lie in the resilience of the conflict affected communities. The communities have unique capabilities to rebound from conflict situations and disasters and our work is always guided by the LRRD principle.


You hold a Bachelor degree in Veterinary Medicine and a Master degree in Development Studies – how can the two disciplines be applied in the African context?


The two disciplines are very relevant and applicable in the African context in the sense that most African societies consist largely of rural agrarian societies whose livelihoods are dependent on livestock resources. Livestock assets play a critical role in rural economies as sources of food, income and animal draught power. My background as a veterinarian and development practitioner comes in handy in strategic consolidation of programming opportunities that exist in livestock health management, production, value chain development and marketing.  


As one of your hobbies you’ve listed travelling – where would you travel to next, and why?

My next most likely destination will be Berne, Switzerland, mainly to meet the HO team, the ED and some Board members for introductory encounters, orientation and strategic planning, along with other country CDs, inshalla!


Tags: country director  Juba  Martin Opondo Barasa  South Sudan  VSF-Suisse 

Lenakiyo Joseph

Congratulations Dr Barasa for this appointment as South Sudan CD,With your experience in the field, you will make it.Am currently with Swiss foundation for technical cooperation based in Kakuma.Inshalah we will meet.

George Oyoko

Congratulations Doc. What a thorough briefing you gave me during the final evalaution of the LCPM Project in Aweil West, NBGS in 2014. Goodluck ahead. George, Nairobi, Kenya

Angelika Herb

Congratulations Dr. Martin! I still remember the good collaboration in Leer South Sudan with VSF and MSF. I was the project coordinator of MSF Holland in those times. I am currently in Central African Republic as Deputy Head of Mission. I wish you a very good time in your new position. Maybe in the future our paths will cross again. Bon courage. Angelika

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