Kent on Starting his Career in International Disasters
Dr. Randoph Kent discusses his transition into the field of working in the humanitarian field with emergencies.
Ky Luu: Randolph, welcome to the Leadership Corner.
Randolph Kent: Thank you, thank you very much.
Ky Luu: Now, you have had an extremely distinguished career. You have been the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Rwanda, in Kosovo and Somalia. You’ve been the Chief of the Emergency Unit in Sudan, Chief of Emergency Preparedness and Prevention in Ethiopia, and the list goes on. How did you get your start in this career, and why did you choose to enter into this profession?
Randolph Kent: You know, it’s really funny. It took place over a breakfast table, and we were about to sell our publishing company. This was in the United Kingdom. And, I think all of us were getting a bit bored with our publishing company which, dare I say, was actually quite successful, and we were about to sell it, etc., etc. And I was looking at the newspaper over breakfast, and I saw this banner headline, it happened to be I was reading the International Herald Tribune, and the banner headline said 16 people, and I think this must’ve been 1979, 1980, I’m not sure, had died falling off of a collapsed bridge which, I believe, was in St. Louis. And I turned the paper over, and there was one column inch that talked about literally tens of thousands of people dying in India because of a flood. And I wondered, “What is the relative value of life? Why do 16 get a banner headline and tens of thousands get a column inch?” And I began to think about that and then became more and more interested in, I feel like, the values and, and what people attest to values. And then I thought, “I need to know more.” And so I began to trace the footsteps of what happened in East Pakistan in 1970 to see how, which was really one of the first major, what you might call international disasters, by no means the first international disaster, but the kind in which the development of the media, the attention of the media, the cold war context, all of this brought together the problems facing, in this case, literally billions of people. In 1970, just by the way, 250,000 people lost their lives in the cyclone off the coast of East Pakistan, off the Bay of Bengal, and in six hours, a quarter of a million people disappeared and literally millions continued to suffer. And as I traced that, going up and down Chittagong Hill Tracts, going, if you like, down the great Meghna River and by what then became Bangladesh, all of a sudden I realized that it would be very important not merely to understand but to get more involved. And so I guess sometime towards the later 1970s I began to get involved, I was given some money, and I wrote a book. And then I was picked up by the United Nations. And it all began, Ky, I guess sometime around 1982-83, in the hills of Wollo province in Ethiopia during the great drought/famine and I guess that’s where it all started.