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Choosing The Next UN Boss: A Political Quagmire – Analysis


By Diana Bochaberi*

Ban Ki-Moon’s term as UN Secretary General ends this year and already political jostling is underway ahead of the selection of the new head of the world body. There are strong indications that favour a woman candidate. And how has Africa positioned itself for the unfolding contest?

This past year, the United Nations marked the end of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and ushered in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global goals as they are commonly referred to. Since its inception the organization has mitigated intra- and international conflict, promoted international cooperation and good neighbourliness around the globe, making it the epicentre of global diplomacy, economic cooperation, and development. The institution is headed by a Secretary General who is the most visible representative, and undergoes a vigorous process to be selected. Throughout the years several exceptional individuals have held the prestigious position. The organization however, has had a long history of men leading it although, several attempts made to elect a female candidate have been unsuccessful.

With the current Secretary General’s mandate coming to an end this year, several groups including member states are contemplating a female choice to lead the organization. Various lobby groups have proposed names of suitable female candidates who are very much qualified to take the reins. Several of the names proposed including, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, who is currently an administer of the UN Development Program, Irina Bokova a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria and elected twice as the Director General for UNESCO. Others include, Michelle Bachelet former President of Chile, Rebecca Grynspan former Vice President of Costa Rica, and Maria Holguin Foreign Minister of Colombia.

It is, however, customary for the position of Secretary General to be rotational between regional grouping, and it is Eastern Europe’s turn to occupy the position, thus favouring Irina Bokova. If it was Africa’s turn to select a candidate, there would also be very many female candidates qualified to lead. The African Union dubbed 2015 as the year of ‘Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063’, which is geared towards achieving equality in the continent. The Secretary General position is however, a political post that needs lobbying and diplomatic clout to get it. The rich and powerful states eclipse the interests of the poor nations in pursuit of national interests. In Africa, several states have continuously improved their standing within the organization through resources, and enough qualified personnel that can manoeuvre the sticky waters of diplomacy.

African states face a few challenges within the organizational structure of AU creating divergence among its member states. This divide began with its predecessor Organization of Africa Unity (OAU), with its member states divided into two alliances, the Monrovia and Casablanca groups, each with political and economic interests compounded with domestic politics. There is also the matter of suspicion between Anglophone and Francophone states, as witnessed during the election of the AU chair in 2012. The ‘big’ states including South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Egypt had a gentleman’s agreement excluding them from vying for chair of AU Commission putting the ‘smaller’ states at an advantageous position. South Africa however broke the unwritten agreement by proposing and lobbying for a candidate from their country. The competition reared its ugly head creating a bigger divided among the member states, and leaving the poorer nations to punch above their weight. With this kind of rivalry it becomes challenging and harder for states to garner support for their candidate.

A number of African female candidates with the right credentials fit to lead the UN exist. They include the current chair of AU Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from South Africa, Amb. Dr. Amina Mohammed who’s worked in several international organizations including the UN, and currently the Cabinet Secretary of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Kenya, and Amina J. Mohammed, a former UN Secretary General Special Advisor on Post 2015 Development Planning and currently a Minister of Environment in Nigeria. Others include President Ellen Johnson of Liberia, and Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka – a former Vice President of South Africa and currently an Executive Director at UN women. These are but a few of the qualified candidates that can lead the organization. These individuals do not only understand domestic political affairs, they also comprehend international politics that makes it easier for them to manoeuvre the UN system or any other international organization. With this in mind, does Kenya have the diplomatic weight to lobby and get their candidate elected?

There other persons in Kenya who can do a tremendous job as the Secretary General. This however, will depend on Kenya’s resources, ability to mobilize other states to support their candidate, and influence the decision making process at the UN. With diplomatic heavy weights like South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and the rest, competition will be very stiff. In the past one year though, Kenya has hosted several significant international events that have taken the global centre stage including, the Sixth Global Summit on Entrepreneurship, Pope Francis made his maiden visit to Africa beginning with Kenya, and also hosted the 10th Ministerial Conference on the World Trade Organization. This year it is to host a number of other high profile events including the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development.

These events and others to come have raised Kenya’s profile tremendously within the region and at a global level. This goes to show that Kenya has the prowess to lobby and influence or punch above its weight class in the international politics. What remains to be seen is Kenya’s influence in selecting and lobbying for a candidate when the time comes. Whichever way the chips may fall, the UN should recognize the importance of its commitment to gender equality and women empowerment to fulfil its global goals.

* Diana Bochaberi is Program Officer with International Conference on Great Lakes Region- Youth Forum.

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One thought on “Choosing The Next UN Boss: A Political Quagmire – Analysis

  • May 18, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    You have not mentioned all of the candidates running.


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