7 February 2013

Kenya: The AU Must Back Kenyan for WTO Job


Africa has a grand opportunity to elect the first ever woman to occupy a senior position at the World Trade Organisation.

It is a great pride for our nation that one of our own, Amina Mohamed, is among those lined up to succeed Pascal Lamy who has served the world body since 2005.

Since its inception in 1993, the WTO's director general position has been occupied by men. The list includes the first DG Peter Sutherland and his successor Renato Ruggiero who served between 1995 and 1999.

Mike Moore served between 1999 and 2002 while Supachai Panitchpakdi, who was succeeded by the present Pascal, served a short stint in 2005.

The biggest hurdle for Mohamed's elevation to the coveted position is Africa's move to also front Ghana's Trade Minister Alan Kyerematen. Conventional wisdom suggests that for Africa to win, the continent must decide to support only one candidate from the region.

By dividing the votes, Africa will not only deny the first woman to serve the trade body, but also deny the continent, which has been lamenting for many years of trade imbalances, an opportunity to play a key role in global trade by taking leadership of WTO.

Although the two candidates have impressive resumes, Mohamed stands a better chance of getting support from other continents. Kyerematen's record as a distinguished international trade and public policy expert is indisputable and makes him equally qualified for the job.

Mohamed's 26 years experience in domestic and international public service, serving as the first woman to chair the General Council of WTO, is of great significance in her quest to take the position.

This is reinforced by her current position of the assistant secretary general and deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Mohamed is likely to get support from unexpected quarters, as there is need to affirm to the world that the organisation supports gender balance.

Secondly, Asia, which would have been a strong contender for the position has served in it - there is informal consensus that the position should this time go to Africa or Latin America.

In July 2012, the world was surprised when Africa elected Nkosazan Dlamini-Zuma from South Africa as the first female chair of the African Union.

The AU must now throw its weight behind Mohamed to affirm to the world that the election of Zuma was a show of the confidence the continent has in its women.

The interest of African women in taking global leadership, it is worth noting, came when AU declared 2010 to 2020 as the African Women decade.

Already, two countries in Africa have female presidents-Johnson Sirlief of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi. By supporting Mohamed's candidature, Africa will confirm its commitment to the bold vision for women's leadership it has laid out.

There are six men and three women who have been nominated to replace Pascal Lamy as head of the WTO. The General Council, composed of 158 member countries, is expected to vote before May 31 to elect Lamy's successor.

Going by the historical patterns of voting, countries are likely to vote as regional groups. Unless Africa unites, it will not be easy to win the support of other countries.

Indeed, it will be disastrous for Africa to present two nominees. The continent must build consensus and speak with one voice if it wants to rally other developing and developed countries to back a nominee from Africa.

Raphael Obonyo is the external advisor, United Nations Habitat's Youth Advisory Board. 

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