Here is why Africa must support Ms. Mohamed to head WTO

by Raphael Obonyo

External Advisor, United Nations Habitat’s Youth Advisory Board

Africa has a grand opportunity to elect the first ever woman to occupy a senior position at the World Trade Organization (WTO). To begin with, it is 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, WTO 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 and Supachai Panitchpakdi who was succeeded by the present Pascal served a short stint in 2005.

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

By dividing the votes, African will not only deny the first woman to serve the trade  body but will also deny the continent, which has lamented 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, Ms. Mohamed stands a better chance of getting support from other continents. Mr. Kyerematen record as a distinguished international trade and public policy expert is indisputable and makes him equally qualified for the job.

Ms. Mohamed 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 (UNEP).

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

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

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

Africa Union must throw its weight behind Ms. Mohamed to affirm to the world that the election of Ms Zuma was a deliberate move of the confidence the continent has in its women.

Interest of African women in taking global leadership, it is worth noting, comes when AU declared 2010 to 2020 as the African Women decade. Already two countries in Africa for the first in their history elected female presidents-Johnson Sirlief of Liberia and Banda of Malawi.

By supporting Ms Mohamed’s candidature, Africa will confirm its commitment to the bold vision for women’s leadership that we have laid out for the continent.

Third, 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, 2013 to elect Lamy’s successor.

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

Indeed, it will be disastrous for Africa to present two nominees from the region. 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.


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