Kenya could give the world the first female head of the global top trade agency, taking its pursuit of diplomatic presence in key international state organisations to a higher level.
The nomination of Amina Mohamed, the UN Environmental Programme deputy director and UN assistant secretary-general to succeed Frenchman Pascal Lamy as the head of the World Trade Organisation also represents the quest for increased control by developing countries of key multilateral development institutions.
Kenya forwarded its nomination to the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the Friday before Christmas, 10 days before the New Year eve deadline.
“She is a result-oriented team leader and a good negotiator who is fluent in English, Russian and Kiswahili and has a working knowledge of French. Her work experience covers a broad spectrum of domestic and international assignments in Europe and the Commonwealth,” the bio data forwarded to WTO General Council reads in part.
Kenya and other developing nations see taking leadership of WTO as the only way to get to the influential position of re-writing trade rules and gaining greater access to the developed countries’ markets.
African countries account for less than three per cent (Sh48 trillion in 2010) of global trade in goods. They hope to use WTO’s power of crafting rules of global and bilateral trade relations to reduce some of the barriers that have locked them out of developed countries’ markets.
Due to lopsided rules, Kenya exports about half of its products (48 per cent of the Sh511 billion worth of goods in 2011) to African countries, the rest of the world sharing 52 per cent.
Ms Mohamed will faceoff with Ghana’s trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, Mexico’s Herminio Blanco and Costa Rica’s minister Anabel González.
South Korea’s minister Taeho Bark, New Zealand’s Tim Groser, Ahmad Hindawi of Jordan, Mari Pangestu of Indonesia and Brazilian Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo have also been nominated to replace Mr Lamy when his tenure expires at the end of August.
Ms Mohamed, a law graduate from the University of Kiev, has served as a civil servant for 26 years. She joined the public service as a legal advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and rose through the ranks to the position of permanent secretary in the Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Ministry in 2008. She left three years later to join the UN.
“She is a distinguished African diplomat who rose through the ranks in Kenya’s public service to the highest level of Permanent Representative to the UN,” the government says in its nomination citation.
Like Mr Lamy who rose to the position straight from the French civil service, Ms Mohamed will be fighting for the leadership of the global trade body from the hands of politicians nominated by the seven countries.
Her nomination comes against a general push by WTO members to hand the position to an African, Latin American or Caribbean (ACP) candidate given that the position has since the WTO establishment been held by representatives of developed nations.
Under this campaign, Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, who was replaced by Mr Lamy eight years ago, is seen to have held the mantle as a representative of Asia.
The European Union where Mr Lamy and Norwegian chairperson of General Council Elin Johansen come from opted not to nominate any candidate, leaving the bloc’s votes up for grabs.
But the contest pitting Kenya and Ghana puts the African Union in an awkward position where it cannot rally its members behind a single candidate despite advocating for a stronger voice for Africa in the global trade body. That means Kenya’s Foreign minister Sam Ongeri and Trade minister Moses Wetang’ula will have to engage in shuttle diplomacy to campaign for Ms Mohamed.
It is that kind of capital to capital engagement that saw Kenya win the post of the AU deputy chairperson through Erastus Mwencha in 2008 and that of membership to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, a subsidiary of the UN Convection on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), through Simon Njuguna this year.
In October, Kenya was elected to chair the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) Council for 2012-13 during a meeting in Mauritius. The same month, a Kenyan was elected director-general of the Universal Postal Union, a United Nations body responsible for the development of postal business in the world.
Amb. Bishar Hussein becomes the highest placed Kenyan in the UN system. He is the first Kenyan to head a United Nations body. He will serve for a period of four years. Nigeria was elected the First Vice Chairperson and Trinidad and Tobago as the Second Vice Chairperson.
The team chaired by Mrs Johansen will hold a formal meeting on January 29, 2013 to allow all the nominated candidates to make their presentations before the General Council makes public its decision at the end of May.
A Director-General wields executive powers in running WTO affairs and resolving trade disputes. The move by Kenya to field a candidate for the Agency’s director-general once again casts Kenya as strong defender of the global multilateral trade system.
In the East African Community which like other ACP countries is negotiating the WTO-compliant Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with Europe, Kenya has maintained a lone stand, defending the talks even as its partners pull in different directions.
A number of experts as well as politicians and private sector players want EAC states to go for bilateral arrangement instead of blanket trade agreements. “We are not going back. Except the new areas which EC sneaked in, we have covered up to 90 per cent of key clauses,” says trade PS Adulrazaq Ali.
Whoever is picked for the post is expected to breathe new life into the Doha Development Round or Doha Development Agenda (DDA) after the Qatari city that first hosted them) that have dragged on for more than a decade.
Developing countries hope to use DDA talks to force developed countries to stop subsidising agriculture giving unfair competition to produce from the former. They are also seeking development support in compensation for private sector imbalances.