MULTILATERALISM

Why CS Amina won’t find it easy in WTO race

Her position on the ICC is cited as one of the reasons she lost the AU race.

In Summary

• Amina is now among eight candidates seeking to convince 164 WTO members to, “steer the body through intensifying global trade tensions and rising protectionism”.

• But there is a problem. Africa has nominated three candidates, and two are women.

Sports CS Amina Mohamed at Olympic Primary School, Nairobi, in 2018
Sports CS Amina Mohamed at Olympic Primary School, Nairobi, in 2018
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

Kenya on Tuesday nominated Sports CS Amina Mohamed for the World Trade Organization Director-General post.

She had expressed her interest in replacing Roberto Azevêdo in May, after he announced his resignation an year earlier. He will step down on August 31 this year.

Amina is now among eight candidates seeking to convince 164 WTO members to, as Reuters noted, “steer the body through intensifying global trade tensions and rising protectionism”.

They are Jesús Seade Kuri (Mexico), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria), Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh (Egypt), Tudor Ulianovschi (Moldova), Yoo Myung-hee (Korea), Mohammad Maziad Al-Tuwaijri (Saudi Arabia) and Liam Fox (UK).

They are all accomplished individuals in their current and previous engagements. However, there is somewhat consensus that this is the time for Africa, as it has not had an opportunity to head the global agency.

Three of the six former director-generals came from Europe (Ireland, Italy and France), while the others were from Thailand, Brazil and New Zealand. Azevêdo is Brazilian.

But there is a problem. Africa has nominated three candidates, and two are women. This is the first challenge for Amina.

She told the Financial Times in May that the incoming Director General needed to be someone experienced in working within the organisation.

“We need someone with the right experience, someone who is committed to the multilateral system … but also has the political stature to be an effective facilitator and a consensus-builder,” she said.

“If that person happens to be African, or happens to be a woman, I think it will be so much better”.

And this works for her because as a Permanent Representative, she represented Kenya in various organisations in the UN system, and participated in drafting and interpretation of international trade treaties. She  has also worked as Foreign Affairs and International Trade minister between 2013-17.

To secure this post, however, she certainly needs first to secure a consensus backing from African states, which she failed to win when she stood for the African Union Commission chairmanship in 2017.

Kenya campaigned across Africa,  and spent Sh437.7 million in its failed bid to capture the AUC seat.

She lost to Moussa Faki, a former Chadian prime minister and a Foreign Affairs minister at the time of his election. This points to the second challenge. West African states are likely to support one of their own in ECOWAS in attracting consensus.  Amina has to beat Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and international development expert.

Egypt will likely then take the North African states  — the Arab Maghreb Union — and the Arab League. 

But even as Amina pegs her bid on multilateralism, her position on the ICC is cited as one of the reasons she lost the AU race.

As Foreign Affairs Minister in the first term of the Jubilee government, she was a fierce critic of the International Criminal Court and this did not sit well with the countries that are in favour of the Hague-based court.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, her bosses, were then facing crimes against humanity charges at The Hague.

But if she succeeds, Amina will be the WTO’s first female leader and would be another plus for Kenya’s representation in international organisations.

Already, former Trade Minister Mukhisa Kituyi is United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Director General until August 2021.

Kibii is a Foreign Affairs writer