By the end of this year, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will likely be headed by an African woman for the first time since its inception on January 1, 1995. The selection process to succeed Brazil’s Roberto Azevêdo, who steps down as WTO Director General on August 31, officially started on June 8 when governments were invited to send their nominees.
The nomination process closed on July 8 and the candidates have since been meeting separately with members of the General Council in a special session to make their presentations.
Of the eight nominees selected by the governments of Saudi Arabia UK, Nigeria, Kenya, South Korea, Moldova, Mexico and Egypt, three are women (Kenya, Nigeria and South Korea), and two are African women (Kenya and Nigeria).
According to Reuters news agency, “There is broad support for an African candidate and a woman, since neither have headed the Geneva-based body in the past, sources following the process said.” If these ‘sources’ familiar with the WTO’s board thinking are to be remotely trusted, it would mean that by November 7, an African might be at the helm of WTO.
The Nigerian candidate, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been described as a ‘political heavy- hitter’ by Politico, and that “few doubt that [she] is a force to be reckoned with”. Dr Okonjo is a Harvard-educated economist with a PhD from MIT who served as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance. She currently sits on the board of Twitter, Standard Chartered PLC and is the chair of Gavi, the vaccine alliance.
Dr Ngozi’s story is long and thoroughly impressive, including a 25-year career at the World Bank, where she rose to the number two position of Managing Director, Operations. One of the things Dr Ngozi is remembered for as Minister of Finance, besides earning a reputation for being a ruthless corruption-buster, was that she negotiated with the Paris Club of Creditors a $30 billion debt relief package for Nigeria, including the ‘outright cancellation of $18 billion’, according to her official biography at the WTO website.
Closer home is Amina Mohamed, a woman of many firsts, just like her Nigerian counterpart. Amina is currently the Cabinet secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage and was recently admitted to the Bar.
DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL
From 2002 to 2006, in her capacity as Kenya’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the WTO, Amina became the first woman to chair the General Council in 2005. She has also previously served Kenya’s government as CS Foreign Affairs, as well as Education, Science, Technology and Innovation.
It might appear that this is a moment of reckoning for Africans, seeing as this past week, IMF appointed an African – a Kenyan citizen Ceda Ogada as Secretary of the Fund.
The Harvard-educated Kenyan joined the IMF’s legal department in 1999 and rose to become the Deputy General Counsel in 2014 until his appointment as Secretary of Fund. In a statement released this week, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva noted that Ogada’s “…institutional knowledge… and intellectual heft… will help the fund to even more effectively serve our member countries in a very challenging economic environment”
It is not lost on me that all this is happening against background of the Black Lives Matter campaign, a global conversation recently bolstered by the killing of George Floyd. There seems to be a global awakening that is compelling the world to tackle sensitive and incredibly divisive issues such as systemic racism so deeply embedded in our societies. Global corporations have been doing away with racist practices like Walmart’s decision to stop locking ‘multicultural hair and beauty products’ in display cases.
International inter-governmental organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, whose leadership have been historically male and white, are now more open to diversity and the current selection process might be a step towards necessary inclusivity.
But it must not stop there. Critics might say that some of these moves – such as the inclusion of a black woman on a board or senior leadership positions – are deliberate moves to give the impression of diversity. And they may have a point, especially if these appointments are few and far between.
What we really need, besides these public appointments of black people, is to begin to change how we think about race, and the appreciation that black people, black women especially, bring more to the table than the colour of their skin.
Let us not have these appointments just to check the ‘diversity’ box, but as an appreciation of what people bring to the table, regardless of their skin colour, race or gender.
The writer is the director of the Innovation Centre at Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications. The views expressed in this column are hers; [email protected]
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.