Africans get top jobs in international institutions

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THE OF THE WORLD the big multilateral institutions are always anxious to trumpet their vision of the world. Art from the far corners of the world adorns their headquarters – and if a visitor needs to consult a huge map of the world, it’s rarely far away. Yet, in one area, their global credentials have not always matched: leadership. Most of the heads of multilateral institutions were white men. Sub-Saharan Africans, in particular, have been overlooked. Until 2017, only one headed a large multilateral organization: Kofi Annan, who headed the UN, which runs its main post by region, from 1997 to 2006.

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Today Africans run several global institutions. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian, headed the World Health Organization (WHO) during the pandemic. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian, heads the World Trade Organization (WTO). Makh tar Diop, a Senegalese, chairs an investment portfolio of around $ 64 billion at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the semi-independent branch of the World Bank that invests in private companies. An injection gives the best jobs at the World Bank and IMF to America and Europe. But for only the second time, a sub-Saharan African, Antoinette Sayeh from Liberia, is deputy director general of the IMF.

Each is highly qualified. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, Mr. Diop and Ms. Sayeh were all finance ministers and had all worked at the World Bank. Dr Tedros was Minister of Health and then Minister of Foreign Affairs. That they all have big jobs at the same time is partly a coincidence. But there are signs that governments have deliberately sought Africans to lead large institutions. “There was a lot of feeling that it was Africa’s turn and that it was a woman’s turn,” says Keith Rockwell, the WTOspokesperson, the mood before the appointment of Ms. Okonjo-Iweala.

This reflects a realization that the attention of many of these institutions is shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, which has more than two-thirds of the world’s poor and where the average life expectancy is around 61 years, compared to 80 years in rich countries. Although Africa represents only a small part of world trade, it is Africa that has the most to gain from trade. It will probably represent a growing share of IMFwork, too. Loans to sub-Saharan countries are 13 times higher since the start of the pandemic.

One thing the new bosses can offer is a “special ear” for problems on the mainland, says Ms. Sayeh. At the very least, their leadership draws more attention to Africa. “I don’t think anyone in the WTO decided to ignore Africa’s concerns, ”says Ms. Okonjo-Iweala. Nonetheless, she adds, “Africa has not benefited as much from trade integration … as it should have.” In theory, many African countries obtain lower tariffs in richer countries through trade agreements authorized under the WTOthe rules of. However, it does not work well in practice. “We really need to look at some of these agreements and make it easier for African countries,” Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said. Mr. Diop says that the IFC has not neglected Africa in the past. Still, he plans to double annual investments on the continent to $ 10 billion over the next few years.

Personal experience inevitably shapes the priorities of leaders. Dr Tedros lost his brother, who was around four, to what was probably measles. He has made similar curable diseases the center of his campaign to lead the WHO, and prioritized them during his mandate. When Ebola struck the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dr Tedros surrendered 14 times, despite the threat from the rebels.

Having Africans at the helm of crazy-filled institutions can also provide role models and help overcome racist stereotypes. “It is important for people to see an African leading an institution in the economic sphere,” says Ms. Okonjo-Iweala.

Dr Tedros was recently appointed without opposition to lead the WHO for a second term. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala and Mr. Diop no doubt aspire to similar approvals of their work. Pioneers sometimes feel an added pressure to be successful and may be held to an unfairly high standard. Yet not all heads of global institutions are great. The real sign that Africans have broken the glass ceiling of international organizations will be when the ordinary leadership of an African does not elicit more comment than the lukewarm tenure of a big boss from Asia, Europe or the Americas. â– 

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Africans at the top”


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