, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 12 – “I am not seeking this position as a woman, but as a Kenyan who is ready to represent not only my country but Africa at large,” Ambassador Amina Mohamed says as I start my interview with her at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi.
She is currently the United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
In the recent past, Mohammed has caught the attention of the public after announcing that she will be seeking to succeed Pascal Lamy as the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), who has served since 2005.
Mohammed’s work experience spans over 26 years that covers a broad spectrum of domestic and international assignments.
Among other numerous leadership positions, Mohamed became the first woman to chair the General Council of the World Trade Organisation.
She was also the first African and the first woman to be elected Chairperson of the Council for the International Organisation for Migration.
If she gets the position of the Director General of WTO, she will be the first woman ever to head the global organisation and according to her, “this will change the face of Africa. It will take our profile to a different level. I believe this is the only chance Africa has to get the position.”
“It has not been an easy journey. The world of politics can get tough. One thing I am happy about is the support I have received first from the government of Kenya after it endorsed me to go for the position and from other partners in the continent,” she says with a broad smile.
The Ambassador is in the race with other 8 candidates who have all gone before the WTO’s General Council for questioning about their merits and visions for the organisation.
The other candidates include Costa Rica Foreign Trade Minister Anabel Gonzalez, Ghana former Trade Minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, Jordan Trade Minister Ahmad Thougan Hindawi, South Korean Trade Minister Taeho Bark, Mexico Trade Minister Herminio Blanco, Brazil envoy to the WTO Roberto Azevedo and former Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu.
By the end of this month, the WTO Council will again choose three of its members, who will do the final selection of choosing one nominee from the 9 candidates who are currently going round the world to the 158 WTO member states lobbying for support.
The decision must be made not later than May 31 this year, and the nominee to take over at the WTO on September 1, after Lamy retires in August.
So, why is the ambassador convinced that she indeed deserves the position, and does she have all it takes to get it?
“I have spent a lot of time at the WTO. I am the only ambassador, who has served in the three main bodies at the organisation from Africa, including the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB), Dispute Settlement Body and at the General Council. But more than that, I feel I have the capacity, the training, experience and the right credentials needed for this job,” she says boldly looking me in the eyes.
Many in the African continent have high hopes that the election of an African candidate could play an important role in soothing the divisions over a fair global trading pact following years of political deadlock over the Doha Round of Talks.
The Doha Development Round is the trade negotiation round of the WTO which commenced in November 2001 with an objective of lowering trade barriers around the world, which will help facilitate the increase of global trade.
“I cannot have any other agenda apart from this. I know it has been there for years, but the key thing here is to modernise the issue. What I will do is bring a dose of pragmatism and make sure we strike a balance,” she says,” I think I understand much better the concerns of the various governments and how they prioritize issues.”
But despite receiving support from the government of Kenya, the East African Community, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development(IGAD) among others, many feel her biggest challenge to get the position is competition from the other African candidate who is the former Trade Minister from Ghana, Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen.
“If it was an election where people would go into a boardroom and they elect the candidates, then one would think twice about having a second African candidate. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. I think we need to look at it in a different perspective; other countries have even more than three candidates. Here it’s about who qualified the selection process which is very tight. There is no row between Kenya and Ghana as reported in the media. No,” she emphasizes.
In every race, there is always a winner and a looser. Is she ready for that?
“Well, I have a perfectly good job here so if I lose, I will come back here,” she says and then laughs, “It’s also the first time an African woman has held the position of deputy executive director of UNEP and I am extremely proud of what I have achieved so far. Sometimes I go to conferences and I am sitting in these big panels and asking those questions. It makes me feel so humbled to be where I am.”
Amina was born on October 5, 1961 in a less-fortunate family in Kakamega where she grew up with a lot of hardship, as she tells me.
She mentions that her background was her greatest source of motivation and she has never relented to go for what she wants.
“My late mother helped me a lot to focus on my studies. She made a commitment to me that as long as would do well in school, she had to do anything to cater for my needs. My dream was to serve in the public service. I feel satisfied and sometimes I wish there were 48 hours in a day, I would do a lot,” Ms Mohamed says.
“About my family?” she smiles and hesitates after I try enquiring. She instead decides not to get to that direction.
Her message to the women is to be strong and courageous in getting to leadership position with the help of the current constitution.
“I know women out there have so many responsibilities and it can be hard to have even your own time. I have responsibilities too like any other woman but what I have learnt, is to organise myself every single day and not to kill the drive in me to go higher.”
“Half of the world is made up of women and the other half (men), was born by women. You are a woman, never forget that,” She tells me in her parting shot.