Kenya’s Kituyi nominated as next UNCTAD Head

17 June 2013

Former Kenyan trade minister Mukhisa Kituyi has been nominated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to serve as the new head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the agency announced on 16 May. Kituyi's candidacy is next set to go to the UN General Assembly for approval by the organisation's 194 member states. He will replace current UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, who has served two terms as the organisation's head since being appointed in 2005. Before taking the top job at UNCTAD in 2005, Supachai was the WTO's Director-General for three years.

The term of the new UNCTAD chief will begin on 1 September and last for four years. Kituyi, who served as Kenya's trade minister from 2002-2007 and was a member of his country's parliament for over a decade, is currently the chief executive of the Nairobi-based Kenya Institute of Governance and a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution's Africa Growth Initiative. The former Kenyan government official was reportedly under consideration for the UN agency's top post in 2009, before Supachai was nominated to serve a second term. Kituyi also briefly vied for the position of WTO Director-General in late 2004, in a race that ultimately went to current chief Pascal Lamy.

The news of Kituyi's UNCTAD nomination, on 22 May, was announced just days after the WTO formally concluded its own leadership contest, which saw Brazil's Roberto Carvalho de Azevêdo win the role of Director-General from a nine-candidate field. Some trade observers have speculated that the elimination of the WTO selection's two African candidates - Alan Kyerematen of Ghana and Amina Mohamed of Kenya - in the first round of that contest may have helped set the stage for someone from that continent to be chosen to head the UN trade and development body. While the WTO race dominated news headlines since it kicked off in December, the UNCTAD process has advanced much more quietly, with comparatively little information on who was vying for the role or what stage the selection was in.

The former Kenyan official's appointment comes at a time where many observers have questioned how best to keep the UN organisation relevant, and what role it should play in the ongoing global economic crisis. Questions were raised at last year's UNCTAD XIII conference, for instance, on whether it was duplicating the efforts of other international bodies, such as the Bretton Woods institutions, and whether the agency's work should be geared at tackling the causes - versus the effects - of the crisis. Before Supachai, previous UNCTAD Secretaries-General have hailed from Brazil, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, and Argentina.

Patricia Francis, head of the International Trade Centre (ITC) - a joint WTO/UN technical cooperation agency - is also slated to step down from her post in June, having held the job since 2006.

Outgoing WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy and incoming chief Azevêdo, together with Supachai and Kituyi - assuming the latter is confirmed - have been tasked with making a joint recommendation to Ban as to who should take on the ITC role. However, the final decision on who shall serve as Francis' replacement will ultimately lie with the UN Secretary-General.

ICTSD reporting

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