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First Kenyan female candidate frontrunner to WTO might rewrite history thanks to vowing reform

As she emerges as one of two reform-minded African female frontrunners, Kenya’s candidate to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) announced on Monday that she is seeking Washington’s backing and expressed some sympathy with its criticism of the global body.

Amina Mohamed declared after a closed-door vetting session last week that the meeting went “really well” as she outlined her platform to steer the body out of crises from global trade tensions and rising protectionism to a COVID-induced dive in business.

Alongside Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to replace Brazil’s Roberto Azevedo as director-general, some delegates declared that Mohamed, a 58-year-old minister and former WTO chair, is one of the favourites although weeks of campaigning lie ahead.

The WTO has never been led by a woman or an African, and if she wins, Mohamed will be the very first African woman to lead the World Trade Organisation, an historical change lies ahead.

Amina Mohamed. Image credit Wikipedia

She has a very high skilled profile, with many years of experience. She is a Kenyan lawyer, diplomat and politician, and she is presently serving as the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Heritage and Culture in Kenya. She previously served as chairwoman of the International Organization for Migration and the World Trade Organization's General Council, as well as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. She also served as the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya from May 2013 to February 2018, when President Uhuru Kenyatta, after re-election, moved her to the Education docket. Eventually, in March 2019, she was moved to the Sports Ministry replacing Rashid Echesa.

“The rulebook needs to be upgraded because of the concerns that are being expressed about the rules not being fit for purpose,” she said, adding that resuming the top position appeals court will be the priority on the agenda of the next major WTO meeting in 2021, as the United States has paralysed the Appellate Body by blocking new judges.

Kenya's candidate for General Director of the World Trade Organization Amina Mohamed attends attends the General Council meeting in Geneva. Image credit Yahoo! sports

In an apparent nod to Washington, she referred to concerns about the body’s “overreach”.

Asked whether that meant she sympathised with the U.S. position or not, she said: “Those concerns that have been raised, they would not have been raised if they did not have a solid reason to raise them.”

Mohamed’s supporters say she combines deep WTO knowledge with a drive to overhaul its 25-year-old rules. “The difference between me and them is I have worked this system,” she explained.

However, she must win over those African countries who have instead expressed support for Okonjo-Iweala. Over the past week, countries have been hosting Geneva cocktail parties to showcase candidates. The WTO eliminates them in batches, starting with those unlikely to win consensus from 164 members.


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