A row between Kenya and Ghana over who carries Africa’s mantle in the race for the WTO top job has intensified as nominees formally made their submissions as part of the selection process.
Ms Amina Mohamed of Kenya and Ghana’s trade minister Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen are the only candidates from Africa hoping to succeed Pascal Lamy as director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Mr Lamy retires in August after completing two four-year terms at the helm of the global trade body.
The candidature of Kenya and Ghana for the WTO job has caused divisions in Africa amid concerns that having more than one nominee in the race could jeopardise the continent’s chances of clinching the prestigious position.
Only last week, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (Igad) backed Kenya’s candidate, nearly six months after the Africa Union (AU) said it would back Ghana’s choice.
These differences persisted on Wednesday in Geneva as the nominees from Kenya and Ghana prepared to make their submissions as part of the selection process.
Ms Mohamed maintained she was in the race for the WTO position by merit despite claims that Kenya’s candidature could ruin Africa’s chance of clinching the post. She also said her candidacy was not intended to split the African vote.
“As a lawyer, I clearly understand what the procedure for endorsement of Africa candidates is all about. The procedures are not intended for selection but election purposes,” she told a media briefing at the WTO headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday.
She said that Kenya picked her to run for the seat last March, four months before Mr Kyerematen was given the nod.
“I am hoping the members of this organisation are going to judge my candidature based on merit, competence, my track record here at the WTO and fair hearing,” Ms Amina said.
Mr Kyerematen, however, said Ghana was the AU’s choice. “There is only one officially endorsed AU candidate and this goes through a process within the AU. The process was completed in July at the summit meeting,” he told a media briefing in Geneva.
Africa, like other emerging market countries, will want to see one of their own in charge of the Geneva-based trading club after top jobs at the IMF and the World Bank went to a European and an American.
Ms Mohamed said that she would focus, if elected, on strengthening bargaining systems at the WTO and addressing emerging global issues such as climate change.
“A key priority will be to have a stable forum for negotiating consensus among members. I will also work to upgrade systems into the modern trade agenda to respond to the needs of the 21st century such as climate change,” Ms Mohamed said.
Kenya’s nominee, a law graduate from the University of Kiev, has served as a civil servant for 26 years. She joined the public service as a legal advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and rose through the ranks to the position of PS in the Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Ministry in 2008.
She left three years later to join the UN as the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) deputy director and UN assistant secretary-general.
“Trade has always been my first priority and I think I can make a contribution,” Ms Mohammed told the media briefing.