Would a woman UN chief fare better?

Would a woman UN chief fare better?
4 min read
04 January, 2016
Analysis: With Ban Ki-moon's tenure expiring, calls have been growing to appoint a woman to the UN's top job - a first for the organisation in its seven-decade history.
All previous UN secretary-generals have been men, but this trend could soon end [Getty]

The second five-year term of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is set to expire at the end of 2016.

As the scramble begins to find a replacement for the top job at the international organisation, a review of Ban's "achievements" seems modest at best.

The UN has all but stood idly by as the world's greatest humanitarian tragedy since the Second World War unfolded in Syria, in which major powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council are directly or indirectly involved.

The UN under Ban Ki-moon's watch failed scandalously to tackle either the conflict in Syria or the refugee crisis it caused, save for the secretary-general's routine habit of "expressing concern".

Despite some achievements in 2015, the UN's track record remained lacklustre at best

In 2015, the UN also once again failed the Palestinians, one of the world's most historically oppressed people and at once in most dire need of assistance.

UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of helping Palestinian refugees, saw its funding dramatically cut last year, mainly due to the failure of the major powers to fulfil their obligations - now a highly politicised issue with little regard for humanitarian concerns, or even ethics.

A woman secretary-general for 2017?

The list of Ban's possible replacements is expected to be ready in the first quarter of 2016. This list will then be narrowed, with a shortlist presented to the UN Security Council by July.

One candidate will then be chosen, and needs to be subsequently confirmed by the UN General Assembly. The new secretary-general is set to take over in January 2017.

The post has never been filled by a woman, but more and more women are playing prominent roles on the world stage, paving the way for them to be represented at the top UN post

The post has never been filled by a woman, prompting many influential voices to call for one to be appointed to the top UN job.

The next secretary general is also supposed to be either an Eastern European or a South American, according to a non-binding rotational norm to provide geographical diversity in top appointments.

Several candidates have been either officially proposed, named in speculative media coverage or leaked from diplomatic insider circles, though they are not all women.

The names include Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission; Bulgaria's Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO; Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and director of the United Nations Development Programme; Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Ban Ki-moon's mediocre legacy

Despite some progress achieved during his term, from climate talks to Iran's nuclear programme, the achievements of the current secretary-general and his representatives have been mediocre.

Even with regard to the emerging peace process in Syria endorsed recently by UN Security Council 2254, many observers are of the view that the UN stance is little more than an endorsement of the Russian vision of the conflict and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Ban took over from his predecessor, Kofi Annan, in 2007, and had to deal with several scandals he inherited - led by the Oil for Food Programme scandal, and allegations of rape involving UN peacekeeping forces in Africa.

Nine years later, despite having carried out several internal reforms and spending reviews, corruption remains a huge problem affecting the credibility and transparency of the UN.

New scandals even emerged under Ban, involving allegations of bribes and abuses of office, most recently with John William Ashe, president of the UN General Assembly, accused of helping to funnel illicit funds from Chinese sources to business asscoiates.

In addition to failing to offer creative solutions to crises that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and injured many, many more - from Syria to Yemen to Libya - the UN secretary-general was almost fully aligned with Washington in each of his stances.

In many times, both the content and the style of his statements closely matched those of the White House, especially with regard to the Palestinian issue.

Whether or not the next secretary-general will do a better job, both in reforming the UN or tackling the functions it was created for will depend on the character of the person chosen.

Ban Ki-moon had been appointed in a US-dominated world order nine years ago. Washington had even vetoed a second term of a previous candidate, Boutros Ghali, for opposing US policies.

But with Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, India and South Africa all more assertive than ever before, a pro-American secretary general is unlikely to come again.