Another Election To Watch

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Even as it approaches Inauguration Day, Washington’s attention remains – to a large extent – fixated on the who’s, the what’s and the how’s of the November election results.

Yet outside the Beltway, outside our country, the world spins on. It observes the spectacle, no doubt, but it spins on nonetheless. There are important things happening beyond our borders that we ought to pay attention to – because they matter.

Later this month the African Union (AU) will be holding an election of its own – electing the next Chairperson of the AU Commission. This is a role that will have significant impact on the direction of the continent for the coming four years.

The issues Africa grapples with ought to concern us all – not only from a humanitarian perspective but also because in an increasingly globalized world, our problems are interconnected and our challenges are shared. It is in the international community’s best interest that a responsible, qualified candidate ascend to the role and confront those challenges.

Africa is the world’s poorest continent and has the highest population growth rate. One in four people is undernourished. Many countries grapple with the spread of life-threatening communicable diseases.

The continent is currently home to civil wars in South Sudan, Libya, and Central African Republic – conflicts that have raged for years with no clear end in sight. Additionally, terrorist groups have emerged as a deadly threat to communities across several areas.

There are also, however, tremendous opportunities. Africa has a great deal to offer the world – enormous intellectual and creative capacity, rich cultures and histories, and diverse, dynamic, youthful populations.

With the right leadership, countries can advance good governance and transparency, deliver a boost to global human rights, and strengthen the rule of law and judiciary systems. Investment can be made in education, healthcare and technology which will allow the continent’s young people to reach their potential. Meanwhile, establishing strong business environments, financial regulations and promoting trade will attract investment and create opportunities for those same young people.

Needless to say, there is much to be done.

There are many compelling and capable candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring in the race for AU Commission Chairperson. None, however, is quite equal to the Kenyan candidate, Amina Mohamed.

This is not the first high-profile international job for which Dr. Mohamed, Kenya’s Oxford-educated Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, has been considered. There was buzz about her becoming the next (and first female) Secretary General of the United Nations, but she appears to have turned down that potential opportunity, choosing instead to focus on her home continent.

The UN position would have been just another in a long list of “firsts” for Dr. Mohamed, an international lawyer by training. She is a genuine trailblazer – the first woman to serve as Foreign Minister of Kenya, and the first woman to have chaired the three top bodies of the World Trade Organization (WHO): the Trade Policy Body, the Dispute Settlement Body and the Governing General Council.

She was the first African and first female Chairperson of the Council of the International Organization for Migration, and was President of the UN’s Conference on Disarmament. In 2011, she was appointed as the UN Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Program.

In addition, she has held leadership roles with the World Health Organization, the UN Program on HIV and AIDS, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She also served as President of the UN International Conference on Transnational Crime.

She is credited with bringing the WTO to Africa and achieving trade breakthroughs via global negotiations that led to a removal of agricultural subsidies that had previously crippled African farmers’ competitiveness in the global market.

She spearheaded an agreement to provide lifesaving medicines for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis for poor countries at affordable prices.

She is also credited with bringing $30 billion in investment to Africa via Japanese partnerships.

In various regional and international roles, she has spent the last 25 years in public and foreign service working to secure health, wellbeing and economic growth in Africa and elsewhere, and fighting against violence and inequality.

If ever there was a qualified candidate to take on such an important role at the AU Commission at such an important time for the world, it is Dr. Amina Mohamed. Not only Africa but the U.S. and other nations would do well to have someone of such unequivocally high caliber running the show.

The question remains though, with all that is happening in Washington, whether anyone is watching this other election. We certainly should be. The world, after all, is not on pause.

Ella Smith is a professor of business administration at Tuck and works in the field of organizational behavior. She has previously served on the faculties of Belk College of Business Administration, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale’s School of Management and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.