• Opinion by Felix Dodds, Chris Spence (apex, north carolina / dublin, ireland)
  • Inter Press Service
With current UN Secretary-General António Guterres set to step down in 2026, who is in the running to replace him? A seven-part series reveal who might be in the running and assess their chances. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The potential candidates include Amina J. Mohammed (Nigeria), Mia Motley (Barbados), Alicia Barcena (Mexico), Maria Fernanda Espinosa (Ecuador), Rebeca Grynspan (Costa Rica) and Michelle Bachelet (Chile). These are names that have come up in conversations with UN insiders and other experts. All six would offer skills and experiences we believe would be valuable in these fast-paced, uncertain times.

A British-born Nigerian, Mohammed’s UN experience goes back even further. For instance, she played a critical role in the development of the post-2015 Development Agenda as an Assistant Secretary-General within previous Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office.

In that role, she acted as the link for the Secretary-General and the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons Annan set up under several global political leaders. This UN experience means Mohammed not only understands the internal workings of international relations, but has interacted with many world leaders for more than a decade.

Mohammed’s Nigerian credentials are also noteworthy. Before becoming UN Deputy Secretary-General, she served as her country’s Environment Minister, where she steered the country’s efforts on the Sustainable Development Goals and action on climate change. Her prior experience cuts across government agencies, the UN, and academia, including a spell at Columbia University in New York.

Mohammed’s time as Guterres’ deputy at the UN has seen her carve out an important role for sustainable development. She is Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group and has attempted to reposition sustainable development and the SDGs at the center of the organization’s work.

She has also overseen reforms that give the UN Resident Coordinators—who are the most senior UN development staff at the country level—greater independence and authority to coordinate UN activities in their country. In an interview with UN News, Mohammed said these changes would allow “a much more independent and impartial leader” at the country level.

“What I would say is that, in previous times, we’ve sort of had a conductor that, through no fault of their own, is conducting a cacophony – the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing,” she said. “Today, we have an opportunity to make a symphony for the SDGs. That’s really the difference on the ground.”

Assessing Mohammed’s Prospects

Could Amina Mohammed be the next UN Secretary-General?

While a final decision is more than two years away, here is our assessment of her advantages and disadvantages, should she choose to throw her hat into the ring.

Advantages

  • A Woman Leader: The UN has never had a woman leader. As the organization approaches its 80th birthday, many observers rightly view this as almost scandalous, especially given the number of strong female candidates over the years.
  • UN Experience: Mohammed is a UN veteran. There is an argument that an insider with the right knowledge would be able to hit the ground running more easily than an outsider. What’s more, much of Mohammed’s recent experience has been at UN headquarters in New York, where much of the organization’s key strategic decisions are made. This knowledge of how the UN works at the highest levels would surely be an asset during these uncertain times.
  • Proven Impact: Mohammed can point to a number of successes during her time as UN deputy, particularly her internal reforms and championing of the Sustainable Development Goals. Given the headwinds the organization has faced in recent years, a candidate who can point to some genuine successes could arguably make a compelling case for promotion.
  • Connections: Mohammed has had many years operating in the rarefied air of global political leadership, shaking hands and making deals with top politicians from around the globe. Could her networks and connections with senior politicians help her?

Disadvantages

  • Wrong Region? There is a tradition—or at least, an expectation—that the UN Secretary-General rotates through the different UN regions. In reality, this does not always happen. For instance, António Guterres is Portuguese, whereas it was supposed to be an Eastern European who was appointed last time. This time around, however, many believe it is Latin America and the Caribbean’s turn. If enough people agree, Mohammed’s chances would be significantly diminished.
  • Outsiders Usually Win: Internal promotions to the top job at the UN are rare. In fact, a Deputy Secretary-General has never been promoted, ever. Of course, it could be argued that the deputy’s job is fairly new, since there has only been a Deputy Secretary-General since 1998. Furthermore, fans of internal promotions point out that Kofi Annan, a previous Secretary-General, had been a senior UN staff member before taking the top job. However, the lack of a recent precedent for internal promotions and the fact that no former UN deputy has ever taken the top job could well be an obstacle.
  • Name Recognition: Amina Mohammed is very well known in international diplomatic circles. Outside them … not so much. Will the fact she is not widely known by the public-at-large tell against her?

Prof. Felix Dodds and Chris Spence have participated in United Nations conferences and negotiations since the 1990s. They co-edited Heroes of Environmental Diplomacy: Profiles in Courage (Routledge, 2022), which examines the roles of individuals in inspiring change.

IPS UN Bureau

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service



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