Kituyi must infuse UNCTAD with intellectual leadership

Saturday May 18 2013


United Nations boss Ban Ki-Moon has appointed Dr Mukhisa Kituyi to be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Dr Kituyi has held several senior leadership positions including as Kenya’s minister for Trade. He is currently a non-resident fellow of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and was a resident scholar in 2011.

Dr Kituyi is well versed in the global trading system and in the past was considered a potential candidate to head the World Trade Organisation (WTO). A dynamic intellectual, Dr Kituyi is an excellent choice to head UNCTAD.

The appointment is significant to the Brookings Institution not only because he is one of our fellows but also because Brookings has been calling for increased informed African voices in global governance. African interests are not effectively represented in major global institutions and this has contributed to the broader marginalisation of the continent in global affairs.

Dr Kituyi should be an effective voice to represent Africa and other developing countries. And the way I know him, this is one informed voice that the international community is unlikely to ignore.

But it will not be a smooth ride for the new secretary general. First, UNCTAD requires effective management and intellectual leadership. An internal report published last year — The Joint Inspection Unit Report — showed that UNCTAD has been suffering from lack of effective governance.

Dr Kituyi will need to carefully evaluate personnel issues and provide the necessary motivation to ensure that the organisation delivers on its mandate. Most important, he will have to steer the organisation towards more transparency, rewarding performance instead of simple loyalty to senior management.

The new SG will also need to offer the intellectual leadership necessary to guide the institution through a time of major global economic change and shifting of economic power to the south. He must offer alternative ideas to those emerging from traditional development institutions.

An even more daunting challenge that the new SG will face is to ensure that UNCTAD remains relevant and credible. Over the past few years, questions have been raised as to what should be the institution’s focus. Some have gone to the extent of insisting that UNCTAD should not be involved in macroeconomics and finance areas.

But UNCTAD was created to deal with issues relating to trade and development with a particular emphasis in developing countries.

There is no doubt, therefore, that macroeconomics and finance squarely fit into the institution’s mandate. Indeed, UNCTAD used to be the forum where these issues would be negotiated in order to ensure some balance in the global economy.

However, since the creation of WTO, UNCTAD has experienced a progressive erosion of its voice. It will be the responsibility of the new SG to reverse this trend so that UNCTAD can play its rightful role in the global economic policy setting.

Dr Kituyi must also position UNCTAD to better address the imbalance and unfairness in the multilateral trading rules that have shaped globalisation. In UNCTAD, it is often the case that developing countries feel bullied by their developed country partners.

The secretary-general must also re-orient UNCTAD so as to assist developing countries seize the opportunities presented by the global economy. With all the changes taking place in the world, UNCTAD has to focus on how developing countries can reap the benefits and minimise the negative effects arising from trade and globalisation.

This requires that UNCTAD take on the hard topics that are of particular interest to developing countries, including investment policy, services trade and commodities. It should come out clearly on what path developing countries should follow.

With an incoming Director General at the WTO and Dr Kituyi at UNCTAD, the global environment offers an opportunity for the two institutions that drive trade and development to establish the missing dialogue.

For this to happen, UNCTAD needs to be credible when articulating its voice in this changing global economy. This is the greatest challenge that Dr Kituyi faces.

Mwangi Kimenyi is a senior fellow and director, Africa Growth Initiative Global Economy and Development, at Brookings Institution in Washington DC