Editorial | Mottley as UN boss
Nearly a year ago, this newspaper proposed Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley to succeed António Guterres as secretary general of the United Nations (UN) when the former Portuguese prime minister completes his second term at the end of 2026. Which, coincidentally, fits snugly with the end of Ms Mottley’s own second term as PM.
Ms Mottley herself has not indicated either way whether she has an interest in the job, or if she intends to lead her Barbados Labour Party in a third general election, which is constitutionally due in January 2027. Significantly, though, others around the world have recognised in Ms Mottley many of the traits that would make her the ideal lead of the UN in the current global environment, and have begun to make her the unofficial front-runner for the post.
We appreciate that it would not be, at this stage, strategic for Ms Mottley to formally throw her scarf in the ring. She, after all, still has a country to run.
It is not premature, however, for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to stake out a claim on the office – which no one from the region has occupied – and informally begin a campaign in support of Ms Mottley, should she decide she wants the job.
“I don’t think it’s early at all,” Finland’s Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told the American news network, CNN, about starting a debate now on who should lead the UN after Mr Guterres. “It’s very important to start discussing that, because I think it’s also very much a question of what the future should look like for the UN and the Security Council.”
Not since Jamaica’s charismatic Michael Manley in the 1970s has the Caribbean produced a leader who has so captured the imagination of the world, or has articulated with such clarity the concerns of what is today referred to as the Global South.
But unlike in Mr Manley’s time, the world is not so neatly framed in Cold War ideological terms. And unlike what was the case with Mr Manley, no one in the West perceives Ms Mottley as a crypto-communist or closet authoritarian, just biding her time to make Barbados fall into the laps of Russia and/or China. None of this, though, is to suggest that Ms Mottley would be a shoo-in for the job.
The great advantage she brings is her firm grasp of the issues facing the world, from economic justice to climate change, the courage with which she articulates them, and the engagement, if not full embrace, she has been able to coax from some of the world’s most powerful nations on the need for reform.
For instance, Ms Mottley’s Bridgetown Agenda, unveiled at last year’s COP27 climate summit, has been incorporated in Mr Guterres’ development agenda as Bridgetown 2.0. And her insistence on the need for climate financing and calls for an overhaul of the global financial architecture are part of mainstream discussions, such as at the special conference on the subject hosted in Paris in June by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, at which Ms Mottley was Mr Macron’s co-chair.
Bridgetown 2.0 calls for:
- The International Monetary Fund and multilateral development banks to immediately provide liquidity support by releasing at least US$100 billion of unused Special Drawing Rights to in-need countries;
- The restructure the debt of burdened borrowers with long-term, low-interest loans;
- Increasing official lending to at least US$500 billion annually for investment in initiatives to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals;
- Mobilising more than US$1.5 trillion per year of private-sector investment in the green transformation;
- Overhauling the governance of international financial institutions to make them more representative, equitable and inclusive; and
- Transforming the international trade system that supports global green and just arrangements.
As Ms Mottley often reminds her audiences, including the world’s most powerful leaders to their faces, at the time when the existing global system was being designed, many of the countries that it affects today were not yet nation states. They were not in the room.
“We have not been seen, we have not been heard sufficiently,” she said at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last year at COP27.
Many of the concerns Ms Mottley has with related institutions also exist at the United Nations, where circular discussion of reform has taken place for decades. The Security Council, with its five permanent members with veto power, who are often at odds, regularly frustrate effective action.
Of course, the characteristics that make Ms Mottley attractive as a potential secretary general – her charisma, her frankness, her energy and her drive to get things done – are likely to be the same ones that offend some interests that may prefer the status quo.
The secretary general is elected by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council. It would take only one of the permanent five – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – to be discomfited by her candidacy.
That is why CARICOM should start now to rally natural allies in Africa, Latin America and Asia to help make the case for her candidacy, and why it is right for the times. It is not unworthy to also argue it is the right time for the UN’s first female secretary general – a woman who is worthy of the position.