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Antonio Guterres still has four years in his second term as secretary general of the United Nations. It ends in December 2026. It seems a long time, then, to begin thinking about Guterres’ successor. It is not for the Caribbean, if the region has an interest in fielding a candidate. Which it should.
Indeed, the Caribbean has an extremely viable candidate. As the response to her intervention at the ongoing world climate summit has reconfirmed, Mia Mottley has not only emerged as the primary leader in the Caribbean but also as a voice on issues of global concern. It is only for Mia Mottley, the Barbadian prime minister, to be advised – or persuaded – that she should go for it. Coincidentally, Mr Guterres’ stint ends around the same time Ms Mottley concludes her second term as prime minister, if she doesn’t call an early election.
In the meantime, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) should begin to signal to the international community that it intends to nominate someone from its region as the next secretary general, as well as make a bid for support from the countries of the South, especially Africa. CARICOM’s aim should be that by 2026, there is strong consensus around the region’s candidacy, in the person, preferably, of Ms Mottley.
Of course, circumstances can change. But the region can build contingencies in its planning.
Our suggestion of Ms Mottley is neither sentimentality nor populist vanity. There are few people on the world stage who articulate the concerns of the international community with such clarity, or with Ms Mottley’s charisma. She fully grasps the existential threats to the majority of mankind because of the failure of those in control of the levers to manipulate them in ways that are fair and equitable.
While she is strong and direct and some to whom she speaks may be discomfited, Ms Mottley is not offensive. And her penchant for invoking the wisdom and urgency of popular artistes – Bob Marley is a favourite – during her mostly unscripted speeches, often leaves the sense that she could as well be in conversation with, and telling truths to, constituents in the communities of Jackson Tenantry or Whitehall in her St Michael North East constituency, as addressing powerful leaders in some ornate hall, about weighty matters.
A typical example was at the Summit of the Americas in June, when she set the tone for her remarks with the first two verses from Marley’s 1979 song, So Much Trouble In The World: “The way thing are goin’ Anything can happen!”
That capacity to evoke revolution and popular memes notwithstanding, Ms Mottley is not just some emotive populist.
As is obvious from her speeches, she masters the minutiae of domestic, regional and global policy questions, including the need for transformative action on climate change, trade, economic flows and development, and the global, rules-based architecture. In some respects, Ms Mottley embodies the intellect, charisma and transformative vision of Jamaica’s Michael Manley of the 1970s, but without the ideological polarisation that is attached to Mr Manley.
On the face of it, therefore, it is unlikely that she would, a priori, be an unacceptable candidate for any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who, de facto, have veto power in the choice of a secretary general. For while the final decision is that of the General Assembly – by secret ballot if a vote is required – the choice is after a recommendation by the Security Council.
CAPACITY FOR ADVOCACY
Ms Mottley also brings to the table other potential advantages, beyond the important fact that she would be the first woman in the job.
First, her capacity for advocacy on behalf of poor countries is unquestioned. Her inclination to speak truth to the powerful is undeniable and unchallenged, as is her willingness to negotiate with disparate groups. She would also bring something else that none of the previous nine secretaries general, all older male technocratic politicians and policy wonks, have been particularly good at – the ability to interact with, and be believable to, ordinary people at a very granular level. The UN needs that kind of champion.
It is clear that, at this stage, Ms Mottley would be wary of openly expressing an interest in the UN post. Any such public contemplation would be a distraction from her current role as prime minister of Barbados.
Nonetheless, a conversation has been opened, and can be sustained without Ms Mottley’s participation. Moreover, CARICOM has an opportunity to stake a claim for the post. The region could credibly argue that it is its time.
While Ms Mottley would, clearly, be our first choice, there are other talented people who would also be excellent at it. CARICOM should, therefore, begin to prepare for 2026 – without the embarrassing fiasco earlier this year over who should be the secretary general of the Commonwealth. (Jamaica Gleaner)