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Africa

Kenyan to head UNCTAD

Mukhisa Kituyi, about to become the new head of UNCTAD, will have to mediate between industrialized and developing countries. Fellow Kenyans attest that the former trade minister is well qualified for the task.

Mukhisa Kituyi is a lively contributor to public debate as readers of his regular opinion pieces in the Daily Nation, Kenya's biggest newspaper, can testify. "He has had a spectacular career here in Kenya and East Africa," said the Kenyan author and academic Chacha Nyaigotti Chacha.

That career is set to take another leap on Monday when is he expected to be confirmed by the UN General Assembly as Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He will take over the post on September 1, 2013  from Supachai Panitchpakdi, who has been at the helm of the organization since 2005.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND: Leading United Nations official and former Thai government minister, Supachai Panitchpakdi, gestures 27 September 2006 during the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) annual meeting at the UN office in Geneva. Panitchpakdi refused 27 September 2006 to comment on speculation that he could be named prime minister by his country's military junta. The 60--year-old secretary-general of the Geneva-based UNCTAD and former head of the World Trade Organization is seen as a leading contender to become prime minister, according to Thai media. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Supachai Panitchpakdi steps down as the head of UNCTAD at the end of August

His job will not be easy, as expectations are high. UNCTAD is seen as acting as a counterweight to the philosophy of the free market espoused by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Criticism from UNCTAD is not always well received and its supporters were therefore keen to see an intellectual heavyweight at the top of the organization. Kenya's leading economist Frederick Mweni is convinced that Kituyi has the stature for the job. "He will be working in an area which he knows well," Mweni told DW, "and he knows what needs to be done," adding that he has the perceptiveness of an academic and the negotiating skills of a politician.

Criticism of international community

Born in Kenya's Bungoma District in 1956, Kituyi began his academic career at the University of Nairobi. He quickly switched to Uganda's Makerere University  where he graduated in political science and international relations. Having acquired an interest in the social sciences, he then picked up a doctorate in ethnology at the University of Bergen in Norwary. His thesis explored the impact of the market economy on Maasai pastoralists in Kenya.

His political career began in 1992 when he was elected to parliament to represent a constituency in his home province (Western Province). He was re-elected to parliament twice and during his final term he was appointed minister for trade and industry by President Mwai Kibaki.

In his capacity as a Kenyan government minister, he was occasionally strongly critical of he international community. In 2003 when a dispute was raging at the World Trade Organization over patents on drugs, Kituyi declared angrily "While you are conducting this complex debate, fellow Kenyans are dying." He left Kenyan domestic politics in 2007 when he lost his seat in parliament. By then his reputation had travelled  well beyond Kenya's borders and he was tipped as a possible UNCTAD secretary general in 2009, but Ban Ki-moon decided to renew Panitchpakdi's term for another four years instead.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, left, greets Kenyan Trade Minister Mukhisa Kituyi in Washington Thursday, June 17, 2004 prior to their meeting to discuss U.S.-Kenya trade issues. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Boitano)

Mukhisa Kituyi (right) in a 2004 meeting with the then US trade representative Robert Zoellick

Move African issues center stage

Kituyi then decided to channel his energies into a new venture. He founded the Kenya Institute of Governance, where academe and politics would meet. Once again, he was making his voice heard on the issues of the day. He praised the Americans for promoting trade and investment in Africa, but insisted that binding agreements were required as well. He also told African governments that they were under an obligation to foster inter-African trade more vigorously. Writing in the Daily Nation he bemoaned the insatiable greed of politicians which was casting a shadow over the continent

Frederick Mweni hopes that Kituyi, as the new head of UNCTAD, will be able to move African issues and concerns center stage. The continent has a young population and expanding economies, which will improve his chances. Chacha Nyaigotti Chacha also believes success is within Kituyi's grasp. Having worked in Kenya, Norway and for the Brookings Institution in the United States, he is well equipped to reshape UNCTAD so that it can tackle problems from a global perspective. It's important that UNCTAD gives the concerns of both developing and industrialized countries equal attention.

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