Sunday, May 24, 2009

Who will be the next head of UNESCO?

SciDev.Net has published an excellent article by Yojana Sharma reviewing the candidates for Director General of UNESCO. The article is timely since nominations close on the 31st of May. Ms. Sharma names the following individuals (presented here in alphabetical order):
  • Ivonne Baki, Ecuadorian, 48
  • Marcio Barbosa, Brazilian, 57
  • Mohamed Al Bejawi, Algerian, 81
  • Irina Bokova, Bulgarian, 58
  • Mounir Bouchenaki, Algerian, 66
  • Farouk Hosni, Egypt, 71
  • Ina Marčiulionyté, Lithuanian, 47
  • Sospeter Muhongo, Tanzanian, 54
With a few days left for nominations, new candidates may appear. Indeed, it has been hoped by many that someone of the stature of Al Gore might be nominated. (Gore has said he is not available.)

Editorial comment: I would hope that the next Director General would bring a serious background in science or education to the job, given the critical challenges faced by UNESCO in these areas in the next decade. Of the people listed above only Sospeter Muhongo, a geologist who is the African regional director of the International Council for Science, seems to bring such qualifications to the race.

The post of UNESCO Director General should involve extensive travel, many public appearances, and long periods of intense intellectual concentration; the physical and mental capacity of each candidate to handle such a job should be taken into account in the election.

I would hope that the State Department will take a strong interest in this election. I understand that Assistant Secretary Ester Brimmer has visited UNESCO recently, and her personal interest in the election is important.

The United States should not simply chose a candidate most likely to minimize potential controversy, but rather help elect the candidate most likely to provide the leadership UNESCO needs and deserves in order to meet the challenges of the coming decade. State should work closely with the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO in this respect, as well as with the international development, educational, scientific and cultural agencies of the government. The meeting of the National Commission (that had been scheduled for May) has been postponed, but the members of the Commission could be contacted individually for support and advice. Indeed, they might well take the initiative to contact State if State does not contact them.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily respresent those of Americans for UNESCO.)

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