Gilbert Houngbo first African to lead ILO in Geneva

For over 100 years, the ILO has never had an African leader. The 11th will be the good one. On the other hand, it will still be necessary to wait to see a woman pilot the institution.

With many activities in international organizations, Mr Houngbo, elected by 30 of the 56 board members, made up of governments, employers and unions, was the favorite. Currently President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), he was the Deputy Director – General of the ILO.

In particular, he highlighted the fight against the work of more than 150 million children in the world or his desire to expand the funding of social protection. On Friday, he promised the 187 member states to save “no effort to live up to expectations” after the election, in light of the uncertainty currently being observed in the world.

He paid homage to the “symbolism” of this designation. “Africa had no place at the table when the ILO adopted its constitution in 1919,” he said, noting a “historic” election.

Two women eliminated

“I do not want to be anyone’s CEO, and I want to be everyone’s CEO,” he insisted, promising to unite the world of work. Workers and bosses want an effective ILO, he said.

He thanked the current top executive, British trade unionist Guy Ryder, for getting him to join the organization in 2013 as a deputy. He noted the “experience” of his successor and the arrival of a representative from a developing country to lead the ILO. In addition to Mr Ryder, the African Union (AU), which supported the incoming Director-General, or the international trade unions, welcomed the election of the President of IFAD.

Among the four candidates facing Mr Houngbo, South African Mthuzi Mdwaba, Vice President of the ILO and Representative of the International Employers’ Organization (IOE), was no longer supported by his government.

Among the two women running for office, South Korea was ambushed by its former foreign minister, Kyung-wha Kang, the first woman to hold that position in her country. But according to some, this candidacy was planned to place her before the likely succession of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a few months.

Another challenger, former French Labor Minister Muriel Pénicaud, led an active campaign but accumulated several obstacles. Only among them has Europe often led the ILO, as has the American continent. Another problem, Mrs Pénicaud is not supported by the trade unions in her country and has often been ridiculed for her public intervention.

Awaiting relaunch

Australian Greg Vines was eliminated in the first round. He had worked as Deputy Director General and then as Chairman of the Regulatory Body. He claimed to be a “consensus” candidate.

The Togolese reader is the third African to take the helm of a major international organization in Geneva for the first time in five years. After Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, who in May next year will be reappointed as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who heads the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Sir. Houngbo was appointed for a five-year term. He will be particularly eagerly awaited to support governments, leaders and trade unions in the post-pandemic recovery.

The international community must join forces for “a new post-Covid world”, Confederate President Ignazio Cassis said recently at the start of a meeting on this issue. He called for a multilateralism that connects work, health, environment, trade and security.

The UN and the ILO have launched a mechanism to fund 400 million extra jobs and social protection for billions of people. A human-centered recovery ranges from decent jobs to green jobs to fair access to the coronavirus vaccine.

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