Vera Songwe, 1st female executive secretary, has her ECA job cut for her

16 May

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Dr. Vera Songwe (/Brookings)

An ECA press release of April 17, 2017 conveyed appointment by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in mid-April of Vera Songwe as the eighth executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

What is new for ECA here is the new CEO is a woman, but not ordinary woman. She is international, highly qualified and richly experienced — from banking to project design, its financing and execution all within her.

Ms. Songwe has been working as the International Finance Corporation’s regional director for Africa covering West and Central Africa since 2015.

Dr. Vera Songwe has been the Regional Director Africa covering West and Central Africa for the International Finance Corporation since 2015. Previously, she served as Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Mauritania at the World Bank. Her main areas of interest are fiscal policy, innovative financing mechanisms for development, agriculture, energy and economic governance. She is a member of the African Leadership Network.

Prior to becoming Director, according to Brookings, she was a Lead Economist at the World Bank and the Advisor to the Managing Director who oversaw the World Bank Operations in the Africa, Europe and Central Asia and South Asia regions, as well as Human Resources, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Her ties with the Brookings Institute since 2011 has been forged becoming its non-resident Senior Fellow on its program on Global Development and Africa Growth Initiative.

Thus far, ECA had men as its leaders, from its first executive secretary Mr. Mekki Abbas (Sudan, 1959 – 1961), to Ghana’s Mr. Robert K.A Gardiner (1961 – 1975), Adebayo Adedeji (Nigeria 1975 – 1991), to Issa Diallo (Guinea 1991 – 1992), to Layashi Yaker (Algeria 1992 – 1995), Ghana’s Kingsley Amoako (1995 – 2005), to Gambia’s Abdoulie Janneh (2005 – 2012) and finally Mr. Carlos Lopes (Guinea-Bissau 2012 – 2016).

She is a member of the World Bank Group team that recently raised a historic US$49.3 billion dollars in concessional financing for the low income countries of the World as part of the International Development Association (IDA) 16th replenishment, as per Brookings.

Prior to this, Brookings notes, she worked in the East Asia and Pacific Region’s – Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit, as Country Sector Coordinator and Senior Economist for the Philippines, where she led the dialogue on macroeconomic, fiscal policy and governance issues. She has worked in Mongolia, Cambodia and Morocco managing different World Bank programs and the economic and growth policy dialogue. Prior to joining the Bank, Dr. Songwe was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Southern California and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, USA.

She has published several articles on governance, fiscal policy, agriculture and commodity price volatility and trade. Dr. Songwe holds a PhD. in Mathematical Economics from the Center for Operations Research & Econometrics from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium. She holds a BA in Economics and a BA in Political Science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

TEO hopes, as would many in Africa, the new executive secretary would strive to bring the reforms that have eluded the ECA so far, only to remain a breathing duty station, sadly for bordello-hunters in Addis Abeba.

Closeness with the leaders of the region is important for ECA, as essential it is also to forge ties with experts in line ministries, the absence of which has likened likened African Union (AU) officials to mats at palace doors. In terms of relations within nations, its equivalence of national leaders mistake the relations to be with an individual leader, impervious to the people-to-people dimension. At the collapse of the Soviet Union, also Bill Clinton seemed to wrongly substitute US-Russia relations by US-Yeltsin ties!

This is a cardinal mistake, only few leaders of regional organizations have managed to shake off at ECA.

In that regard, we would not be the first to suggest the need for ECA to recommit itself to the ideals of the United Nations Charter and various other international instruments, instead of the juju it loves to dance for.

Unlike its past, therefore, the new ECA must find ways to give meaning and expression to the needs and dreams of the peoples of the region, but never — like the African Union (AU) — look upon the people down and at askance only to find itself portrayed in the eyes of the public dictators’ trumpeter!

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